Explosive Book Fire and Fury Gives Controversial Account of Trump White House


Courtesy of AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Michael Wolff's controversial book Fire and Fury sold 1.7 million copies in the first three weeks after it was published.

Samuel Reich, Staff Writer

Michael Wolff’s scathing depiction of the Trump presidency in his hot-off-the-press book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House turned it into an instant bestseller just over a month ago.

The picture it paints of a bumbling, egotistical president and his power-hungry staff has caused a roaring debate to erupt from the mouths of the American public, media, and political bureaucracy. One side is screamingly accusing the smug Wolff of shady journalism and wild gossip-spreading, while the other side eulogizes his supposedly bull’s-eye account of an out-of-hand White House. It is a controversial book covering controversial issues.

From the very beginning of Fire and Fury, Wolff sets the standard for its explosive nature by claiming that Trump did not want to become president. He was running simply to garner more publicity, and winning was a shock to him and everyone involved in the campaign. Wolff goes on to relate that upon hearing the election’s outcome, Trump looked as if he’d seen a ghost, and his wife Melania was in tears. “Donald Trump and his tiny band of campaign warriors were ready to lose with fire and fury,” Wolff says. “They were not ready to win.”

Wolff’s book covers the events of the beginning of Trump’s presidency, ranging from his election to the exit of Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, from the White House seven months later. The specifics of Trump’s politics and policies take second importance for Wolff, however, to the juicier events that occur throughout the start of the term. He covers the scandal caused by the Billy Bush tape, Trump’s rocky interaction with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on account of the wall, his incendiary response to the possibility of having been wiretapped by the Obama administration during the campaign, and his “blame on both sides” response to the alt-right demonstration in Charlottesville, making the “civilized world pretty much universally aghast.”

Juicier yet are the stories linking the Trump campaign with Russia, which Wolff tells in much detail. He recounts the conspiracy surrounding the Steele dossier–a report put together by an opposition research group claiming that Trump was being blackmailed by the Russian government, Trump’s firing of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, and the meeting of Trump sons and advisors with a number of Russians in Trump Tower during the campaign. Here, Wolff famously quotes Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon calling this meeting “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

While presenting a number of theories regarding the Trump-Russia connection, Wolff’s favorite is that Trump and his team weren’t organized or savvy enough to engage in collusion with Russia, but they were afraid of investigations into this issue because they might bring up past shady business deals of Trump’s–something Wolff repeatedly asserts he engaged in.

One of the major plotlines that Wolff carries throughout the book is the constant friction in Trump’s leading core of White House staffers. This was sparked by Trump’s hiring of multiple people to lead White House affairs and guide his policy, without laying out clear roles for any of them. Wolff portrays three hostile entities all battling for the top spot on the ladder of White House bureaucracy: Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the RNC and Trump’s Chief of Staff; Steve Bannon, the controversial former head of Breitbart News and Trump’s Chief Strategist; and Jared and Ivanka Kushner (or “Jarvanka,” as Wolff often calls them, borrowing the term from Bannon), Trump’s son-in-law and daughter who he made his top advisors. These three are depicted as constantly bickering, plotting against, accusing, defaming, and insulting each other in the attempt to carry out their differing political agendas through Trump without interference. Trump, constantly swaying between bestowing his favor on Bannon and Jarvanka, finally made an end to the vicious circle of name-calling and leaking when he precipitated Priebus’ resignation last July and fired Bannon a month later.

And to top all of this off is Wolff’s portrayal of the President himself. He calls attention to Trump’s improvised, non-linear style of speeches, his apparently short attention span, and his disinterest in reading and listening to others. He highlights Trump’s lack of political experience and often comments on his poor knowledge of politics and policy-making. Throughout the book, he draws the picture of a raging Trump flying against the liberal media with his common accusation of “fake news,” while at the same time strongly thirsting for their approval–showing him to be far more concerned with his public image than he should be. Wolff shows a similar thirst of Trump’s for interacting with billionaires and celebrities. He also portrays Trump as having little moral capacity, describing him as a “womanizer,” and questioning the honesty of his past business dealings. Wolff depicts White House staffers as exasperated at and disrespectful of Trump, often quoting them commenting on his ineptness in politics and unpleasant personality. Trump not only had a terribly disorganized White House and a campaign surrounded by an extraordinary number of unseemly circumstances, but he was also, Wolff says, a man totally unfit for the presidency.

As can be imagined, the White House’s reaction to the book was far from positive. In a statement issued shortly after the publication of the book, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described the book as “trashy tabloid fiction,” and Trump tweeted a little later that it was “full of lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don’t exist.” Trump also derided Bannon for the comments he made in the book, saying that he had “very little to do with our historic victory” and “not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”

Trump didn’t only attempt to discredit the book verbally, however. Shortly after it the book was released, Trump lawyer Charles Harder sent a cease-and-desist letter to the publisher, claiming that it violated a non-disclosure agreement made by Bannon. The publisher refused to take any action, however, and published the book anyway. This attempt of Trump’s to silence Bannon caused concern that he was seeking to violate the First Amendment.

Wolff commented later regarding Trump’s accusations and threat of lawsuit. “One of the things we have to count on is that Donald Trump will attack,” he said. “My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point.”

However, it is not only the President and White House staffers view Fire and Fury’s credibility with skepticism; many others are concerned with the veracity of Wolff’s claims and the credibility of his research methods. The chief reason for this is that the book was based on mostly anonymous interviews. This allowed him to take the role of an omniscient narrator without documenting where he got his information from. Through this perspective, he describes events as if he had been there and takes perhaps too many liberties analyzing key players’ motivations, often casting someone’s actions or even thoughts in a light that did not necessarily exist in reality. Furthermore, many of the people Wolff quotes are White House staffers who Trump had fired, who would have a reason to be biased against him. Negative reviewers have described the book as “tabloidy” and “gossipy,” also noting that Wolff has been known for questionable journalism in the past.

However credible Fire and Fury is, it has, without doubt, achieved a high place in American political literature–if not on the basis of verifiability, then on that of sensationalism and divisiveness of the American population. Wolff’s controversial account of Trump’s first few months in office has impacted the political scene on a large scale; it is a bombshell book that will not be forgotten.