Trump World frustrated, angry over new book
Allies of President Trump are aghast at the damage caused by a new book that paints a picture of a chaotic, dysfunctional and incompetent early months of the Trump administration.
Current and former Trump aides believe many of the juiciest stories in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” are exaggerated or wholly fictional and don’t think the book is resonating outside the Beltway among the president’s core supporters.
“The biggest political mistake in American history was to allow a reporter, whose integrity has been impugned across the spectrum, into the White House and give him free rein,” said one source close to the White House.
The source blamed former chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon for Wolff’s frequent presence in the West Wing. Bannon is quoted extensively in the book and offered blistering criticism of the president and his family.
The Breitbart News chief said this week he remains a strong supporter of Trump, calling him a “great man.” Allies of Bannon said he considered releasing a statement disputing some of his quotes, but pulled back after Trump attacked him in ferocious fashion earlier this week.
Former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett was taken aback by the contempt some staff reportedly have for the president. “Fire and Fury” portrayed aides going to great lengths to hold back ridicule or scorn when Trump has his “wackadoo moments.”
“I’ve been a staffer for 30 years and I just don’t understand the behavior — that you would talk about your boss and someone you dedicated a chunk of your life to in that way,” said Bennett. “I can’t fathom letting your ego get the best of you like that.”
The former campaign hand lamented that the White House was forced to spend the first days of 2018 in damage-control mode.
“The presidency is a clock. It runs for four years and every second lost is not gained back,” Bennett said. “They’re doing great, but they could be doing much better … To have to recover from some of these staff-inflicted wounds is just an incredible waste of some of these precious moments.”
The controversy squelched any chance for Trump to seize momentum heading into the New Year, when he hoped the sweeping GOP tax law successfully passed in December would give a boost to his other legislative priorities.
Instead, the book turned the White House into a three-ring circus.
Trump launched an all-out assault on his onetime political ally Bannon over the book, a feud that has the potential to cause a rift among the president’s base.
One day earlier, the president unleashed a series of tweets capped off with a barb at the leader of North Korea over the size of his “nuclear button,” a remark that caused some critics to publicly question Trump’s mental fitness.
The New York Times and other news outlets also published new details about Trump’s efforts to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia probe, providing more fodder to special counsel Robert Mueller as he determines whether the president obstructed justice.
Despite the seemingly endless stream of bad headlines, Trump and his allies are confident they can get back on track.
Trump early Friday disputed the notion Wolff had wide-ranging access to the White House in an effort to undercut the veracity of the book. He also came up with a new, derisive moniker for Bannon.
“I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book!” the president tweeted. “I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!”
Wolff told NBC News he spent three hours with the president during the 2016 campaign and in the White House. He also said he has records and notes of more than 200 conversations he had with White House and campaign aides.
But a White House official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said Wolff’s access was “far more limited than he’s conveyed” and called his claim he sat down with Trump “a f–king lie.”
The White House has previously acknowledged Wolff had a brief phone call with Trump shortly after the inauguration, but not an in-person discussion.
The official acknowledged Wolff had caused “a bad news cycle” for Trump, but expressed confidence the White House had “punctured the credibility of the book.”
Other journalists, the official noted, have questioned Wolff’s storytelling methods about private exchanges among Trump and his staff and expressed doubt about certain details, like Trump not knowing who former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is.
The official said the mantra many at the White House are taking is “move on and move forward.”
Trump is spending the weekend at Camp David with top congressional Republicans, Cabinet officials and senior staff to plot a legislative agenda and chart a course for the 2018 midterms.
Before leaving the White House, Trump briefly spoke to reporters to tout the stock market’s performance, the tax law and a new jobs report. He did not answer questions about the book or the Russia reports.
The president on Monday will travel to Tennessee to deliver a speech on his plan for rural America.
But there is still a sense among Trump’s aides and allies that drama is a feature, and not a bug, of the White House. If the agenda doesn’t shift the conversation, something else will.
“If there’s one thing they’re better than anyone else at, it’s changing the subject,” Bennett said.
Regardless, Trump loyalists said the strong economy and job market are top of mind for the president’s base and argue it couldn’t care less about White House palace intrigue.
“This is what’s consuming us in D.C. and the Potomac bubble,” said Bryan Lanza, a former campaign and transition adviser. “It’s not what people are talking about outside. I don’t think this moves the needle. If you’re a voter in Middle America, you have your partisan leanings and this doesn’t change anything.”
Lanza conceded, however, that any time the administration is not talking about its achievements, “it’s missing an opportunity.”
White House chief of staff John Kelly faces a heavy lift this year in overhauling Trump’s staff, in part to stem a tide of expected departures. Redoubling efforts to boost staff morale and instill greater discipline should be added to the list, Bennett said.
“Gen. Kelly has already turned the ship around, but I hope he continues to fix some of these problems,” he said.