A sensational book about President Trump’s first year in office started rocking the White House this week even before it hit shelves on Friday with its claims about Trump’s behind-the-scenes behavior and its quotes from aides who may not have known their words would wind up on the pages of a bestseller.
The revelations in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House ruptured open a long-simmering rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, after early excerpts showed Bannon had made disparaging comments about the Trump family and their involvement in the campaign.
And the book’s release eclipsed a week of international headlines that included a war of words between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as well as an uprising in Iran that threatened to undermine the credibility of a regime Trump has long criticized.
The fallout from the book, penned after journalist Michael Wolff conducted dozens of interviews with top Trump campaign and administration officials, sent White House aides scrambling to refute portions that suggested the president had no interest in or ability to grasp substantive aspects of his job.
“There are numerous examples of falsehoods that take place in the book,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Thursday. “But I’m not going to waste my time or the country’s time going page by page, talking about a book that’s complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip.”
Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under former President George W. Bush, said the Trump White House may now be better served by withholding its criticism of the book.
“My advice is this stage is to simply say, ‘We’ve said all we have to say,’ and move on,” Fleischer told the Washington Examiner. “There is no upside in the [White House] talking about this.”
Some aides quoted by Wolff, including former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, initially disputed the authenticity of quotes attributed to them in early excerpts of the book.
A source close to the White House said Friday that many current and former staffers who talked to Wolff believed they were not speaking on the record when they offered such candor to the author. That person blamed Trump’s former chief strategist for empowering Wolff and for going after the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his son, and his eldest daughter.
“Bannon screwed up,” said the source.
“Bannon likes to criticize Jared, saying that Jared’s assistance in firing [former FBI Director James] Comey is the worst political mistake ever,” the source said, noting Bannon’s decision to grant Wolff so much access was the equivalent of the “worst communications decision ever.”
Trump eviscerated Bannon in a statement on Thursday after the first excerpts of the book hit the Guardian and New York Magazine. The president said his former top staffer had “lost his mind” and claimed he and Bannon had never enjoyed a particularly close relationship while the Breitbart News chief worked in the West Wing.
Two sources close to Bannon confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the embattled former aide had planned to release a statement disavowing his critical comments when he learned Trump had gone after him so fiercely in a White House statement. Instead, Bannon now faces an uncertain future at the fiery news outlet he helped build into a populist force as Trump threatens to pursue legal action against him for violating a non-disclosure agreement he signed during the presidential campaign.
Rebekah Mercer, a top Trump donor, announced that her family would no longer support Bannon financially amid the backlash from his comments in “Fire and Fury.” The Mercers had supported many of Bannon’s political projects over the years, and their decision to stop the flow of funds to Bannon could jeopardize his plans to support conservative candidates in GOP Senate primaries across the country this year.
The intense focus on the book – parts of which have come under scrutiny for reported inaccuracies — prevented the White House from rolling out its 2018 legislative agenda this week despite a series of high-level meetings with congressional leaders aimed at shaping the party’s policy plans.
Even as Trump departed on Friday for a weekend-long retreat at Camp David with GOP leaders, reporters shouted questions about claims in Wolff’s book rather than the key legislative talks he was about to conduct with top officials in Congress and the administration.
One Republican close to the White House said aides felt the misleading claims in the book undermined Wolff's credibility. A number of reporters who regularly cover the administration have questioned descriptions of key figures or events featured in the book.
“White House staffers aren’t as concerned about the book because of the numerous falsehoods [that] cast a bad light on the author’s reporting," the Republican said. "They think that most voters won’t care at all about the book, and people that do see the news coverage will cast it aside as fake news.”