By David Nakamura,
Author Michael Wolff remained defiant Friday in the face of personal attacks from the White House and threats of legal action from President Trump’s lawyers over his tell-all book on the West Wing.
Hardly bowed by the full-on assault from Trump’s team, Wolff appeared to revel in the attention that has helped drive his book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” to be a likely bestseller after his publisher, Henry Holt, sped up publication several days to early Friday.
The book paints Trump as unprepared for the presidency and his aides as concerned about his fitness for office.
“Where do I send the box of chocolates?” Wolff asked in jest during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show when asked about Trump’s vitriol.
Trump’s attention and attacks, he added, are “not only helping me sell books, but he’s helping me prove the point of the book. This is extraordinary that a president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book. This doesn’t happen — has not happened from other presidents.”
Wolff also dismissed attacks from Trump and his allies over the author’s credibility. Some sources for the book have disputed specific quotes and characterizations of their actions, while others have pointed to inconsistencies in the book and errors in Wolff’s past reporting to suggest that his account cannot be trusted.
Trump bashed Wolff, former senior White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon and the book again in a late-night tweet on Friday: “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book. He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
“Liar and phony,” read an email from the Republican National Committee featuring Wolff’s picture and selected quotes from other journalists criticizing his work.
But Wolff, a New York media columnist who has written for New York magazine, Vanity Fair, USA Today and the Guardian, said he had broad access to Trump, Bannon and other senior officials.
“I work like every journalist works,” he said. “I have recordings. I have notes. I am, in absolutely every way, comfortable with everything released in this book. My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who walked on Earth at this point.”
Wolff added that he has written “millions upon millions of words,” but “I don’t think there’s been any corrections.”
Trump’s personal lawyers sent a letter to Wolff and his publisher early Friday threatening legal action and demanding that they cease publication, which did not happen. A revealing and embarrassing excerpt of the book was published Wednesday in New York magazine.
“Your publication of the false/baseless statements about Mr. Trump gives rise to, among other claims, defamation by libel,” the lawyers wrote.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump spoke to Wolff only once for about “five to seven minutes,” and not specifically about the book. But the author said on “Today” that he had a full interview with the president.
“What was I doing there if he didn’t want me to be there?” Wolff said. “I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t off the record. I spoke to him after the inauguration, yes.”
All told, he said, “I’ve spent about three hours with the president over the course of the campaign and in the White House. My window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”
Trump has attacked Wolff and Bannon, who served as a key source and disparaged other aides, as well as Trump’s son Donald Jr., in on-the-record statements. Among other things, Bannon referred to a 2016 meeting between Donald Jr. and a Russian lawyer, which has become part of a special counsel probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians during the election, as “treasonous.”
Though Trump said in a statement Wednesday that Bannon had “lost his mind,” the Breitbart News chief has since attempted to ratchet down tensions with his former boss, calling him a “great man” who maintains his full support.
Wolff said his visits to the White House and his discussions with staffers left him with the impression that “100 percent” of Trump’s aides, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who both serve as White House advisers, had come to doubt the president’s capacity for the job.
But the author also seemed to reveal that he had used a bit of deception to gain the trust of the very aides who looked foolish or disingenuous in the book.
“I’m a nice guy,” Wolff said. But “I certainly said whatever was necessary to get the story.”