When excerpts of this chronicle were released in early January, they sparked a firestorm, and an end to the bromance between President Donald Trump and adviser Steve Bannon.
In one of the explosive bits, Michael Wolff reports that Bannon considered Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with players from Moscow and Azerbaijan to be “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Trump responded to the book by blasting Bannon, downplaying his role and endowing the disheveled nationalist with the derisive sobriquet “Sloppy Steve.” Trump tweeted that “a total loser” had produced “a Fake Book” and sued to block publication — which only guaranteed that eager readers lined up at bookstores at midnight to snap up copies.
Is this tell-all worth all the hype? Fire and Fury is a juicy read, no doubt, but in the end, it’s surprisingly unsurprising. Anyone paying even a little attention is already familiar with Wolff’s broad points: Trump is narcissistic, impulsive and disinterestented in the finer points of governance and legislation. His top advisers are drawn from a shallow pool of applicants willing to tolerate his quirks.
That criticism aside, Wolff offers intriguing detail about the West Wing infighting, primarily between Bannon on one side and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner on the other, and he draws the conclusion that Trump’s private and public personae are one and the same. If you’ve read the petulant tweets and viewed the preening speeches, you’ve delved as deep as the man goes, Wolff concludes.
Wolff’s reporting is based on his time with Trump in the months before and after his 2016 election. After the book’s publication, Trump insisted that he never granted Wolff an interview, and in fact rejected the author’s requests for face time. Wolff reports in the book that he “took up something like a semipermanent seat on a couch in the West Wing.”
He describes the Trump White House as a freewheeling place. While no one ever officially granted Wolff access, neither did anyone ever order him to leave. The very fact that Wolff gained sustained access to the White House seems to underscore his point about the amateurish nature of Trump’s operation. Wolff is a notoriously snarky chronicler of the wealthy, and any interview subject with even a passing knowledge of Wolff’s work would be wary.
Wolff himself was left to fend off accusations that he plays fast and loose with the facts. For instance, Wolff reports that when the late Roger Ailes suggested that Trump hire John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House, for his White House staff, Trump replied, “Who’s that?” The passage leaves the distinct impression that Trump was unaware of the identity of one of the major Washington players of recent years. However, Trump had played golf with Boehner over the years and mentioned him in tweets – suggesting that the “Who’s that” query was a joke or a misunderstanding, not a lack of awareness.