In January 2018, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury made headlines as it depicted a president out of control and a White House that careened from crisis to crisis. Donald Trump threatened legal action against author and publisher. He also lauded himself and his electoral college victory: “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”
Trump’s outburst confirmed what many already feared. In the aftermath of the firing of FBI director James Comey in May 2017, Rod Rosenstein, then deputy attorney general, reportedly weighed secretly recording the president with an eye to removing him from office under the 25th amendment.
It sheds new light on how the 45th president tests the boundaries of the office while trying the patience and dignity of those who work for or with him. It is not just another Trump tell-all or third-party confessional. It is unsettling, not salacious.
Trump himself was quick to criticize the book, calling its authors “two third rate Washington Post reporters”. In a tweet on Saturday night, the president said the book was “all for the purpose of demeaning and belittling a President who is getting great things done for our Country, at a record clip”.
Rucker and Leonnig lift the curtain on internal battles over immigration and the attempt to replace John Kelly with Chris Christie as White House chief of staff. It also closely examines the scrum between Bill Barr, the attorney general, and Bob Mueller over Barr’s handling of the special counsel’s report on Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.
Trump’s West Wing is tantamount to a family business and everything is personal
Trump’s West Wing is tantamount to a family business and everything is personal. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump obtain security clearances because they are kin.
After publicly punting the issue to Kelly, Trump is described as applying pressure privately. “I wish we could make this go away,” he reportedly told Kelly. “This is a problem.” Said differently, protocols and national security were treated as impediments, not safeguards, when Javanka got involved.
When Trump cuts Kelly loose, Kushner and Ivanka are depicted as coveting the job. Their ambitions go unfulfilled but they continue to lurk in the background.
Told by Rudy Giuliani that Trump wants him as his chief of staff, Christie asks why he would want the job if Kushner isn’t leaving. For record, as a federal prosecutor Christie sent Charlie Kushner, Jared’s father, to prison for “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” on Christie’s watch.
“Why the fuck am I going to take this job?” the former New Jersey governor exclaims. “You guys are nuts. I’m not going in there.”
Still, Ivanka purportedly telephoned Christie’s wife, Pat, to assure her bygones would be bygones. It didn’t work.
A Very Stable Genius also chronicles the back and forth between Trump’s lawyers and the special counsel’s office and the interplay between Barr and Mueller. Under George HW Bush, Barr was attorney general and Mueller headed the criminal division at the justice department. The two men were friends.
Yet when Barr rolled out his summary of Mueller’s report, Leonnig and Rucker write, the special counsel “looked as if he’d been slapped”. When Mueller sent a rebuttal letter, objecting to Barr’s summary, Barr was “pissed”, thought the letter “nasty” and felt personally “betrayed”. Barr and Mueller spoke by phone, a tense conversation that ended on “an uplifting note.”
As for Trump and name-calling, nothing has changed. As a candidate, he mocked John McCain, a gold star family, a Latino judge and a disabled reporter. Life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has not alloyed that spirit.
At a meeting in the Pentagon’s inner sanctum, the “Tank”, the draft-dodging Trump derided America’s generals as “dopes and babies”. He added: “I wouldn’t go to war with you people.” Debasement was a coin of the realm.
When Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security and a Kelly deputy, balked at Trump’s demands on immigration, he berated her looks and height. For good measure, according to the authors, Trump would call her at 5am, just for the sake of harassment.
After James Mattis advised Trump of his intent to resign as defense secretary, Trump moved his departure up two months. At a cabinet meeting, the president bragged that he had “essentially” fired the four-star general. For the president, policy differences invariably exploded into a matter of honor.
Mattis’s resignation letter omitted any praise for the commander-in-chief. “Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” he wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down.”
Likewise, Trump mocked HR McMaster, Michael Flynn’s replacement as national security adviser, for his mien and wardrobe. The scholarly McMaster was always on borrowed time.
Says one of McMaster’s aides, Trump “doesn’t fire people … he tortures them until they’re willing to quit.”
Clearly, Trumpworld has its share of casualties. Paul Manafort, a campaign manager, and Michael Cohen, a lawyer, sit imprisoned. Flynn and Roger Stone, a longtime political confidante, await sentencing.
Trump’s allergy to reality remains on display. His contention he doesn’t know Lev Parnas is belied by video and email. The US now admits 11 troops attacked by Iran’s missiles were treated for concussions.
Leonnig and Rucker quote Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, who says Trump “appears to be daring the rest of the political system to stop him – and if it doesn’t he’ll go further. The law has no force without people who are willing to enforce it.”
As the Senate marches toward an impeachment trial and the countdown to the election ticks on, truer words have seldom been spoken.