Michael Wolff’s book on the first year of the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reals like a gossip-laden tell-all book. There are no notes, no documentation of sources or of people interviewed. Wolff recounts conversations verbatim, but it’s often not clear how he came to possess verbatim records of conversations. Was he present for some of them? Sometimes he was, but he never makes that clear. Was he relying on second-hand accounts? It’s not clear.
In a book such as this one, which argues that the first year of Trump’s administration was a time of extreme disorganization and chaos in the White House, of alternating periods of disinterest and anger on the part of the President, which calls into question the president’s competency and even his sanity, there is a need for a firm base of credibility: of sources, interviews, and so on. It’s likely, of course, Wolff would never have gotten many of his sources to talk to him on the record. My sense is that although many of the individuals details in this book may be wrong, wholly or partially, its general outline of the first year is basically correct.
Steve Bannon is clearly the source for much of the book. He is quoted throughout, and his growing dissatisfaction with the direction of the Trump presidency, especially with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump Kushner (who together convinced the president to fire Bannon) motivated him to provide negative information to Wolff about the Trump Presidency. Of course, deep shadows were already in evidence.
In Wolff’s telling, internecine rivalries, inexperience, jealousy, self-interest, and other factors led to chaos in the Trump White House. Jared and Ivanka (whom Wolff labels as refers to jointly as Jarvanka) contend against Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon for the president’s ear and confidence. Because, according to Wolff, no one in the Trump campaign expected him to win the election, no one prepared for the transition. There had been little if any vetting of people who might be appointed to the cabinet or other offices. Trump mainly thought in terms of appointing friends or people he liked or who liked him. He never understood, or maybe cared about, the lies told by Michael Flynn that led to his dismissal. Details, statistics, policy discussions bored him. He was inconsistent and often uncontrolled in his public statements, whether they came in speeches or Twitter posts. Wolff quotes at length a speech Trump gave to the CIA early in his presidency in which he departed from his prepared remarks: it is the most incredibly incoherent, wild, and irrational statement by any president I have ever read.
A book which calls into question the legitimacy of an American president ought to be better documented and should not contribute to the epidemic of fake news that has flooded the American consciousness.