Trump's offensive against the 'phony' book exposing his administration's incompetence looks like it's backfiring

  • President Donald Trump has had a strong reaction to an explosive new book detailing infighting and scandals within Trump’s campaign and administration.
  • Many close to the White House have cast doubt on the reporting and facts in the book, but Trump’s reaction to it aligns with some of the book’s themes.
  • Trump has been accused of scandals before, but this book may have struck a nerve.

President Donald Trump has spent much of the first week of 2018 on an offensive to discredit media columnist Michael Wolff’s new book alleging incompetence and unpreparedness in Trump’s campaign. It appears to be the exact kind of misstep he’s accused of in the book.

Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” makes a handful of wild claims, including ones that set off a war of words between Trump and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

In the book, Wolff claims Bannon dubbed a meeting between a Kremlin-linked lawyer and Trump’s son Donald Jr. as “treasonous.” Wolff says Bannon called Trump’s daughter Ivanka “dumb as a brick.” In response, Trump directed his personal lawyers draft a letter threatening “imminent” legal action against the book’s publisher.

The strong reaction looks like it is backfiring. Wolff’s book is flying off shelves after the publisher not only ignored the threats against publishing the book but also moved up its publication date to Friday.

“Here we go. You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. President,” Wolff tweeted Friday.

While the White House has disputed specific errors in Wolff’s book, their hardline response and Trump’s reportedly emotional reaction to the charges have lent a credibility to “Fire and Fury” that it otherwise may not have had.

Wolff has long had a reputation for stretching the facts and creating, rather than recreating, scenes in his writing.

The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, one of the reporters closest to the Trump White House, called the book “light in fact-checking and copy-editing.”

While some figures in the book have corroborated the claims, others have come out to vehemently deny some of the key ones in the book. But instead of the premise and specifics of the book falling apart under scrutiny, interest has only grown.

Wolff struck a nerve?

Ivanka Trump and Steve BannonMario Tama/Getty ImagesIvanka Trump and Steve Bannon

Axios’ Mike Allen wrote that he and his reporters “have had many of the same conversations with the same sources Wolff used” in the book, and that although many specifics became garbled, the overall themes checked out.

Generally, Allen says it’s true that the Trump White House was massively unprepared to assume power, that Trump rarely read or even skimmed intelligence briefs, and that his rash and self-assured behaviour led aides to “method act” and agree with him at any cost, rather than provide honest council.

Wolff says his book draws on months of research and over 200 interviews, many of which were taped, though most of the sources remain anonymous.

But the Trump White House’s response to Wolff’s book has been somewhat different than other public battles he’s taken on as president. For instance, he dismisses the infamous dossier alleging ties between his campaign and Russia as “salacious” and rumour and typically moves on. But the scorched-earth reaction to Wolff’s book has veered into new legal territory.

“The President absolutely believes in the First Amendment,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday. “But as we’ve said before, the President also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact when it certainly and clearly is not.”

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