How did writer Michael Wolff feel being a fly on the wall in the Trump White House?
“I’m trying not to be noticed because you think somebody is going to throw you out,” he told the 800 people last week at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington who were eager to hear the inside story of “Fire and Fury,” Wolff’s explosive account of the Trump administration’s first year.
“I went into this without a preconception about whether Donald Trump would be a success or a failure,” Wolff told Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer for The Washington Post who joined him onstage. “I wanted to find out who Donald Trump was from the people who worked with him on a minute-to-minute basis.”
They included chief strategist Stephen Bannon, whose derision and charges of treason made the book a sensation before its Jan. 5 release.
Wolff, a New York-based media and business writer, said despite the president’s tweet referring to him as a “total loser who made up stories,” the book is “as true as it gets” and that he has had a professional relationship with Trump for more than 20 years.
“He was a guy at a gathering who liked to talk to people he recognized,” Wolff said. “We had a perfectly fine, long acquaintance.”
Trump, Wolff said, had long been infamous for calling New York entertainment reporters, including him, to complain about an article or simply to say what was on his mind. Since becoming president, Trump regularly calls eight people in New York, Wolff said.
“That’s his kitchen cabinet of billionaires and media people that he knows,” he said. “He calls them and then they call each other, and then this all leaks out. So the president throws a fit about the leaks, but in many instances, they come directly from him.”
But “Fire and Fury” came about because of Wolff’s more recent relationship with Bannon, which began with a chance meeting in Orlando International Airport in May 2016.
“I see this guy who clearly seems to recognize me. In fact, he drops his bag and says, ‘You’ve been doing great work.’”
One month later, Wolff realized that Bannon was the chairman of the rightwing media outlet Breitbart News. The two became friends, and two weeks after Trump’s election in November, Wolff asked Bannon if he could write a book, to which Bannon replied no but later changed his mind.
Several of the more explosive sections of “Fire and Fury” involve Bannon, notably when he reportedly said that a June 2016 meeting inside Trump Tower among the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lobbyists was “treasonous.”
“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to this father’s office on the 26th floor is zero,” Wolff quotes Bannon saying, using what was apparently a derogatory term. “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers.”
Wolff called his recordings of his conversations with Bannon “riveting.”
“He opens his mouth, and it’s a kind of poetry,” he said. “You hope he keeps going, and he does.”
“Fire and Fury” has come under fire for its anonymous sources and Wolff’s friendly relationships with key players. Wolff said he kept his distance from the White House press pool in order to blend in.
“What do reporters do? They ask questions,” he said. “I don’t ask questions. I go in and I sit there, and people just start to talk. I became a familiar presence around the White House. I didn’t want anything.”
“Oh, come on,” Capehart interrupted.
Washington resident Jane Gilbert said she has finished half of Wolff’s book.
“After listening to him I can believe he got the access,” she said. “I think he really likes and respects Bannon and really doesn’t like Trump. And that came out in the book, but it was reinforced by hearing him.”
Monique Spain of Arlington called Wolff “informative but down-to-earth.”
Wolff finished with a prediction: “Trump will say sooner rather than later that he is responsible for this book and [that] he is the real writer of this book.”