On the first stop of his national book tour, author Michael Wolff of the best-selling “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” described the Trump White House as "stupid people doing stupid things."
The event was moderated by Dick Polman, a "writer in residence" at the Kelly Writers House and a national political columnist at WHYY, and was held at the Free Library of Philadelphia Central Library at 1901 Vine St. Hundreds of people attended the free event, and two overflow rooms allowed many more attendees to watch the event on a screen.
While the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, originally slated the book's release for Jan. 9, the book began to gain attention from many across the country, as well as from the president. On Jan. 4, Trump's attorney sent a letter to the publisher asking it to halt the book's release, apologize to Trump, and forward him a copy of the manuscript.
In response, the publishing company moved up the date of production by four days, publishing the book the next day. The book debuted at the top of The New York Times bestseller list and has jettisoned to the top of both Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, backlogging orders.
At the beginning of the event, Polman announced that the book has already gone through its 11th iteration of printing, which Wolff described as “a political event within itself.”
"It takes a Wolff to catch a wolf," Polman said.
Wolff described himself as a writer outside of the traditional press who was able to position himself inconspicuously within the day-to-day workings of the West Wing. His unique access, he contended, was partly due to the fact that he typically does not cover politics and that he is currently unassociated with mainstream news organizations.
Wolff added that he thought his access could also be attributed to the lack of understanding by the president and by his advisors of the possible consequences of his presence in the White House.
“I really didn’t say anything. I was just the guy listening,” Wolff said. “Over this period of time, they poured their hearts out.”
Following the book's publication, Trump denounced it as a work of fiction, calling Wolff “a mentally deranged author.”
However, members of Trump's administration are not the only ones to scrutinize Wolff's credibility. In the days following the book's publication, numerous journalists have expressed doubts concerning his trustworthiness.
David Brooks, an author and opinion writer for The New York Times, described the book as a marker of lowbrow resistance to Trump in an op-ed published in the Times.
At the conversation, Wolff addressed his critics by acknowledging that he made minor errors such as misspelling names and incorrectly describing the circumstances surrounding John Boehner’s resignation from political life, but shirked off the most insatiable accusers as envious of his success.
“Everybody is trying to figure out how to cover this story. Everybody, I think, is resentful when someone else does it," he said.
One of the main points of discussion was Steve Bannon, the White House’s former chief strategist, whom Wolff described as “a remarkable source.” As with many working in the West Wing, Wolff remarked, Bannon became more open to speaking with him as his faith in the president deteriorated.
“I think Steve came to believe that Trump was an illusion that he had and that the reality was that Trump is an idiot,” he said.
Most recently, special counsel Robert Mueller issued a subpoena for Bannon to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into possible links between the president and the Russian government.
“I think Steve knows where the skeletons are so it will be interesting to see [what Bannon will say during his testimony].”
Pressed on whether he would ultimately publish any recordings that were used to write the book, Wolff admitted that the thoughts had never occurred to him, but confessed that his recordings of Bannon – which he dubbed the “Bannon Tapes” – are “just sort of marvelous.”
However, Wolff remained uncertain of whether the Trump White House was capable of successfully carrying out collusion with Russia.
“The idea that they could have put together a grand strategy here, I don’t know how they would have done it,” he said.
“There have been rotten White Houses in the past, and you can hate them or love them, but there have been few White Houses, and maybe no White Houses ever, in which the entire senior staff thinks that there is something wrong with the President of the United States.”
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