It’s safe to say that Fire and Fury, which lived up to its title in the way it hit bookstores Friday, is not the most rigorously fact-checked book in history.
The author of the tome that has set Washington ablaze, Michael Wolff, has a reputation from his New York media columnist days for “reconstructing” conversations with his subjects inaccurately. And it doesn’t seem the old dog has learned any new tricks this time around.
For example, one billionaire friend of Donald Trump quoted in the book has already denied that he called the president “not only crazy, but stupid,” and is furious that Wolff never called him to check the quote. That’s lax behavior for any journalist, least of all one covering a guy who screams “fake news!” every chance he gets.
Nevertheless, the publication of Fire and Fury could end up marking the beginning of the end for Trump. Why? It’s hardly news that Trump is “not only crazy but stupid” — but it is news that so many Trump appointees Wolff met, during his astonishingly unfettered months of sitting on couches in the West Wing, have apparently admitted that the man is simply incapable of doing his job.
He can’t or won’t read, they said; he can’t focus on anything for long, much less sit in a chair opposite a foreign dignitary without wandering away. He is, in what appear to be the words of his own chief economic advisor, “dumb as shit.”
“Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions,” Wolff wrote. “It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes.”
Call it an “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment. Everyone in that old tale knew the Emperor was naked; nobody dared say it on their own. Wolff isn’t the little boy who finally blurted it out — he’s the little boy who sat in the Emperor’s palace for months and got his courtiers to admit to his nudity on tape. (And yes, lordy, there are tapes.)
This will affect no one more than Trump. We know the man gets apoplectic and repetitious about one thing above all else: disloyalty. Fire and Fury will fuel his red-faced rages for months. The fact that he attempted to slap a cease-and-desist on the publishers is disquieting — only authoritarian regimes try to ban books — but it does clue us in to how much damage is being done.
But it’s the book’s effect on the rest of Washington that really matters. For the better part of a year, most GOP reps and senators have looked the other way when talk of Trump’s actions came up. They convinced themselves everything was fine. Now that he’s signed their $1.5 trillion tax cut into law, the only meaningful legislation of this Congress, there’s no real reason remaining to prevent cracks from appearing in that dam.
And here, at just the right time, comes a book the whole city is talking about. A book that all of Congress will want to read (if only to see if their names show up in it; at the very least, there’ll be a lot of index-skimming). It’s going to be a lot harder to stay in the Breitbart and Fox News bubble after turning the final page.
And if you start to entertain doubts about the president’s basic competence, a lot of other doubts start to creep in. For example, Wolff writes about how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (or Jarvanka, as Steve Bannon dubbed the couple) were instrumental in getting FBI Director James Comey fired — because they were “increasingly panicked” that he was starting to look into the family finances.
“This is about money laundering,” Bannon told Wolff. “Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner … it goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit.”
Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit is exactly what Robert Mueller’s crack team of investigators are looking at. And as the New York Times revealed this week, there are hours of unreleased, closed-door Congressional testimony about the Trump family’s long-standing links to Russian criminals who needed their dirty money laundered via real estate.
Fire and Fury brings this all above board in a way that makes it much harder for Republicans to close their eyes and ears. It’s the only thing reporters are going to want to talk about. It may lead, in short order, to the publication of those Congressional investigation transcripts.
The reason journalists and politicians alike will be talking about this book ad nauseam is that it blends those relatively dry accusations with delicious chunks of gossip. And gossip is catnip for Washington. Witness the reaction to the “cuck fight,” as the Daily News dubbed it, between Bannon and Trump.
That cuck fight was entirely the result of a single early extract from the book. Bannon called Don Jr.’s infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian officials “treasonous, unpatriotic and bad shit,” and went on to rant about how they should have had the meeting at arm’s length with lawyers in a nondescript hotel in New Hampshire if they were criminal masterminds.
But it’s now pretty clear they ain’t. The book punctures any remaining notion among pundits that Trump and his family are capable of playing multi-dimensional chess. The myth of his strategic invincibility is long gone — for the GOP bosses, at least, if not yet for his beloved “poorly educated voters.”