This Wolff episode reminds me of Michael Hastings' embed with the McChrystal crew.
— Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) January 4, 2018
Amazingly Mike Flynn played a supporting role both times. https://t.co/6R5yQbQRRx
— Zeddy (@Zeddary) January 4, 2018
Because they’re all scorpions in the Oval Office, these days! The Guardian, to its credit, seems to have broken the Wolff story first, and NYMag has a gripping authorized you-are-there excerpt (possibly bumped up, after the the firestorm started). But The Hollywood Reporter scored an excerpt made by Wolff himself, and it is jaw-dropping. He seems to have invited himself into the Oval Office, not just for an afternoon, but repeatedly. The Trump family didn’t pay any attention to the guy on the couch, taking notes (recordings!), because they’re used to treating all random strangers in their quarters as The Help (i.e., invisible to their exalted attention). And all the other operators hanging around — Bannon, Priebus, Spicer, et al — were afraid to challenge Wolff, for fear that he might have more clout than they did… or, at least, that drawing attention to him might draw unwanted attention to them. “”You Can’t Make This S— Up”: My Year Inside Trump’s Insane White House”:
I interviewed Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter in June 2016, and he seemed to have liked — or not disliked — the piece I wrote. “Great cover!” his press assistant, Hope Hicks, emailed me after it came out (it was a picture of a belligerent Trump in mirrored sunglasses). After the election, I proposed to him that I come to the White House and report an inside story for later publication — journalistically, as a fly on the wall — which he seemed to misconstrue as a request for a job. No, I said. I’d like to just watch and write a book. “A book?” he responded, losing interest. “I hear a lot of people want to write books,” he added, clearly not understanding why anybody would. “Do you know Ed Klein?”— author of several virulently anti-Hillary books. “Great guy. I think he should write a book about me.” But sure, Trump seemed to say, knock yourself out.
Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the president meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around — checking in each week at the Hay-Adams hotel, making appointments with various senior staffers who put my name in the “system,” and then wandering across the street to the White House and plunking myself down, day after day, on a West Wing couch…
The nature of the comedy, it was soon clear, was that here was a group of ambitious men and women who had reached the pinnacle of power, a high-ranking White House appointment — with the punchline that Donald Trump was president. Their estimable accomplishment of getting to the West Wing risked at any moment becoming farce.
A new president typically surrounds himself with a small group of committed insiders and loyalists. But few on the Trump team knew him very well — most of his advisors had been with him only since the fall. Even his family, now closely gathered around him, seemed nonplussed. “You know, we never saw that much of him until he got the nomination,” Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, told one senior staffer. If much of the country was incredulous, his staff, trying to cement their poker faces, were at least as confused.
Their initial response was to hawkishly defend him — he demanded it — and by defending him they seemed to be defending themselves. Politics is a game, of course, of determined role-playing, but the difficulties of staying in character in the Trump White House became evident almost from the first day.
“You can’t make this shit up,” Sean Spicer, soon to be portrayed as the most hapless man in America, muttered to himself after his tortured press briefing on the first day of the new administration, when he was called to justify the president’s inaugural crowd numbers — and soon enough, he adopted this as a personal mantra. Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, had, shortly after the announcement of his appointment in November, started to think he would not last until the inauguration. Then, making it to the White House, he hoped he could last a respectable year, but he quickly scaled back his goal to six months. Kellyanne Conway, who would put a finger-gun to her head in private about Trump’s public comments, continued to mount an implacable defense on cable television, until she was pulled off the air by others in the White House who, however much the president enjoyed her, found her militancy idiotic. (Even Ivanka and Jared regarded Conway’s fulsome defenses as cringeworthy.)
Steve Bannon tried to gamely suggest that Trump was mere front man and that he, with plan and purpose and intellect, was, more reasonably, running the show — commanding a whiteboard of policies and initiatives that he claimed to have assembled from Trump’s off-the-cuff ramblings and utterances. His adoption of the Saturday Night Live sobriquet “President Bannon” was less than entirely humorous. Within the first few weeks, even rote conversations with senior staff trying to explain the new White House’s policies and positions would turn into a body-language ballet of eye-rolling and shrugs and pantomime of jaws dropping. Leaking became the political manifestation of the don’t-blame-me eye roll.
The surreal sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him, the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, that through-the-eye-of-the-needle feat, but obviously, he was yet … Trump. Indeed, he seemed as confused as anyone to find himself in the White House, even attempting to barricade himself into his bedroom with his own lock over the protests of the Secret Service….
Such a rich tapestry — or fruitcake. As I said earlier: Wolff may not be the biographer Trump (or we) wanted, but a guy hanging around in the room where it happened based on a good-optics THR interview is the biographer Trump deserved.