Michael Wolff, author of the controversial "insider's account" of Donald Trump's presidency, Fire and Fury (Little, Brown), has defended his work on US national television, saying he is "absolutely in every way comfortable" with "everything" reported in the book, following White House attacks on its credibility.
Wolff was speaking on NBC’s "Today" show on Friday (5th January), the same day the book was published despite Trump's legal team trying to stop its publication by claiming he had not given permission for the journalist to have access to the White House and alleging that the book was "full of lies".
Wolff countered he "absolutely spoke to the president" on-the-record in a total of three hours of one-on-one time over the course of the campaign and in the White House. Refuting Trump's claim that sources had been made up, Wolff added that he interviewed people who spoke with the president "on a minute-by-minute basis" as part of his investigation to find out what it was like to work with the man.
"I work like every journalist works so I have recordings, I have notes," he said. "I am certainly and absolutely in every way comfortable with everything I’ve reported in this book." He added: "My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than, perhaps, anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point."
However, Wolff said he was grateful for the president's continuing strong reactions to the book because it was helping him to sell more copies.
"Where do I send the box of chocolates? Not only is he helping me sell books, he's helping me prove the point of the book," said Wolff. "It is extraordinary the president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book. This doesn't happen, [and] it hasn't happened from other presidents; it would not even happen from the c.e.o. of a mid-sized company."
The investigation has been making the headlines since Wednesday (3rd January) when the Guardian published a story on its controversial contents after obtaining a leaked copy from a bookseller in New England, US. Shortly afterwards Trump issued a statement in response to comments made in the title by Steve Bannon, saying the former chief strategist had “lost his mind” after he left his position in Trump's service. Shortly afterwards, the book began to soar up the pre-order charts on Amazon and other retailers in the US and the UK. Since then, Trump instructed lawyers to try and prevent the book’s publication and has continued to tweet his thoughts on it, most recently saying it was “phony” and “full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist”.
Early copies at US bookstores such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have already sold out, according to Publishers Weekly, and in the UK, Waterstones' m.d. James Daunt commented: "We have been rubbing our hands together thinking ‘this is fantastic’."
Wolff went on to suggest the threat of legal action arose from Trump's "child-like" tendencies. One of the most frequent descriptions of Trump he encountered while interviewing 200 different sources for the book was that the US president is "like a child", in the sense that "he needs immediate gratification and it is all about him".
"This letter for the cease and desist, I have sources in the White House and I know everyone is [saying], 'We should not be doing this, this is not smart'; he just insists and he just has to be satisfied in the moment," said Wolff.
As well as alleging that Trump "does not read, does not listen", the author divulged that he was told Trump frequently repeated stories, expression by expression, within the same 10 minute period. Asked to explain further, the journalist said simply: "I will quote Steve Bannon - he’s lost it."
Among the book's most controversial claims is that former chief strategist Steve Bannon called Donald Trump Jr's meeting with a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign "treasonous" and "unpatriotic". Bannon is also quoted insulting Ivanka Trump as "dumb as a brick", while it is also claimed in the book she holds ambitions to become the first female president. Wolff also said his "indelible impression" of talking to White House staffers and observing them through the first year of Trump's presidency is that "they all - 100 per cent - came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job".
Organisations including the American Booksellers Association and Authors Guild have condemned Donald Trump's attempts to silence the author and his publisher, respectively calling the president's resort to legal action "an appalling abuse of executive power" and "flagrantly unconstitutional".
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement: "The president absolutely believes in the first amendment. But as we’ve said before the president also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact."
Earlier, free speech groups praised the publication in the UK of Fire and Fury.