The salacious new book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff has excited President Trump’s critics, who argue its contents make the case that a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign and Russians was collusion.
In fact, the book presents a different case — that Donald Trump Jr. accepted the meeting because he was trying to show his political campaigning prowess, in the midst of competition for his father’s favor.
After Trump’s candidacy picked up steam, Trump Jr. found himself competing with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and brother-in-law Jared Kushner as his father’s “key lieutenants,” according to the book.
“By late spring 2016, when the nomination was all but clinched, the Trump campaign was a set of competing power centers with the knives out,” it said.
As Lewandowski got closer to Trump, the president’s daughter, Ivanka, Kushner, Trump Jr., and his younger brother Eric Trump, all schemed to push him out.
“All this was part of the background to one of the most preposterous meetings in modern politics,” Wolff wrote about the Trump Tower meeting.
“On June 9, 2016, Don Jr., Jared, and Paul Manafort met with a movieworthy cast of dubious characters in Trump Twoer after having been promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Don Jr., encouraged by Jared and Ivanka, was trying to impress his father that he had the stuff to rise in the campaign.”
“It was a case, or the lack of one, not of masterminds and subterfuge, but of senseless and benighted people so guileless and unconcerned that they enthusiastically colluded in plain sight,” Wolff wrote.
The book also suggests it was “the Kushner side” that, months later, leaked details of the meeting to the New York Times to deflect attention away from himself and towards Trump Jr.
There was a White House plan to disclose the meeting to conservative website Circa, but the Times had somehow gotten the scoop while the president and his team were at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, according to the book.
The book describes “panicky discussions” on Air Force One on the way back to Washington on how to deal with the meeting.
The president huddled on the plane with his senior communications strategist Hope Hicks, Jared and Ivanka, and their spokesperson Josh Raffel, to draft a response.
Meanwhile, a lawyer sat waiting on a phone line for an hour, but was never put through. The president’s legal team hired to deal with the Russia investigation were actually blindsided by the matter, the book said.
Trump critics have argued that the meeting on Air Force One — which produced a statement that said the campaign and the Russians discussed adoptions, but did not mention the offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton — was a coverup.
“The lawyers, in disgust and alarm, saw, in effect, each principal becoming a witness to another principal’s potential misdeeds — all conspiring with one another to get their stories straight. The client and his family were panicking and running their own defense. Short-term headlines were overwhelming any sort of long-term strategy,” the book said.
The meeting, and the administration’s ham-handed response, killed a plan by then-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to separate the White House from an external legal team that would deal with the Russia matter, much as how the Clintons had handled the Monica Lewinski affair.
According to the book, Jared and Ivanka also helped to “coordinate a set of lurid leaks — drinking, bad behavior, personal life in disarray” about one of Trump’s lawyers who recommended that they be sent home to New York.
The Trump Tower meeting would not be the only time Trump’s children would land the president in hot water, according to Wolff’s book.
The book also said that Ivanka had pushed for former FBI Director James Comey’s firing. Kushner’s support for firing Comey has been widely reported, but not Ivanka’s.
The book said Bannon and then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus “strongly opposed” firing Comey, while Ivanka and Jared “had no only supported it, but insisted on it.”
The firing of Comey led Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to launch the special counsel headed by Mueller, which Bannon later described to CBS’s 60 Minutes as a huge mistake.
Jared and Ivanka supported Comey’s firing because they believed it would appease Clinton supporters, Bannon is quoted as saying in the book.
“They thought the cosmopolitans would like it if we fired Comey,” he said. “The cosmopolitans would be cheering for us for taking down the man who took Hillary down.”
The book also details how Jared and Ivanka sided with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s plan to send as many as 7,000 more U.S. forces to Afghanistan.
They had also pushed for hiring Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived White House director of communications, who was fired after a profanity-laced interview with the New Yorker.
They had believed that then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had failed to mount a defense for them and the White House.
“Their ire and increasing bitterness came from some of the staff’s reluctance — really, a deep and intensifying resistance — to treat them as part and parcel of the presidency.”
According to the book, Priebus once had to take Ivanka aide to make sure that she understood that in her official role, she was just a staffer. Ivanka had insisted on the distinction that she was a “staffer-slash-First Daughter.”
Investigators are now looking into Ivanka’s involvement in the Trump Tower meeting, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday. While she did not attend the half-hour meeting, she spoke briefly to two of the participants at an elevator as they were leaving.