The scandal of Michael Wolff’s new book isn’t its salacious details—it’s that everyone in Washington has known its key themes, and refused to act
But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.
The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.
.. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants
.. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.
.. nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump last year than for him, including the three million more who voted for Hillary Clinton. (The rest were for Gary Johnson, who got nearly 4.5 million; Jill Stein, with nearly 1.5 million; Evan McMullin, with about 700,000; and a million-plus write-ins.)
.. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules
.. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. “Independent” Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. “Thoughtful” ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.
.. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.
.. We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.
But unlike the Godfather character, the president of the United States is backed by powerful people enabling him.
.. The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.
.. Until now, Trump’s worst moments have occurred behind closed doors, and have become known to the public only second-hand, leaked by worried officials, aides, and advisers. Yesterday and today, we have seen a Trump temper-tantrum in real time on Twitter
.. the most important moment in Wolff’s book are words attributed at second or third-hand to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the time of Donald Trump’s election. “He will sign anything we put in front of him.”
.. Who and what Donald Trump is has been known to everyone and anyone who cared to know for years and decades.
- Before he was president, he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist.
- Before he was the country’s leading racist conspiracy theorist, he was a celebrity gameshow host.
- Before he was a celebrity gameshow host, he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate.
- Before he was the multi-bankrupt least trusted name in real estate, he was the protege of Roy Cohn’s repeatedly accused of ties to organized crime.
.. Instead, since he announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Donald Trump has been enabled and protected.
The enabling and protecting not only continues. It accelerates.
.. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.
.. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation.
.. the important thing about Trump is not the man; it’s the system of power surrounding the man.
.. What sustains Trump now is the support of people who know what he is, but back him anyway.
Republican political elites who know him for what he is, but who back him because they believe they can control and use him;
conservative media elites who sense what he is, but who delight in the cultural wars he provokes;
rank-and-file conservatives who care more about their grievances and hatreds than the governance of the country... he is indeed the “very stable genius” he claims to be: Trump understands how to mobilize hatred and resentment to his own advantage and profit. He has risen higher than Joe McCarthy or Charles Lindbergh or Theodore Bilbo—and he has lasted already nearly a full year in office, holding the approval of one-third of the country
.. without the complicity of other power-holders, Trump would drop from his central position like a tooth from a rotten gum. What we need to do now is widen the camera angle beyond Fredo Trump to the hard-faced men and women over his shoulders. Those are the people who put Trump where he is, and keep him there, corrupting the institutions of American democracy and troubling the peace and security of the world.
It’s not Trump’s motives that are scary; Wolff reports that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were “increasingly panicked” and “frenzied” about what Comey would find if he looked into the family finances, which is incriminating but unsurprising. The terrifying part is how, in Wolff’s telling, Trump sneaked around his aides, some of whom thought they’d contained him.
.. “In presidential annals, the firing of F.B.I. director James Comey may be the most consequential move ever made by a modern president acting entirely on his own.” Now imagine Trump taking the same approach toward ordering the bombing of North Korea.
.. We learn that the administration holds special animus for what it calls “D.O.J. women,”
.. most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it.
.. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail.
.. the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”
.. According to Wolff, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, called Trump an “idiot.” (So did the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, though he used an obscenity first.)
.. Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, compares his boss’s intelligence to excrement. The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, thinks he’s a “dope.” It has already been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” which he has pointedly refused to deny.
.. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve
.. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good.
.. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.
.. Maybe, at the moment, people in the Trump orbit feel complacent because a year has passed without any epic disaster, unless you count an estimated 1,000 or so deaths in Puerto Rico
.. A guy falls from a 50-story building. As he flies by the 25th floor, someone asks how it’s going. “So far, so good!” he says.
Eventually, we’ll hit the ground, and assuming America survives, there should be a reckoning to dwarf the defenestration of Harvey Weinstein and his fellow ogres.
.. His enablers have no such excuse.
The frightened teenager fled the room and told his mother and stepfather, who demanded action from the head of the organization hosting the conference.
“If we endorse these types of individuals, then it would seem our whole weekend together was nothing more than a charade,” the stepfather wrote to Tony Perkins, president of the Council for National Policy.
“Trust me . . . this will not be ignored nor swept aside,” replied Perkins
.. The Post has a photocopy of a 2015 letter that Perkins sent to Goodman, congratulating him on his therapy, but advising him that he ought not to seek political office until he has dealt with his homosexual behavior. Perkins said that he was “disappointed” by Goodman’s decision to run for state office, and kicked him off of the Council for National Policy.
.. Here’s the thing, though: Perkins and others who knew what Goodman had done in the hotel room let him continue his rise in conservative politics, knowing that he was a potential time bomb. How many social and religious conservative donors, activists, and voters would have supported an Evangelical rising star had they known that he was at least once willing to commit adultery, with a young man, and by sexually assaulting him?
.. So, Tony Perkins, the most powerful religious right figure in Washington, helped hide from other conservatives, as well as the public, that junior Republican politician Wesley Goodman, despite his façade as a Bible-believing family man, was an adulterous gay groper. Why?
.. Goodman was seen as a rising conservative star and a good networker who could help young people get jobs in conservative organizations
.. When asked whether Rosenberger had heard the rumors of Goodman’s past, Miller said they can’t chase down every rumor.
“Until someone comes forward with a substantial allegation — and when that occurs there is immediate action to make sure the proper protocols are followed,” Miller said.
.. Was it the case that young men propositioned lewdly by Goodman, who was well-connected in Republican politics, were afraid not so much of Goodman but his protectors?
.. Was Tony Perkins’s decision to stay silent as Wes Goodman’s political star rose in any way related to a desire to have a reliably conservative vote in the Ohio statehouse, even though he knew the man was a groper? I find it hard to believe that someone of Perkins’s national stature would worry so much about the Ohio statehouse, but given that Evangelicals (like Perkins) have established a reputation of overlooking credible accusations of sexual predation for the sake of supporting politicians who vote as they wish, the question remains.