Michael Wolff’s Withering Portrait of President Donald Trump

. A chronicler of media, power, and wealth, Wolff is also willing to dish the dirt, as he demonstrated in a gossipy tome about Rupert Murdoch, which was published in 2008.

.. After that book came out, there was an inquest inside Murdoch’s News Corporation into who had granted Wolff access.

.. as Wolff noted in a foreword to the paperback edition of the book, Murdoch was the person primarily responsible for the access he gained. The press baron “not only was (mostly) a patient and convivial interviewee but also opened every door I asked him to open,” Wolff wrote.

.. His original idea, he says, was to write a fly-on-the-wall account of Trump’s first hundred days. “The president himself encouraged this idea. But given the many fiefdoms in the White House that came into open conflict from the first days of the administration, there seemed no one person able to make this happen. Equally, there was no one to say ‘Go away.’ Hence I became more a constant interloper than an invited guest.”

.. Still, the over-all portrait that Wolff draws of a dysfunctional, bitterly divided White House in the first six months of Trump’s Presidency, before the appointment of John Kelly as chief of staff and the subsequent firing of Bannon, has the whiff of authenticity about it—and it echoes news coverage at the time.

.. during one Oval Office meeting, Bannon called Ivanka “a fucking liar,” to which Trump responded,“I told you this is a tough town, baby.”

.. Equally plausible is Wolff’s portrait of Trump as a one-dimensional figure who had no conception that he could win the 2016 election; little clue what to do after he did emerge victorious from the campaign trail; and virtually no interest in, or aptitude for, acquiring the skills and information needed to fulfill the role of President. “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency,”

.. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate . . . . Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television.

.. Trump often retires in the early evening to his bedroom, where he has three television screens, and interrupts his viewing only to converse by telephone with his friends and cronies, some of them fellow-billionaires.

.. unconfirmed new anecdotes, too, about Trump’s sexism and narcissism. In one meeting, Wolff says, the President referred to Hope Hicks, his communications director, as “a piece of tail.”

.. described Sally Yates

.. Trump is, ultimately, a self-fixated performer rather than a politician, and his primary goal is to monopolize public attention.

.. This depiction probably understates Trump’s devotion to making money, as well as his racism and nativism, both of which go back decades.

.. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, were adamantly opposed to firing Comey. “McGahn tried to explain that in fact Comey himself was not running the Russia investigation, that without Comey the investigation would proceed anyway,”

.. Chris Christie and Rudolph Giuliani, who “encouraged him to take the view that the DOJ was resolved against him; it was all part of a holdover Obama plot.”

.. the concern of Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, “channeled through his son and daughter-in-law, that the Kushner family [business] dealings were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump.”

.. Jared and Ivanka “encouraged him, arguing the once possibly charmable Comey was now a dangerous and uncontrollable player whose profit would inevitably be their loss.”

Jared and Ivanka were urging the president on, but even they did not know that the axe would shortly fall. Hope Hicks . . . didn’t know. Steven Bannon, however much he worried that the president might blow, didn’t know. His chief of staff didn’t know. And his press secretary didn’t know. The president, on the verge of starting a war with the FBI, the DOJ, and many in Congress, was going rogue.

.. Wolff was surely right to stress the momentousness of the decision to get rid of the “rat”— Trump’s term for Comey.

.. five months after Comey’s firing, Bannon was predicting the collapse of Trump’s Presidency.

.. In any event, there would certainly not be a second term, or even an attempt at one. ‘He’s not going to make it,’ said Bannon at the Breitbart Embassy. ‘He’s lost his stuff.’ ”

2 big holes in Trump lawyer John Dowd’s explanation of that very unhelpful tweet

The first problem is it seems to contradict what Yates has said in her testimony to Congress. Yates said she had informed McGahn about a) Flynn being interviewed and b) that he had provided bad information to the White House. But she also clearly seemed to suggest she didn’t share details of Flynn’s comments to FBI investigators with McGahn.

.. The White House is saying — clearly, for the first time — that Trump did indeed know Flynn had offered a problematic account of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the FBI. You might recall back in mid-February that Trump basically had to be dragged kicking and screaming into firing Flynn, and he seemed to regret it in the weeks afterward. He only did it after public pressure became so intense over Pence’s false denials that the White House had no other choice.

.. Now, according to what Dowd is saying, Trump also resisted firing Flynn for weeks even though he was informed that Flynn had apparently made the same types to statements to the FBI. Trump really wanted to keep Flynn on, apparently, because he was willing to put up with his own adviser misleading federal law enforcement.

President Trump’s Really Weak Week

In his speech, Trump encouraged police brutality and said he was “the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, O.K.?” He said that he’s protecting the backs of law enforcement “100 percent.” Except for Sessions, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Robert Mueller.

As two people close to Trump told The Times’s Maggie Haberman when asked why he was tormenting Sessions instead of firing him: Because he can.

.. And in his paranoid, aggrieved isolation, he’s even thinking about nixing Steve Bannon, nemesis of the Mooch, and mulling firing the one who could get him fired, Mueller, and pardoning himself for possible charges.

.. Trump learned his technique of publicly criticizing and freely firing from George Steinbrenner, one of the ruthless, towering characters he modeled himself on when he started hanging out at Yankee Stadium in the ’70s.

.. Trump had always resented Priebus for advising him to get out of the race after the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape story broke — known as Priebus’s “scarlet A.H.,” according to The Washington Post — and for not understanding that Trump is not a mere Republican; he’s the head of his own “beautiful,” us-against-them movement, “the likes of which the world has never seen.”

.. As The Post reports, Trump’s delighted demeaning of Priebus included this incident: “At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect.”

.. After torturing Reince for months, Trump happily gave him the final humiliating shove. As the tweets hit the White House cellphones, Priebus’s colleagues Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino jumped out of the Suburban they were sharing with Priebus, leaving the jobless man in a driving rain on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, the weakest link tossed off the sled for the press wolves.

.. You’re a killer and a king or a loser, as Fred Trump liked to say. And anyone who doesn’t understand that Trump is more important than the G.O.P. or the institution of the presidency is, in his mind, a loser. Anyone who doesn’t get that the loyalty should be for him personally, rather than the country, is, to Trump, a loser.

.. With Priebus, The Post reported, the president obsessed on impotence. “The word was ‘weak’ – ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘Can’t get it done,’” an official told the paper.

.. But after all his bragging about being a great negotiator and closer, it is President Trump who can’t get it done. He couldn’t even close the deal on a pathetic, bare-bones health care bill, ineffectually bullying Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, and failing to win over John McCain, who gleefully had his revenge for Trump’s mockery of him as being a loser because he was captured in war.

.. Trump can’t get it done for his pal, Putin, either. In fact, the biggest legislative accomplishment before Congress leaves for August will have been passing new sanctions on Russia because lawmakers don’t trust their own president. Talk about weak.

.. Congressional Republicans are losing their fear of Trump, making ever more snarky comments about him. North Korea is shooting off missiles and the White House is flustered. The generals are resisting Trump’s tweet edicts. The mortified leader of the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the president’s suggestive and partisan speech.

And what could be weaker than that?

Reince Priebus Is Ousted Amid Stormy Days for White House

Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-racked West Wing, was pushed out on Friday after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F. Kelly

.. The president became convinced that Mr. Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change

..  Intrigued at the idea of putting a general in charge, Mr. Trump offered the job to Mr. Kelly a few days ago.

.. Mr. Priebus said he had tendered his resignation to the president on Thursday, the same day the newly appointed White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was quoted vowing to force the chief of staff out. Even so, as late as Friday morning, Mr. Priebus told colleagues that he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit, but he evidently learned otherwise later in the day. Mr. Kelly will take over the corner office in the West Wing on Monday.

.. Some advisers to Mr. Trump opposed the choice, arguing that Mr. Kelly did not have the political background for the job.

.. “The president needs someone who understands the Trump constituency as his chief of staff, someone who has both administrative skills and political savvy,” Roger Stone

.. In six months in office, he has fired

  • a national security adviser (Michael Flynn),
  • an F.B.I. director and (James Comey)
  • a holdover acting attorney general, (Sally Yates)

while his

  • White House press secretary, (Sean Spicer)
  • communications director, (Mike Dubke)
  • deputy chief of staff, (Katie Walsh)
  • deputy national security adviser and (K-T-McFarland)
  • legal team spokesman (Mark Corall0)his resignation was due to growing frustration with operation and warring factions, as well as concerns over whether he was being told the truth. (The Hill)
  • have all left.

.. Privately, even Mr. Priebus’s critics wondered how Mr. Kelly would surmount the same challenges — controlling a freewheeling president who often circumvents paid staff members by seeking counsel from a roster of outside advisers.

.. Several conservative supporters of Mr. Bannon — including Representative Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman — told Mr. Trump on Friday that the president would risk losing base supporters if he let the strategist go.

.. Mr. Priebus had hoped to last a full year, but in the end no other White House chief of staff has been forced out after such a short tenure.

.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, soured on Mr. Priebus, partly because of what he viewed as the shortcomings of Sean Spicer, an ally of Mr. Priebus’s

.. Mr. Priebus and Mr. Spicer had told the president that they believed Mr. Scaramucci, a gregarious but edgy hedge fund manager and fund-raiser, lacked the required political experience and organizational skills.

.. Mr. Scaramucci quickly engaged in open war against Mr. Priebus — with the president’s encouragement. By Wednesday, the new communications chief publicly suggested that the chief of staff was a leaker and threatened to seek an F.B.I. inquiry.

.. help guide him through a capital that had never seen a president who had not served in politics or the military.

.. “I’ll tell you, Reince is really a star,” Mr. Trump said, using language that he would repeat less than a year later about the man he picked to replace Mr. Priebus.

Sally Yates: Protect the Justice Department From President Trump

The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out, regardless of which political party is in power.

.. President Trump claims that it is very “unfair” that Mr. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, a recusal indisputably necessary given Mr. Sessions’ role in the campaign that is now under investigation. At its core, the president’s complaint is that he doesn’t have a political ally at the Justice Department to protect him from the Russia investigation. And he is apparently trying to bully Mr. Sessions into resigning so that he can put someone in place who will.

The president hasn’t stopped there. He has also tried to goad Mr. Sessions into re-initiating a closed investigation of the president’s former political rival. And all of this takes place in the wake of the president’s attempts to persuade the former F.B.I. director James Comey to back off the Michael Flynn investigation, and then firing Mr. Comey when he didn’t.

President Trump’s actions appear aimed at destroying the fundamental independence of the Justice Department. All the while, he’s ripping the blindfold off Lady Justice and attempting to turn the department into a sword to seek vengeance against his perceived enemies and a shield to protect himself and his allies.

.. In short, no one at the White House should have anything to do with any decisions about whom or what to investigate or prosecute. Period.

We must do more than rubberneck as we drive past this car crash. We all have a responsibility to protect our Justice Department’s ability to do its job free from interference. The very foundation of our justice system — the rule of law — depends on it.

The poor members of Trump World

Poor Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is latest to the firing line that has included such formerlys as FBI director James B. Comey, national security adviser Michael Flynn and acting attorney general Sally Yates, as well as the “voluntarily resigned” — press secretary Sean Spicer and communications director Michael Dubke.

.. Kislyak looks like a jovial sort who enjoys a hearty chuckle. His sides must be splitting these days as Trump repeals and replaces officials who are investigating Russia or who deny knowing any Russians.

Donald Trump’s Craven Republican Enablers

Authoritarian leaders in foreign countries seize and maintain power this way. And, despite his bungling start, this is the project that Donald Trump appears to have embarked upon. Since the end of January, he has appointed one of his closest political allies, Jeff Sessions, to run the Justice Department; fired an acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who had warned the White House that the national-security adviser was compromised; and axed forty-six U.S. Attorneys, one of whom, Preet Bharara, had jurisdiction over Trump’s business empire. Now the head of the F.B.I., James Comey, has been ousted, at a time when the agency is conducting an investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government.

.. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader

.. claimed, falsely, that it was not Trump but Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who removed Comey. McConnell curtly dismissed calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, saying that such a move would “only serve to impede the current work being done” on Capitol Hill

.. He has long demonstrated an unwillingness to look beyond partisan concerns

.. Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump, who was then the Republican nominee. But since Election Day those words have turned out to be empty. “The President lost patience, and I think people in the Justice Department lost confidence in Director Comey himself,” Ryan told Fox News on Wednesday evening. He also said, “It is entirely within the President’s role and authority to relieve him, and that’s what he did.”

.. After Trump won in November, they made a political deal with him. As long as he pursues their legislative agenda—gutting Obamacare and other government programs, axing regulations, cutting taxes on the wealthy—they are likely to stick with him under almost any circumstances, even as their pact gets ever more Faustian.

.. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, issued a statement that said, “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.”

.. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who has criticized Trump on other matters, said, “I believe a fresh start will serve the F.B.I. and the nation well.”

.. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.”

.. It would be flattering Trump’s capacity for advance planning to claim that he has a blueprint for abrogating the Constitution and seizing more power. But throughout his career he has exhibited a willingness to push things as far as he can on an opportunistic basis, running roughshod over competitors, business partners, ordinary people, rules, and regulations. As the history of the high-pressure sales scam that was Trump University showed, he only backs off when he is forced to.

.. Trump’s willingness to say and do things that most people would shy away from because they are constrained by social norms, or ethics, helped carry him to where he is today. “He gets an idea in his head and just says, ‘Do it,’ “ Barbara Res, a former vice-president in the Trump Organization, told Politico’s Michael Kruse. Artie Nusbaum, one of the managers of the construction firm that built Trump Tower, said, “This is who he is. No morals, no nothing. He does what he does.” That is who the Republicans are enabling. Until they stop doing it, they will be complicit in the erosion of American democracy.