The furore over the last week about Michael Wolff’s book about the first months of the Trump administration might mislead some people into thinking that something important actually happened.
This could not be more wrong. Wolff’s book – which has now appeared on the internet in electronic format- is not even a punctuation mark in the history of the Trump Presidency. It is a blank space which will be forgotten in a few weeks.
The book tells us precisely nothing of any value about the Trump Presidency save for one thing, which has not been reported anywhere that I know of because it is so completely contrary to what so many people have been saying about Donald Trump and his rise to the Presidency for so long.
This is that the book shows that the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians which are the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry must be untrue and that no one in the White House takes them seriously.
To regular readers of The Duran this is no revelation at all. We have been saying this very thing right from the start.
However a sensationalist book widely hailed by the neoliberal media establishment as the definitive account of the first months of the Trump White House, and written by Michael Wolff – a neoliberal journalist who proudly proclaims that his aim is to bring down Donald Trump – in effect confirms it.
It does so moreover on the basis of privileged access Wolff says he was granted to the White House,.
The book cites no evidence to back the collusion allegations and confirms that within the White House they are viewed as preposterous and untrue
One of those who thinks this is Steve Bannon, who was at the centre of the Trump campaign, and who would if there had been collusion with Russia presumably know about it.
That all but confirms that the allegations are untrue.
The book does have a chapter entitled “Russia”. However it turns out to be principally about the Flynn affair.
To the extent that this chapter discusses the collusion allegations at all it says quite clearly that they are seen within the White House as a construct concocted by Donald Trump’s enemies and are considered by everyone working in the White to be preposterous and untrue.
Other than this important fact about Russiagate what else does Wolff’s book tell us?
Here it is important to say that for all Wolff’s boasts of privileged access his book derives from three sources (1) information provided by an angry and embittered Steve Bannon; (2) gossip on the part of White House staffers; and (3) a certain measure of invention by Wolff himself.
Bannon’s information is what provides Wolff’s book with its substance. That should not however be taken to mean that what Bannon is quoted as saying in the book is necessarily true. On the contrary many of the things Bannon says are demonstrably untrue.
Wolff’s book shows the extent to which Bannon has come to think of himself as a political strategist of genius who managed practically single handed to win the election for Donald Trump.
Thus if one is to believe Bannon the Trump campaign was floundering in August 2016 when Robert Mercer donated $5 million to the campaign and persuaded Trump to appoint Bannon to a senior post in the campaign. Bannon then supposedly managed to bring order and direction to the campaign despite Trump’s incompetent meddling and that of his family.
This is a travesty. By August 2016 Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination, seeing off every Republican challenger in a bitter contest which had lasted for months. All this happened before Bannon joined Trump’s campaign.
Though Donald Trump’s poll rating thereafter fluctuated, all the conditions which eventually led to his victory by August 2016 were already there.
The high likelihood is that Trump would have won the election even if Bannon had never joined his campaign, and it is Trump not Bannon who must take credit for this.
Wolff claims Trump was elected contrary to his own wishes and became depressed as it became clear that he had won.
This is nonsense. Throughout the campaign Trump worked tirelessly to win first the Republican nomination and then the Presidency. It beggars belief he would have done so if he had not wanted to win.
Wolff says that following the election the Trump transition descended into chaos because the wise advice of Bannon and others for a strong chief of staff to be appointed was not followed.
There is even a hint that the “strong chief of staff” Bannon wanted was none other than Bannon himself. The book claims (implausibly) that Bannon was actually briefly considered for the role.
In the event Trump divided authority between Bannon, the new chief of staff Reince Preibus (a colourless functionary proposed by the Republican Party’s Congressional leadership), his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s wife Trump’s daughter Ivanka.
This view of the chaos in the early months of the Trump White House clearly derives from Bannon and not surprisingly at this point Bannon’s all too obvious hostility to Kushner and Ivanka (“Jarvanka”) becomes all too clear.
Though they had worked closely together during the campaign and had for a time been close friends, following the election Bannon and Kushner rapidly became rivals for Trump’s ear, with Bannon clearly resenting Kushner’s greater access to Trump.
The result is that Kushner is represented by Wolff – obviously drawing on Bannon – as a bungling out of depth amateur, whilst Ivanka is represented as treacherous and scheming, with ambitions to succeed her father as President.
The result of this division of authority was supposedly chaos, which was supposedly made worse by Donald Trump’s supposedly eccentric leadership style.
Much of the sensational material in the book is simply gossip intended to highlight Donald Trump’s supposedly eccentric leadership style in order to give flesh to Bannon’s criticisms about the division of authority in the White House.
What truth is there to any of this?
A measure of confusion is unavoidable where the new President is so inexperienced and is obliged to build bridges to the leadership of his party in Congress with whom he is unpopular.
To the extent that it was worse in the early months of the Trump administration than it should have been, the fault for this does not lie with Donald Trump but with his opponents.
The key point which Wolff ignores is that Donald Trump faced the single most sustained attack any newly elected President has faced in modern US history.
Parts of the bureaucracy were openly working against him, sabotaging his policies, leaking against him to the media, and placing people in his campaign and transition teams under surveillance on spurious charges of colluding with Russia. There was even talk of his impeachment before he was even elected.
In the weeks leading up to his inauguration an attempt was made to persuade members of the Electoral College not to elect him, and on 8th January 2017 – twelve days before the inauguration – he was presented with an ‘intelligence assessment’ which all but said that he owed his election to the Russians and which included a salacious dossier which alleged that he had indulged himself in an orgy in a hotel room in Moscow.
Within days this dossier was published by the media, the Justice Department was sabotaging his ‘travel ban’ Executive Orders, the head of the FBI refused to deny false rumours that he was under investigation, strategically placed leaks brought down his National Security Adviser, and the fact that his campaign was under investigation was publicly confirmed to Congress.
Even details of his first meetings with Russian President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov were maliciously leaked and spun in the media to cause him the greatest possible damage.
To expect the early days of any administration faced by this sort of attack to progress with clockwork efficiency is to expect the impossible. To blame Donald Trump because things did not go altogether efficiently because of all this is to turn reality on its head.
Yet that is precisely what Wolff does. If one were to use his book as a guide for the events of the first months of the Trump administration one might easily conclude that the Russiagate affair was a sideshow, not the all-consuming scandal holding Washington in its grip which it has been for the last 18 months.
Since it has attracted so much attention I will here say something about the one episode in the book which has been most widely reported.
This is Bannon’s comment about the meeting between Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which Bannon calls “treasonous”.
The Guardian – one of the most fervid supporters of the Russiagate conspiracy theory – reports Bannon’s words in this way
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.
Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”
Bannon also speculated that Trump Jr had involved his father in the meeting. “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
These words show that Bannon does not really believe that Donald Trump Junior, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were engaging in treason when they met Veselnitskaya. Rather what Bannon is saying is that by meeting Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower without lawyers present and without first tipping off the FBI they were exposing themselves to that claim.
In other words Bannon is saying that Donald Trump Junior, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are stupid and incompetent (“that’s the brain trust they had”) and cannot be trusted to do anything right by themselves unless Bannon himself is involved (“any information could then be dumped down to Breitbart”).
Instead of being evidence that the meeting with Veselnitskaya was “treasonous”, Bannon’s words are therefore just another example of Bannon’s self-aggrandising and his all-too obvious hostility towards members of Donald Trump’s family.
Bannon’s real view of the Russiagate affair is provided in another passage in the book, which – of course – has attracted no attention
As for Bannon, who had himself promoted many conspiracies, he dismissed the Russia story in textbook fashion: “It’s just a conspiracy theory”. And, he added, the Trump team wasn’t capable of conspiring about anything.
Wolff reports one other highly cynical comment of Bannon’s about Trump’s attitude to Russia which has also attracted a measure of attention but which is more interesting in what it says about Bannon’s attitude to Trump than in what it says about Trump’s attitude to Russia
“What has he gotten himself into with the Russians?” pressed Ailes.
“Mostly,” said Bannon, “he went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin. But Putin couldn’t give a shit about him. So he’s kept trying.”
This comment does not corroborate the Trump Dossier as some desperate people are trying to claim.
On the contrary it says that Trump has no connection to Russia and that his wish to mend relations with Russia stems from his wish to get Putin and the Russians to take him seriously and to agree to meet with him.
That not only argues against the Russians having done anything to help Trump get elected; it actually contradicts what the Trump Dossier says about the deep and longstanding links between Donald Trump and Russia.
In truth what this comment shows is the depth of Bannon’s contempt for Donald Trump, who at the time Bannon is supposed to have made this comment (early January 2017) was the US’s President elect and Bannon’s boss.
All in all Wolff’s book is a nasty book made up out of gossip and malice spiced up with a certain amount of fact,
It draws heavily on the reminiscences of an angry and bitter man – Steve Bannon – who has an exaggerated idea of himself.
To try to use this book to carry out a psychological diagnosis of Donald Trump – which is what some people are doing – is offensive and absurd.
The book’s principal importance is that at a time when the Russiagate conspiracy theory is imploding it shows how insubstantial and fabricated it always was.
Other than that it is of no value, and I doubt it will change opinions of Donald Trump one jot.