Michael Wolff’s new book about President Donald Trump’s fledgling administration has already received an accelerated release date, threats of a presidential lawsuit and a midnight launch in at least one Washington, D.C., bookstore — but just how did it blow up so fast?
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with members of Trump’s administration, according to the Guardian, which was the first outlet to publish details from the explosive book.
Wolff, a media columnist and author, gained regular access to the White House after telling Trump himself that he was interested in writing a book about the new administration shortly after the election, according a column he wrote for the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday.
Trump’s tacit approval allowed Wolff to “hang around” the White House, sitting on a couch in the West Wing day after day, witnessing firsthand some of the most noteworthy news stories involving the Trump administration. It’s that long-term, unprecedented access that seemingly enabled Wolff to record the incendiary events and conversations included in his new book — from the collective shock and despair of Trump team members on election night as they realized they might actually win to Trump’s bizarre nighttime rituals.
But those details are only part of the reason why Fire and Fury has become such a talking point over the past few days. Trump’s own response to the book’s content certainly didn’t hurt the hype. Here’s a breakdown of the high-profile back and forth that’s surrounded the book thus far.
Wednesday, Jan. 3
On Wednesday morning, the Guardian became the first outlet to publish details and quotes from Fire and Fury after obtaining a pre-publication copy of the book “from a bookseller in New England.” (The Guardian didn’t offer any more specifics about where, exactly, its copy of the book came from.)
The excerpts published in the Guardian revealed that former chief strategist Steve Bannon, long seen as a member of Trump’s inner circle until his ouster from the White House in August — which may or may not have been voluntary — had spoken to Wolff extensively for the book. The quotes the Guardian published included direct attacks on the Trump family: At one point he called Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to take a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during the 2016 campaign “treasonous,” “unpatriotic” and “bad shit.”
“They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV,” Bannon purportedly told Wolff in a quote published by the Guardian.
The excerpt alleged that Trump never wanted to win the election and was initially “horrified” at the realization he would become president. It also claimed Trump was miserable at his own inauguration, that daughter Ivanka Trump had a tendency to mock her father’s signature combover hairdo and that he was regularly in bed by 6:30 p.m. “with a cheeseburger.”
The fervor surrounding the release of the excerpt obviously reached the Oval Office. On Wednesday, the White House released a statement attributed to Trump, saying Bannon “not only lost his job, he lost his mind” and minimizing his role on the campaign, calling him merely “a staffer.”
Trump’s lawyers reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon that evening, alleging he violated a non-disparagement agreement by speaking to Wolff.
Thursday, Jan. 4
The controversy and hype around Fire and Fury, originally scheduled for release Tuesday, only increased on Thursday. That morning, lawyers for Trump sent an 11-page letter attempting to stop publication of the book, according to the New York Times — an attempt one expert called “flagrantly unconstitutional.”
“Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book, the article or any excerpts or summaries of either of them, to any person or entity, and that you issue a full and complete retraction and apology to my client as to all statements made about him in the book and article that lack competent evidentiary support,” the letter said, according to the Times.
The attempt to stop the book seemed to backfire. In response, Henry Holt and Co., the publishing company behind the book, announced it was moving up the release date for Fire and Fury and would begin sales the following morning.
“We see Fire and Fury as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse and are proceeding with the publication of the book,” the company said in a press release.
Yet another excerpt from the book was published Thursday, this time in British GQ. The latest passage included details about Trump’s “ego” and his relationship to the media, including allegations that any negative media coverage left Trump “desperately wounded.”
Trump continued to lash out at Bannon, telling reporters, “I don’t talk to him ... That’s just a misnomer.”
Also on Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed a question about Fire and Fury, saying, “There are numerous mistakes, but I’m not going to waste my time or the country’s time going page by page, talking about a book that’s complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip,” the Times reported.
Despite the White House’s efforts — or possibly because of them — the energy around the book only intensified. Fire and Fury continued to trend at the top of the Amazon bestseller list, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Kramer Books, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., said on Twitter it would be holding a midnight release party for the book, an honor usually reserved for blockbuster hits like the Harry Potter series.
Late Thursday night, Trump took to Twitter to again insult Bannon, this time calling him “Sloppy Steve” and attacking the legitimacy of the book, though he avoided mentioning Wolff by name.
Friday, Jan. 5
However, Wolff defended his reporting in an interview on NBC’s Today, telling host Savannah Guthrie that he stood by “absolutely everything” he wrote and that he could back up his work with notes and recordings.
“I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. As for Trump’s attacks on his work? “My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point,” he said.
He also said the administration’s attempt to stop the book only gave it added publicity, joking that he owed Trump a “box of chocolates.” By Friday afternoon, that buzz appeared to be ongoing: Hours after its official release time, Fire and Fury remained at the top of the Amazon best-sellers list.