Fire and Fury: Stunning Exposé and Quiet Cover-up?

A Review: Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

A few days into the New Year and iguanas are falling out of the sky in Florida.  (They’re too numb to hang onto their perches.)  Boston is recovering from flooding.   Parts of Alabama are fighting hookworm.  Trump wants $18 billion for THE WALL.  And there’s Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the just-released exposé of life down in the West Wing.

Some argue Wolff is not always reliable.  Just how much was on or off the record?  How much not fact checked?

Sure the Republican establishment is taking pot-shots, as is the New York Times, CNN, NBC, and, Fox News.  Even Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept got snippy.  But even if only 75 per cent of the reporting in Fire and Fury is accurate (which is probably way, way below a fair accounting) Wolff’s account of dysfunction in the White House is both gripping and appalling.

There’s the bitter infighting between the Bannon, Priebus and Jarvanka factions.  (Jarvanka – a combo of Jared and Ivanka – was a word coined by Bannon.) There were the screaming and often obscenity-laced Bannon meltdowns.  There was the after-6:00-PM-President lounging in bed watching three giant TV screens, grumbling, screaming, talking forever to Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch and un-named others.  (Presumably, it was these others who relayed the conversations to Wolff.)

There’s the repeated assertions by various staff that the President of the United States cannot or will not read – anything, ever.  Two or three written sentences max and Trump’s gone.  Totally AWOL.

There was Ivanka and Dina Powell (a former partner at Goldman Sachs) hastily putting together a visual presentation about Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack in Syria – because Trump couldn’t concentrate whenever General McMaster started talking.  The General’s careful, data-laden, chart-heavy, these-are-the-military-options-re-Syria talks, “frustrated” Trump.  The President thought he was “being manipulated.”

Hmmm, foreign policy is being shaped – literally – by a fashion designer and a very, very smart woman who was previously head of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, but, asides from being Egyptian and speaking Arabic, had zero foreign policy background?

It’s a lurid tale and not one likely to improve America’s standing around the world.

Meanwhile, there are some striking omissions in Fire and Fury.

Wolff is sharply critical of Trump, Jared, Ivanka, Bannon, Spicer, Priebus, Donald Jr,  Flynn.  Meanwhile, where is the Vice-President?

In the political maelstrom of Fire and Fury Mike Pence is virtually absent.  He’s mentioned only briefly and in the tamest of language.  He’s described as a somewhat up-tight “cipher.”

Pence may look like a saint, but he’s well-known in the US Congress for being a very aggressive arm twister.  He’s been bat-shit about de-funding Planned Parenthood.  There’s that weird thing of not going to lunch with a solo woman – unless his wife is present.  There’s the Bible study group.  There’s the constant hovering inches behind Trump at any and all occasions.  There’s the eternally sanctimonious smile.  You’d think Pence was raw meat just waiting to be ground up by Wolff.

But Wolff doesn’t bite and Pence gets a pass.  So do the Koch brothers.  These mega-billionaires are only mentioned once on page 178.  They receive the most tepid of criticisms – they are merely an aside, an example of the “difficult rich.”

This kid-glove approach does not apply to other billionaires.  Hedge-funder Bob Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who rescued the Trump campaign with a badly needed multi-million dollar bailout back in August 2015, are thoroughly lambasted.  Wolff brands them as “far out on the odd spectrum” and  “professional fools.”   He quotes a Senior White House staffer who says, “She’s [Rebekah] nuts…nuts…full fledged…like whoa, ideologically there is no conversation with her.”

Nor is there any mention of the multiple links between Koch-funded entities such as the right-wing think tanks, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, and key staffers in the White House.  In fact, except for Attorneys Kellyanne Conway and Donald McGahn, none of these staffers appear in Fire and Fury.  (Back in April 2017 Lee Fang of the Intercept reported that there were, at least, six top White House positions filled by Koch Brothers associates.)

Of course, Fire and Fury is not a deep political analysis.  And yes, Bannon, Trump and Jarvanka were – and are – easy marks.  Still, one can’t help but wonder, why did Pence, why did the Koch Brothers get the soft touch?

For this book to have been written very powerful people opened doors.  It was not just a lax, chaotic, stupid White House that gave Wolff so much access. There had to be those who said, hey, this writer is going to be parked at the White House 24/7, errr, give him some slack?  There had to be some tactful shepherding.  It’s not hard to imagine: One or two or sixteen of those power-luncheons with a hint dropped just before the cappuccino.  You know, it’s all fair game – but stay away from Pence.

One way or another Pence escapes Wolff’s pen and comes off looking, well, saintly.

Whether that’s an accident or something carefully planned we may well never know, but let’s remember: The Vice-President just happens to be the man the Kochs wanted to be President as far back as 2015.  (This is according to Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer who wrote Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.)

As far as anybody knows, the Kochs still want Pence as President.  But the Vice-President has to be squeaky clean.  He can’t be tarnished with any of the Trump-Bannon-Jarvanka craziness.  That wouldn’t do.

In Florida the iguanas continue to fall out of the sky.

Mina Hamilton is a free-lance writer based in New York City. Her articles have appeared in Mother Jones, the Nation, the Progressive and In These Times. She is a frequent contributor to Dissident Voice - her previous articles on Fukushima for Dissident Voice include Japan's Nuclear Armageddon and the Experts and Fukushima's Boiling Water Reactors Continue to Boil. She was a contributing author of the book, Critical Mass: Voices for a Nuclear-Free Future, and a co-editor of Deadly Defense: Military Radioactive Landfills. Read other articles by Mina.