Trump lawyers try to halt book's release as White House fights to contain firestormThe Guardian
January 4, 2018
Lawyers for Donald Trump moved on Thursday to try to shut down the explosive new book which has exposed chaos behind the scenes at the White House.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, is due to be released on Tuesday. But after extracts from the book were made public by the Guardian, the White House has been thrown into a frenzy.
First, Trump issued a remarkable personal statement denouncing Steve Bannon, his one-time confidant, whom he castigated as self-aggrandizing and not a critical figure.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency," Trump said. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said the president was "furious and disgusted" at Bannon's attacks on his family, which included the claim that Donald Trump Jr's Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton had been "treasonous" and "unpatriotic".
Then on Thursday, as the White House struggled to contain the fallout from the book, a lawyer for Trump sent a letter demanding Wolff and his publisher, Henry Holt & Co, "immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination", or excerpts and summaries of its contents. The legal notice, sent by Beverly Hills-based attorney Charles Harder, also demanded a copy of the book.
Harder sent a similar letter to Bannon on Wednesday night, accusing the former chief strategist of violating an employee agreement and defaming the president.
The Guardian published details from the book on Wednesday after obtaining a copy from a bookseller in New England. New York magazine then rushed to publish a lengthy extract and more details began to emerge.
US publisher Holt is understood to be in discussions to move forward publication of the book after receiving the cease-and-desist letter from Trump's lawyers. About 250,000 copies of the book have already been shipped, but they are supposed to be held under strict embargo until Tuesday.
Although lifting the embargo is complicated, the publisher could now direct booksellers to immediately place the book on sale, a source with knowledge of discussions said.
Wolff, who was unavailable for comment, is due on NBC's Today show on Friday morning for his first on-the-record interview.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's speech, privacy, and technology project, said Trump's cease-and-desist lawsuit had no chance of success. "Even Donald's Trump's lawyers aren't crazy enough to present this to a court," he said. "It would be extraordinary and unprecedented for a court to respond to these claims by blocking publication. That is not going to happen.
"I think there is an audience of one for these legal threats and that's Donald Trump."
Since the Guardian first published details from the book, major US publications including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have received copies freed from embargo, the Guardian understands.
On Thursday, in a column for the Hollywood Reporter titled My Year Inside Trump's Insane White House, Wolff gave more insight into what he discovered as he sat "day after day on a West Wing couch" for a year.
Administration officials, he suggested, do not believe Donald Trump is capable of fulfilling his role as president.
"Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions," Wolff wrote. "It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories - now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions - he just couldn't stop saying something."
He added: "Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all - 100% - came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job."
In a final anecdote, Wolff wrote: "At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends."
Much of Thursday's White House press briefing centered on the Wolff book, including alleged questions raised by White House staffers about Trump's mental fitness for office. Sanders labeled any claims about Trump's stability "disgraceful and laughable".
"If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there," Sanders said.
Trump appeared before the media on Thursday morning in the Roosevelt Room, where he was meeting Republican members of the Senate about immigration. There were shouted questions from reporters, including: "Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr President? Any words about Steve Bannon?"
Trump replied: "I don't know, he called me a great man last night so, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick."
Wolff's book - "filled with false and misleading accounts" according to the White House - soared from 48,449th on Amazon's bestselling books list to No 1.
Wolff said his book was based on more than 200 interviews, including multiple conversations with the president and senior staff. Sanders claimed Wolff "never actually sat down with the president" and had spoken with him just once, briefly, after Trump took office. She dismissed the book as "trashy tabloid fiction".
"Aides thought they had more time to prepare for the book's formal release," the Washington Post reported. "Trump spent much of the day raging about the book to top aides, officials and advisers said ... As he fumed, some aides were still frantically searching for a copy of the book."
The controversy consumed time and energyas Trump prepared for a weekend retreat at Camp Davidto discuss Republican plans for 2018.
On Wednesday, Bannon hosted Breitbart News Tonight on Sirius XM radio as usual, making little reference to the public rupture.
When a caller brought up the issue, Bannon replied: "The president of the United States is a great man. You know I support him day in and day out."