Richard Lutz reads two books that turn the spotlight on President Trump.
As ex-Presidential advisor Steve Bannon is subpoenaed to testify before a Grand Jury, what better time to cast an eye over two White House exposes that have hit the bookshops? First, there’s the Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury. There’s also the weightier investigation Collusion by British journalist Luke Harding.
Wolff’s effort, so much in the news this past fortnight, is two hundred pages packed with incident and anecdote. These include Trump’s inability to concentrate or listen, his inability to read and digest and the reliance on advisors who entered the West Wing with neither experience nor political skills.
It’s a giddy and breathless romp that could easily come with the sub-title: You Gotta Sit Down to Take All This In.
Wolff is a fly on the West Wing wall as he records everything he hears, or thinks he hears, in a three month stint at the White House. It can be gobbled down at a fast canter akin to a semi-lurid beach read even though at times it carries little attribution, a lot of loose journalism and some closely libelous statements.
Saying that, here are some of the epithets Wolff says were thrown at President Trump:
“It’s like trying to figure out what a child wants” – Katie Walsh, advisor
“…a fucking idiot” – Rupert Murdoch
“This man never stops being Trump” – Steve Bannon, former chief strategist
And, from the author himself: “…he was most influenced by the last person he spoke to (but) he did not listen to anyone.” “He didn’t read,” wrote Wolff, he was “post literate.”
My gut feeling is that Wolff used Bannon as a major source, especially when it came to invective thrown at Ivanka and her husband, Jared, who both now have vital inner Oval Office access. But, at times, the book seems slapdash; you can almost feel the heat coming out of Wolff’s ears as he slams out page after page of highly contentious material.
More authoritive is Luke Harding’s investigation of Trump’s links with Russia. His book, Collusion, is more factual, more dogged, more content-heavy than Wolff’s gossipy effort. There are no OMG!!! moments. But Harding’s work underpins many of the theories about how the White House is linked to Moscow cash.
In essence, The Trump team has concrete ties to Russia, says Harding. “When it came to Trump and Putin”, he writes, “one was stronger, one weaker. Putin knew to what extent Trump and his entourage had – or hadn’t – collaborated with Moscow. This gave the Kremlin leverage.”
Using a dossier put together by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele and using his own reporting, he says Trump had been cultivated by Russia since a first visit there in 1977.
Kremlin spies wanted to see if he could be of use. Moscow continually sweetened Trump, probably secretly filmed him in hotel rooms. Harding says Russian cash buoyed up Trump’s real estate world when it went into the red and many of Trump’s sidekicks cemented tight ties with Moscow.
As for Donald Trump Jnr, despite denying the allegations at first, he met with Russians during the presidential campaign looking for dirt on the Democrats. That can be construed as illegal because he was liaising with a foreign power while fighting an election.
Harding also points to Russian links with other major Trump insiders such as:
Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), an Exxon Mobil chief who dealt with Putin for twenty years and has received the Russian Order of Friendship,
Michael Flynn (sacked National Security Advisor), guilty of lying to the FBI and beneficiary of undisclosed Russian fees
Paul Manafort (former campaign manager), confidante of oligarchs, who is now registered as a ‘foreign agent’ and who received $12 million for his work with the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine.
“It’s as if,” writes Harding, “Putin has played a role in choosing Trump’s cabinet.”
There’s a wealth of facts that underpin many allegations that have waved in the fetid air for the past three years. The author investigates pools of offshore money, tacky land deals, massive money laundering by Russian mobsters and that whispered rumour – that the Kremlin has something on Trump. As Harding said in a recent radio interview: “The constellation of Russian connections circling Planet Trump is quite extraordinary.”
Of course, with either book, you get a good peek under the bonnet of the Trumpmobile. The president is seen as out of his depth; his lieutenants linked to foreign cash and influence. And the US is badly damaged, with an incompetent chief executive prowling White House corridors followed by the Russian bear.
Have a good read.