BY MARY REINHOLZ | Prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates, responding last year to questions posed by The Guardian, cited Michael Wolff’s runaway bestseller “Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House” as a book that made her laugh out loud. She called it “scathing, hilarious, terrifying and (in an odd way) comforting.”
This humble scribe can understand the comforting part of Wolff’s takedowns of Trump. For an anti-Trump reader, it’s the satisfaction of seeing a political enemy pinned down and sliced up like sushi by a clever wordsmith’s mordant prose.
Wolff is no H. L. Mencken but the 65-year-old Village resident once again performs an often-comic hit on the hopelessly unfit commander in chief in “Siege, Trump Under Fire.” The omniscient third-person sequel begins with Trump’s second year in office and ends with the release of the Mueller report in March of this year.
Along the way, the author shows Trump getting bested by Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and set up for more defeat, even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller lets him off the hook.
“His escape, such as it was, would be brief,” predicts Wolff who believes that Trump, “an unpredictable and vengeful president,” is on a path of inevitable self-destruction.
Wolff only rarely cites his sources beyond Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist.
The 315-page book has plenty of gossipy revelations about who’s screwing who and unsubstantiated allegations that Trump’s third marriage to Melania is in name only, plus other cheap shots against Vice President Pence’s wife, referred to as “Mother.”
Trump comes across as a cartoon, predictably boasting about his sexual prowess and insisting he doesn’t need Viagra. Bannon’s observations are the most revealing and disturbing, particularly when he comments on the West Wing’s state of denial over the #MeToo movement. He says there is a real fear that the women accusing Trump of sexual misconduct during the first campaign might come back …and with others.
“They’re in my dreams,” Bannon tells Wolff. “Remember the girl at the China Club? I do. Kristin Anderson. She says [Trump] put two digits in her vagina at the bar. She’s forty-three, forty-four now, and one of these days she’s gonna look right in the camera on Good Morning America and she’s going to say, ‘He came in the back of the bar when I was eighteen years old and put two fingers in my vagina…my vagina..my vagina.’ And you’re going to hear that at 8:03 in the morning and she’s going to start crying. And then two days later, there is going to be the next girl…and the next girl. It will be siege warfare.”
So far, there’s been nothing close to “siege warfare,” since Friday, when 75-year-old E. Jean Carroll, a well-known advice columnist, accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman during the 1990s. Her disclosure was part of an installment in her new book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” which appeared in New York magazine, with Carroll on the cover in the same black coat dress she wore during the alleged three-minute rape. Trump soon responded, saying, “I’ve never met this person in my life,” and claiming she was just trying to sell a book. Carroll joins at least 15 other women who have accused Trump of sexual assault, including his first wife Ivana (who later recanted).
In interviews, Wolff has said he spoke to 150 people for “Siege.” But his veracity is in serious dispute. Mueller, for one, has denied Wolff’s claim that his office drafted but didn’t use a three-count indictment of Trump for obstruction of justice. And Alan Dershowitz, famed Harvard law professor emeritus, dismissed Wolff’s assertion in “Siege” that he asked Trump during a White House dinner for a $1-million retainer. Dershowitz — who has written a book arguing against Trump’s impeachment — called the assertion “completely, categorically false,” according to The New York Times.
Also stretching credulity is Wolff’s unverified claim that Jared Kushner became Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “closest international ally,” in order to emerge as a “dominant foreign policy voice” in his father-in-law’s administration. MBS is believed to be behind the grisly 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Wolff quotes Kushner disparaging Khashoggi as a “terrorist,” not a journalist to a reporter. He also claims Kushner suggested to the mercurial 32-year-old MBS that he should order the “arrest” and “quick execution” of the 15 plotters involved in Khassoggi’s assassination. Say what?
Meanwhile, Trump this week won plaudits across the aisle for pulling back against planned military strikes against Iran after that bad actor of a Middle Eastern country shot down a U.S. drone. So Wolff is getting ahead of himself in concluding that Trump is politically a dead man walking. He hasn’t cracked up totally so far and neither, apparently, has the imprisoned Paul Manafort, his former campaign director.
There’s an anecdote in “Siege” about Manafort’s alleged sexual proclivities when he was a free man and living with his wife in Trump Tower. It appeals to the prurient interest but sheds little light on the body politic or on Manafort’s situation as an inmate in protective custody.
Manafort apparently was transferred last week from a federal prison in Pennsylvania — where he was serving a seven-and-one-half-year sentence for financial crimes — to the Metropolitan Correction Center in Lower Manhattan (rather than Rikers Island) to await arraignment on New York State charges. His attorney says that the latter charges amount to double jeopardy, as in, an illegal second prosecution for the same offenses he was previously put on trial for.