The newest book from author Michael Wolff, Siege, has been released, and it does not disappoint in its effort to shock with its titillating bits of palace intrigue and gossip from within — or perhaps, this time, from just outside — the Trump White House.
Mr Wolff’s follow up to his bestselling book on Donald Trump’s presidency, Fire and Fury, purportedly includes an inside look at the president’s behaviour as the the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller embroiled the administration in an ongoing scandal.
But, while that investigation threatened the presidency, the book includes other interesting details about the way in which those around the president seemed to view Mr Trump, his treatment of a top member of his administration, and the extraordinary power that his son-in-law Jared Kushner appears to have gleaned as a White House aide.
The Independent read through the book on its release day, and rounded up the most interesting takeaways from our reading. It’s worth noting that Mr Wolff’s reporting has been received with considerable suspicion by fellow journalists who question his sourcing, but nevertheless provides an interesting read. We've reached out to the White House for comment, but have so far not received any response.
One of the most outrageous claims in the book is that the president once bragged he received oral sex from Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations
Ms Haley is described in the book as a highly ambitious and skilled politician, who first wanted to be named secretary of state, but was tapped to be the ambassador of the United Nations instead.
Mr Trump, according to Mr Wolff, has a rare respect for Ms Haley. But, he nevertheless bragged about a sexual relationship with her, and set off a series of professional embarrassments for himself, according to the book. Ms Haley, upon hearing about the supposed brag, then began plotting her exit from the Trump administration, and ultimately did so while wielding leverage over Mr Trump — she is described in the book as the administration’s token female, minority, educated woman — just as the 2018 midterm elections approached.
(Note: A similar allegation was raised in Mr Wolff's previous book, and Ms Haley called the suggestion she was having an affair with Mr Trump "highly offensive" and "disgusting". A request for comment on these details of Mr Wolff's book sent to Ms Haley's publisher was not returned).
Melania Trump apparently thinks the president does not know how to act with children, while others who know him have described him as a man with the mind of a 12-year-old
This came in response to the strange fireside chat in which the president called up a 7-year-old boy, and asked him if he still believed in Santa Claus. The first lady was sitting right next to Mr Trump as he asked the unnamed child the question.
Apparently, Ms Trump was not exactly pleased. Soon after, Mr Trump determined that he would not go to their Florida Mar-a-Lago resort for their winter vacation. The decision came as pressure mounted on Mr Trump to stay behind as a result of the government shutdown he had just forced to try and get money for his border wall. Still, the move was confusing for those that knew how much Mr Trump liked to golf in the sunshine.
It wasn’t an act of self constraint that the first lady was willing to entertain, though, and here’s how Mr Wolff explains it:
“Melania certainly had no intention of staying behind. Among other issues, friends suggested that she was still furious about his fireside Christmas Eve chat with a 7-year-old boy, during which he asked the boy if he still believed in Santa. ‘Melania didn’t think that was funny,’ said one aide. Trump was ‘clearly a guy who had never dealt with a 7-year-old,’” Mr Wolff writes.
In another portion of the book that illustrates Mr Trump’s potential lack of experience with children, the guy who used to mic Mr Trump up while he was on The Apprentice recalled a time when Mr Trump lashed out at his adult son Donald Trump Jr for having “too many f*****g kids”.
That sound engineer, Erik Whitestone, claimed of Mr Trump: He’s “a 12-year-old in a man’s body, all he does is takedowns of people based on their physical appearance — short, fat bald, whatever it is.”
Mr Whitestone also told Mr Wolff that apparently Mr Trump couldn’t be around black people, and that he couldn’t… handle steps
Recounting the days on The Apprentice, Mr Whitestone said Mr Trump apparently once locked himself in his trailer during filming because he didn’t want to be touched by a black person who was filling in as the guy who puts a microphone on his lapel.
Mr Whitestone was told after that alleged incident to always be there to help Mr Trump. He helped would spot women in the entrance to Trump Tower, he said, and then invite them on his behalf to the board room away from the lobby’s waterfall (which Mr Trump apparently calls “god’s urinal”).
Mr Whitestone told Mr Wolff that his time with the future president would get him used to some odd idiosyncrasies: “He can’t walk down steps … can’t walk down hills. [He’s got] mental blocks … [He] can’t handle numbers … they have no meaning to him.”
(For those keeping track: Mr Trump did ride an escalator down into the lobby of Trump Tower to announce his bid for the presidency in 2015, but has since then been seen regularly using stairs with apparent ease).
Mr Wolff says the president wants people to think he had an affair with “a young assistant” in the White House
According to the book, one of the reasons Mr Trump later gave to his “friends” for staying behind at the White House this past holiday season was because he was “banging” a young White House aide.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a president slept with a White House staffer, of course, but Mr Wolff doesn’t seem convinced.
“Shutdown bravado? Locker-room talk? Or all part of a new alternative reality that only he seemed to be living in,” Mr Wolff wrote of his apparent scepticism. Though, of course, he doesn’t ultimately say either way.
Everyone apparently thinks Mr Trump is crazy, or perhaps just annoying
Various characters in Mr Trump’s orbit have at one time or another have mocked the president behind his back, or just expressed a deep concern with the way he has led the United States, according to Mr Wolff’s book.
Among those named in the book are Ms Haley, as well as former US national security adviser HR McMaster, former US secretary of Defence James Mattis, former counsellor to the president Dina Powell, and even Mr Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly.
Some, like Mr Trump’s former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn even mocked the president in front of others.
“Gary Cohn, for instance, would take Trump’s calls while playing golf at the private Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, holding out the phone so others could hear Trump’s diatribes and meanwhile making crazy-man gestures,” Mr Wolff writes.
Rupert Murdoch, likewise, couldn’t always handle Mr Trump: “I can’t get the asshole off the phone,” Mr Wolff quotes the media giant as saying, noting that he was “holding out the phone as the president’s voice rambled off into the air.”
Jared Kushner has carved out considerable power in the White House
Of the weightier allegations in Mr Wolff’s new book are the sections involving Mr Kushner, who is the president’s son-in-law.
Mr Kushner — a real estate developer known for potentially shaky loans he took out to build a skyscraper in Manhattan — was reportedly viewed as a weak link in the Trump administration, but took advantage of the access he has to upend US foreign policy.
The book says that Mr Kushner was obsessed with Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of State and national security adviser for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
The two reportedly sparked up a friendship, and Mr Kushner would regularly name drop Mr Kissinger. And, just like Mr Kissinger, Mr Kushner reportedly saw himself “as the wiser and more focused adviser to a less sophisticated president.”
While Mr Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump did not appear to approve of that relationship (she referred to Mr Kissinger as “Jared’s Uncle Henry”), the book paints a portrait of a surprisingly effective effort by Mr Kushner to be relevant in the Trump White House.
Mr Wolff writes that Mr Kushner eventually established himself as the “most efficient point of contact” for foreign governments looking to influence the US president, a role that upended decades of US tradition to “reliably frustrate transactional and freelance diplomatic efforts.”
That benefited countries that realised Mr Kushner’s influence (like China, and interests in the Middle East), but hurt countries that did not focus on him in their diplomatic efforts, like Europe, Canada, and Britain, according to the book.
Mr Kushner, the book says, essentially turned US foreign policy into an “investment banking scheme”.
For Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), the relationship with Mr Kushner may have been especially helpful. According to the book, their close relationship helped MBS take over in his country (Wolff: Trump’s “first coup”) — and Mr Kushner later questioned whether the Washington Post journalist murdered by MBS, Jamal Khashoggi, was actually a journalist.
“This guy was the link between certain factions in the royal family and Osama [bin Laden]. We know that. A journalist? Come on. This was a terrorist masquerading as a journalist,” Mr Kushner reportedly said in an off-the-record conversation with a reporter.
A spokesman for Mr Kushner, when contacted by The Independent for comment, referred to a previous statement from White House deputy assistant to the president Avi Berkowitz: "Michael Wolff never reached out to me (or the White House) for comment. The passages from the book I've seen attributed to Jared in the media are completely false."
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