WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump returned fire with both barrels Wednesday against criticism leveled at him in a new book that says he never expected — or wanted — to win the White House, his victory left his wife in tears and a senior adviser thought his son’s contact with a Russian lawyer during the campaign was “treasonous.”
Trump released a formal statement railing against his former chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, insisting Bannon had little to do with his victorious campaign and “has nothing to do with me or my Presidency.”
“When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump said.
The statement came in response to an unflattering new book by writer Michael Wolff that paints Trump as a juvenile in many ways who doesn’t understand the weight of the presidency and spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the phone to his old friends.
White House aides were blindsided Wednesday when an early excerpt from the book was published online by New York magazine and released by other media outlets that had obtained copies ahead of its Jan. 9 publish date. The White House did not have a copy of the book as of Wednesday morning, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.
Trump seemed most angry at comments made by Bannon and first reported by The Guardian, which obtained an early copy of the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
According to The Guardian, Bannon described a Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Bannon also told Wolff that the investigations into potential collusion between Russia and Trump campaign officials would likely focus on money laundering.
“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV,” The Guardian quoted Bannon as saying.
A spokeswoman for Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
But the former White House chief strategist was not surprised or particularly bothered by the blowback, according to a person familiar with Bannon’s thinking but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Bannon vowed on Wednesday to continue his “war” on the Republican establishment and also predicted that, after a cooling-off period, he’d continue to speak with Trump, who likes to maintain contact with former advisers even after he fires and sometimes disparages them.
The former-and-current Breitbart News head has told associates that he believes Trump has been ill-served by some his closest allies, including his eldest son and Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. Bannon believes they have exposed Trump to the Russia probe that could topple his presidency and that Trump would be able to accomplish more without them.
New York magazine also published a lengthy adaptation of the book on Wednesday, in which Wolff writes that Trump believed his presidential nomination would boost his brand and deliver “untold opportunities” — but that he never expected to win.
It says Trump Jr. told a friend that his father looked as if he’d seen a ghost when it became clear he might win. The younger Trump described now-first lady Melania Trump as “in tears — and not of joy.”
The first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, disputed the account, saying that Mrs. Trump supported her husband’s decision to run, encouraged him to do so, and was happy when he won.
“The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section,” she said in a statement.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also dismissed the book, contending it “is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House.” She added, “Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy.”
Wolff was generally granted access to the White House with a ‘blue badge” instead of the traditional press badge, giving him wide-ranging access to the West Wing, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal protocol. One former White House official said Wolff was known to camp out for hours in the West Wing lobby after meetings, sitting on a sofa as he waited to talk to staffers passing by.
One sign of his unusual access: Wolff was spotted by reporters using the West Wing doors, rather than the briefing room entrance that reporters are typically required to use.
The book was based on more than 200 interviews, including conversations with the president and senior staff, according to New York magazine.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.