Fire and Fury is a book written by “journalist” Michael Wolff and is a partially fictional account of the events that occurred in the first few months of the Donald Trump administration. This is the eighth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.
The start of the chapter concerns Donald Trump and Sally Yates, then Deputy Attorney for the United States. Trump was suspicious of women who came from the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton’s circle of friends or business connections, or even the DOJ in general. He seemed to think they moved as if they were better than him and he resented it. Further, Wolff points out that Trump understood politicians on some basic level, but couldn’t understand bureaucrats. He didn’t understand why they would work for so little pay and didn’t seem to register that people work in the government for reasons beyond money.
When Yates warned the Trump team about Flynn, Trump and his team turned their attention to her, instead. Team Trump saw Yates as a bigger threat than anything Flynn could offer. According to Wolff, they seemed to think Russia concerns were a non-starter. They didn’t understand why the media was holding on to the issue and none of them really wanted to keep talking about it. Wolff suggests that Trump’s big fear is not being found for collusion, but rather having his finances unveiled. An amoral man like himself in a grey-area business like real estate could have a lot of secrets and shady dealings unveiled in the worst way.
Virtually all sides saw value in the Russia story. The intelligence community had a tool for revenge on Trump’s incessant insults. Democrats saw an avenue for attack. Republicans saw it as an avenue for leverage and control. Team Trump saw it as proof the media was out to get them. They felt this was a conspiracy theory designed from scratch to delegitimize and overthrow Trump. This played right into Trump’s weaknesses about people out to get him. Wolff notes that if he had been a stronger and more secure person, perhaps he wouldn’t have piled more suspicion on himself by fighting back so much.
In the meantime, there were multiple theories about his Russian connection. One was that he was simply being blackmailed into cooperating with them. Another is that he made a deal with Russian agents. One was that he hired Russian hackers to target the DNC and steal their files (this is in reference to the DNC hack of 2016). Those who knew him thought maybe he was just desperate for validation from Putin and was sucking up to Russia for affection. Others thought that perhaps Trump had done nothing, but was surrounded by people under more direct Russian control.
Regardless, Flynn himself was becoming a problem. One the campaign trail he and Trump were inseparable and he had considerable influence. According to Wolff, it was Flynn who turned Trump against the Intelligence community by constantly feeding him anti-Intel conspiracy theories. Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, at the time also inseparable, recognized the problem and tried to pry Flynn away from Trump, but it was no good. Wolff actually points out that Steve Bannon’s famous assignment to the National Security Council was not to accrue more power to Bannon. In actuality, it was to allow Bannon more control over Flynn, whom he feared would make a rash or stupid decision with that much power.
For Trump’s part, the more suspicious Flynn became, the more Trump was invested in him. Flynn was basically forced out over the objections of Trump himself. This was due to Flynn being caught lying about talking to Russians about sanctions (this was before Trump was formally President and therefore illegal). Trump thought letting Flynn go would validate what he saw as nothing but a persistent conspiracy theory. It took several meetings, but finally Trump was convinced to let Flynn go if it was said to be over his lying to Pence. Mike Pence, the VP, had been legitimately blindsided by the revelation of Flynn’s discussion of sanctions, so this was both a true and useful cover. To Trump it actually made no sense, but he seemed to think this was a battle he couldn’t win, so he gave the OK. The only saving grace to him was that he could say that there was no link between himself and Russia. Unfortunately, the truth is Flynn will forever go down in history as the first solid link between Donald Trump and Russia.
This is a really fascinating chapter. If this true, then Trump isn’t really guilty of being in bed with Russia so much as being really clueless. There are many points at which he could have just shut up and let everything blow over, but now he stands to have his secrets exposed. Unfortunately, he may not get the impeachment that many think he deserves and might not even see a trial of any sort. It would be interesting to see what shady dealings he’s had in the past, though.