Michael Wolff in Philly: Everyone in the White House feels Trump is ‘appallingly stupid’

The author of “Fire and Fury” dished on his bestselling book at the Free Library.

Michael Wolff speaks at Philly's Parkway Central Library on Jan. 16, 2018

Michael Wolff speaks at Philly's Parkway Central Library on Jan. 16, 2018

Ptah Gabrie / for Billy Penn

If you wanted to lay hands on a copy of Michael Wolff’s book last week, you were out of luck. After Fire and Fury debuted at No. 1 on the NYT Best Sellers list, the Trump tell-all became nearly impossible to find at bookstores in Philadelphia. The Center City Barnes and Noble was even taking reservations for dibs on an upcoming delivery.

But there were plenty of copies available Tuesday night at the Free Library, which hosted the polarizing journalist as part of its ongoing Author Events series.

The chance to see Wolff in person, interviewed by legendary local political columnist Dick Polman, packed the 400-seat Montgomery Auditorium in the Central Library. Another hundred or so people filled a separate room to experience the event via simulcast.

What they were treated to was essentially an hourlong critique of the President’s ability to properly run his office.

In addition to the Trump bashing, Wolff spoke in his own defense. He directly refuted the claim that he had not spoken directly with Trump, and alluded to possibly releasing audio recordings of his trenchant interviews with Steve Bannon.

“I’ve got these Bannon tapes, which are just fabulous,” he said.

The tapes could prove critical, since Wolff is currently being sued by the Trump Administration for defamation.

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Ptah Gabrie / for Billy Penn

Lesson: Ignore journalists at your own risk

Detractors have said Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is sloppy with details, and that the author was deceitful when approaching people for comment behind closed doors in the White House.

But Wolff maintains he didn’t lie to get his info. (A report published today at Bloomberg corroborates this version of events.)

“I was very careful to not go in there as a member of the press,” Wolff said. “I was perfectly happy that they knew I was writing a book, but that was very different than acting as a daily reporter.”

Wolff noted there were even many occasions where he felt he was being ignored, despite having scheduled interviews.

“You feel completely humiliated,” he said, describing how he adopted a “fly on the wall” tactic.

“You’re sitting there, and everybody knows you’re sitting there because nobody cares about you…. This sense of being invisible became very useful.”

‘Everyone around him feels he’s appallingly stupid’

The attitudes and atmosphere in the White House evolved over the course of Wolff’s visits, he said, from highly supportive of the President to skeptical or critical.

“In the beginning there was a ‘Donald Trump, rah rah rah’ [feeling],” Wolff said, “and not just with Steve Bannon, but with virtually everyone. I saw the transformation occur as they worked with this guy on a daily basis.”

By the end of his reporting, Wolff discovered himself in the midst of a White House unlike any other he’d seen in history — one in which the entire senior staff believes there is something wrong with the President of the United States.

“I feel like everyone around him feels like he is just appallingly stupid,” Wolff said.

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Wolff with Philly political journalist Dick Polman

Ptah Gabrie / for Billy Penn

‘I think Steve knows where the skeletons are’

Those who were troubled by how the President and his clan acted once in office include Bannon, according to Wolff. Trump’s former chief strategist — now estranged, thanks to this book — “poured his heart out” multiple times, the author said.

Much of their chatter was about Bannon’s fear of what news might become public.

“To me on many occasions, he expressed how horrified he was by the potential for collusion, the money laundering,” Wolff said. “I think Steve knows where the skeletons are.”

No one Wolff interviewed seemed to question the premise that the President had been involved in all kinds of financial skullduggery, he said, which Bannon “found increasingly painful.” And yet, Bannon “was not somebody who was going to do anything but satisfy Donald Trump’s immediate needs.”

What are those immediate needs? The conclusion Wolff has come to is simple:

“[Trump] absolutely knows nothing, he cares about nothing. [He’s] entirely focused on his immediate gratification.”

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Ptah Gabrie / for Billy Penn

‘Nobody likes to make mistakes’

Polman at one point asked if anyone ever said they thought the President was doing a terrific job. “Never once,” the author answered, prompting a big audience laugh.

But his book is not an indictment of the President, Wolff maintained. He described it as a piece reflective of the way people in the inner circle truly feel about their Commander in Chief, and . emphasized that he wants the reader to form their own opinion.

After all, Trump did managed to get himself elected. “He did it,” Wolff said. “Very few people do this.”

Regarding critics who’ve pointed out factual mistakes regarding names and dates, Wolff responded that future reprints of Fire and Fury will include some corrections.

“Nobody likes to make mistakes,” he said. “In the multitude of future editions, we will fix all such errors.”

Wolff finished with a plug for the $32.50 tome. “Just read the book, that’s all I have to offer,” he said. “If the book speaks to you, I’ve done what I set out to do.”

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