Quick Takes: The Wolff Chronicles

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* The initial response from the White House to the release of excerpts from Michael Wolff’s book (a third one has now been published at GQ) was to blame Steve Bannon. That led to a typical Trump reaction.

Lawyers on behalf of President Donald Trump sent a letter Wednesday night to former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon demanding he refrain from making disparaging comments against the president and his family…

Trump attorney Charles J. Harder of the firm Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP, said in a statement, “This law firm represents President Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent.”

* As the heat piled up, they took it one step further.

A lawyer representing President Trump sought Thursday to stop the publication of a new behind-the-scenes book about the White House that has already led Trump to angrily decry his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

The legal notice — addressed to author Michael Wolff and the president of the book’s publisher — said Trump’s lawyers were pursuing possible charges including libel in connection with the forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The letter by Beverly Hills-based attorney Charles J. Harder demanded the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book” or excerpts and summaries of its contents. The lawyers also seek a full copy of the book as part of their investigation.

* As it turns out, Wolff had a card to play in this game.

Michael Wolff has tapes to back up quotes in his incendiary book — dozens of hours of them.

Among the sources he taped, I’m told, are Steve Bannon and former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh.

So that’s going to make it harder for officials to deny embarrassing or revealing quotes attributed to them in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” out Tuesday.

* One has to wonder if Wolff has quotes like this on tape.

It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as shit. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.

* James Fallows observes that Wolff’s revelations have been an open secret all along.

Who is also in on this open secret? Virtually everyone in a position to do something about it, which at the moment means members of the Republican majority in Congress.

They know what is wrong with Donald Trump. They know why it’s dangerous. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules, and whose vulnerability has been newly exposed. They know—or should—about the ways Trump’s vanity and avarice are harming American interests relative to competitors like Russia and China, and partners and allies in North America, Europe, and the Pacific.

They know. They could do something: hearings, investigations, demands for financial or health documents, subpoenas. Even the tool they used against the 42nd president, for failings one percent as grave as those of the 45th: impeachment.

They know. They could act. And they don’t.

* Timothy O’Brien caught the same thing I did from Bannon’s remarks about the Trump/Russia investigation.

Bannon also knows, as any street-fighter would, that Mueller’s probe is perilous for the president because it is much more than an investigation into Russia’s election meddling on Trump’s behalf — and Bannon zeroes in candidly and coolly on that fact.

“This is all about money laundering,” Wolff quotes Bannon saying. “Their path to [expletive] Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner.” For good measure he added, “It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”

“It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner stuff,” Bannon adds. “The Kushner stuff is greasy. They’re going to go right through that.” (He used a nastier word than “stuff,” but let’s keep things family-friendly around here.)

* Kevin Drum was amazed that that the Trump administration gave Wolff so much access over such a long period of time. He doubts that it’s ever been done before. I would simply point to what Michael Lewis wrote about “Obama’s Way” back in 2012.

To understand how air-force navigator Tyler Stark ended up in a thornbush in the Libyan desert in March 2011, one must understand what it’s like to be president of the United States—and this president in particular. Hanging around Barack Obama for six months, in the White House, aboard Air Force One, and on the basketball court, Michael Lewis learns the reality of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who sent Stark into combat.

* Finally, I missed this one during the holidays—but it’s still quite relevant as we approach the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.