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How Michael Wolff Got Into the White House for His Tell-All Book

Author Michael Wolff’s pitch to the White House to win cooperation for his book included a working title that signaled a sympathetic panorama, a counter-narrative to a slew of negative news stories early in Donald Trump‘s presidency.

He called it” The Great Transition: The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration .” And in part due to that title, Wolff was able to exploit an inexperienced White House staff who erroneously believed they could shape the book to the president’s liking.

Nearly everyone who spoke with Wolff thought someone else in the White House had approved their participation. And it appears that not a single person in a position of authority to halt cooperation with the book — including Trump himself — elevated any red flag, despite Wolff’s well documented history. His previous work included a critical book on Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch, the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc . co-chairman.

The published Trump book carries the name” Fire and Fury ,” and it paints a portrait of a White House in turmoil, where nearly everyone close to the president belief he is unfit for the job. Wolff’s work has upended the start of Trump’s second year in office, confusing the president and his staff from following up his first major legislative win — the tax overhaul he signed into law at the end of 2017 — with another big policy push.

The book caused Trump to publicly and dramatically sever his relationship with Steve Bannon, his former strategist, whom Wolff quoted disparaging the president and his family. Trump’s lawyers issued an ineffectual menace against Wolff’s publisher, seeking to stop the book’s publication; instead, it appeared in stores early and rocketed to the top of bestseller lists.

This account of how Wolff reported his book is based on interviews with multiple present and former Trump aides and consultants. Most insisted on anonymity to discuss one of the most embarrassing episodes of Trump’s presidency so far.

Wolff didn’t respond to interview petitions submitted to him and his publisher.

Trump’s Phone Call

Wolff’s entree began with Trump himself, who phoned the author in early February to compliment him on a CNN appearance in which Wolff criticized media coverage of the new president.

Wolff told Trump during the call that he wanted to write a volume on the president’s first 100 days in agency. Many people want to write volumes about me, Trump replied — talk to my staff. Aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks listened to Wolff’s pitch in a West Wing session the next day, but were noncommittal.

Several aides said Hicks subsequently informally endorsed talking with Wolff as long as they attained “positive” commentaries for the book, which they said Wolff told them would counter the media’s unfair narrative.

It wasn’t until late August that alarm bells were raised in the White House — when Hicks, Jared Kushner and their friends realized that fellow aides who had spoken with Wolff, especially Bannon, may have damaging anecdotes about them.

Blaming Bannon

Publicly, White House officials have laid much of the held accountable for the book’s most controversial revelations on Bannon, who arranged for Wolff to enter the White House grounds at least a handful of periods.” Close to 95 percent” of Wolff’s White House interactions were” said and done at the request of Mr. Bannon ,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.

But privately, Trump friends say other top aides likewise permitted Wolff into the building, including Conway on multiple occasions.

Some of Trump’s senior-most personnel believed that Hicks, one of Trump’s longest-serving aides who has acted as a gatekeeper for his interview requests, had authorized its collaboration with Wolff. They recalled that she encouraged them to engage with the author as long as they constructed positive commentaries. Hicks hadn’t greenlit the book, people familiar with her handled in the matter said — but nor did she immediately put up a stop sign.

In fact, for the first six months of Trump’s presidency no one in his White House — including then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer — stopped Wolff from repeatedly scheduling appointments in the West Wing. He visited about 17 days, according to person or persons very well known the issues. Nor did they monitor what Trump’s aides were telling the controversial author.

One former aide, Sebastian Gorka, said he was asked to meet Wolff” by an outside mutual contact” he declined to identify.” The second we satisfied I had a bad feeling about him and his real agenda ,” Gorka said.

Wolff conducted himself with assurance on his visits to the West Wing, playing up its interaction with Trump. Officials remember Wolff telling them he’d known Trump a long time and that the president called him “the best.”

‘Zero Access’

Trump said on Twitter on Jan. 4 that he” approved zero access to the White House” for Wolff, and he has denied ever consenting to an interview with the author.

In addition to Bannon and Conway, the author also spoke with son-in-law and senior adviser Kushner, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, then-Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, Priebus, Spicer and others. All declined to comment for this story.

Kushner met with Wolff late in the author’s reporting, simply in order to push back on anticipated strikes on him, two White House officers said. Spicer sat down with Wolff at the author’s request because Wolff craved his help to arrange an interview with the president. Mulvaney talked with Wolff on two occasions merely because two senior White House aides asked him to speak with the author about the budget.

Conway participated in one public interview with Wolff at an April 12 Newseum event in Washington marking Trump’s first 100 days. Wolff said on stage that it was the continuation of a conversation with Conway that had begun” early in the transition .” He had interviewed her for a Hollywood Reporter article published Jan. 26.

Conway is mentioned dozens of hours in Wolff’s book, including in scenes in which he quotes her directly and describes her thoughts.

Neither Spicer or anybody else on the White House communications faculty ever elevated any alarms about Wolff’s prior job, including the Murdoch biography, or cautioned the staff to be cautious in conversations with him.

Hicks’s Role

Hicks told Wolff in mid-August that he would be granted an interview with Trump in the Oval Office, then four a few weeks later officially became him down. Hicks herself, one of Trump’s closest aides, never agreed to be interviewed by Wolff, several people said.

Trump allies said they strove Hicks’s guidance on whether to speak with Wolff because they deem her to be the aide most very well known Trump’s media predilections, having served as the White House director for strategic communications before moving into her current role as communications administrator. She previously was a top communications staffer for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and before that worked for the Trump Organization.

Hicks advised at the least one Trump ally contacted by Wolff to cooperate with the author if he opted — and if he thought he could shape a positive narrative about the president.

In that regard, Hicks’s handled in Wolff’s book didn’t differ much from previous administrations. One officer from former President Barack Obama’s White House “re just saying that” his administration generally believed in engaging with authors, as long as they were serious journalists and not gadflies or partisan writers.

Engaging With Authors

The White House was likewise operating loosely with book author Ron Kessler, and, with the president’s official boon, with authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Halperin and Heilemann have previously worked for Bloomberg Politics.

The Obama aide said his communications squad retained strict tabs on writers’ operate — micromanaging access to the White House, assigning press aides to mind the authors during interviews or asking personnel for summaries afterwards, closely tracking lines of questioning and stimulating sure writers were escorted off the grounds after their appointments.

That didn’t happen in Wolff’s case, and the matter of who precisely awarded him access to the White House is a ticklish subject for Trump’s senior aides.

After Kelly supplanted Priebus as chief of staff at the end of July, Wolff was no longer allowed to linger in the West Wing vestibule, a doctor’s waiting room-like region where guests come and go and staff occasionally cut through. But by then it was too late.

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