Author Michael Wolff is standing by his explosive new book on President Donald Trump amid its Friday release, despite Trump calling it "phony" and sending a "cease and desist" letter through an attorney.
In his first television interview just hours before the book would be widely released, Wolff said the many aides to Trump who he interviewed for "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" believe that their boss is like a child, and that he is grateful for the attempt to stop the book's publication, from a man he said is not credible, for the extra publicity it's bringing.
"Where do I send the box of chocolates?" Wolff said on the "Today" show. "Not only is he helping me sell books, but he's helping me prove the point of the book. I mean, this is extraordinary, that the president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book."
The book is drawn from what he said was regular access to the West Wing and more than 200 interviews, including with Trump. It blew open what seems an inevitable feud between the publicity-loving president and his former adviser Steve Bannon, who is quoted extensively and unflatteringly describing Trump, his family and advisers.
Shell-shocked White House aides scrambled to control the fallout this week as excerpts were published ahead of the book's scheduled Jan. 9 release. The publisher announced late Thursday that it would move up the release to Friday because of "unprecedented demand." It was already Amazon's No. 1 best-selling early Friday morning.
Trump tweeted late Thursday that Wolff's book was fiction and reliant on fake sources.
"I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don't exist. Look at this guy's past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!" Trump wrote.
He sounded off again Friday morning, writing, "Well, now that collusion with Russia is proving to be a total hoax and the only collusion is with Hillary Clinton and the FBI/Russia, the Fake News Media (Mainstream) and this phony new book are hitting out at every new front imaginable. They should try winning an election. Sad!"
"Complete fantasy" is how White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Wolff's book Thursday, as the president's allies increasingly raised questions about Wolff's credibility. Trump's lawyers sent Wolff and his publisher cease-and-desist letters, as they had to Bannon. The book, Sanders continued, contains "mistake after mistake after mistake." She said the White House had rejected some two dozen of Wolff's requests for an interview with Trump.
On Friday, Wolff insisted that he had in fact spoken to Trump, saying their discussions took place over three hours during the campaign and in the White House.
"My window into Donald Trump is pretty significant," he said.
The 64-year-old author and blogger said he sought to answer what it's like to work with Trump, and found that Trump's staffers think of him as an idiot with a child-like need for immediate gratification. He said his sources in the White House told him that many people there believe sending the "cease and desist" letter wasn't smart.
"This man does not read, does not listen. He's like a pinball, just shooting off the sides," Wolff said.
Wolff has given Trump's allies fodder, particularly with an acknowledgement in the introduction that he could not resolve discrepancies between some accounts in a White House riven by rivalries.
"Many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue," Wolff writes of some accounts. "Those conflicts and that looseness with the truth, if not reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book." He says he "settled on a version of events I believe to be true."
For example, Wolff writes in the book that Trump didn't know who former House Speaker John Boehner was on election night 2016. Sanders disputes that, pointing to public photos that show the golf enthusiasts had hit the links over the years. Two people close to Boehner confirmed that and said they had spoken before and after the election.
Sanders also derided Wolff's contention in the book that Trump and his family had not wanted to win the election.
Wolff defended himself on the "Today" show, saying "I don't think there has ever been one correction" in the many books and columns he's written.
"My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has ever walked on Earth at this point," Wolff said.
For his part, Trump went after Bannon in an unusual White House statement. Wolff and his publisher did not respond to a request for comment and an interview.
Wolff built his four-decade career writing about some of the world's rich and powerful people — including Rupert Murdoch — in seven books and across a wide range of newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, he critiqued the media. And often, he got scathing reviews back on his writing style, his focus on atmospherics and his factual mistakes.
"One of the problems with Wolff's omniscience is that while he may know all, he gets some of it wrong," wrote the late David Carr in The New York Times, noting some discrepancies in dates in Wolff's 1988 book about Murdoch, "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch."
But Wolff was getting support from other corners Thursday. Janice Min, an owner of The Hollywood Reporter, tweeted that she was one of the few guests at a dinner reported in the book at Roger Ailes' house in January last year. According to Wolff, Bannon discussed Trump's plans for appointing Cabinet and other advisers and Ailes warned him about the qualifications of some. "It's not a deep bench," Bannon acknowledged, according to the book.
"So I was one of the 6 guests at the Bannon-Ailes dinner party in January 2017 and every word I've seen from the book about it is absolutely accurate," Min tweeted.
Min appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Friday and doubled down on her support for Wolff and his account of the dinner party, saying, "Everything was surprising. The details in the book are accurate."
"I was blown away by the level of trust and confidence Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes had in Michael," Min continued. "He was clearly one of them. ... They liked him, they trusted him and they spoke openly."
Min explained that Wolff had gained the favor of the Trump team after his June 2016 cover story for The Hollywood Reporter on Trump, one she said was "not flattering" but had a "cool-looking" cover. Calling Wolff a "shark," Min said he then "went in for the kill and asked for access to the White House and he got it. And the second after the inauguration, he was in there."
Nearly a year ago, Wolff disparaged news outlets covering their own industry even in the time of Trump.
"The media should not be the story," he said on CNN in February.
Around the same time, Wolff also wrote a prescient Newsweek column about how the still-new and struggling Trump White House and the media might reach a balance or detente. At the time, Wolff had been spotted multiple times by a reporter who now works for The Associated Press on the White House grounds with a "blue badge" — instead of a traditional press badge — that gave Wolff wide access to the West Wing. 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.
"It is not at all unlikely that each side, no matter how determined to kill the other, emerges into a new and beneficial normal — and perfect balance, with news media ratings and profits soaring and the many Trump dramas commanding our undivided attention," Wolff wrote in the Feb. 10 column. "Until one side makes an error or gains the advantage, and there's a kill."
NBC editors Asher Klein and Liz Lane and Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.