For a second consecutive day, the White House press secretary on Thursday fielded a barrage of reporters’ questions about a forthcoming book that portrays a chaotic initial year for the presidency of Donald Trump.
Most people in the United States could “probably care less about a book full of lies,” responded Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who characterized Fire and Fury as “trash” and something “a fired employee wanted to peddle.”
That fired employee is Steve Bannon, who ran Trump’s presidential campaign in its final quarter of 2016 and was chief strategist in the White House for the initial seven months of his presidency.
Bannon is quoted extensively by author Michael Wolff in the 336-page book.
Asked whether Breitbart News should fire Bannon, who is executive chairman of the right-wing news and opinion website, Sanders replied, “I certainly think it’s something they should look at and consider.”
A lawyer for the president on Thursday sought to block publication of the book, contending it is defamatory and libelous and demanding that Wolff and his publisher, Henry Holt and Co., stop its release. It originally had been scheduled to be released Tuesday, but Wolff said Thursday that it now would arrive in bookstores Friday — four days early.
Charles Harder said his legal team was “investigating numerous false and/or baseless statements” made about Trump in the book that Wolff said came from more than 200 interviews he conducted during Trump’s successful election campaign and after the president took office a year ago.
Harder, the previous day, also sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon, demanding that he stop making defamatory remarks about Trump and his family.
On Thursday, Trump said, “He [Bannon] called me a great man last night, so he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.”
The White House said Trump was not trying to block anyone’s constitutional protection of freedom of speech through the legal threats.
“The president absolutely believes in the First Amendment,” Sanders responded to a reporter’s question at Thursday’s media briefing. “But as we’ve said before, the president also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact when it certainly and clearly is not.”
In perhaps the most controversial passage in the book, Bannon is quoted as saying he thought it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser; and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Russians in the midst of the campaign at Trump Tower in New York.
The younger Trump had been promised by an intermediary for the Russians that he would be handed incriminating documents about Trump’s election challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton, as part of Moscow’s effort to help Trump win, although Trump Jr. subsequently said no such damaging evidence materialized.
Within hours of the surfacing of excerpts from the book, Trump said in a statement Wednesday, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
Trump said that Bannon was “only in it for himself” and “spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was,” at the same time that he had declared war on the media.
Bannon also is quoted as saying that Trump Jr. will “crack like an egg” under the pressure of the investigations into meddling by Russia in the last U.S. presidential election.
On Thursday, White House officials continued to attack Wolff’s credibility, accusing him of having a record of misquoting interview subjects and inventing scenarios.
“This is a practice he is used to doing,” said Sanders, describing Wolff’s latest book as “mistake after mistake after mistake.”