After portraying himself as a reliable chronicler of Donald Trump’s White House, author Michael Wolff is taking a page from the president when confronted with the multiple factual errors in his new book, “Siege: Trump Under Fire.”
“Even if I was wrong, I’m not going to admit it to you,” said Wolff in an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”
Wolff, in that case, was refusing to back down on one of his relatively minor mistakes: He claimed in one passage of his book that former Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand — briefly a possible candidate to oversee the Russia investigation — was nominated by President Obama. In fact, she was nominated by Trump.
But talking about his new book, Wolff stuck to the same no-apologies, no-retreat line about a host of other more consequential errors and questionable claims, including his sensational assertion that he has copies of a March 2018 draft indictment of Trump prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charging the president with three counts of obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s office said that the documents described by Wolff “do not exist,” and Mueller himself, in his only statement to the press, emphasized that due to Justice Department legal opinions, “charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Wolff remains unrepentant and insists he’s obtained material proving a planned indictment that nobody else covering the Mueller probe has been able to get their hands on — or even confirm exists. “There’s no other reporter who’s produced documents or even claims to produce documents,” he said. “I am the only person who might begin to claim to have some insight here.”
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In the “Skullduggery” interview, Wolff repeatedly brushed aside questions about the authenticity of his claimed documents, including why the title of the supposed indictment he quotes from — “United States of America Against Donald J. Trump” — is conspicuously different than the wording used in all other Justice Department indictments. (They read “United States of America v” the defendant, not “against.”)
“Maybe not draft indictments, maybe not this, I don’t know,” Wolff said when asked about the odd wording on his claimed indictment. “All I am doing is quoting from two things: a document given to me by an incredibly authoritative source ... and a document, on its face, that is incredibly convincing.”
But it is not clear how convincing Wolff’s document is either. Wolff claims one of the supposed grounds on which Mueller’s office was planning to indict Trump was the president’s alleged attempt to interfere with testimony by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and efforts to retaliate against him. Yet none of the 10 episodes of potential obstruction detailed in Mueller’s final report even mention the events surrounding McCabe’s testimony or retaliation against him.
Wolff was also questioned about other apparent errors in his latest book:
· Wolff wrote that in April 2018, when the FBI searched his residence and office, Michael Cohen “sat handcuffed for hours in his kitchen.” But Cohen was never arrested or charged with a crime that day, making it implausible that he would have been handcuffed. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said in a text to Yahoo News that “neither Michael Cohen nor his wife nor anyone else was handcuffed during the FBI search.”
“I have no idea on the basis on which someone is handcuffed,” said Wolff when asked about his claim that Cohen had been handcuffed. “I know that the description of the scene that was given to me, again, a very good source on this, had him sitting in the kitchen in handcuffs.”
· Wolff wrote that Don McGahn, Trump’s pick for White House counsel, had never worked “anywhere in government.” In fact, McGahn had served as chair and vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, during a five-year stint with the agency.
Wolff also insisted, wrongly, that the FEC “is not a part of the government.”
· Wolff wrote that former Obama White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler had been the “previous occupant” of McGahn’s office. In fact, she had left the White House in 2014, and Neal Eggleston was McGahn’s predecessor.
· Wolff wrote that President Bill Clinton “could hardly stomach his Attorney General Janet Reno, having to weather the blow back from her decisions regarding Ruby Ridge.” In fact, the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho — a site where an armed family of right-wing zealots were surrounded by federal agents — took place in August 1992, when William Barr was attorney general, not Reno.
The exchange over Wolff’s multiple mistakes grew testy at times.
“You get all these things wrong and then you ask us to trust you,” this correspondent said to Wolff.
“No, you get these things wrong,” Wolff retorted. “This critique is bulls***!”
Wolff insisted that none of the questions about his accuracy matter or are significant, noting that he had faced many of the same criticisms about his last book, “Fire and Fury.”
“The object of this book, as with the last book — and I remember I went through the same thing with the last book … is about trying to re-create life in Trump world,” he said. “It’s trying to give readers a sense of what this experience is, of what goes on here, of the tenure, of the language, of the emotional life of Trump world.”
Wolff claimed that due to being a New York-based journalist for the last 40 years, “I know these people. I have an access here that most other people involved in this story do not have.”
Yet most of Wolff’s sources are anonymous, with the notable exception of Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist who was banished from Trump world in August 2017 and hasn’t spoken to the president ever since.
Pressed on his sourcing, and whether he would release copies of the supposed Mueller draft indictment memos he claims to have gotten, Wolff averred. He couldn’t release copies, he said, because that might expose one of his anonymous “authoritative” sources.
“You just have to trust me,” he said.
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