San Francisco: Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch called US President Donald Trump a “f—ing idiot” after a phone call with the newly-elected president, according to an explosive book chronicling the inner workings of Trump’s chaotic administration.
In another of several bombshells to emerge on Thursday in the first extracts of American journalist Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon unleashed on Donald Trump’s children and close advisers.
He said Trump’s daughter Ivanka was “dumb as a brick”, her husband and White House adviser Jared Kushner was “greasy” and Donald Trump jnr’s infamous Trump Tower meeting with a high-ranking Russian lawyer was “treasonous” and he will be cracked “like an egg on national TV” by those investigating Russian election meddling.
The president hit back on Thursday, saying Bannon “lost his mind” when he was fired from the White House last year.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said in a statement. “Now that Steve Bannon is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”
Wolff paints a picture of a chaotic and dysfunctional administration, with a haphazardly-assembled executive team and a president who is ill-informed and disinterested, engaged mainly in satisfying his own ego.
It stems from the fact that no one in Trump’s campaign, including Trump, expected to win the election, he writes. There was a feeling of shock, horror and disbelief on election night. Melania Trump, who had been assured that her husband would not become president, was in tears.
In one of the book’s more salacious anecdotes, Wolff writes that Murdoch and Trump had a phone call in December 2016, just after a group of powerful Silicon Valley executives had visited Trump for a meeting.
Murdoch refused to endorse Trump during the campaign and said he was “embarrassing the whole country” but Wolff portrays Trump as a sycophant who desperately seeks Murdoch’s approval.
“Later that afternoon, according to a source privy to details of the conversation, Trump called Rupert Murdoch, who asked him how the meeting had gone,” Wolff writes.
“‘Oh, great, just great,’ said Trump. ‘These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favourable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.’
“‘Donald,’ said Murdoch, ‘for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.’
“‘Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.’
“Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, ‘We’ll figure it out.’
“‘What a f—ing idiot,’ said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.”
Wolff, a former journalist who has also written a biography of Murdoch, writes that Bannon felt threatened by Murdoch and made moves to try to “kneecap” the media mogul.
“It was one of the key elements of Bannon’s understanding of Trump: The last person the president spoke to ended up with enormous influence,” he writes. “Trump would brag that Murdoch was always calling him; Murdoch, for his part, would complain that he couldn’t get Trump off the phone.”
In several interviews with Wolff, Bannon slammed the 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer, Trump jnr, Kushner and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman at the time who has since been charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
The meeting was convened because Trump’s team were told that a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”.
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” Bannon told Wolff, according to an extractpublished by the Guardian.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s—, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon says that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV”.
Mueller was appointed last May to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Four members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have been charged.
“You realise where this is going,” Bannon is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f—ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don jnr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
He said the White House is “sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five”.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders labelled the book “trashy tabloid fiction” filled with “misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House”.
Melania Trump’s spokeswoman said: “The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section. Mrs Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for president and in fact encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”