The window display at Waterstone’s Piccadilly in London shows copies of one of the UK’s first consignments of ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ by Michael Wolff on Jan. 9, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by /Getty Images)
Photo: Neil P. Mockford
Photo: Neil P. Mockford

PolitiFact: Trump had spoken to book’s author

The Trump administration has scrambled to control damaging headlines based on Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which was rushed to shelves Jan. 5 over threats from President Donald Trump’s attorneys.

For his part, Trump sought to undermine Wolff’s credibility by calling into question the author’s access to the administration’s highest levels.

We sifted through what’s known about Wolff’s White House access. We can’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes, but even the public record shows that Trump’s statement is inaccurate.

Trump’s tweet could give the impression that Wolff was denied access to the White House entirely. But as Trump’s own press secretary has acknowledged, the author had more than a dozen interactions with administration officials at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Wolff claims that over an 18-month period he conducted more than 200 interviews with Trump and senior staff. In reporting his book, Wolff said he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing.”

Trump never explicitly allowed his visits nor barred him from the White House, Wolff said, which allowed Wolff to exploit this “non-disapproval” to gain access through “various senior staffers.” Here’s the author’s account of his access, as written in the Hollywood Reporter (the circumstances of which we could not independently verify):

“Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the president meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around — checking in each week at the Hay-Adams hotel, making appointments with various senior staffers who put my name in the ‘system,’ and then wandering across the street to the White House and plunking myself down, day after day, on a West Wing couch.”

In response to a question by one of the reporters who had often seen Wolff at the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders

underscored that Wolff had not been given unfettered access, saying he had been denied more than 30 requests for access, including at least two dozen requests to interview the president.

However, she did not dispute that Wolff had been “seen often” with former adviser Steve Bannon in his White House office.

So, while Trump may have not personally granted Wolff access, his own press secretary says the author had access to administration officials at the White House.

While Trump may have not talked to Wolff with the express understanding that their discussion would be incorporated into a book, they spoke, though the length and nature of their conversations is not entirely clear.

Wolff said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” on Jan. 5: “I spoke to him after the inauguration, yes. And I had spoken to, I mean I spent about three hours with the president over the course of the campaign and in the White House, so my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”

Sanders does not dispute that the two men spoke. According to Sanders, their only conversation since Trump became president was in a brief phone call, which, at that time, was not related to Wolff’s book.

“There was one brief conversation that had nothing to do, originally, with the book,” Sanders said at a Jan. 3 White House press briefing. “It was, I think, around five to seven minutes in total since the president has taken office. And that’s the only interaction that he’s had.”

Our ruling

The president may not have personally authorized it, but Wolff had more than a dozen interactions with officials at the White House, according to Trump’s own press secretary. Press corps members also spotted Wolff at the White House on multiple occasions. Sanders also said Wolff and Trump spoke by phone for “five to seven minutes” after Trump became president.

We rate this statement False.