Not for the first time, we woke in New Zealand today with too much to look at in Washington; less the Trump trainwreck than a blockbuster movie of a trainwreck where the director has tried to stuff too much into the shot.
The big headline was the release of the first, incendiary excerpts from Michael Wolff's forthcoming book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which is said to be the product of more than 200 frank interviews with Trump-world figures, including the President himself.
The lengthy passage obtained by New York magazine depicts an angry, disillusioned candidate Trump being persuaded by the offer of Mercer family millions to bring aboard Steve Bannon – and then the first iteration of the Trump White House, a roiling royal court in which everyone competes for the attention of a needy idiot-King and mocks him behind his back.
The Guardian's scoop was more direct: it had Bannon dumping mightily on his erstwhile rivals for the King's favour and slating Donald Trump Jr's already-documented meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic". Bannon had the story excerpted on Breitbart, in what seems a clear indication that he takes no issue with it. And that in turn prompted this statement from the White House, in the president's name and remarkable even by the standards of petulance the world has come to expect this past year:
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. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.
Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.
The Guardian also plucked a story from the same extract run by New York, in which, after a phone call on immigration issues, Rupert Murdoch describes the President as a "fucking idiot".
The first breakouts from the book had the effect of bumping out of the headlines a bizarre flurry of new year tweets by Trump himself, including one in which Trump declared he had a bigger nuclear button than Kim Jong-un and others which revived debunked claims about his predecessor giving money to to Iran to fund terrorism, attacked "Crooked Hillary", the New York Times and the news media in general, appeared to threaten the government of Pakistan, promoted Sean Hannity's Fox News show, quoted praise for himself on another Fox News show and– perhaps most bizarrely – claimed personal credit for a fatality-free year in commercial aviation.
It was easy, amid all this noise, to miss the New York Times op-ed headed The Republicans' Fake Investigations, in which Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the former journalists who founded Fusion GPS, the company behind the "Steele dossier" on Trump's Russian connections, lay out what they have told three Congressional committees – and the lengths to which some Republican reps have gone to bury what they've said. At once, Republicans have blocked the publication of their evidence – and tried to make Fusion the subject of the inquiry.
We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed.
We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress.
It is time to stop chasing rabbits. The public still has much to learn about a man with the most troubling business past of any United States president. Congress should release transcripts of our firm’s testimony, so that the American people can learn the truth about our work and most important, what happened to our democracy.
What Simpson and Fritsch have written chimes with Bannon's characterisation in Wolff's book of the Mueller investigation into Trump-Russia as being all about money-laundering:
“You realise where this is going,” he 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 fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
But it also made me think of Talking Points Memo, where Josh Marshall has been chipping away at Donald Trump's fetid business history for more than a year. Josh clearly thought the same thing and has now posted a column headed The End of the Beginning in which he observes that:
... the focus on conspiracy during the 2016 campaign cycle has almost totally eclipsed examination of Donald Trump’s longstanding involvement with the Russian criminal underworld and money laundering which laid the basis of what happened in 2016.
With the Fusion GPS evidence and much, much more now in the hands of Mueller and his team, it does seem increasingly likely that President Trump's dark business history is a key focus of their investigation. Wolff's book underlines what was already known about the willingness of these people to turn on each other: others will flip. Unless, of course, Trump and Congressional Republicans actually do attempt to kill the investigation by rolling Mueller. Then the world would be in unfamiliar and unprecedentedly dangerous territory.
At any rate, if you would prefer 2018 to be any less weird than 2017, you're likely to be out of luck.