"You can’t make this s--- up": My year inside Trump's insane White House

Editor’s Note: Author and Hollywood Reporter columnist Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt & Co.), is a detailed account of the 45th president’s election and first year in office based on extensive access to the White House and more than 200 interviews with Trump and senior staff over a period of 18 months. In advance of the Jan. 9 publication of the book, which Trump is already attacking, Wolff has written this extracted column about his time in the White House based on the reporting included in Fire and Fury. 

I interviewed Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter in June 2016, and he seemed to have liked — or not disliked — the piece I wrote. "Great cover!" his press assistant, Hope Hicks, emailed me after it came out (it was a picture of a belligerent Trump in mirrored sunglasses). After the election, I proposed to him that I come to the White House and report an inside story for later publication — journalistically, as a fly on the wall — which he seemed to misconstrue as a request for a job. No, I said. I'd like to just watch and write a book. "A book?" he responded, losing interest. "I hear a lot of people want to write books," he added, clearly not understanding why anybody would. "Do you know Ed Klein?"— author of several virulently anti-Hillary books. "Great guy. I think he should write a book about me." But sure, Trump seemed to say, knock yourself out.

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.

The West Wing is configured in such a way that the anteroom is quite a thoroughfare — everybody passes by. Assistants — young women in the Trump uniform of short skirts, high boots, long and loose hair — as well as, in situation-comedy proximity, all the new stars of the show: Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, Gary Cohn, Michael Flynn (and after Flynn's abrupt departure less than a month into the job for his involvement in the Russia affair, his replacement, H.R. McMaster), all neatly accessible.

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President Trump and his interns
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President Trump and his interns
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: President Donald Trump speaks while posing for a photo with outgoing White House interns in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, July 24, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump poses for a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gestures during a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump poses for a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump poses for a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump poses for a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald J. Trump poses for photographs with an outgoing group of interns at The White House July 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump applauds during a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gestures during a group photo with outgoing interns at the White House in Washington on July 24, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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The nature of the comedy, it was soon clear, was that here was a group of ambitious men and women who had reached the pinnacle of power, a high-ranking White House appointment — with the punchline that Donald Trump was president. Their estimable accomplishment of getting to the West Wing risked at any moment becoming farce.

A new president typically surrounds himself with a small group of committed insiders and loyalists. But few on the Trump team knew him very well — most of his advisors had been with him only since the fall. Even his family, now closely gathered around him, seemed nonplussed. "You know, we never saw that much of him until he got the nomination," Eric Trump's wife, Lara, told one senior staffer. If much of the country was incredulous, his staff, trying to cement their poker faces, were at least as confused.

Their initial response was to hawkishly defend him — he demanded it — and by defending him they seemed to be defending themselves. Politics is a game, of course, of determined role-playing, but the difficulties of staying in character in the Trump White House became evident almost from the first day.

"You can't make this shit up," Sean Spicer, soon to be portrayed as the most hapless man in America, muttered to himself after his tortured press briefing on the first day of the new administration, when he was called to justify the president's inaugural crowd numbers — and soon enough, he adopted this as a personal mantra. Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, had, shortly after the announcement of his appointment in November, started to think he would not last until the inauguration. Then, making it to the White House, he hoped he could last a respectable year, but he quickly scaled back his goal to six months. Kellyanne Conway, who would put a finger-gun to her head in private about Trump's public comments, continued to mount an implacable defense on cable television, until she was pulled off the air by others in the White House who, however much the president enjoyed her, found her militancy idiotic. (Even Ivanka and Jared regarded Conway's fulsome defenses as cringeworthy.)

Steve Bannon tried to gamely suggest that Trump was mere front man and that he, with plan and purpose and intellect, was, more reasonably, running the show — commanding a whiteboard of policies and initiatives that he claimed to have assembled from Trump's off-the-cuff ramblings and utterances. His adoption of the Saturday Night Live sobriquet "President Bannon" was less than entirely humorous. Within the first few weeks, even rote conversations with senior staff trying to explain the new White House's policies and positions would turn into a body-language ballet of eye-rolling and shrugs and pantomime of jaws dropping. Leaking became the political manifestation of the don't-blame-me eye roll.

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Donald Trump and Steve Bannon
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Donald Trump and Steve Bannon

US President Donald Trump (L) congratulates Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), is joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, as he speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2017. Jonathan Ernst: "Very early in the Trump administration, weekends were as busy as weekdays. On Trump's second Saturday the official schedule said he would be making private phone calls to a number of world leaders including Russia's Vladimir Putin. I arrived early and, before sitting down at my desk walked up to Press Secretary Sean Spicer's office. He, too, was just taking his coat off. I gingerly made the suggestion that previous administrations had sometimes allowed photos of such phone calls through the Oval Office windows on the colonnade. To my mild shock, he didn't even think about it twice. "We'll do it!" he said. In truth, I really only expected the Putin call, but we were outside the windows multiple times throughout the day as the calls went on."

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to chief strategist Steve Bannon during a swearing in ceremony for senior staff at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 22, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Trump advisers Steve Bannon (L) and Jared Kushner (R) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with members of his Cabinet at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (C) and campaign CEO Steve Bannon (R) listen to National Park Service Interpretive Park Ranger Caitlin Kostic (2nd R) on a brief visit to Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 22, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a memorandum to security services directing them to defeat the Islamic State in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. Pictured with him are White House senior advisor Steve Bannon (L-R), National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Vice President Mike Pence, Deputy National Security Advisor K. T. McFarland, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, National Security Council Chief of Staff Keith Kellogg and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Trump advisor Steve Bannon (L) watches as US President Donald Trump greets Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla CEO, before a policy and strategy forum with executives in the State Dining Room of the White House February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Senior Advisor Jared Kusher, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and President Donald Trump arrive at the start of a meeting with Senate and House legislators, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, February 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Lawmakers included in the meeting were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA).

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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The surreal sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him, the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, that through-the-eye-of-the-needle feat, but obviously, he was yet ...; Trump. Indeed, he seemed as confused as anyone to find himself in the White House, even attempting to barricade himself into his bedroom with his own lock over the protests of the Secret Service.

There was some effort to ascribe to Trump magical powers. In an early conversation — half comic, half desperate — Bannon tried to explain him as having a particular kind of Jungian brilliance. Trump, obviously without having read Jung, somehow had access to the collective unconscious of the other half of the country, and, too, a gift for inventing archetypes: Little Marco ...; Low-Energy Jeb ...; the Failing New York Times. Everybody in the West Wing tried, with some panic, to explain him, and, sheepishly, their own reason for being here. He's intuitive, he gets it, he has a mind-meld with his base. But there was palpable relief, of an Emperor's New Clothes sort, when longtime Trump staffer Sam Nunberg — fired by Trump during the campaign but credited with knowing him better than anyone else — came back into the fold and said, widely, "He's just a fucking fool."

Part of that foolishness was his inability to deal with his own family. In a way, this gave him a human dimension. Even Donald Trump couldn't say no to his kids. "It's a littleee, littleee complicated ...;" he explained to Priebus about why he needed to give his daughter and son-in-law official jobs. But the effect of their leadership roles was to compound his own boundless inexperience in Washington, creating from the outset frustration and then disbelief and then rage on the part of the professionals in his employ.

The men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country. "Trump," said one senior Republican, "turned selfish careerists into patriots." Their job was to maintain the pretense of relative sanity, even as each individually came to the conclusion that, in generous terms, it was insane to think you could run a White House without experience, organizational structure or a real purpose.

On March 30, after the collapse of the health care bill, 32-year-old Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff, the effective administration chief of the West Wing, a stalwart political pro and stellar example of governing craft, walked out. Little more than two months in, she quit. Couldn't take it anymore. Nutso. To lose your deputy chief of staff at the get-go would be a sign of crisis in any other administration, but inside an obviously exploding one it was hardly noticed.

While there might be a scary national movement of Trumpers, the reality in the White House was stranger still: There was Jared and Ivanka, Democrats; there was Priebus, a mainstream Republican; and there was Bannon, whose reasonable claim to be the one person actually representing Trumpism so infuriated Trump that Bannon was hopelessly sidelined by April. "How much influence do you think Steve Bannon has over me? Zero! Zero!" Trump muttered and stormed. To say that no one was in charge, that there were no guiding principles, not even a working org chart, would again be an understatement. "What do these people do?" asked everyone pretty much of everyone else.

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Ivanka Trump's 2017 controversies
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Ivanka Trump's 2017 controversies

The first daughter had her fair share of controversies, see which ones made the internet ablaze.

REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The Trump family simply cannot be trusted https://t.co/1pji0kwcsY

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Twitter was quick to criticize Ivanka's choice of hot dogs with marshmallows. 

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." - Albert Einstein #quote #sunday

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The first daughter was mocked online for misquoting Albert Einstein in a tweet.

I am proud to support my LGBTQ friends and the LGBTQ Americans who have made immense contributions to our society and economy.

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Ivanka's tweet was quickly used against her after the president announced that the military will no longer accept transgender people.

Overjoyed by these beautiful letters. Reading them is one of the highlights of my week. 😍 https://t.co/AF5tSMHnB6

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Many people zeroed in on one of the photographs that seemed to show Ivanka Trump with money sign eyes.

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this"… https://t.co/4XGphBrgK4

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Former Trumpa adviser claimed he "arranged" for Ivanka to sit in Putin's chair during a trip to Moscow.

How much more proof do you need that she isn't an innocent bystander? This embarrasses us. When we aren't in tears, we try to figure out how to respond to what is so violent about this as a depiction of a woman who claims to speak for female empowerment. #ivankaforpresident

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Ivanka Trump was largely criticized for staying silent on women's issues such as healthcare and sexual harassment.

The Mooch Drops A Bomb About Ivanka and Tom Brady’s Dating History https://t.co/6iT4Opcylp https://t.co/5e99VoXH1N

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Drama unfolded as former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said that Tom Brady and Ivanka Trump once dated.

"[Ivanka] wanted to make the trip. She said, 'Dad, can I go with you?' She said actually, 'Daddy, can I go with you… https://t.co/6TIx150Ttn

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Ivanka Trump made the internet cringe when she made a "daddy plea" earlier this year.

The first daughter sent the internet ablaze when she revealed she suffered from postpartum depression. She was heavily criticized for sharing the detail especially when women were at risk of losing their health care under the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill, an attempt at dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

"Otherwise" implies you did not like hangin with this baby. https://t.co/oB5IEZmOf3

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Ivanka Trump was mocked online for using the word "otherwise" incorrectly.

Don’t forget: Ivanka Trump used personal email for government business. We obtained records revealing she did so ev… https://t.co/Z7vHeXT84S

Perhaps Ivanka can teach kids how to re-route their emails so that they won't be discovered. Also, why does she hav… https://t.co/DLsoC50Yb8

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After writing an op-ed for the New York Times, Ivanka Trump was schooled for claiming that introducing computer science as early as kindergarten was part of her "White House portfolio." She was criticized for not being an expert on either education or tech.

a running list of words Ivanka Trump doesn't know how to use: relative, albeit https://t.co/IHg2xFcI1E

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A journalist complied all of the words Ivanka Trump used incorrectly. 

I am pretty sure I found Jared and Ivanka’s anniversary sex playlist https://t.co/ksFuahEzdU

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The internet went wild after someone discovered an anniversary playlist Ivanka Trump made on Spotify, which some called, her anniversary sex playlist.

Ivanka Trump made a splash in Japan with this two-piece pink suit, but many were quick to point out that the above-the-knee skirt was a little too short for professional matters.

 AFP PHOTO / POOL / Eugene Hoshiko (Photo credit should read EUGENE HOSHIKO/AFP/Getty Images)

1:2 Wishing Meghan and Prince Harry a lifetime of love, laughter and happiness together. https://t.co/fgjJhCfYnr https://t.co/8YP3Nzef5I

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After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement, the first daughter congratulated the couple -- but many were quick to say she only offered the public congratulations as an attempt to get an invite to the royal wedding.

Peak-a-boo! ♥️

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The first daughter posted this adorable picture on Instagram with the caption "Peak-a-boo" -- a misspelling which wasn't overlooked by many of her social media followers.

Ivanka Trump calls food an "investment" for families, like "Mommy and Me classes" https://t.co/ZKySeIW05Q By… https://t.co/7lXNOnfsSg

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The first daughter was ripped for calling food an "investment" during an interview.

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The competition to take charge, which, because each side represented an inimical position to the other, became not so much a struggle for leadership, but a near-violent factional war. Jared and Ivanka were against Priebus and Bannon, trying to push both men out. Bannon was against Jared and Ivanka and Priebus, practicing what everybody thought were dark arts against them. Priebus, everybody's punching bag, just tried to survive another day. By late spring, the larger political landscape seemed to become almost irrelevant, with everyone focused on the more lethal battles within the White House itself. This included screaming fights in the halls and in front of a bemused Trump in the Oval Office (when he was not the one screaming himself), together with leaks about what Russians your opponents might have been talking to.

Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor. How to get along with Trump — who veered between a kind of blissed-out pleasure of being in the Oval Office and a deep, childish frustration that he couldn't have what he wanted? Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, "like a child." A chronic naysayer, Trump himself stoked constant discord with his daily after-dinner phone calls to his billionaire friends about the disloyalty and incompetence around him. His billionaire friends then shared this with their billionaire friends, creating the endless leaks which the president so furiously railed against.

One of these frequent callers was Rupert Murdoch, who before the election had only ever expressed contempt for Trump. Now Murdoch constantly sought him out, but to his own colleagues, friends and family, continued to derisively ridicule Trump: "What a fucking moron," said Murdoch after one call.

With the Comey firing, the Mueller appointment and murderous White House infighting, by early summer Bannon was engaged in an uninterrupted monologue directed to almost anyone who would listen. It was so caustic, so scabrous and so hilarious that it might form one of the great underground political treatises.

By July, Jared and Ivanka, who had, in less than six months, traversed from socialite couple to royal family to the most powerful people in the world, were now engaged in a desperate dance to save themselves, which mostly involved blaming Trump himself. It was all his idea to fire Comey! "The daughter," Bannon declared, "will bring down the father."

Priebus and Spicer were merely counting down to the day — and every day seemed to promise it would be the next day — when they would be out.

And, indeed, suddenly there were the 11 days of Anthony Scaramucci.

Scaramucci, a minor figure in the New York financial world, and quite a ridiculous one, had overnight become Jared and Ivanka's solution to all of the White House's management and messaging problems. After all, explained the couple, he was good on television and he was from New York — he knew their world. In effect, the couple had hired Scaramucci — as preposterous a hire in West Wing annals as any — to replace Priebus and Bannon and take over running the White House.

17 PHOTOS
Anthony Scaramucci
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Anthony Scaramucci
White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci accompanies U.S. President Donald Trump for an event about his proposed U.S. government effort against the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, with a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials in Brentwood, New York, U.S. July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci speaks during an on air interview at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci takes questions at the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders greets new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci at the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
SkyBridge Capital founder Anthony Scaramucci, aide to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, arrives in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. Trump said his administration would produce a full report on hacking within the first 90 days of his presidency and accused 'my political opponents and a failed spy' of making 'phony allegations' against him. Photographer: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pool via Bloomberg
White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media outside the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Anthony Scaramucci, SkyBridge Capital Founder and aide to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Anthony Scaramucci, founder of SkyBridge Capital LLC, speaks during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. The SALT Conference facilitates balanced discussions and debates on macro-economic trends, geo-political events and alternative investment opportunities for the year ahead. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Anthony Scaramucci, Founder and Managing Partner of SkyBridge Capital, speaks at the Volatility as the New Normal event in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos January 21, 2015. More than 1,500 business leaders and 40 heads of state or government will attend the Jan. 21-24 meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) to network and discuss big themes, from the price of oil to the future of the Internet. This year they are meeting in the midst of upheaval, with security forces on heightened alert after attacks in Paris, the European Central Bank considering a radical government bond-buying programme and the safe-haven Swiss franc rocketing. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich (SWITZERLAND - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: Anthony Scaramucci attends SkyBridge Capital Holiday Celebration at Hunt & Fish Club on December 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: Eric Bolling and Anthony Scaramucci attend SkyBridge Capital Holiday Celebration at Hunt & Fish Club on December 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27: Deidre Scaramucci and Anthony Scaramucci attend 'Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole' Anthony Scaramucci Book Party on October 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27: Anthony Scaramucci attends the 'Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole' Anthony Scaramucci Book Party on October 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27: Susan Scaramucci Mandato and Anthony Scaramucci attend 'Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole' Anthony Scaramucci Book Party on October 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Anthony Scaramucci and Maria Bartiromo host FOX Business Network's 'Wall Street Week' at FOX Studios on April 27, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Anthony Scaramucci, founder of SkyBridge Capital II LLC, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Scaramucci, economic adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, discussed the accuracy of polls in the U.S. presidential election and Trump's economic policy and support of free trade. Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Anthony Scaramucci, managing partner of SkyBridge Capital LLC, speaks during a gala event at the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Asia conference in Singapore, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. SkyBridge Capital LLC, the $6.7 billion fund of hedge funds that organizes the biggest industry event in the U.S., plans to increase investments in Asia as it kicks off its first conference in the region. Photographer: Munshi Ahmed/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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There was, after the abrupt Scaramucci meltdown, hardly any effort inside the West Wing to disguise the sense of ludicrousness and anger felt by every member of the senior staff toward Trump's family and Trump himself. It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as shit. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.

Most succinctly, no one expected him to survive Mueller. Whatever the substance of the Russia "collusion," Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)

There was more: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn't stop saying something.

By summer's end, in something of a historic sweep — more usual for the end of a president's first term than the end of his first six months — almost the entire senior staff, save Trump's family, had been washed out: Michael Flynn, Katie Walsh, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon. Even Trump's loyal, longtime body guard Keith Schiller — for reasons darkly whispered about in the West Wing — was out. Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Rick Dearborn, all on their way out. The president, on the spur of the moment, appointed John Kelly, a former Marine Corps general and head of homeland security, chief of staff — without Kelly having been informed of his own appointment beforehand. Grim and stoic, accepting that he could not control the president, Kelly seemed compelled by a sense of duty to be, in case of disaster, the adult in the room who might, if needed, stand up to the president ...; if that is comfort.

As telling, with his daughter and son-in-law sidelined by their legal problems, Hope Hicks, Trump's 26-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor. (With Melania a nonpresence, the staff referred to Ivanka as the "real wife" and Hicks as the "real daughter.") Hicks' primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season. Instead, the interview went to Fox News' Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions.

As the first year wound down, Trump finally got a bill to sign. The tax bill, his singular accomplishment, was, arguably, quite a reversal of his populist promises, and confirmation of what Mitch McConnell had seen early on as the silver Trump lining: "He'll sign anything we put in front of him." With new bravado, he was encouraging partisans like Fox News to pursue an anti-Mueller campaign on his behalf. Insiders believed that the only thing saving Mueller from being fired, and the government of the United States from unfathomable implosion, is Trump's inability to grasp how much Mueller had on him and his family.

Steve Bannon was openly handicapping a 33.3 percent chance of impeachment, a 33.3 percent chance of resignation in the shadow of the 25th amendment and a 33.3 percent chance that he might limp to the finish line on the strength of liberal arrogance and weakness.

Donald Trump's small staff of factotums, advisors and family began, on Jan. 20, 2017, an experience that none of them, by any right or logic, thought they would — or, in many cases, should — have, being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.

Happy first anniversary of the Trump administration.

 

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