When Donald Trump was inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States, Michael Wolff saw organizational chaos and constant drama in the White House — more psychodrama than political drama in the first year in office. Trump was a volatile and uncertain president, who released his strange furies on the world and on his own staff almost on a daily basis in the early months in the White House. The first phase of the most abnormal White House in American history ended in August 2017, with the departure of chief strategist Stephen Bannon and the appointment of retired general John Kelly as chief of staff. In Siege by Michael Wolff says that the situation profoundly changed by February 2018. The President’s capricious furies have been met by an increasingly organized and methodical institutional response. The wheels of justice are inexorably turning against him. In many ways, his own government, even his own White House, has begun to turn on him. Virtually, every power center left of the far-right wing has deemed him unfit. Even some among his own base find him undependable, hopelessly distracted, and in over his head. Never before has a president been under such concerted attack with such a limited capacity to defend himself.
Michael Wolff says that President Trump is surrounded by his enemies who are dedicated to bringing him down. Former FBI chief Robert Mueller, who has conducted the biggest ever investigation on President Trump without finding anything against him, revealed himself over the course of the nearly two-year investigation to his colleagues and staff to be quite a Hamlet figure. Or less dramatically, a cautious and indecisive bureaucrat. Michael Wolff says that Mueller has repeatedly traveled between a desire to use his full authority against Donald Trump and the nagging belief that he had no such authority. He could be the corrective to the louche and corrupt president. At the same time, he asked himself what right he had to correct the country’s duly elected leader. On the one hand, you could indict the president for acting as if he were above the law. After all, the secret draft indictment outlining the president’s casual abuses had been on Mueller’s desk for almost a year. On the other hand, a reasonable man might, in certain nuanced ways, see aspects of the presidency as indeed above the law. On March 22, when the Mueller report was at last delivered, the grand jury issued no indictments, and the special counsel’s office confirmed that its investigation would not yield any new indictments. It is unclear how long or how involved the report was. It is unclear how much of the work product of the twenty-two-month effort had been sent to the attorney general. But almost immediately after accepting the report, Attorney General Barr wrote a letter to Congress expressing confidence that he could quickly provide a summary of the special counsel’s findings. A chill went through the establishment. There wasn’t all that much to the report.
For now, Donald Trump seems to have slipped his pursuers. Michael Wolff says that a feeling perhaps most reminiscent of election night 2016, desolate and confounded, spread through the mainstream media, the liberal establishment, and among all those who were confident that they had surrounded Trump and left him nowhere to run. This was defeat snatch from the jaws of victory. Trump proclaimed his complete and total exoneration. But he knew that “They are going to keep coming after me.” Here is one of the most seismic reversals in American political life, yet it is not out of the ordinary at all for Trump. His exoneration changed little for him because he was still guilty of being Donald Trump. He knows that his escape would be brief.
Siege is a very timely and important addition to the existing and growing scholarly literature on America’s current political history and debate on President Donald Trump. Michael Wolff describes President Trump as a hallucinatory and cautionary character but also says that his real crime is being Donald Trump. He powerfully argues that the mainstream media and the establishment will never relent in their war on him. Siege is a meticulously researched and brilliantly written book. It provides fresh and nuanced perspectives on current President Trump-centric politics. Everybody who is interested in American politics must read it.