Did Donald Trump really have sex with his friends’ wives?
This Melania, not his friend’s wife
This is still Melania.
Years before he could boast about the size of his nuclear button, Donald Trump got his kicks by having sex with his friends’ wives.
Or at least that is the claim being made in what some sceptics are now calling “the tell-all book that Trump’s post-truth presidency deserves.”
After the “pussy-grabbing” tape and accusations of sexual misconduct from 19 women, Mr Trump must now face Fire and Fury, the warts and more warts book by “controversial” US journalist Michael Wolff.
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Amid allegations covering everything from Russia to Ivanka’s jokes about her father’s hair, comes Mr Wolff’s assertion that once upon a time “Trump liked to say that one of the things that made life worth living was getting your friends’ wives into bed”.
“In pursuing a friend’s wife,” Wolff wrote, “he would try to persuade the wife that her husband was perhaps not what she thought.
“Then he’d have his secretary ask the friend into his office; once the friend arrived, Trump would engage in what was, for him, more or less constant sexual banter.
“‘Do you still like having sex with your wife? How often? You must have had a better f*** than your wife? Tell me about it. I have girls coming in from Los Angeles at three o’clock. We can go upstairs and have a great time. I promise …’
“All the while, Trump would have his friend’s wife on the speakerphone, listening in.”
For good measure, Wolff adds that one of the President’s friends described him as having a lot in common with Bill Clinton, “Except that Clinton had a respectable front and Trump did not”.
Which just leaves one little question: is it true?
Wolff and his friends, of course, say it is. With a surprisingly small dash of journalistic cunning, they say, the writer was able to get inside probably the most chaotic presidency in decades.
Because according to New York magazine, one of the first to publish extracts of the book, the Trump administration was too inexperienced to impose limits on what Wolff could see and report.
“There were no ground rules placed on his access, and he was required to make no promises about how he would report on what he witnessed,” the magazine said.
So, Wolff said, after Trump’s inauguration he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing”.
The book, he added, was based on more than 200 interviews with current and former Trump confidants and staff.
Which may of course have been his first problem.
Political journalist Benjy Sarlin of NBC News was among the first to point out: “One problem with all insider accounts of Trump is that many of his insiders have a similar take on truth to Trump. It adds a gigantic grain of salt.”
Although, arguably, the first person to point out Wolff’s problem was Wolff himself.
In his book’s introduction, he wrote: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue.
“Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book.
“Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them.
“In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
No one has yet addressed the alleged seduction of other men’s wives, but the book is attracting a steadily growing number of denials – despite still being five days away from going on sale.
Trump himself appears to have got his lawyers to issue cease-and-desist notices to the book’s publisher, warning of possible libel action against Wolff, and to former presidential adviser Steve Bannon, accusing him of breaching a confidentiality agreement.
The President has also issued a statement, apparently in response to what Mr Bannon was quoted as saying in the book about a “treasonous” meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” said Mr Trump. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed her boss up by calling Wolff’s book “trashy tabloid fiction filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House”.
Tony Blair, the “pretty straight sort of guy” himself, also popped up on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, denying the details of his own guest appearance in the book.
Wolff had said the former Prime Minister had gone to the White House in February 2017 “angling” for a Middle East adviser job. Mr Blair said this was “complete fabrication, from beginning to end”.
The President’s billionaire chum Thomas Barrack Jr has denied ever telling a friend that Trump is “not only crazy [but] stupid”. Ex-White House adviser Katie Walsh has disputed a comment attributed to her in the book that dealing with Trump was “like trying to figure out what a child wants”.
And they are hardly the first to question Wolff’s ability to quote accurately.
Wolff, 64, has written for a string of prestigious publications and won the National Magazine Award for commentary in 2002 and 2004.
But along the way questions have been raised about whether what he says is always 100 per cent accurate. Sometimes Wolff himself appears to have fuelled the questioning.
In his first best-seller Burn Rate, about his time as a 1990s internet entrepreneur, he confessed to stalling bankers by making up a story about his father having open-heart surgery.
“How many fairly grievous lies had I told?” he wrote. “How many moral lapses had I committed? How many ethical breaches had I fallen into?
“Like many another financial conniver, I was in a short-term mode.”
And after the book was published, it was reported that a dozen people disputed the way they were quoted in it.
Wolff, though, got a job writing a media column at New York magazine. Pretty soon book editor Judith Regan was disputing nearly every line of the column Wolff wrote about her, saying she hadn’t spoken to him in 30 years.
Other complaints about misquoting followed.
Now The Washington Post is drawing its readers’ attention to a New Republic profile of Wolff, written in 2004 when he had just won his first National Magazine Award.
In it, the New Republic writer Michelle Cottle stated, pretty bluntly: “Much to the annoyance of Wolff’s critics, the scenes in his columns aren’t recreated so much as created – springing from Wolff’s imagination rather than from actual knowledge of events.
“Even Wolff acknowledges that conventional reporting isn’t his bag. Rather, he absorbs the atmosphere and gossip swirling around him at cocktail parties, on the street, and especially during those long lunches at Michael’s.”
Intriguingly, given what the Fire and Fury author now says about his semi-permanent seat on the West Wing couch, Cottle quoted an editor who has worked with Wolff as saying: “His great gift is the appearance of intimate access. He is adroit at making the reader think that he has spent hours and days with his subject, when in fact he may have spent no time at all.”
He was never dull though.
Cottle quoted the qualified admiration of one of Wolff’s former colleagues.
“He did get a lot of things majorly wrong,” the ex-colleague said, “But he never was just pedestrian.
“You have to admire his balls.”
The President, of course, is unlikely to be so forgiving.
As to whether or not others believe the stuff about sleeping with the wives of friends: perhaps it’s a fair bet to say that those who hate Mr Trump will decide it’s true, and his base will instantly dismiss it as fake news.