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As Trump fumes, White House staff spread blame on Wolff book

White House staffers are poring over copies of Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, scanning the index for their names and crossing their fingers that they aren’t mentioned.

The president, for his part, is still fuming behind the scenes, even though in remarks to reporters Thursday he appeared to be pleased that Steve Bannon, his newly forsaken former chief strategist, called him a “great man” in a recent radio interview.

And Trump’s lawyers are threatening a ferocious legal assault on Wolff and those who cooperated with him, including Bannon.

But a day after explosive excerpts of Wolff’s book — titled “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” — were made public, aides are beginning to mobilize a response and spreading the blame beyond Bannon, according to interviews with eight White House staff and outside advisers.

While the book triggered the public collapse of Trump’s relationship with Bannon — who was quoted on the record criticizing Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner as “treasonous” for meeting with Russian operatives in 2016 — it is also reviving frustration with other former aides whom the president’s close advisers have long suspected of leaking to the press.

Former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, who was quoted in the book saying that managing the president was “like trying to figure out what a child wants,” is under fire from some in the administration for her apparent role in the book.

White House aides were so angry that they discussed whether Walsh should step down from her dual roles as a senior adviser to both the Republican National Committee and the outside pro-Trump group America First, according to an administration official. But Walsh appealed directly to Kushner to deny the comments and then publicly distanced herself from the book, saving her job for now after Kushner instructed other staffers to lay off of her.

“I’m shocked that she went on the record,” another administration official said Thursday. “It’s just unprofessional.”

Other White House aides expressed skepticism that Walsh had actually made the comments attributed to her, given her reliance on Trump-aligned groups for a living.

Walsh has disputed the direct quotes from her in Wolff’s book, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced her denial at a Wednesday briefing with reporters to cast doubt on the authenticity of the book. But Axios reported Thursday that Wolff has audio recordings of his interviews with Bannon and Walsh, which could complicate the effort to undermine Wolff’s reporting.

Walsh did not respond to a request for comment.

Administration officials said they are under no delusion that the negative stories detailing anecdotes from the book will go away any time soon. New excerpts of the book were published Thursday in The Hollywood Reporter and GQ.

In response, the White House is organizing a wide-ranging campaign to undercut the book.

Trump has unleashed his lawyer, Charles Harder, who has threatened legal action against Bannon and Wolff.

In a Thursday letter, Harder called on Wolff to “immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination” of his book and to issue a retraction and apology, adding that his firm is investigating what he called “numerous false and/or baseless statements” made about the president in the book.

The White House has also marshaled Trump’s outside allies to bash the book and lambaste Bannon, whom the president said in a statement “lost his mind” after being pushed out of the White House in August.

“When I read the stories and excerpts from Wolff’s book, it appears like a compilation of score settling,” Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, a friend of the president’s, wrote in a column on Thursday.

Bannon, who returned to Breitbart News after his ouster, said Wednesday on Breitbart Radio that “the president of the United States is a great man. You know I support him day in and day out.”

Trump was quick to highlight Bannon’s comments in remarks to reporters Thursday.

“He called me a great man last night,” the president said. “So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.”

But later in the day, Sanders returned to a combative tone, telling reporters that Breitbart News should consider removing Bannon.

“I certainly think that it’s something they should look at and consider,” Sanders said.

She also reiterated her characterization of the book as “complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip.”

Annie Karni contributed to this report.

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