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Trump defends mental health: I'm a 'stable genius'

President Donald Trump mounted an extraordinary counterattack Saturday against the author of an incendiary new book that questions his mental state, declaring himself “very smart” and a “stable genius” and complaining that America’s libel laws are “very weak.”

On Twitter late Friday night and Saturday, and in remarks to reporters Saturday afternoon, Trump confronted head-on the mounting debate about his fitness for office sparked by a damning new book by journalist Michael Wolff.

Trump suggested in one early morning tweet that the charges were drawn from a Democratic and media “playbook” used to question President Ronald Reagan and suggested to reporters that libel laws should be tougher.

“It’s a disgrace that he can do something like this. Libel laws are very weak in this country,” Trump said later at Camp David, where he is meeting with congressional Republican leaders. “If they were stronger, hopefully, you would not have something like that happen.”

Questions about the president’s mental health had for months been relegated to the sidelines of the country’s political debate. Wolff’s book, whose excerpts began to appear early last week, has thrust the issue into the mainstream, forcing White House aides to address it head-on in television interviews and at the daily press briefing.

Even Fox News, the conservative news channel and the president’s most vocal media cheerleader, has started to acknowledge the questions about the president’s state of mind, running a segment early Saturday morning titled, “Media questions Trump’s mental state.”

Trump unleashed his Twitter rant just minutes after the Fox segment, further elevating the issue and ensuring that the topic gets more attention than ever, even as the White House tries to focus on crafting a legislative agenda.

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence…..” the president tweeted at 7:19 a.m.

Several minutes later, Trump added: “…Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star…..

….to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

In a brief exchange with reporters at Camp David, White House chief of staff John Kelly said that he had not seen Trump’s Saturday morning tweets. After reading them on a reporter’s phone, Kelly said Trump had used Twitter to go around the media’s filter on the subject of Wolff’s book.

Although Trump seemed to imply that the questions about Reagan’s health were political smears, Reagan died of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease and there is speculation that that its early stages could have afflicted him in office. Reagan’s son, Ron, wrote in 2011 that he noticed “something was amiss” with his father while he was still in the White House, and even some Reagan aides contemplated the possibility of invoking the 25th amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the removal of a president who shows a lack of competency.

Four of Reagan’s doctors, however, told the New York Times in 1997 that they never detected signs of Alzheimer’s or other mental illness during his presidency.

Trump is scheduled to undergo his annual physical exam on Jan. 12. The White House aides have not said whether the exam will include mental acuity tests.

Trump had spent much of Friday attacking Wolff, whose book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” has captivated Washington. In a late Friday night tweet, Trump branded the author a “total loser” who had written a “really boring and untruthful book.”

During a press conference at Camp David, Trump said Wolff “doesn’t know me at all,” adding that he views the book as a “work of fiction.”

Trump also defended his intelligence, deeming himself an “excellent student” who “made billions and billions of dollars” and “was one of the best business people.”

Wolff’s book, which has sold out in bookstores across the country, has rocked the Trump White House with its portrait of Trump as possessing a child-like attention span, unwilling or unable to process written information and presiding over a West Wing staff that ridicules and derides him.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has said the book is ridden with falsehoods and is “complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip.” Wolff said Friday that he stands by his reporting.

The book has also plunged the president into a public feud with his former top strategic adviser and campaign chief Steve Bannon. The president, who is known for his colorful sobriquets when targeting foes, labelled Bannon “Sloppy Steve” in multiple tweets since the book’s release. Late on Friday, Trump tweeted that Bannon “cried” when he was fired, and “begged like a dog” to keep his job, having previously tweeted that Bannon had “lost his mind.”

Bannon, a firebrand conservative with his own following on the hard right, has since been disowned by prominent backers and Republican donors, including the Mercer family, which issued an unusual public statement cutting ties with him Thursday.

Trump is meeting with Republican Party leaders at Camp David over the weekend to plot strategy for the 2018 midterm elections. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others, will deliver presentations on the party’s path forward in an electoral landscape where the president’s controversial actions and public statements loom large.

Trump began tweeting at 6:49 a.m. Saturday by touting the statistic contained in Friday’s jobs report that African American unemployment had fallen to 6.8 percent, which the president said made him “so happy.”

He followed that eight minutes later with a tweet attacking ABC reporter Brian Ross, who misreported in December that Trump’s fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had sought meetings with Russian officials before the election (it was later revealed to be early in the transition):

“Brian Ross, the reporter who made a fraudulent live newscast about me that drove the Stock Market down 350 points (billions of dollars), was suspended for a month but is now back at ABC NEWS in a lower capacity. He is no longer allowed to report on Trump. Should have been fired!”

ABC news apologized for the report and suspended Ross. It was reported Friday that Ross has been demoted on his return to the network.

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