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Interview With Michael Wolff, Author of "The Fire and Fury"; Interview With Billy Jean King. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 8, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AMANPOUR: Tonight, "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff lifts the lid on his bombshell book about President Trump as the White House brings out it's
troops with sustained fire of it's own.
Plus, fresh from the Golden Globes, nominated for her own battle of the sexes, tennis ace turned champion for equal rights, Billy Jean King, on the
lessons Hollywood can learn from her own titanic struggle for equality on court.
Good evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in New York.
It's the book that sending shock waves around the world. "Fire and Fury," Michael Wolff's inside account of the Trump White House has dominated
headlines and best seller lists.
Driven by his reporting that inside the White House there is universal belief that President Trump is incapable of functioning in his own job.
But critics point out inaccuracies and questionable journalistic practices by Wolff, raising questions about his credibility.
I spoke with him, here in New York, after a massive White House pushback began.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Michael Wolff, welcome to the program.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR: So glad to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, this is, I would say, week two is the backlash week. The real pushback week President Trump's major defenders were on television all
weekend and they have chipped away, chipped away to the point that Steve Bannon himself is issuing some sort of mea culpa. How do you feel about
WOLFF: Well, that's -- this is the Donald Trump playbook. Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.
AMANPOUR: But, he's your main source and you seem to have --
WOLFF: You mean --
AMANPOUR: Steve Bannon. Yes.
WOLFF: -- in terms of Steve. But Steve is -- didn't say anything that I got wrong. He merely said that it wasn't Don Jr. he was talking about, it
was Paul Manafort. And listen --
AMANPOUR: Who had said that?
WOLFF: -- I'm very fond of Steve. I've gotten very fond of him and obviously he's been very helpful, incredibly insightful. This is not true.
As a matter of fact, and this is in the book, so he went through the steps. Why did Don Jr. do this? Don Jr --
AMANPOUR: You're talking about meeting with the Russians and all of that?
WOLFF: Yes. And Don Jr. did this to impress his father because he wanted to oust Corey Lewandowski and take over the campaign. And Steve said so,
he had to show his father he had the stuff. So, this was definitely about Don Jr.
AMANPOUR: So in the he said, she said, and obviously some of the people are on the record, a lot of the people are not. I think everybody is just
staggered by your declaration that 100 percent, and those are your words --
WOLFF: Hundred percent.
AMANPOUR: -- of the people around the President believe that he is incapable, unfit of -- for carrying out the duties of this office.
WOLFF: Hundred percent. It is staggering. That is why -- well, I think that's why this book has hit such a cord, because everybody's sort of --
it's the realization. He's to everyone, you cannot listen to this man, you cannot watch what this man does.
You cannot -- you see this man, read his Tweets on a daily basis and not say something is wrong here. Everybody recognizes that outside of the
White House and it is the obvious thing to think, to realize that the people inside the White House, who are just the same as you and I say, what
AMANPOUR: Well, the thing is though we have to ask you and wonder, how on earth did you get people around him to even say that to you. Did they say
it to you?
WOLFF: This is -- I'm going to tell you something. They say this to everyone, everybody who they talk to. People in the Washington Press Corp,
people in political circles, everybody knows this. So the only different thing that has happened here is that I said it.
AMANPOUR: If they say it to everybody knows this. So the only different thing that has happened here is that I said it.
AMANPOUR: If they say it to everybody how come it's only just coming out in the way you're saying it now? And, I guess the other question is how
did you get it? Did you talk to them and ask them those questions -
WOLFF: Well, let me - yes.
AMANPOUR: Or you heard them discussed? What was the reporting?
WOLFF: Well, there are two questions there. They - this has not come out and some of this has come out by the way, I mean, you know, so and so
called him a moron, et cetera that it has - it has to a degree come out but to the larger degree everybody - and this is - this is daily reporters have
to go back in the next day.
So the luxury that I've had is that - is that I parachute in, I'm there for six months, I'm out of there. I can say - I can say it because I don't
have to go back.
AMANPOUR: At one point you said you were there for six months. You heard all this stuff which is, I'm afraid, terrifying it is. Why should we be
feeling comfortable if you're telling us that the president of the United States is universally believe to be unfit for this office?
WOLFF: I think you should - you should be terrified.
AMANPOUR: So, why did you sit on it for so long? Did you feel not a duty to report, did you not want to tell some people who maybe in positions of
WOLFF: No. I'm - that's the point. I get to do this because I'm not a daily reporter. I get to go back -
AMANPOUR: No, but I'm saying what did your conscious tell you?
WOLFF: No, it's not a question of my conscious, it's a manage (ph) of my conscious. I knew I could get this story but I had to do it over a period
of time. I mean, it's not just -
AMANPOUR: So, there's no point when you thought that you should tell somebody guys, all is not right here?
WOLFF: No, in fact on a journalistic basis and this is not only part of the issue obviously if something is on fire you have to report it. But I
did say to many people and it was sort of - it was sort of my pass here you know nothing - you don't have to - I will just report this when the book
comes out and people will say when's the book coming out.
I would say sometime next year. They would go, and these are people who live in the moment. Sometimes next year, that's like never. But it's not -
this is - I got to do this, I got to understand the real alarm by people in the White House by going back day after day after day.
AMANPOUR: So the flip side of that pervious question is you kind of made your name and I think probably ingratiated yourself with the White House by
being a pretty strong (ph) defender of the president in the early months during the campaign and a critic of what you call the mainstream media.
WOLFF: I wouldn't say that's not - that's not entirely true. I wrote this quite -
AMANPOUR: There were a lot of columns against the mainstream media.
WOLFF: I wrote this quite negative, relatively negative portrait of the president in June 2016. I mean that was the piece in which - in which two
weeks before the Brexit vote he didn't know what Brexit was. Nevertheless, thank God it was Donald Trump. He didn't really read it he just looked at
the cover and liked the cover.
So, I got a pass there. In terms of the press, in the early days of this administration I did think everybody was a knee - had a knee jerk reaction.
I did think that there was - this man had been elected president, I actually sort of felt like everybody who was - went to work for the
president in the White House.
This is strange, this is peculiar but could it work? Yes, maybe it could work. And I went in there with - without - with no assumptions. I would
have written, would have been delighted to have written a book that said Donald Trump is - really knows what he's doing and he is - he has really
gained this and in the end this is going to be a successful presidency.
AMANPOUR: As it turns out you didn't feel that.
WOLFF: As it turns out.
AMANPOUR: And as it turns out the president has been tweeting that he is fact very stable and a genius and the White House has sent a cease and
desist letter to you, to your publishers -
WOLFF: A sure sign of stability.
AMANPOUR: And, they have -- well many people do that. And they -
WOLFF: No, no, no. Not many people. Never has a president done that.
WOLFF: Never. Never has a president done that.
AMANPOUR: Watergate? Pentagon papers?
WOLFF: No, that was - that was - they tried a prior restraint but this is a cease and desist letter because I have invaded the president's privacy
and liable the president. Never.
AMANPOUR: So, your publisher has basically feels the same way you do and says, "We cannot stand silent. We will not allow any president to achieve
by intimidation what our constitution preclude him or her from achieving in court." How far do you expect the pushback to go? And it's not just this
stuff. You saw all the major cabinet ministers, the director of the CIA and all the rest come out this weekend and push back on what you said.
Pompeo the CIA director says, "I brief him everyday and he's totally engaged and he's asked (inaudible) -
WOLFF: And you have to do this in order to work for Donald Trump you have to do this. So, I know people. I know
AMANPOUR:..and all the rest of it come out this weekend and push back on what you said, Pompeo the CIA Director says I brief him every day and he's
totally engaged and he asks important questions.
MICHAEL WOLFF: You have to do this. In order to work for Donald Trump, you have to do this so I know people -- I know people who are saying this
and I know what they say behind the president's back. There was an interesting thing on Saturday morning, John Kelly was asked about the
president's unusual, let us say, tweets of that morning a reporter asked him, he said I didn't see them. That's not true.
AMANPOUR: His chief of staff.
WOLFF: Yes, that's not true because I know The White House goes -- every time that the president tweets, The White House goes into a spasm.
AMANPOUR: Well so does the rest of the world, particularly when it comes to major foreign policy issues and you were around when a lot of decisions
were being made. Tell me about the process that led to the president actually delivering a wicked punishment to Bashar al-Assad for using
chemical weapons, which many of the world -- much of the world actually applauded.
WOLFF: Yes and there were people, I mean there were two factions in The White House; the president was not inclined to respond to this, Steve
Bannon was not inclined to respond to this and I'm not going to parse the politics here. But it was the president -- the president was just of a
mind which was why, what do I get out of this? And it was his daughter and other people; Dina Powell who were very concerned about this and also saw
this as an opportunity for this White House to act what you might call -- to have a normal response.
And it was very hard, they went through a whole series of efforts to focus him; to get his attention and finally they had to do this through a set of
-- essentially a set of pictures.
AMANPOUR: But it was very important actually, particularly after President Obama did not cross a red line in Syria.
WOLFF: It was important, yes, it was important to them, but it was -- the interesting thing here is what they had to do; how they had to move and
manipulate this president because he -- one of the major things, perhaps the major issue in this administration is how do you get information to the
president because he doesn't read and he doesn't listen. That's a, that's a, that's an interesting double whammy.
AMANPOUR: And what about the other major sort of centerpiece of the administration? President Trump deputing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner to
bring peace to the Middle East to stitch up -- I don't mean to stitch up in that way, but to try to get together a whole new relationship between The
White House and the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia. What was going on around those dynamics?
WOLFF: You know I think it seemed to be a very -- a new a kind of legitimate Trump Foreign Policy; different from the foreign policy we've
had for a number of generations now. His foreign policy was you can do anything you want I don't care what you do; if you do also what I want. So
if you -- to make me happy I don't care who else you make unhappy is essentially the U.S. Foreign Policy now.
AMANPOUR: So what he was saying, in other words to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is that what you're saying, that's the quid pro quo?
AMANPOUR: And where do you think the Russia investigation is going to end up? We've heard Steve Bannon say that it's going to be following the
money. What do people in The White House feel? Do they say it's coming home to roost or not?
WOLFF: The people in The White House actually feel that there is that collusion -- if there was collusion it's of a -- it's of a gang that
shouldn't -- couldn't shoot straight quality. Don Jr., if not inadvertent, no grand strategy there, but they do and again to a man a hundred percent
believe that if it touches the money, then Donald Trump and his family have real problems.
AMANPOUR: And what about, again for an American and a global audience; the whole idea of Donald Trump sort of affection and infinity with quite a lot
of these right-wing nationalist groups around the world that say he supported Marine Le Pen in France; there are others around Europe that got
sort of support from him and his foreign policy team. Where did you -- do you see was -- who was in charge of sorting of linking European nationalism
to the U.S. foreign policy?
WOLFF: You know, I -- that was actually in -- when I interviewed the president in June I specifically asked this question; I said what's your
relationship to the populous figures in Europe and then I said specifically in Britain with the Brexit vote. And then he said what, and I said Brexit;
and he said what? And I said you know the move for the U.K. to leave the European Union. He said, oh yes - yes I am for that.
So, is there any real thought out kind of thing here, I absolutely don't know.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: A lot for us to delve into. Michael Wolff, thank you very much indeed.
WOLFF: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Fire and Fury is the top of a lot of best sellers now.
AMANPOUR: With Washington in the throws of yet more west wing reality show. It could rival Hollywood for drama at the Global Globes last night;
women led a united (prompt) against sexual harassment. Harvey Weinstein's usual place of honor was roundly mocked and upon receiving a lifetime
achievement award, Oprah Winfrey delivered the nights rallying cry with an impassioned speech on fairness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, AMERICAN MEDIA PROPRIETOR: So, I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon. And when
that new day finally dawns it will be because of a lot of magnificent women; many of whom are right here in this room tonight and complete
phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say me too again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And as you saw those men and women Oprah Winfrey was talking about standing are all dressed in black. The attendees wore pins for times
up; a legal descents fund for women who have been victims of abuse. 8 activists joined 8 actresses on the red carpet.
Among them, was no less than tennis legend Billie Jean King. With the film of her own triumph over patriarchy; The Battle of the Sexes was nominated
for 2 awards. She joins me from Los Angeles now to talk about that night and the way forward for the me too movement. Billie Jean, welcome to the
BILLIE JEAN KING, AMERICAN TENNIS PLAYER: Thank you Christiane, it's great to see you.
AMANPOUR: So, we saw you there in a cutaway during Oprah's speech. What was the moment like? Was it electrifying, did you feel like it was sort of
KING: Well, as a 74 year old it was totally electrifying, inspirational. And the reason I'm wearing red today is I felt like I woke up this morning
and I just jumped up. I'm just so ecstatic from last night because it really did solidify people's thoughts. It encouraged women particularly
and the men who care as well.
And everyone is talking about Oprah being President and running for it; I hope she does, I'm praying that she'll run for President. Because now a
days it seems like you have to have a lot of media behind you through the years like President Trump. And that really helps the people to know you
and who you are. And I think it helps get elected.
So, Oprah's in a perfect position to be running for President of The United States of America.
AMANPOUR: So, was that a serious vibe there or is that sort of the gossip going through the Golden Globes?
KING: The what, it was furious? No.
AMANPOUR: No, was it serious?
KING: Oh, it's very serious. In fact Laura Dern - we met the day before with the activists and she said this will be the first time it's not just
about the dresses and fun. This has got substance and it's going to make a difference. And it did - the feeling was electrifying and there was such a
And I've never been to the Global Globes before so you have to realize what a privileged soul I was yesterday. I'm sure it's the only time I'll get to
go, but being side by side with Emma Stone who won everything last year from BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globes and the Academy Award.
It was such a privilege to be with her last night and to be part of this movement of me too and what, you know - times up.
AMANPOUR: So, let's talk about that. She obviously won for La La Land and was there last night because of the film that is all about you called
Battle of the Sexes. She played you Steve Carell played Bobby Riggs. And perhaps nobody can forget that in 1973, 90 million people around the world
tuned in for that match that you played in Houston.
Walk us through why you even ever agreed to take on Bobby Riggs who was just out to tweak you and to prod a woman and to basically prove to the
world that actually no woman could beat him.
KING: Well we just had started to win the professional tennis; we're only in our third year. But for two years, Bobby followed me around and kept
saying "we've got to play, we've got to play", I said no. And then he got Margaret Court to play who, by the way, at the end of '73 was number 1 in
the world and they played on Mother's Day in the United States and she lost badly.
So I knew to protect title line, which is very important in the United States, it's a protection that starter in education, it was so important to
open up the doors and not just have quotas in the classroom and to create opportunities for both boys and girls, men and women.
In all schools, whether it be high school or college or university. Finally, I knew the moment Margaret lost; I knew I had to play her - to
play Bobby Riggs who I adored. He was one of my heroes; he'd one the triple crown at Wimbledon. But I knew how important this was, it was going
to touch the minds and hearts of people.
I knew there was going to be a lot of discussion. It was just amazing, the six weeks before the match, how people were absolutely going crazy. There
were parties, there was sororities, fraternities and college is everybody that's watching, I had people come up to me last night, "I was 6 years old,
I was 18" and it'd just amazing how everybody remembers this.
And if you're too young to remember, they hear it form their parent or their grandparent. So, it was all about fighting for equality, for equity.
To push us forward, this was not a tennis match, this was on the line, I wanted to give power to the women but I also wanted to bring in the men
because we need to do this together, the world's getting smaller.
Yes, we're getting more isolationist as far as - we've got more isolation with (INAUIDIBLE), the way President Trump things, I think it's just - it's
mind boggling to me.
AMANPOUR: You know, you said it was much more than a tennis match and of course it was because you also pioneered for your sport equal prize money
at the big awards and you were - you played very hard pall with the organizers to make sure the women were treated fairly.
I want to play just a clip from the movie Battle of the Sexes where you're taking on the promoters and organizers.
EMMA STONE, ACTRESS: You're offering the men's winner exactly eight times what you're offering the women's winner. Do we bring in any of the crowd?
TOM KENNY, ACTOR: I don't know percentages but -
STONE: Well they sold the exact same amount of tickets to the women's final today as the men's? Isn't that right Jack?
KENNY: Today, yes I suppose so.
SARAH SILVERMAN, ACTRESS: Same prize money makes sense to me.
KENNY: Come on, be reasonable. There's no way that we could afford that.
STONE: What's your argument, Jack?
KENNY: Well, for one thing, the men have families that they have to support.
STONE: Well, I'm the main bread winner in my family.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, there you have it, the sexism, the misogyny, the obvious no level playing field and very unequal pay. I mean, yes things
have got better and you created a level playing field in your own sport. But today, the #MeToo movement has real echoes of the very same complaints
that you were trying to address back then.
KING: It's always been the same, generation after generation. But I am so enthused with these young women I met that are ahead of these activist
groups and I can tell you that I have such hope for millennials and the X Gen because the millenials are the greatest generation ever to believe in
inclusion and they're powerful, these groups are powerful.
These women don't feel they're - that they don't have power. They feel very empowered and I think that's a very important message because in the
old days, everybody felt like they didn't have a voice, they were negative in their thoughts. No more, those days are over and I really look forward
to working with them and helping them through the Billie Jean King leadership initiative.
Because we're all about equality and equity, we want fairness. There are the things we have to keep fighting for, but now, women in particular are
becoming more like the old boy network, they're starting to stick together, they're starting to speak up, they don't care what happens anymore.
Once you cross that line, you've got to be ready for anything, but you've got to make that commitment.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I wanted to pick up because you have always been very, very clear that it's not about women versus men or vice versa, you have to have
both genders in this fight. However, we've seen that head of Hoda Kotb, the person who's now taken over for Matt Lauer on the Today Show is being
paid $18 million less than he was.
We have a British journalist who's just quit her place of work at the BBC because of over pay equity. And there's a very interesting article just
written in the New York Times by Lindy West, a feminist author and she said, women didn't create sexism, men created sexism and she gave these
kinds of examples of how men should fix it.
How about Matt Damon refuses to show up for work until his female costars are paid as much as he is. How about Jimmy Fallon refuses to interview
who's been credibly accused of sexual assault or domestic violence.
How about Robert Downey Jr. relentlessly points out micro aggressions against female contemporaries until he develops a reputation for being
difficult. I wonder whether this moment makes you -- makes you shift your dynamic a little bit and say that actually men need to be doing a lot more
than they've been doing.
KING: Men do need to do a lot more and they can because they have the power. And whoever has the power -- the dominant group has to start
including the subdominant group more and more if they want to do the right thing and be on the right side of history. And that's what they have to
think about. When I'm older and I look in the mirror, have I done the right thing?
All these -- every one of us has a mother, many men have daughters and I must say the younger generation of men are being I think much better about
empowering their girls. My dad believed in me as much as my younger brother and that's what made a huge difference to me as well. I don't know
if fathers realize how important they are to their children and particularly their girls.
If they believe in them, it makes a big difference in society. So I really urge men to really reflect for a moment and really think about how they
going to make a difference and stand up for us, they can do it. Across the board, in every industry, including sports that I've come out of because
boy, sports is going to be the last bashed (ph) in the change.
AMANPOUR: All right.
KING: Because it's so male dominated.
AMANPOUR: Billy Jean King, you talk the talk and you walk the walk. Thank you so much.
KING: Thank you Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. And remember you can always listen to our podcast, see us on online at Amanpour.com and follow
me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.