THURMONT, Md. — President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE on Saturday launched a defense of his fitness for office, striking back against a new book that portrays him as a man who is ill-equipped to handle the presidency.
Trump spoke out at the presidential retreat at Camp David, where he is meeting with Republican lawmakers and Cabinet officials to draw up a game plan for 2018.
He spoke to reporters after sending out a series of tweets earlier in the day describing himself as "a very stable genius" and "like, really smart," a clear reaction to the book by Michael Wolff that has zoomed to the top of Amazon's bestseller list.
Trump suggested that he had weighed in on the discussion of his fitness, a decision sure to lead to more coverage of the issue, to set the record straight.
“Well, only because I went to the best colleges, or college,” the president said when asked why he tweeted about his mental state, and not the issues being discussed at Camp David.
Trump said he was an "excellent student" and “came out and made millions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people, went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard.”
Trump was flanked by 10 top GOP lawmakers and administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE, who reportedly called the president a “moron” after a national security meeting last summer.
A State Department spokeswoman later denied the claim.
The president then turned his fire to Wolff, whom he called a “fraud.”
“[I] ran for president one time and won, and then I hear this guy who does not know me, does not know me at all. By the way, did not interview me for three hours, it didn't exist, OK? It's in his imagination," Trump said.
Wolff claims he did interview the president and conducted more than 200 interviews with White House and campaign officials for the book.
When asked about the book itself, Trump said, “I consider it a work of fiction and I consider it a disgrace.”
The president complained about the country’s “very weak” libel laws, saying “if they were strong, it would be very helpful,” because “you wouldn't have things like that happen.”
The book has engulfed the White House in controversy and stymied its efforts to seize momentum to push forward on its legislative agenda in 2018.
Current and former Trump aides have ripped Wolff's "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" as trash that includes numerous falsehoods, but have also been aghast that the journalist would have been given access to administration figures.
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon gives Wolff some of his juiciest material, and has yet to say publicly he was misquoted. Bannon's participation led Trump to completely break with his former close adviser earlier in the week.
The book has dominated news coverage partly because of the Trump reaction, overshadowing other stories that might give Trump a jolt of momentum, including another positive jobs report and further growth in the stock market following Congress's passage of a GOP tax-cut bill.
Wolff said in a new interview that he has heard from sources in the White House that Trump is “bouncing off the walls” with anger over the book.
“I hear that the president is very angry, or, let me be precise: I hear that he is truly bouncing off the walls,” Wolff told The Hollywood Reporter.
He added that he didn’t get the sense that Trump “has thought of anything other than himself at any given time.”
White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE on Saturday disputed that characterization. Asked if the president showed signs of agitation Friday night or Saturday morning, he said, “not at all.”
Kelly told reporters at Camp David he had not seen the president’s Saturday morning tweets. But when shown the messages on a reporter’s phone, he described them as just another attempt by Trump to circumvent the media.
Speaking to the press, Trump answered questions on topics ranging from the Russia investigation, North Korea and the party’s legislative agenda.
The president again insisted he was not under investigation by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE and reiterated his belief his campaign did not collude with Russia’s election-meddling efforts in 2016.
“Everything I’ve done is 100 percent proper,” Trump said when asked about reports he urged Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE not to recuse himself from the Russia probe. “That is what I do, is I do things proper.”
Trump said a New York Times report that he asked White House counsel Don McGahn to talk Sessions out of recusal was “off,” but did not explain further.
The president also expressed hope that good can come out of upcoming talks between South Korea and North Korea, an apparent shift from his stated skepticism that diplomacy can solve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
Trump also said he is open to talking with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he taunted this week over the size of his “nuclear button.”
“Sure, I always believe in talking,” Trump said.
But the president said he would not engage in talks without preconditions.
“We have a very firm stance,” he said, adding that Kim “knows I’m not messing around, I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1 percent.”
Trump began to sketch out his legislative agenda for 2018. He suggested he might back off his push to get started quickly on welfare reform, unless Democrats get on board.
“We’ll try and do something in a bipartisan way, otherwise we’ll be holding it for a little bit later,” Trump said.
The president said he had “great meetings” with his counterparts in Congress that touched on the budget, security, infrastructure, military and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
But Trump said he would not agree to relief for young immigrants covered by the DACA program unless Democrats accept his demand for a border wall with Mexico.
“We want the wall,” he said. "The wall is going to happen, or we’re not going to have DACA.”
It wasn’t all business for the officials at Camp David.
Trump and the lawmakers on Friday night watched the film “The Greatest Showman,” about the life of the famous showman and circus promoter, P.T. Barnum.
The movie “celebrates the birth of show business, and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation,” according to the online film database IMDb.