Allies of Donald Trump insisted on Sunday that he was fit for office, amid mounting concerns in Washington about the president’s mental stability.
Fellow Republicans defended a claim by Trump on Saturday that he was a “very stable genius”, an extraordinary statement even for a president renowned for his outlandish remarks and erratic behaviour.
The debate over Trump’s capacity raged after being thrust into the political mainstream by a new book by Michael Wolff that portrays him as unstable, disengaged and incapable of processing information.
Stephen Miller, a senior White House official, echoed the president’s boastful tweet, saying the book was “contrary to reality” and that he witnessed Trump show mental sharpness and agility during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I saw a man who was a political genius,” Miller said, in a bad-tempered interview on CNN’s State of the Union that was abruptly abandoned when Miller refused to stop ranting about his boss.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, claimed on ABC’s This Week that in the White House “no one questions the stability of this president”, despite claims to the contrary in Wolff’s book Fire and Fury.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA director, told Fox News Sunday: “We talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the rest of the world, complex issues.
“The president is engaged. He understands the complexity, asks really difficult questions from our team at CIA. I’ve watched him do that.”
Senators eager to secure Trump’s approval also weighed in. But Wolff and members of the Democratic party continued to express fears about the actions and comments of the 71-year-old leader of the world’s richest country and most powerful military.
While low-level alarm about Trump’s behaviour has long been articulated by critics, Wolff’s book has placed his mental health at the front of Washington’s news agenda. An in-depth examination of the topic appeared on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet The Press, Wolff said it was “not unreasonable to say that this is 25th amendment kind of stuff”, referring to the section in the US constitution on removing a president from office.
Wolff said that during interviews for the book, senior White House officials had insisted: “We’re not at 25th amendment level yet.” That had changed, he said.
“This is alarming in every way. The 25th amendment is a concept that is alive every day in the White House.”
Several Democratic members of Congress were briefed on the subject of Trump’s mental fitness last month by Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale University and the editor of a book compiling assessments of the president.
From the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland on Sunday, Trump continued to give publicity to Wolff’s book.
“I’ve had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President,” Trump said in a tweet. “Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author.”
Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told CNN there was a “seriously flawed human being in the Oval Office” and that many others in Washington shared his concerns.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress, frankly, from either party, who does not concur at least privately with those observations and concerns,” Schiff said.
But Republicans in the Senate claimed on Sunday to have no such concerns. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has been floated as a possible member of Trump’s cabinet, said the president was “an active, engaged and effective leader”. Questions over mental fitness were politically motivated, he said.
“The media made similar claims about Ronald Reagan and George Bush,” Cotton told ABC. “What they all have in common is they’re Republican presidents.”
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who once dismissed Trump as a “kook”, claimed he enjoyed a productive working relationship with the president.
“I don’t think he’s crazy,” Graham told NBC.
Little is publicly known about Trump’s medical history. Past presidential candidates published detailed information; Trump released a letter from his doctor declaring vaguely that he would be the healthiest president in history. The doctor later said he dashed off the letter in a few minutes while a limousine sent by Trump waited outside his surgery.
Trump is due to undergo an annual presidential physical examination on Friday by a White House doctor who also examined Barack Obama. It is unclear what results will be disclosed to the public. A memo on Obama’s examination in 2016 featured details of his neurological system.
Wolff’s book also created a new split among allies of Trump after Steve Bannon, formerly campaign chief executive and White House chief strategist, was quoted being sharply critical of the president and his family.
Trump responded by claiming Bannon “lost his mind” after being fired last year. On Sunday, in the words of a source close to the Trump White House, Miller’s appearance on CNN was specifically intended to “trash Bannon”.
“It’s tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive,” said Miller, who previously stood alongside Bannon in their war on the Republican establishment.
Trump tweeted that “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed” by Miller. “Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”
The Guardian revealed last Wednesday that Bannon told Wolff a meeting involving the president’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and a group of Russians at Trump Tower was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
Bannon dutifully released a statement on Sunday expressing regret for his comments and defending the president from allegations his campaign colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election.
“There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt,” Bannon said in the statement to Axios, repeating a phrase used frequently by Trump to deny wrongdoing.
- Additonal reporting by Ben Jacobs