Responding to book that mocks his intelligence, Trump tweets he's 'like, really smart'

President Trump declared himself a “very stable genius” on Twitter on Saturday and later in a televised news conference called the author of a book that questioned his mental fitness a “fraud.”

His comments came on a bone-cold day at Camp David during a weekend retreat with top administration officials and Republican congressional leaders strategizing on the year’s legislative agenda, including matters such as infrastructure, immigration, welfare reform and national security.

Still, Trump’s explosive rebuttal to author Michael Wolff’s claims not only opened the day, but it also ensured the president’s capability to fill the highest office in the land was a topic that would not go away.

In his early-morning tweets, Trump said two of his greatest assets “have been mental stability, and being, like, really smart.”

He noted that his former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, “played these cards [about competence] 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!”

The book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” presents a damning portrayal of the Trump White House in which many of the president’s closest advisors question his intelligence, leadership and maturity even as they lavish his ego with praise and attention.

It casts Trump as a man who didn’t really want to win the presidency, doesn’t understand the weight of the office and has little grasp of policy details. One aide compared dealing with the president to "trying to figure out what a child wants."

Trump and White House officials have pushed back hard on the book, which quotes senior aides variously describing the president as an "idiot," "dumb" and a "dope."

He turned up the heat during his Saturday news conference, saying he went to the “best colleges,” was a “very excellent student” and then “made billions and billions of dollars — became one of the top businesspeople.” He said he then went into television and for 10 years was a “tremendous success.”

Wolff, he said, “doesn’t know me at all” and did not receive the three hours of time with Trump that the author has claimed. “It’s in his imagination.” Wolff says Trump helped clear the way for the writer to hang around the West Wing for much of the first year.

But Trump said Wolff “was never in the Oval Office” and “we didn’t have an interview.” He then acknowledged a “quick” interview with Wolff “a long time ago.”

The president said his former top strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who is quoted in the book as making several disparaging remarks about Trump, facilitated the access.

Even before his White House campaign, Trump was known to be sensitive and boastful about his intelligence. In 2013, he tweeted: “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest - and you all know it! Please don’t feel stupid or insecure,it’s not your fault.”

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reported to have privately called Trump a “moron,” Trump responded by suggesting the men compare I.Q. scores. Tillerson has denied ever questioning Trump’s mental fitness.

During his roughly 20-minute news conference, Trump also said he would campaign this year for House and Senate candidates, make a dent on what he characterized as the country’s unprecedented drug problem and try for a bipartisan agreement with Democrats to protect so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

He insisted there would be no deal on immigration reform without a wall on the southern border and repeated his promise that “in some form” Mexico would pay for it. But Trump is also asking Congress for $18 billion to begin construction.

Trump also called for immigration reforms to end to the visa lottery and another program that gives priority to relatives of U.S. citizens and green card holders.

Talks between North and South Korea also came up. Trump in the past has threatened to annihilate a nuclear-armed North Korea, but said Saturday that he would talk to the country’s leadership under certain conditions.

Asked about a renewed rapprochement between North and South Korea that threatens to leave out Washington, Trump said he “always believes in talking.”

Trump said the recent contact between the two Koreas was a “big start” — and took credit for making it happen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has threatened to attack the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons, “knows I'm not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%,” Trump said.

Trump said he hopes North Korea gets involved in next month’s Winter Olympics, which has been the pretext for renewing North-South talks, and added that he hopes the two countries “take it beyond the Olympics” in their talks.

Trump also expressed support for Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who was notably absent from the retreat. Asked by a reporter about reports that Trump told his White House counsel last year to pressure Sessions not to recuse himself from the federal probe of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, Trump said everything he had done was “100% proper.”

Sessions did recuse himself from the investigation, and his deputy later appointed a special prosecutor to look into the allegations.

Trump claimed the subject of collusion with Russia was “dead” after a year of investigation and there was “absolutely no collusion.”

But the probe into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials during the campaign has continued. Trump’s former strategist Bannon is quoted in the book as calling a meeting between campaign officials and Russians “treasonous.”

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is looking at that June 2016 meeting as well as Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption.

The news conference opened on self-congratulatory notes. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin separately extolled progress on their agenda in 2017. They singled out tax reform, economic growth, an end to tax penalties for people without health insurance and expanded oil drilling in Alaska.

kskiba@chicagotribune.com

Twitter: @KatherineSkiba

Tracy.wilkson@latimes.com

Twitter: TracyKWilkinson


UPDATES:

1:55 p.m.: This article was updated after Trump’s press conference.

This article was originally published at 8:20 a.m.

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