In an extraordinary and unprecedented public defence of his own mental stability, Donald Trump issued a volley of tweets that seemed guaranteed to add fuel to a growing constitutional crisis.
Suggestions that he was mentally unfit to be president were out of “the old Ronald Reagan playbook”, Trump wrote on Saturday.
“Actually,” the president added, “throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”
He also said he “would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!”
Michael Wolff, the author of the book that precipitated fierce debate over Trump’s fitness to be president, declined to comment on Trump’s latest claim.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House burst into the public consciousness on Wednesday, when the Guardian published excerpts nearly a week ahead of its planned publication. Trump threatened to sue the journalist and former Guardian columnist. He succeeded only in prompting the publisher Henry Holt to bring the book forward.
Speaking to the Guardian from his Manhattan townhouse on Saturday, Wolff said he did not wish to get into a call-and-response with the president.
Wolff’s book presents a picture of a doomed administration lurching from crisis to crisis, steered by a childlike figure who responds to overstimulation with intense, reflexive outbursts.
“The president may not be able to restrain himself from commenting but I can restrain myself from commenting on his comments,” Wolff said.
Before Trump’s tweets, Wolff spoke to the BBC. He said: “I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear ‘emperor has no clothes’ effect.”
He added: “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job.
“Suddenly everywhere people are going: ‘Oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.”
The 25th amendment of the US constitution provides for the removal of a president deemed unfit if a majority of the cabinet and the vice-president agree. Talk of such a path to removing Trump from power has increased with the publication of Wolff’s book, in which the then White House strategist Steve Bannon refers to vice-president Mike Pence as “our fallback guy”.
Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, briefed a dozen members of Congress, mostly Democrats, last month on the potential risks associated with Trump’s behavior.
At the end of a week that began with Trump taunting North Korea over the size of his “nuclear button”, Lee, whose career has centred on studying, predicting and preventing violence, told the Guardian she and other psychiatrists felt “the danger has become imminent”.
Trump was at the presidential retreat Camp David on Saturday for a policy weekend with Republican congressional leaders. Not long after 7am local time, the president wrote: “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...
“... 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!”
Trump’s election win in 2016 was actually his second try for the presidency. In 1999, he mounted a brief run for the nomination of the Reform party, a minor organisation founded by Ross Perot.
Wolff’s book hit the stores on Friday, prompting queues of readers. The White House has forcefully criticised the book and questioned the author’s integrity. Wolff has said he stands by his work, which included more than 200 interviews and was built on extensive access to the West Wing and key figures within it.
On Friday night Trump hit out at Wolff – tweeting that he was “a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book” – and Bannon, a major source for the volume.
Wolff “used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job”, the president wrote. “Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
Bannon has avoided extensive comment, though in the aftermath of the Guardian story he called Trump “a great man”. The billionaire Rebekah Mercer, a key backer, has disowned him and his role at the far-right Breitbart News is believed to be in doubt.
Trump’s reference to “the Ronald Reagan playbook” was a curious one. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease, in 1994, five years after he left office.
The extent to which he suffered during his time in the White House, when the cold war was still current, remains a matter of contention. Reagan, like Trump in his 70s when in office, long faced questions over his mental state. Opponents pointed to his habit of forgetting names and making contradictory statements.
In a column for the Hollywood Reporter, Wolff wrote of Trump: “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories – now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions – he just couldn’t stop saying something.”
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has said Trump will undergo his annual physical with the White House doctor on Friday 12 January. The results are due to be made public.