Bob Woodward, the legendary journalist of Watergate-reporting fame, is publishing a new book, “Fear,” about the Trump presidency. The Washington Post, where Woodward is an associate editor, reported Tuesday on the book and revealed some of the highlights.
The White House issued a statement, saying the book is “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad.” The statement also said Trump had “broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people.”
Here are some of the shockers contained in the 448-page book, which Woodward says was based on hundreds of interviews as well as a variety of documents:
■ Trump’s national security team has been shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream views of military and intelligence leaders. After a January National Security Council meeting in which North Korea was discussed, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told close associates the president “acted like – and had the understanding of – ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
■ White House chief of staff John F. Kelly told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged.” In one meeting, Kelly said of Trump, “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
Kelly issued a statement after details from the Woodward book emerged, saying, “The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true,” he said. “As I stated back in May and still firmly stand behind: ‘I spend more time with the President than anyone else, and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS.’”
■ Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, called the presidential bedroom “the devil’s workshop” because that’s where Trump watched cable news and tweeted. Trump compared Priebus to “a little rat. He just scurries around.”
■ Trump often mocked his former national security adviser, retired Army general H.R. McMaster, puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing. He also said McMaster dressed in cheap suits “like a beer salesman.”
■ Trump was vicious in his remarks about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying at one point to an aide, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
■ Trump called Mattis, saying he wanted to assassinate the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, after Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017. “Let’s kill the [expletive] lot of them,” Trump said. Mattis hung up and told a senior aide, “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”
■ Former economic adviser Gary Cohn came to view Trump as a “professional liar” and threatened to quit over how Trump handled a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Cohn met with Trump to give him his resignation letter, but Trump persuaded him to stay. Kelly told Cohn he shared Cohn’s anger. “I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times,” Kelly told Cohn.
■ Senior aides conspired to remove official papers from Trump’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them. In one case, an aide prepared a letter withrawing the United States from NAFTA. Cohn told the aide, “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.” The United States remains in NAFTA, though it’s negotiating new terms with Canada and Mexico.
■ John Dowd, then Trump’s personal attorney, staged a practice session to see if Trump would commit perjury if he were questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia. Dowd peppered Trump with questions and elicited stumbles, contradictions, and lies.
■ In a meeting with Mueller, Dowd talked about the session and explained to Mueller why he was trying to keep the president from testifying. “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”
Dowd later advised Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.” Trump insisted he would be “a real good witness.” “You are not a good witness,” Dowd said. He resigned the next morning.