White House chief of staff John Kelly frequently lost his temper and referred to President Donald Trump as “unhinged” and an “idiot,” author Bob Woodward writes in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”
The book also describes a president obsessed, angry and paranoid about the Russian investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Washington Post said it obtained a copy of the 448-page book before its release. Woodward, an associate editor at the Post, rose to stardom with his coverage of the Watergate break-in that brought down President Richard Nixon.
Woodward cites as his sources hundreds of hours of interviews with mostly unnamed Trump aides and others. According to the book, Kelly often vented his frustration with Trump.
“He’s an idiot,” Kelly is quoted as saying. “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.”
The Post reports that a recurring theme of the book is the efforts of Trump aides to control his impulses, hiding papers so Trump can’t sign them and talking the president down from what were viewed as bad ideas.
The book claims that at one point, Trump’s then-personal attorney John Dowd felt he had to convince Trump that he would commit perjury if he talked to Mueller. So Dowd staged a practice grilling that provoked a string of contradictions and lies.
“This thing’s a … hoax,” Trump finally said, before deciding he didn’t want to testify after all.
Woodward writes that Trump’s national security team was concerned the president showed little interest in world affairs. Trump even complained about the military spending involved in joint exercises and other activities aimed at maintaining a strong presence on the Korean Peninsula.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly told the president.
“Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president … had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader,’ ” Woodward writes.
Trump has become famous for mocking political foes – referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as Pocahontas, North Korean leader Kim as little rocket man – but the book shows he can be equally tough on his allies. Trump is quoted as describing Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, as “a little rat. He just scurries around.”
Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster was victimized for his wardrobe, with Trump saying he wore cheap suits “like a beer salesman.” And he was harsh and blunt with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, telling him “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime.”
The White House did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment on the book. And Woodward says he sought to interview Trump for the book, but his team declined. Later, however, Trump reached out to Woodward seeking an interview in a phone call the author recorded.
Woodward said he asked Kellyanne Conway and others with the White House for access to the president but was rejected.
“Well, a lot of them are afraid to come and talk, or — you know, they are busy,” Trump responded. “I’m busy. But I don’t mind talking to you.”
Woodward warned the president that it was a “tough” book.
“Right. Well, I assume that means it’s going to be a negative book,” Trump responds. “But you know, I’m some — I’m sort of 50 percent used to that. (Laughter) That’s all right. Some are good and some are bad. Sounds like this is going to be a bad one.”
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