Bob Woodward, the investigative journalist who gained fame for breaking Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, paints an alarming picture of another White House in chaos in his explosive new book about the Trump administration.
In Fear: Trump in the White House, Woodward writes that top aides are so concerned that President Donald Trump‘s erratic behavior could endanger national security that they’ve stolen papers off of his desk in an effort to “protect the country.” The author also alleges that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called Trump an “idiot” who has “gone off the rails.”
Trump’s camp isn’t having it. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement in response to the claims made in Woodward’s book, due out Sept. 11.
“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” reads the statement. “While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people.”
The statement continues, “Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results. Democrats and their allies in the media understand the president’s policies are working and with success like this, no one can beat him in 2020 — not even close.”
Sanders also attached a list of 53 “Trump Administration Accomplishments,” taking credit for creating 4 million jobs since the election and a record-low unemployment rate for Hispanic-Americans. The last bullet point read: “We have begun BUILDING THE WALL. Republicans want STRONG BORDERS and NO CRIME. Democrats want OPEN BORDERS which equals MASSIVE CRIME.”
In the days leading up to Fear‘s Sept. 11 publication, multiple outlets have released details about the book — including insights into why staffers would steal papers from the Oval Office. According to CNN.com, former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn saw a letter that was drafted to end an important trade deal between the U.S. and South Korea — one that, if signed, he believed would threaten national security. So he allegedly took it off President Trump’s desk.
“I stole it off his desk,” Cohn told an associate, according to Woodward. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”
Woodward claims Cohn wasn’t the only one stealing papers from the Oval Office, alleging that former staff secretary Rob Porter did the same thing, according to CNN.com. Woodward reports that staffers also found ways to stall Trump from making orders they believed would endanger the country.
“A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that [Trump] had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas,” Porter said, according to Woodward. (Porter resigned from his post in February after domestic abuse allegations came out against him, according to The New York Times. Porter denied the allegations at the time.)
Woodward also reports that former chief of staff Reince Priebus was aware of these actions by Porter and other staffers. The author described these alleged attempts to control the president as “no less than an administrative coup d’état,” according to CNN.com.
Fear alleges that even Trump’s chief of staff was fed up with the president’s behavior.
Woodward claims that Kelly was in a meeting with a few other staffers when he 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.”
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On Tuesday, at the same presser in which Sanders released a statement, Kelly also pushed back.
“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true. 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 said.
He continued, ” ‘[The president] always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS. I’m committed to the president, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.’ “
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has also criticized the president’s intelligence, Woodward claims, according to The Washington Post.
The book describes how, during a National Security Council meeting in January, Trump questioned the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including an operation that helps the U.S. spot a North Korean missile more quickly.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis allegedly told the president.
Once Trump left the meeting, Woodward writes, per The Post, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
Woodward, now the associate editor at The Washington Post, has reported on eight presidencies and is the co-recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes, according to the book’s press release.
“Drawing from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, contemporaneous meeting notes, files, documents and personal diaries, FEAR brings to light the explosive debates that drive decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence,” reads the release.
While the White House’s response to the book has been harsh, others have been receptive of Woodward’s book.
Lawrence Ari Fleischer, the former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush, praised Woodward’s credibility on Twitter.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn’t like,” Fleischer tweeted on Tuesday. “But never once — never — did I think Woodward made it up. Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays it straight. Someone told it to him.”