WASHINGTON — The White House issued a blanket pushback against the first excerpts of Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward’s new book on the Trump administration, an account based on interviews and access to memos and emails that paints a picture of officials trying to blunt the impact of the president’s impulses.
According to Fear: Trump in the White House, a 448-page book to be released Sept. 11, the president reportedly panned spending defense money on the Korean Peninsula as an operation to decrease missile warning time in Alaska from 15 minutes to seven seconds was explained to him. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told the president. When Trump left the meeting, Woodward writes, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
According to the Post summary, Trump referred to former chief of staff Reince Priebus as “a little rat,” made fun of former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and his suits, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross he was “past his prime” to do negotiations (Ross is eight years older than Trump), called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded,” and claimed at a dinner with military officials that late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was a coward for accepting early release as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese before Mattis corrected Trump and told him the opposite is true. He also reportedly called attorney Rudy Giuliani “a little baby that needs to be changed.”
The book describes Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary who resigned earlier this year under domestic abuse allegations, running interference per a branch-wide “administrative coup d’etat” and says former top economic advisor Gary Cohn snatched documents off Trump’s desk that he felt if signed would constitute a national security threat. Mattis reportedly responded to an April 2017 demand by Trump to assassinate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad by saying he’d get on it but proceeded with limited conventional strikes.
Woodward writes that Cohn tried to resign in August 2017 after Trump said there were good people on both sides of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and someone put a swastika on his daughter’s dorm room. After Trump was pushed to give a statement condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists, the book says, Trump told aides “that was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given.” Trump called Cohn’s resignation letter “treason” and convinced him to stay on. According to Woodward, chief of staff John Kelly then told Cohn, “I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times.”
The book says Kelly once said of Trump at a small meeting, “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.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement charging that “this book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
“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. Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results,” Sanders said. “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.”
The White House release also included a statement from Kelly: “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 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.'”
The statement he quoted was issued in reaction to an April story in which NBC News reported Kelly said about Trump in a meeting, “He doesn’t even understand what DACA is. He’s an idiot.”
In a separate statement, Mattis said, “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence. While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility.”
He noted that “while responsible policy making in the real world is inherently messy, it is also essential that we challenge every assumption to find the best option. I embrace such debate and the open competition of ideas.”
“In serving in this administration, the idea that I would show contempt for the elected Commander-in-Chief president Trump, or tolerate disrespect to the office of the President from within out Department of Defense, is a product of someone’s rich imagination,” Mattis added.
Woodward writes that Trump attorney John Dowd and Jay Sekulow met with special counsel Robert Mueller and his deputy in March after an unsuccessful practice session in which Trump allegedly gave Dowd contradictions and lies and eventually lost his cool. “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot,” Dowd allegedly told Mueller. “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 reportedly told Trump, “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.” He resigned shortly afterward.
Dowd and Sekulow denied that the president was run through a mock special counsel interview. “Further, I did not refer to the President as a ‘liar’ and did not say that he was likely to end up in an ‘orange jump suit,'” Dowd said.
Woodward will first discuss his book on CBS Sunday Morning this coming weekend. He said in a statement today, “I stand by my reporting.”
Bush-era White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted today, “I’ve been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn’t like. But never once – never – did I think Woodward made it up. Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him.”
Woodward is known for always taping his interviews, and the Post released a recording today of Trump saying he wanted to participate in the book; Woodward said the book was long finished and that multiple attempts to talk with Trump while researching and writing the book were rebuffed.
Trump told Woodward that Kellyanne Conway never told him about the interview request. “I would’ve loved to have spoken to you. You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair. We’ll see what happens,” the president said.
After Woodward told Trump the book would be “a tough look at the world and your administration and you,” Trump replied, “I assume that means it’s going to be a negative book. But you know, I’m some — I’m sort of 50 percent used to that. That’s all right. Some are good and some are bad. Sounds like this is going to be a bad one.”
“Everything is going to be factual,” Woodward told Trump. “And it is not a good thing for my business, if I may say this to you, Mr. President, to the presidency, or to the country, to not have real, full exchanges on these. And I broke my spear on it trying to get to you.”