WASHINGTON — An upcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward says President Donald Trump’s chief of staff privately called Trump an “idiot” and aides plucked sensitive documents off the president’s desk to keep him from taking rash actions.
The book is the latest tell-all to roil the Trump administration with explosive anecdotes and concerns about the commander in chief. The Washington Post on Tuesday published details from “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the Watergate reporter’s forthcoming examination of Trump’s first 18 months in office.
Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted as having doubted Trump’s mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, “We’re in Crazytown.”
Trump’s former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, is also said to have doubted Trump’s ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit,” Dowd is quoted telling the president.
And Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is quoted explaining to Trump why the U.S. maintains troops on the South Korean peninsula to monitor the North’s missile activities. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis says.
Woodward recounts that Mattis told “close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.'”
In a statement, Kelly said Woodward got it wrong.
“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.”
Woodward also claims that Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, boasted of removing papers off Trump’s desk to prevent their signature, including efforts by the president to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The White House issued a statement: “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. 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 publication of Woodward’s book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all of their colleagues cooperated with the noted journalist, who cut his teeth bringing down Richard Nixon’s presidency during Watergate.
But Trump did not speak to Woodward until after the book’s manuscript was completed. The Post released audio of Trump expressing surprise about the book in an August conversation with Woodward. Woodward tells Trump he had contacted multiple officials to attempt to interview Trump and was rebuffed.
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist who spoke with Wolff in terms highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff’s book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes, but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Woodward’s work also comes weeks after former White House aide and “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-on conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly’s decision.
Trump has been increasingly critical of anonymous sources used by reporters covering his administration. Woodward’s account relies on so-called “deep background” conversations with sources, in which their identities are not disclosed.