Excerpts from a new book about the Donald Trump presidency, authored by the journalist credited with helping to drive President Richard Nixon from power, describes the current administration as suffering an “administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” during its first 19 months.
“Fear: Trump in the White House,” a 448-page work by Bob Woodward set to be released on Sept. 11, describes aides stealing papers off the president’s desk and taking other actions to circumvent the intentions of the commander in chief. It paints Trump as dangerously ignorant of world affairs and his White House as dysfunctional and devastatingly beset by internal feuds.
Although there have been previous revelations by journalists and former White House staffers of upheaval in the White House west wing since last January’s inauguration, Woodward’s account paints a more disturbing portrait of this administration.
Excerpts are contained in stories Tuesday from CNN and The Washington Post.
The book quotes White House Chief of Staff John Kelly describing the president as “unhinged.”
Kelly also is quoted saying in a staff meeting that because the president is an “idiot,” it is “pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.”
The retired Marine Corps general, whose reported frustrations with his current post and boss have previously made the news, is quoted then saying: “I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
Defense secretary Jim Mattis is quoted saying Trump comprehends material at the level of “a fifth or sixth grader.”
The book claims that after the Syrian president ordered chemical weapons to be used against civilians in April of last year, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate Bashar al-Assad. Mattis is quoted as telling an aide after hanging up the phone that “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”
VOA queried White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a response to the book’s excerpts, but there was has been no immediate response.
One of Sanders’ predecessors, Ari Fleischer, who served as a press secretary for President George W. Bush, notes he has been on “the receiving end” of one of Woodward’s previous books. There “were quotes in it I didn’t like. But never once — never — did I think Woodward made it up.”
Fleischer writes on Twitter that, “anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him.”
The president’s former lead personal attorney, John Dowd, is quoted in graphic language referring to Trump as a “liar” who will end up wearing an “orange jump suit” if he gives testimony to special counsel Robert Muller, who is looking into ties between the 2016 Trump election campaign and Russia.
Two officials who since left the White House, the president’s top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, and Staff Secretary Rob Porter, are said to have swiped documents from the president’s desk to prevent him from signing them “to protect the country.”
Woodward’s book relies on hundreds of hours of taped interviews and dozens of sources in Trump’s inner circle, speaking on the condition they not be identified, as well as documents and includes summarizations of top-secret meetings.
Woodward repeatedly tried to request an interview with Trump for the book but did not succeed.
According to a tape of a call Woodward made to Trump last month, and released by The Washington Post, Trump accused the journalist of writing a “very inaccurate book” that would not reflect that no predecessor has “ever done a better job than I’m doing as president.”
The book also includes excerpts of discussions between the president’s lawyer and Mueller.
The special counsel is quoted saying “I need the president’s testimony,” to determine Trump’s intent in firing James Comey as director of the FBI.
“I want to see if there was corrupt intent,” Mueller is quoted as stating.
The president recently escalated his feud with his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation, a move that angered Trump.
“This guy is mentally retarded,” Trump is quoted in the book, saying of Sessions. “He’s this dumb southerner,” Trump tells then White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, mocking Sessions by feigning a southern U.S. accent.
The president’s penchant for making provocative statements on social media is examined in Woodward’s book, which notes national security leaders feared and warned Trump that “Twitter could get us into a war.”
Woodward characterizes the president as prioritizing national security in terms of trade deficits and the expense of keeping U.S. troops overseas. Questioned why the United States has to pay for the large troop presence in South Korea, for example, Mattis reportedly told the president: “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III.”
The book, by the former Washington Post reporter who shared a 1973 Pulitzer Prize for stories on the Watergate scandal, contains contemporary echoes of Nixon White House paranoia and anger, with Trump reacting to the ongoing Russia inquiry by saying, “everybody’s trying to get me.”