President Donald Trump is asserting that quotes and stories in a new book about his presidency “were made up frauds, a con on the public.”
Excerpts from the new book about the 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 September 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.
Trump, in a Tuesday evening tweet, also questioned whether Woodward is an operative of the opposition Democratic Party.
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.”
Kelly, in a statement hours after the media reports about the book, pushed back.
“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true,” said the White House chief of staff, reiterating that he has “an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS.”
Kelly statement emphasizes he is committed to Trump’s presidency, his agenda and the country.
“This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes,” Kelly said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is quoted in the book saying Trump comprehends material at the level of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”
“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,” Mattis responded in a statement released Tuesday evening by the Pentagon.
The statement from the defense secretary further said that “while responsible policymaking in the real world is inherently messy, it is also essential that we challenge every assumption to find the best option.”
However, Mattis added, “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 our Department of Defense, is a product of someone’s rich imagination.”
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.”
“I have not once ever heard the president talking about assassinating Assad,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley responded when asked at a U.N. news conference about that assertion in the book.
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 repeatedly requested 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 Porter, mocking Sessions by feigning a Southern U.S. accent.
In another tweet late Tuesday against the book, Trump denied making those statements.
“I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing,” Trump said. “He made this up to divide!”
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.”
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.