UPDATE with White House response. In a scorching tease of Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book about President Donald Trump, which lands next week, the Washington Post has published a sampling of its charges. The damning catalog appears to paint a far worse picture than that in Michael Woolf’s mega-selling Fire and Fury.
Among its allegations, the book says Trump did a mock-interview with his then-lawyer John Dowd, as preparation for testifying for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. During that session, he contradicted himself and lied. “You are not a good witness,” Dowd told Trump the day before resigning, according to Woodward. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”
The book, Fear: Trump in the White House, will officially be published on September 11 by Simon & Schuster. Woodward says it is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with White House figures and witnesses. Many interviews were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information is used without an explanation of who provided it. He also drew from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.
The White House hit back promptly, delivering a set of statements deriding the book as “fabricated stories.”
In the book, Trump also flames Attorney General Jeff Sessions in more coarse terms than he ever has on Twitter. “This guy is mentally retarded,” Woodward says Trump raged. “He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
Echoing the central theme of Wolff’s book, Woodward quotes Chief of Staff John F. Kelly during a small meeting on the subject of Trump. “He’s an idiot,” Kelly said. “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.” (In a statement delivered with the general White House rebuke of the book, Kelly said the claim he called the president the i-word is “total BS.”)
While the in-fighting and anxiety about Mueller have been covered elsewhere, Woodward also raises other issues about Trump’s foreign-affairs dealings. After a chemical weapons attack in Syria, Woodward reports, Trump said he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Let’s f–king kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f–king lot of them.”
Also, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis once told associates that Trump “acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader,’ ” in the paraphrased account of Woodward.
Included in the Post‘s wave of reporting about the book was an audio recording of Woodward speaking with Trump after completing the manuscript. On the call, Trump claims that he never received a formal interview request from Woodward, but the journalist said he asked six separate people for access over a period of months, to no effect. White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, one of the people he approached, is in the room when Trump and Woodward are speaking. “Why didn’t you tell me about him?” Trump asks. “I would have gladly talked to him.” Conway breezily asserts she followed protocol. “I put in the request,” she says. “It’s OK, I’ll just end up with another bad book,” Trump shrugs. “What can I tell you?”
Despite the anonymity of some sources, Post political writer Aaron Blake said the account should not be automatically dismissed.
“Some people will still doubt the claims in the book, because 35 to 40 percent of the country is predisposed toward doing that and has been for the better part of three years. These are also anonymously sourced anecdotes,” Blake wrote. “But the book also paints a portrait that is likely to be filled out by others in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.”
Here is the audio of Woodward’s conversation with Trump: