Woodward book offers damning assessment of Trump White House

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward offers a damning portrayal of the Trump White House in a new book, according to excerpts published Tuesday in a story by The Washington Post.

The Watergate reporter’s book details numerous instances of conflict between the president and his staff, and paints the picture of a dysfunctional White House full of “predators,” in the words of former chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusEx-Trump chief of staff Priebus mulling Wisconsin governor bid On The Trail: Little GOP interest in post-election introspection Author: Meadows is history's worst White House chief of staff MORE.

Trump and aides bad-mouthed one another often, according to The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the book, titled "Fear: Trump in the White House."


Trump mocked Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsManchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Ocasio-Cortez targets Manchin over Haaland confirmation MORE’ accent, and described him to a staffer as “mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner.”

Sessions has been a favorite punching bag for Trump, who has noted repeatedly that he would not have nominated the former Alabama senator for the job if he knew Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

“He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama,” Trump said of Sessions, according to Woodward’s book.

The president told Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossFormer Trump officials find tough job market On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE, “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations.”

Trump suggested former national security adviser H.R. McMaster dressed “like a beer salesman,” and called Preibus “a little rat.”

Preibus, who left the White House in the summer of 2017, did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

The president’s aides appeared to match his insults with their own, according to excerpts published in The Post, though they rarely if ever did so to Trump’s face.

Current chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE is said to have called Trump “unhinged” and an "idiot," which Kelly denied.

"The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true," Kelly said in a statement on Tuesday. "This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE and distract from the administration's many successes."

Preibus reportedly described Trump’s bedroom as “the devil’s workshop” because of his propensity to watch cable news and tweet from there.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisRejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction MORE told associates following a meeting with Trump about the conflict on the Korean peninsula that Trump acted like a “fifth- or sixth-grader.”

The White House blasted the book in a statement. 

“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Woodward’s book, which is set for a Sept. 11 release, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents.

The reporter unsuccessfully attempted to interview the president for the book, but The Washington Post published the transcript and audio of an 11-minute call between Trump and Woodward in August, after the manuscript was completed.

Woodward told Trump that he reached out to roughly a half-dozen staffers inquiring about an interview with the president, including White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayGeorge Conway calls for thorough Lincoln Project probe: 'The lying has to stop' Claudia Conway advances on 'American Idol,' parents Kellyanne, George appear The swift death of the media darlings known as the Lincoln Project MORE and deputy press secretary Raj Shah.

Trump, who initiated the phone call, told Woodward that he did not hear about the requests. Conway is featured on the phone call, telling Woodward she relayed his request to others in the administration, without elaborating on who the individuals were.

“It’s really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would’ve loved to have spoken to you,” Trump said. “You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair.”

While excerpts published Tuesday feature a plethora of internal strife and name-calling, Woodward’s book focuses mostly on substantive decisions about issues of international consequences, The Post reported.

In April 2017, following a chemical attack on civilians in Syria, Trump urged Mattis that the U.S. should “fucking kill” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mattis reportedly went along with the president’s demands during the phone call, but immediately told aides that they would take a “much more measured” approach.

Mattis issued a statement early Tuesday night denying he ever said or heard the quotes attributed to him in the book excerpts published Tuesday.

"While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility," Mattis said.

He added that he embraces debate over foreign policy and defense strategy.

"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 our Department of Defense, is a product of someone's rich imagination," Mattis said.

In the fall of 2017, Trump told then-staff secretary Rob Porter that he viewed his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “contest of wills.” The comment came as the president began dubbing Kim “rocket man,” and months before any breakthrough in relations between the two sides.

Woodward writes that the executive branch under Trump experienced a “nervous breakdown,” with top staffers snatching papers off ofTrump’s desk so he couldn’t see them or follow through on what they believed would be catastrophic decisions for trade or national security.

Snippets published in the Post describe aides attempting to push back against the president’s impulses, with Trump engrossed with paranoia over special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. White House staffers compared to the president's feelings about Mueller to former President Richard Nixon's last days in the White House.

Trump regularly derides Mueller's investigation as a “witch hunt,” but has publicly expressed a desire to sit down for an interview with the special counsel.  Woodward reported that in order to prepare Trump, his lawyers conducted a mock interview with the president in January.

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's current attorneys, denied to Time's Brian Bennet that they conducted such a practice session.

Attorney John Dowd is said to have urged the president not to agree to an interview just a day before resigning from his post in March.

“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit,” Dowd told Trump, according to Woodward's book.

The book could roil the White House just as it seems to have moved on from questions raised in a book by former aide Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Manigault NewmanTanden seeks to defuse GOP tensions over tweets Juan Williams: The GOP's problem with women of color Trump administration sought to sue Omarosa after she announced tell-all book: report MORE.  Last week, amid a tirade against the media and anonymous sources, Trump claimed he’s been a victim of both “fake news” and “fake books.”

Newman, who was fired from the Trump administration in December, grabbed the spotlight last month with her book, “Unhinged.” In the book, she claimed Trump is a racist who is mentally declining. 

She later released recordings of conversations with Trump and Kelly, as well as a tape that indicated she was offered $15,000 a month to work on the Trump campaign after her firing. 

But the Woodward book threatens to be even more problematic given the journalist's standing. Woodward has written a series of tell-all Washington books about previous administrations, a number of which have become bestsellers.  

Ari Fleischer, a press secretary for former President George W. Bush, noted that he’s been a subject in a previous Woodward book.

“There were quotes in it I didn’t like. But never once - never - did I think Woodward made it up,” Fleischer tweeted.

“Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties,” he continued. “But Woodward always plays is (sic) straight. Someone told it to him.”

The Post’s stories on Woodward's book were published just as Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, sat down for the first day of what is expected to be a highly contentious confirmation hearing.

It comes months before the midterm elections, where are increasingly looking dicey for Republicans, at least in the House.

Two new polls released this week have shown Democrats with a healthy lead on the generic House ballot.

-Updated 6:03 p.m.