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 PriebusIs a presidential appointment worth the risk? Ex-White House aide says 'cartoon villain' Kellyanne Conway bad-mouthed colleagues Trump Org hires former WH ethics lawyer to deal with congressional probes 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 SessionsMcCabe book: Sessions once said FBI was better off when it 'only hired Irishmen' Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s final insult to Congress: Farewell time for reporters but not testimony 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 RossHillicon Valley: Lawmakers press officials on 2020 election security | T-Mobile, Sprint execs defend merger before Congress | Officials charge alleged Iranian spy | Senate panel kicks off talks on data security bill Apple, IBM, Walmart join White House advisory board Supreme Court's ‘10th justice’ favors unusual tactic for Trump cases 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 John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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 MattisOvernight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents Does ‘limited war’ mean limited risks for aggressors? US-led coalition says it struck Syrian mosque used by ISIS 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 ConwayOn The Money: Negotiators aiming to reach deal Monday night | Why border talks stalled | Treasury calls reports on dip in tax refunds 'misleading' | Cuomo, Trump to discuss SALT deduction cap Conway: Trump and Xi 'will meet again soon' with trade deadline looming Kellyanne Conway: 'I was assaulted at a restaurant' by an 'unhinged' woman 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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 Onee Manigault NewmanEx-White House aide Cliff Sims sues Trump NYT: White House says Trump's tan is the result of ‘good genes’ Former White House aide says he's not worried about lawsuit over tell-all book 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.