Woodward book rocks Trump White House

Explosive excerpts from Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated book about the Trump White House landed with a boom on Tuesday, rocking Washington and creating a new crisis for the president as his party enters a pivotal stretch.

“Fear: Trump in the White House” casts the administration as rife with infighting, depicting White House aides as attempting to rein in President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE’s worst impulses — at least judged by the excerpts published Tuesday by The Washington Post.

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Woodward paints the picture of an administration having a “nervous breakdown,” describing instances where staffers snatched papers off of Trump’s desk so he couldn’t see them or follow through on what they believed would be catastrophic decisions on trade or national security.

Aides likened Trump’s paranoia about special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE to former President Nixon’s final days in the White House, and the book is chock-full of examples of Trump and aides targeting one another with insults, according to excerpts published by the Post. 

Democrats said the book, which hit No. 1 on the Amazon best-sellers list on Tuesday, underlined their argument that Trump is unfit for the White House, a message they are using to suggest that voters should put congressional majorities in their hands to act as a balance to the president.

The White House, which had been bracing for the book, did not comment for several hours after the excerpts went public, but eventually took aim at Woodward’s credibility.

In an interview, Trump told the conservative The Daily Caller that Woodward has “had a lot of credibility problems” and suggested the veteran reporter “just made up” some of the book’s claims.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement blasting the book, taking particular aim at its sourcing.

“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad,” she said in a statement.

Sanders did not refute any specific anecdotes or claims in the book, but she praised Trump for his ability to “get results” and included a list of the administration’s accomplishments in her statement to reporters.

“Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results,” she said. “Democrats and their allies in the media understand the president’s policies are working and with success like this, no one can beat him in 2020 — not even close.” 

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE — who is quoted in Woodward’s book as calling Trump “unhinged” and an “idiot” and describing working in the administration as “the worst job I’ve ever had” — denied calling Trump an idiot.

Kelly did not address the other claims, but he reissued a statement first released in April in response to an NBC News report.

“I’m committed to the President, his agenda, and our country,” Kelly said Tuesday. “This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.”

Woodward issued a statement in response late Tuesday afternoon, saying he stands by his reporting. The Post, where Woodward is an associate editor, reported that the book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents.

Earlier, perhaps in a move that anticipated a White House pushback, the Post published a transcript and audio file of an 11-minute phone call between Trump and Woodward in August. In that conversation, the president expressed repeated surprise that aides had not told him of Woodward’s wish to interview him.

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

Trump went on to predict that the book would be “negative” and “inaccurate” because of his lack of involvement.

“So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad. But I don’t blame you entirely,” he told Woodward, who responded: “It’s going to be accurate, I promise you.”

The book describes a working environment where Trump and his aides bad-mouth one another often.

Trump mocked Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attack on Sessions may point to his departure Hillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe Sessions in Chicago: If you want more shootings, listen to ACLU, Antifa, Black Lives Matter MORE’s accent when speaking with another staffer, according to the book, and described him as “mentally retarded” and “this dumb Southerner.”

Trump told Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossThe booming economy trumps Trump's trade battle with China On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' Ross: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' new tariffs on China MORE he didn’t trust him to negotiate, suggested former national security adviser H.R. McMaster dressed “like a beer salesman” and called former chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusBannon says right must support ‘RINOs’ CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House Woodward book rocks Trump White House MORE “a little rat.”

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 Washington Post reported.

Woodward writes of an April 2017 phone call between Trump and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisArmy chief: Poland doesn’t have space for ‘Fort Trump’ The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump Overnight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes MORE in which the president suggested assassinating Syrian President Bashar 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.

After Trump was dismissive of the need for U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula during a January meeting, Mattis told associates that the president acted like a “fifth- or sixth-grader.”

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

“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 and competition among foreign policy ideas, and praised the track record of the Trump administration on issues related to North Korea, ISIS and NATO.

“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.

The White House efforts to undermine Woodward’s credibility strongly mirrored its response to other tell-all books that detailed internal strife and attacked the president. Sanders and Trump each put out statements in the past deriding the veracity of author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” and former aide Omarosa Manigault NewmanOmarosa Onee Manigault NewmanSales of political books up 25 percent in 2018: report Woodward book breaks 93-year publishing record Stormy Daniels announces new tell-all book: 'Full Disclosure' MORE’s “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.”

But the Woodward book threatens to be even more problematic given the journalist’s standing. In addition to his work on the Watergate investigation, Woodward has written a series of investigative books about previous administrations, a number of which have become best-sellers.

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.”