“A professional liar,” “unhinged,” “off the rails” — these are among the words former and current White House officials have used to describe President Donald Trump, according to Bob Woodward’s new book.
“Fear: Trump in the White House” depicts the administration as a “nervous breakdown of the executive branch,” and focuses on the often unstable and contentious atmosphere in the Oval Office, as officials mistrusted one another and their own boss. Woodward, whose reporting on the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, is currently an associate editor at the Washington Post. He said his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” which meant he could use the information but not reveal its source. He also used meeting notes, personal diaries, and government documents.
The White House blasted the book, calling it “nothing more than fabricated stories.”
A key part of the 448-page book obtained by the Post centers on the lengths Trump’s inner circle allegedly went to to subvert the President in order to prevent disasters from befalling the United States. Then-White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn recounted how, on two separate occasions, he plucked letters off Trump’s desk that would have taken the U.S. out of important international agreements. The President apparently never noticed.
Cohn came to view Trump as “a professional liar,” and resigned following Trump’s handling of the Charlottesville attacks and his unwillingness to fully condemn white supremacists. Many other staffers had low opinions of the President, who in turn often belittled his employees. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he acted like “a fifth- or sixth-grader,” while current Chief of Staff John Kelly called him “an idiot.”
“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,” Kelly said in a small group meeting.
Inter-staff conflicts were also described in the book, such as former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon screaming at Ivanka Trump for having special access to the President. Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, compared Trump officials to “natural predators.”
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody,” Priebus said.
One topic looming over the administration was Robert Mueller’s investigation of the President’s ties to Russia, and the book reveals the debate between Trump and his lawyers over whether he should testify. John Dowd, his then-personal attorney, told the President point blank: “You are not a good witness … Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.” Dowd resigned the next morning.
Other topics covered in the book, scheduled for a Sept. 11 release, include Trump’s paranoia, and his often immature handling of international conflicts like the North Korean nuclear threat (i.e. calling Kim Jong-un a “little rocket man”). Trump himself has complained that it will be a “bad book.”