“Bob Woodward is writing a book about you!” is not a sentence which would put a smile on the face of many politicians. And that seems unlikely to change with the Sept. 11 publication by Simon & Schuster of Fear: Trump in the White House, a look at the current President and his administration from the legendary journalist and All the President’s Men co-author.
According to The Washington Post (the paper at which Woodward is an associate editor) the 448-page book offers an unsparing look at the commander-in-chief, gleaned from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses.
Revelations featured in the book include Defense Secretary Jim Matthis reportedly describing Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” after a National Security Council meeting where the president questioned why the American government was spending money on a military presence on the Korean Peninsula. According to Woodward’s book, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was another administration official with harsh words to say about his boss. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump, “He’s 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.”
Trump himself is described as saving much of his ire for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. According to Fear, Trump told White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. “This guy is mentally retarded,” the President continued. “He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
Woodward also describes an administration where members of staff simply ignore Trump’s more extreme orders. According to Fear, after Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s f—ing kill him!” Trump said. “Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them.” Mattis subsequently informed a senior aide, “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team then set about developing options for a conventional air strike.
The Trump administration has swiftly responded to the report about Fear in The Washington Post. According to CNBC, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.” Meanwhile, Kelly has issued a statement denying that he “ever called the President an idiot.”
Trump himself did not speak with Woodward for the book, but the pair talked on the phone last month, with the president complaining that the journalist had not requested an interview, while Woodward insisted that he had done so via an array of intermediaries.
“So I have another bad book coming out,” Trump said towards the end of the conversation. “Big deal.”