WASHINGTON — An upcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward says President Donald Trump’s chief of staff privately called Trump an “idiot” and aides plucked sensitive documents off the president’s desk to keep him from taking rash actions.
The book is the latest tell-all to roil the Trump administration with explosive anecdotes and concerns about the commander in chief. The Washington Post on Tuesday published details from “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the Watergate reporter’s forthcoming examination of Trump’s first 18 months in office.
Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted as having doubted Trump’s mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, “We’re in Crazytown.”
Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly says his best job was as a Marine sergeant.
Trump's former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, is also said to have doubted Trump's ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
"Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit," Dowd is quoted telling the president.
And Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is quoted explaining to Trump why the U.S. maintains troops on the South Korean peninsula to monitor the North’s missile activities. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis says.
Woodward recounts that Mattis told "close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — 'a fifth- or sixth-grader.'"
After an April 2017 chemical weapons attack in Syria, Trump called Mattis to say he wanted to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, according to the book. Mattis reportedly told the president he would get right on it, but afterward told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” Airstrikes against Syria were ultimately ordered.
Woodward also claims that Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, boasted of removing papers off Trump's desk to prevent their signature, including efforts by the president to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The White House didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis denies he said Trump had the intellect of a fifth-grader.
The publication of Woodward's book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all of their colleagues cooperated with the noted journalist, who cut his teeth bringing down Richard Nixon's presidency during Watergate.
But Trump did not speak to Woodward until after the book's manuscript was completed. The Post released audio of Trump expressing surprise about the book in an August conversation with Woodward. Woodward tells Trump he had contacted multiple officials to attempt to interview Trump and was rebuffed.
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist who spoke with Wolff in terms highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff’s book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes, but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Woodward's work also comes weeks after former White House aide and "Apprentice" contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-on conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly's decision.
Trump has been increasingly critical of anonymous sources used by reporters covering his administration. Woodward’s account relies on so-called “deep background” conversations with sources, in which their identities are not disclosed.