It is hurricane season in North America but another kind of storm is set to hit the U.S. White House. Veteran journalist Robert (Bob) Woodward, an associate editor with the Washington Post is set to release a new book chronicling the turbulent life inside Donald Trump’s White House and as U.S. Chief of Staff John Kelly puts it…it’s crazytown in there.
The book titled “Fear: Trump In The White House” is set to release on September 11. According to the book excerpt, Woodward “reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies… The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office.”
Woodward shared a Pulitzer Prize with Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal that helped uncover details that resulted in former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Woodward released a few excerpts of his book in the Washington Post which draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents.
Here are the highlights:
“Nervous breakdown” of the executive branch:
Woodward describes the functioning of the Oval Office as “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, as senior White House officials resorted to removing official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.
Then-White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s tirade regarding international trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.
Cohn did the same thing to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”
Under orders from the president, White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”
"We're in Crazytown...This is the worst job I've ever had."
Woodward paints a picture of a White House staff constantly thrown by and belittled by a temperamental president. Trump has been quoted as using extremely poor language in dealing with senior White House officials who are in charge of matters relating to national security and international trade. The U.S. President compared his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to a rat. "He just scurries around."
Towards Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who the president has repeatedly hit out in public, privately he was even more disparaging. "This guy is mentally retarded," Trump reportedly told staff secretary Porter. "He's this dumb Southerner. He couldn't even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama".
He also often mocked his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back. Trump would imitate McMaster by puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing, and once said McMaster dresses in cheap suits, “like a beer salesman.”
As a response to Trump’s behaviour, White House’s current Chief of Staff John Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. 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.” Kelly is a retired United States Marine Corps general.
“It’s a hoax…Everybody is trying to get me”
Learning of the appointment of Robert Mueller in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s elections interference, Trump ranted , “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked his aides.
According to Woodward, a few months later in January 2018, the president's personal attorney John Dowd staged a mock interview session with the president to demonstrate what he feared would be the disastrous results if Trump were to sit down with Robert Mueller's special counsel team investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It didn't go well, as the president grew increasingly frustrated with the intensity of the questioning, at one point angrily calling the investigation "a goddamn hoax".
Dowd then arranged to meet with Robert Mueller and reportedly told him that he couldn't agree to the U.S. President sitting for an interview because he didn't want to let the president "look like an idiot" and embarrass the nation on the world stage.
“John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward. Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit”, referring to the fact that the U.S. President might land up in jail for lying to the special counsel.
When it later appeared that the president had changed his mind and was going to testify after all, Dowd resigned.
“Let’s fucking kill him!”
After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.
Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide, “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike Trump ultimately ordered that hit a Syrian weapons depot and a chemical research unit.
White House Slams Woodward's Book
As the excerpts of the book were discussed on U.S. news channels, U.S. President Donald Trump hit out at the author by suggesting he is a Democratic Party operative due to his negative portrayal of the White House.
The Woodward book has already been refuted and discredited by General (Secretary of Defense) James Mattis and General (Chief of Staff) John Kelly. Their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public. Likewise other stories and quotes. Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2018
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also staunchly defended the President and called the book "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."
But, Woodward’s book is the third such book that details the goings-on under Trump as living in the eye of the storm. However, Trump and team will have a hard time dismissing this one as Woodward’s credibility as a journalist stretches back four decades and he has tapes that back his book. September seems to be a stormy month for the White House.