WaPo: Woodward’s New Book Paints A Portrait of A Presidency In Crisis

Bob Woodward and President Trump split. Image by Lenny Ghoul.

The Washington Post and CNN have obtained Bob Woodwards’s upcoming book Fear: Trump in the White House in which the investigative journalist and Washington Post associate editor details the Trump administration through hundreds of hours of interviews with his top advisers. Woodward illustrates a presidency in which insults are the norm and cabinet members and advisers attempt to protect the nation from disasters from an undisciplined and ignorant leader. 

People who have spoken with Woodward said they were stunned by the level of detail he had learned about conversations and events inside the White House. Beyond personal accounts, Woodward also has documents, including administration memorandums and email exchanges between staffers, one source familiar with the book said.

CNN

President Trump did not sit down for an interview with Woodward, although Woodward made numerous attempts to do so. CNN states that Chief of Staff John Kelly instituted a policy preventing the president giving interviews to authors after Wolff’s unflattering Fire and Fury was published. As Woodward’s manuscript was complete and ready for publication, Trump called Woodward offering to give an interview. That conversation was recorded and has been released. 

The Washington Post reports that Fear details how both Gary Cohn and Rob Porter removed documents from Trump’s desk in order to prevent him from signing them.

In Cohn’s case, it was the draft of a letter that would have withdrawn the US from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn claims that the president didn’t notice it missing, according to Woodward. In Porter’s case, he removed from Trump’s desk a letter he was asked to draft regarding the US withdrawing from NAFTA. In both cases, the documents were removed to avoid what Cohn and Porter and other advisers viewed as disastrous outcomes. Woodward describes a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch.

Woodward illustrates how the dread in Trump’s orbit became all-encompassing over the course of Trump’s first year in office, leaving some staff members and Cabinet members confounded by the president’s lack of understanding about how government functions and his inability and unwillingness to learn.

At one point, Porter, who departed in February amid domestic abuse allegations, is quoted as saying, “This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is.”

Washington Post

In the book, Reince Priebus describes White House officials as “natural predators” and said, “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 also, according to Woodward, called the president’s bedroom “the devil’s workshop” and called early mornings and Sunday evenings “the witching hour” for the president’s habit of tweeting from his bedroom while watching TV.

Woodward states that associates say John Kelly frequently lost his temper and called the president “unhinged”.

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.”

Washington Post

According to Woodward, Trump routinely insulted his advisers and cabinet members.

He called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded”and a “traitor” and mocked his southern accent. He told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that he did not trust him to make negotiations because Ross was past his prime. The Washington Post points out that Ross is eight years Trump’s senior. He called Reince Priebus a “little rat” and warned people to stay away from his chief of staff. The president mocked former national security adviser H. R. McMaster and said that he wears the cheap suits of a beer salesmen.

Trump’s national security team staged an intervention in July 2017 to help the president understand the importance of diplomacy and allies, CNN reports. The team was worried about what Woodward says they called “The Big Problem”, namely Trump’s lack of understanding about the impact tariffs would have on the global economy. Woodward states it was at this meeting, which saw Trump dressing down his generals instead of listening to advice, that then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump “a fucking moron”. Woodward quotes an unnamed White House official who gives a calmer but equally damning view of that meeting.

“It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

CNN

Woodward states that Trump wanted to assassinate Bashar al-Assad when the Syrian leader attacked civilians, saying, ““Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them.” Secretary of Defense Mattis assured the president he would get right on it, but instead developed more conventional options the president eventually signed off on.

While White House staff attempted to keep Trump on the rails, the Mueller investigation is described as looming large over Trump’s presidency, to the point of bringing White House operations to a halt for days at a time. Woodward describes the period in which Mueller was hired as special counsel  as resulting in a “venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president” according to Washington Post.

Trump’s then lawyer, John Dowd, refused to allow the president to agree to an interview with Mueller, convinced Trump would perjure himself. He put Trump through a test to prove it and, when Trump failed that test, Woodward describes a remarkable scene that followed.

Woodward writes that Dowd saw the “full nightmare” of a potential Mueller interview, and felt Trump acted like an “aggrieved Shakespearean king.”

But Trump seemed surprised at Dowd’s reaction, Woodward writes. “You think I was struggling?” Trump asked.

Then, in an even more remarkable move, Dowd and Trump’s current personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.

CNN

In spite of Dowd’s efforts to protect him Trump insisted he could testify, saying, “I’ll be a real good witness”.

Dowd’s argument was stark: “There’s no way you can get through these. … Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jump suit.”

What he couldn’t say to Trump, according to Woodward, was what Dowd believed to be true: “You’re a fucking liar.”

CNN

Dowd then resigned. Dowd has denied the statements Woodward reported Dowd made, according to the Washington Examiner. 

Another overarching theme of Woodward’s book is Trump’s tweets. The president has ordered, according to CNN, printouts of his tweets so he can study which are the most popular. He viewed himself as the “Hemingway of 140 characters”.

In addition to covering the president’s obsession with tweeting, Woodward illustrates the concern national security leaders have with the president’s Twitter account and the fear that it could start a war. He was warned of the danger by his national security advisers. 

Appalled by some of his more outrageous posts, Trump’s aides tried to form a Twitter “committee” to vet the President’s tweets, but they failed to stop their boss.

CNN

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward will be available on September 11. 

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*Principle above party * Politically Homeless * Ex GOP * Tribalism is stupid* NeverTrump ≠ Pro Hillary. Anti-GOP ≠ Pro Dem. Disagreeing with you ≠ Liberal.