A new book about the Trump White House portrays top aides such as Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly criticizing President Trump behind his back as incompetent and attorney John Dowd warning the president that he would end up in “an orange jumpsuit” if he testified in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Mr. Kelly and the White House slammed the book as “smear” job that relies on information from disgruntled former White House staffers. Mr. Dowd told The Washington Times he was misquoted in several places.
In excerpts of journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book “Fear,” The Washington Post reported that Mr. Mattis was exasperated after leaving a Jan. 19 national security meeting with Mr. Trump on North Korea, telling close associates “that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’”
According to Mr. Woodward, Mr. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources on military forces in the region at all. “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mr. Mattis told him.
In the book, Mr. Kelly is quoted telling others of the president: “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.”
Mr. Kelly responded forcefully in a statement Tuesday, denying he said such things about Mr. Trump.
“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true,” Mr. Kelly said. “As I stated back in May and still firmly stand behind: ‘I spend more time with the president than anyone else, and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS. I’m committed to the president, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.’”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the book is “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
“While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people,” she said. “Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results. Democrats and their allies in the media understand the president’s policies are working and with success like this, no one can beat him in 2020 — not even close.”
She sent out a list to reporters of dozens of the administration’s accomplishments, including historically low unemployment, a surging economy and record numbers of judicial confirmations.
Mr. Woodward’s book is yet another unflattering portrayal of life in the West Wing under Mr. Trump, following tell-all books by former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman and journalist Michael Wolff.
The president dismissed the new book as such in a tape-recorded conversation with Mr. Woodward after the journalist failed to get an interview with Mr. Trump for the book.
“I’m just hearing about it,” Mr. Trump told the author on the phone. “So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad. I have another bad book coming out.”
Mr. Woodward replied, “It’s going to be accurate, I promise.”
“Yeah, OK,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, accurate is that nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. I mean, you do know I’m doing a great job for the country, right? The economy is the best it’s been in many, many decades.”
Mr. Woodward ended the conversation by telling the president, “I believe in our country, and because you’re our president, I wish you good luck.”
According to the book, after Syrian President Bashar Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Mr. Trump called Mr. Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator.
“Let’s f—-ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—-ing lot of them,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Woodward.
Mr. Mattis told the president that he would get right on it, but told a senior aide after speaking with Mr. Trump: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”
Mr. Trump ultimately ordered airstrikes targeting Syrian military assets.
The book describes Mr. Dowd’s efforts as the president’s lead legal counsel in the Russia probe to prepare Mr. Trump for possible questions from Mr. Mueller’s investigators. The session in the White House residence on Jan. 27 went badly, according to Mr. Woodward.
Mr. Dowd “peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool,” the report said.
“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Mr. Trump allegedly erupted, beginning a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”
After meeting with Mr. Mueller in March, Mr. Dowd told the president, “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
But the Post report said Mr. Trump, “concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had decided otherwise.”
“I’ll be a real good witness,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Dowd, according to the book.
“You are not a good witness,” Mr. Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”
The next morning, Mr. Dowd resigned, the book states.
Mr. Dowd told The Washington Times that he was misquoted in the book.
“I have not read Bob Woodward’s book, which appears to be the most recent in an endless cycle of accusations and misrepresentations based on anonymous statements from unknown malcontents,” he said. “I do not intend to address every inaccurate statement attributed to me — but I do want to make this clear: there was no so-called ‘practice session’ or ‘re-enactment’ of a mock interview at the Special Counsel’s office. Further, I did not refer to the president as a ‘liar’ and did not say that he was likely to end up in an ‘orange jump suit.’ It was a great honor and distinct privilege to serve President Trump.”
Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, vouched for the accuracy of Mr. Woodward’s work.
“I’ve been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn’t like. But never once — never — did I think Woodward made it up,” Mr. Fleischer tweeted. “Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him.”
• Rowan Scarborough contributed to this article.