Bob Woodward’s bombshell book about President Trump’s conduct reveals a chief executive who has little or no understanding of how defense policies work and has lost the confidence and respect of his senior advisers.
Mr. Woodward quotes White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who has threatened to quit several times, telling a small group of colleagues, “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.”
The veteran Washington Post investigative reporter, who uncovered the truth about the Watergate break-in that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, has torn away the West Wing’s veil of secrecy, revealing an often chaotic, combative staff operation at war with Mr. Trump’s impulsive, paranoid decision-making.
The book’s title, “Fear,” was drawn by Mr. Woodward from an interview he had in 2016 with candidate Trump. Mr. Trump said, “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, fear.”
In Wednesday’s front-page preview of the book, which is due to be published next week, The Post reports that Mr. Woodward’s findings were “drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on ‘deep background,’ meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it.”
Other information came from “meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.”
“A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Mr. Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead,” the paper said.
“Woodward describes ‘an administrative coup d’etat’ and a ‘nervous breakdown’ of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official paper from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.
“Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders,” The Post said.
At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, the president “disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allowed the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska,” The Post reported. “Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.”
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.”
After Mr. Trump left the meeting, Mr. Woodward writes, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ “
In other cases, his Cabinet secretaries have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent Mr. Trump from taking actions that they believed would hurt the United States.
After Syrian dictator Bashar Assad conducted a chemical attack on his own people in April 2017, Mr. Trump called Mr. Mattis and ordered him to assassinate the country’s president.
“Let’s [expletive] kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the [expletive] lot of them,” Mr. Trump told him.
“Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told his senior aide: ‘We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured,’” The Post writes. Mr. Mattis drew up a plan for air strikes that Trump eventually signed.
Former economic adviser Gary Cohn was in the same predicament when he learned that Mr. Trump was going to sign a letter withdrawing the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea.
But Mr. Woodward said Mr. Cohn “stole [the] letter off Trump’s desk. He told an associate later “that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice it was missing,” The Post said.
Mr. Woodward is known for his impeccable research and honesty. But hours after The Post reported excerpts from his book, the White House fired off a string of denials from the president’s senior advisers, including Mr. Mattis, who called the book “fiction,” Mr. Kelly, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd.
Mr. Trump tweeted that the quotes were “made up frauds, a con on the public.”
In a statement from The Post, Mr. Woodward said, “I stand by my reporting.”
• Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.