Sep 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Woodward book: Former intel chief Dan Coats believed "Putin had something on Trump"

Trump and Putin
Trump and Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Former director of national intelligence Dan Coats could not shake his "deep suspicions" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "had something" on President Trump, seeing "no other explanation" for the president's behavior, according to Bob Woodward's new book "Rage," which was obtained by CNN ahead of its publication next week.

Why it matters: Coats was the president's top intelligence official from March 2017 until August 2019. Woodward reports that Coats and his staff examined the intelligence regarding Trump's ties to Russia "as carefully as possible" and that he "still questions the relationship" between Trump and Putin despite the apparent absence of intelligence proof.

Between the lines: The New York Times' Michael Schmidt reported in his new book that former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein secretly curtailed an FBI counterintelligence probe into Trump's ties to Russia, meaning the full scope of decades of the president's personal and financial dealings there has never been explored.

The big picture: The explosive Woodward book, which is based in part on 18 interviews that Trump sat for with the veteran journalist, details the "tortured" tenure of Coats and other officials described by the Washington Post as "so-called adults of the Trump orbit" — including former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

  • At one point, Mattis went to Washington National Cathedral to pray for the country's fate under Trump's leadership, according to the Post's report on Woodward's book. He reportedly told Coats, "There may come a time when we have to take collective action" to speak out against Trump because he is "dangerous. He’s unfit."
  • In a later conversation reported by Woodward, Mattis told Coats, "The president has no moral compass." Coats reportedly responded, “True. To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie."

The other side: "The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been," Trump tweeted on Aug. 14, before the book had come out. This is despite the fact that the president sat for 18 interviews with Woodward.

Go deeper