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Bob Woodward: Trump's top staff trashed him in private

Bob Woodward at Trump Tower
Journalist Bob Woodward arrives at Trump Tower in 2017. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Top Trump White House staffers like Jim Mattis and John Kelly privately trashed their boss as incompetent, even viewing him as a threat to national security, Bob Woodward reveals in his forthcoming book, "Fear."

The big picture: Backbiting and blind quotes are a norm for a White House, and many claims from Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" didn't survive close inspection. But Woodward has reported on presidents for decades — with even Trump reportedly wanting to be interviewed.

Highlights from the book, per CNN and WashPost snippets:

Potential national security incidents:

  • After Trump left a meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis on North Korea, Woodward recounts, "Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — 'a fifth- or sixth-grader.'"
  • Former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and former staff secretary Rob Porter repeatedly stole or hid documents from Trump's desk, including a draft letter that would have withdrawn the U.S. from a trade agreement with South Korea: "I stole it off his desk," Cohn told an associate. "I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."
  • "After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called 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."

Others include senior staffers' exasperation with Trump and many of Woodward's anecdotes highlight the toxic working environment at the White House:

  • "Trump's former personal lawyer John Dowd describes the President as "a fucking liar," telling Trump he would end up in an "orange jump suit" if he testified to special counsel Robert Mueller." Dowd claimed to Axios he never called Trump a "fucking liar."
  • Chief of Staff John Kelly on 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."

Often, the quotes Woodward obtained are from Trump himself, as others recount him berating or insulting some of his most publicly visible staff members:

  • Trump to Rudy Giuliani: "Rudy, you're a baby," Trump told the man who is now his personal attorney. "I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"
  • Trump on Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama."
  • Trump to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross: "I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime."

The Post also published the transcript and audio of a call between Woodward and Trump last month, where Woodward tells the president that he repeatedly tried to request an interview via Sen. Lindsey Graham and senior White House staffers Kellyanne Conway and Raj Shah — apparently to no avail.

  • Trump: "I’m just hearing about it. And I heard — I did hear from [Sen.] Lindsey [Graham], but I’m just hearing about it. So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad. But I don’t blame you entirely."
  • Woodward: "No, it’s [inaudible] — it’s going to be accurate, I promise."
  • Trump: "Yeah, okay. Well, accurate is that nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. That I can tell you. So that’s ... And that’s the way a lot of people feel that know what’s going on, and you’ll see that over the years. But a lot of people feel that, Bob."
  • Woodward: "I believe in our country, and because you’re our president, I wish you good luck."
  • Trump: "Okay. Thank you very much, Bob. I appreciate it. Bye."

What's next, per Axios' Jonathan Swan: The White House has made no effort to pre-attack Woodward’s reporting — and it appears they have no serious rapid response operation to deal with the book.