US President Donald Trump has described an incendiary tell-all book by a reporter who helped bring down Richard Nixon as “nasty stuff”, denying certain scenes occurred.
Fear: Trump In The White House by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward has angered the White House, with Trump aides quoted as calling him an “idiot” and admitting they snatched sensitive documents off his desk to keep him from taking rash actions.
It is the latest book to throw the Trump administration into damage-control mode with explosive anecdotes and concerns about the commander in chief.
On Tuesday, the Post published details from the book, the Watergate reporter’s forthcoming examination of Mr Trump’s first 18 months in office.
The publication of Mr Woodward’s book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all their colleagues co-operated with the famed Watergate journalist.
Mr Trump spoke to the conservative Daily Caller after details emerged about the book, calling it “another bad book” and saying Mr Woodward has “a lot of credibility problems”.
The president also denied that senior aides took sensitive documents from his desk, saying “there was nobody taking anything from me”.
The White House, in a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dismissed the book as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad”.
The book quotes chief of staff John Kelly as having doubts about Mr Trump’s mental faculties, declaring during one meeting “we’re in Crazytown”.
It also says he called Mr Trump an “idiot”, an account that Mr Kelly denied.
“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true,” he said in a statement.
The book says that Mr Trump’s former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, doubted the president’s ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential co-ordination with Mr Trump’s campaign.
Mr Dowd stepped down in January.
“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit,” he is quoted telling the president.
Mr Dowd, in a statement, said “no so-called ‘practice session’ or ‘re-enactment’” took place and denied saying that Mr Trump was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit.
Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis is quoted explaining to Mr Trump why the US maintains troops on the Korean Peninsula to monitor North Korea’s missile activities.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mr Mattis said, according to the book.
The book recounts that Mr Mattis told “close associates that the president acted like – and had the understanding of – ‘a fifth or sixth-grader’”.
Mr Woodward reported that after Syria’s Bashar Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians in April 2017, Mr Trump called Mr Mattis and said he wanted the Syrian leader taken out, saying “kill him! Let’s go in”.
Mr Mattis assured Mr Trump he would get right on it but then told a senior aide they would do nothing of the kind, Mr Woodward wrote.
National security advisers instead developed options for the airstrike that Mr Trump ordered.
Mr Woodward also claims that Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, boasted of removing papers from the president’s desk to prevent Mr Trump from signing them into law, including efforts to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The book also quotes Mr Trump as mocking his attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has been a target of the president’s wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
“This guy is mentally retarded,” Mr Trump said of Mr Sessions, according to the book.
“He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
Mr Trump did not speak to Mr Woodward until after the book’s manuscript was completed.
The Post released audio of Mr Trump expressing surprise about the book in an August conversation with Mr Woodward.
Mr Woodward tells Mr Trump he had contacted multiple officials to attempt to interview him and was rebuffed.
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff’s Fire And Fury, which led to a rift between Mr Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, who spoke with Mr Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family.
Mr Wolff’s book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Mr Woodward’s work also comes weeks after former White House aide and Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Mr Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Mr Kelly’s decision.
While White House aides have become increasingly numb to fresh scandals, the book still increased tensions in the West Wing, especially given the intimate details shared and the number of people Mr Woodward appeared to have interviewed.
Some White House officials expressed surprise at the number of erstwhile Trump loyalists willing to offer embarrassing stories of the president and his inner circle.
No clear response strategy emerged immediately after the Post report, but insiders speculated the fallout could be worse than from Fire And Fury, given Mr Woodward’s storied reputation.