Veteran reporter Bob Woodward has a new book coming out and based on the first look published by the Washington Post today, it sounds like it’s going to be a doozy. The book is titled “Fear” but from the description, it sounds like that’s meant to be a reference to the feeling of those working for Trump. As Woodward describes it, many on Trump’s staff were doing their best to protect him from his own worst instincts:
Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers 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.
At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. 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 Trump left the meeting, 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.’ ”
Another anecdote related by Woodward concerns former White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn who, after failing to convince Trump not to withdraw from a trade agreement with South Korea, simply took a letter off the President’s desk to prevent him from signing it. The president never noticed it was missing and so the U.S. never withdrew from the agreement.
There’s a lot more to the book, including accounts of the president’s lawyers doing their best to convince him not to testify for Rober Mueller. In January, his attorney John Dowd set up a practice session to see how the president would do under pressure. Woodward reports it was a disaster:
In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.
“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”
It’s not as if any of this sounds substantially different than the guy we hear venting on Twitter every day. The guy shouting “This thing’s a goddamn hoax” during the mock testimony session sounds just like the guy tweeting “WITCH HUNT!” about the exact same topic. Still, it’s fair to ask if all of this is reliable.
Woodward has been writing books like this for a long time so people in the White House would certainly have known who he was when they agreed to speak with him. This didn’t sneak up on anyone. Once the book comes out we’ll see who denies having said what, but based on this transcribed discussion between Woodward and President Trump it sounds as if Woodward has tapes of everything:
Trump: So I have another bad book coming out. Big deal.
BW: . . . it goes on, and I . . . What you can count on is that I’ve been very careful. And Evelyn, are you on?
BW: Evelyn Duffy, who’s my assistant, Mr. President.
Trump: Hello, Evelyn.
BW: She transcribed all the tapes because, with permission, I taped people for hundreds of hours.
BW: And I think there’s nothing in this book that doesn’t come from a firsthand source. Is that correct, Evelyn?
The book will be released next week and, presumably, Woodward will be making the rounds on TV for a couple weeks after that. So one thing is certain: We’re going to be hearing a lot more about this for the rest of September.
Update: Here come the denials:
MORE: Pres. Trump's former personal attorney John Dowd calls Bob Woodward's book "the most recent in an endless cycle of accusations and misrepresentations based on anonymous statements from unknown malcontents." https://t.co/H1DIB0RZb0 pic.twitter.com/Bdh94IYbp6
— ABC News (@ABC) September 4, 2018
And Mattis, who calls it “fiction”
NEW: Defense Sec. James Mattis on Woodward book: "While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility." https://t.co/H1DIB0RZb0 pic.twitter.com/w9WWTnUI45
— ABC News (@ABC) September 4, 2018