Book depicts ‘crazytown’ White House

LAUD NO MORE::Trump said quotes in the expose were ‘a con on the public’ and suggested that Woodward, whom he praised in 2013, is a Democratic operative

AFP, WASHINGTON

Thu, Sep 06, 2018 - Page 7

US President Donald Trump’s White House is mired in a perpetual “nervous breakdown,” with staff battling to rein in the worst impulses of an angry, paranoid leader, according to an explosive new book by veteran reporter Bob Woodward.

Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews, the respected White House chronicler described a coalition of like-minded aides plotting to prevent the president from destroying the world trade system, undermining national security and sparking wars.

While Woodward’s is not the first unflattering investigation into Trump’s White House, it carries particular weight coming from the man who together with Carl Bernstein authored the Watergate expose that brought down former US president Richard Nixon.

Trump’s White House is described as having undergone “no less than an administrative coup d’etat,” said the Washington Post, where Woodward is an associate editor and which received an advance copy of the 448-page book entitled Fear: Trump in the White House that is set for release on Tuesday next week.

The White House hit back at “fabricated stories” as the long-awaited book piled fresh pressure on a president besieged by multiple investigations and a looming election that could damage the US Republican Party.

Trump said on Twitter that quotes in Woodward’s book were “made up frauds, a con on the public. Likewise other stories and quotes.”

“Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?” he added, after tweeting earlier statements by US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders refuting the quoted statements as false.

Mattis and former US National Economic Council director Gary Cohn were cited among the aides actively circumventing Trump’s orders and even stealing documents off his desk.

Woodward wrote that Mattis — having had to explain to the president that the US must keep forces in South Korea “to prevent World War III” — told colleagues that Trump had the understanding of “a fifth or sixth-grader.”

After a chemical attack in April last year blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Woodward claimed that Trump called the Pentagon chief to press for the Syrian leader’s assassination.

“Let’s fucking kill him. Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump reportedly told Mattis.

Mattis agreed to take action — but after hanging up ordered “more measured” steps against Syria, a punitive airstrike.

Mattis was among several high-profile figures quoted by Woodward who issued swift denials.

“The contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence,” Mattis said in a statement, charging that the journalist’s “anonymous sources do not lend credibility.”

While he has not named his sources, Woodward said that he spoke with many people currently or formerly working for Trump as he researched the book, discussing not just the president’s personality, but also major policy debates regarding North Korea and Afghanistan.

Woodward described Trump regularly insulting key members of his own team, branding US Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and a “dumb Southerner,” and saying that former chief of staff Reince Priebus is “like a little rat.”

Trump was quoted as telling handpicked 80-year-old US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross: “I don’t trust you... You’re past your prime.”

Aides and Cabinet members responded, privately, with equal disdain.

Woodward wrote that Kelly told colleagues Trump is “unhinged” and “an idiot.”

“It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown,” Kelly was quoted as saying.

Former Trump lawyer John Dowd called Trump “a fucking liar,” the book said.

Kelly and Dowd denied the quotes attributed to them — although Woodward is not the first to cite them making brutal comments about the president.

Since the Watergate expose appeared in the Washington Post in the early 1970s, Woodward has published powerful, insightful and often embarrassing books on eight US leaders, including former US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, based on extensive access to many White House insiders.

Woodward is one of the most respected living US journalists and an authority on modern US presidents who drew praise from Trump in 2013 for his work on Obama.