Democracy Dies in Darkness


Gary Cohn, Rob Porter take aim at Bob Woodward book but cite no specifics

September 11, 2018 at 6:00 PM

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Through scenes of chaos, disagreement and petty insults, veteran investigative journalist Bob Woodward meticulously documented a "nervous breakdown" at the White House in his new book, "Fear." (Jenny Starrs /The Washington Post)

Two former Trump administration officials on Tuesday criticized journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” as the president continues to fume over its portrayal of a White House in disarray.

Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn issued statements on the book Tuesday afternoon. Both were first reported by the news site Axios.

“Having now read Bob Woodward’s Fear, I am struck by the selective and often misleading portrait it paints of the President and his administration,” Porter said.

In one anecdote reported by Woodward, Trump ordered Porter to draft a letter on withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement in the spring of 2017. Fearing that such a move would lead to economic and diplomatic calamity, Porter reportedly spoke with Cohn, who told him he would “just take the paper off his desk,” referring to Trump.

Related: [Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency]

Gary Cohn, then director of the National Economic Council, listens during the daily press briefing at the White House on Sept. 28, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In his statement, Porter did not address any specific episodes reported in the book but said the suggestion that materials were “stolen” from Trump’s desk “misunderstands how the White House document review process works.”

He also defended his role as staff secretary, which he described as a position that required him to “ensure that relevant viewpoints were considered” by Trump.

“Fulfilling this responsibility does not make someone part of a ‘resistance’ or mean they are seeking to ‘thwart’ the President’s agenda. Quite the opposite,” Porter said.

Cohn similarly did not dispute any specific details reported by Woodward, issuing a statement that simply took aim at the book as a whole.

“This book does not accurately portray my experience at the White House. I am proud of my service in the Trump Administration, and I continue to support the President and his economic agenda,” Cohn said.

Related: [The Fix: Woodward’s book gets a vote of confidence — via two non-denial denials]

In an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office after a briefing on Hurricane Florence, Trump said he appreciated the statements by Cohn and Porter, which he argued show that Woodward’s book “is just a piece of fiction.”

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President Trump said on Sept. 11 that he appreciates the "excellent" denial statements from former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn about accounts in Bob Woodward's new book. (The Washington Post)

“Ah, well, you shouldn’t be talking about that right now because it doesn’t matter,” Trump told the reporter who asked the question. “But I really appreciate their statement. Their statement was excellent.”

Others on Tuesday were also asked about the book.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who is quoted in the book as having compared Trump to a fifth or sixth grader, declined to say whether Woodward had spoken to him. “Of all days, this is not a day I am going to discuss Bob Woodward,” Mattis said during a briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Mattis, along with other members of the Trump administration, have denied making statements cited to them in the book. Woodward has said those denials are untrue.

Porter resigned from his position in February after his two ex-wives accused him of physical and emotional abuse. Cohn announced his resignation in March, citing major differences with Trump over trade policy.

Woodward has said that he stands by his reporting, even as Trump has sharply criticized him in the week since excerpts of the book were first released.

In a tweet Monday morning, Trump called Woodward a “liar” and suggested that the veteran journalist was “like a Dem operative prior to the Midterms.”

Paul Sonne contributed to this report.

Felicia Sonmez is a national political reporter covering breaking news from the White House, Congress and the campaign trail. She was previously based in Beijing, where she worked for Agence France-Presse and The Wall Street Journal.

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