Bob Woodward's book confirms just about everything President Trump's critics and those who closely study the White House already thought to be the case inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's also completely stunning.
The Washington Post has published a report detailing key findings from the book, titled “Fear: Trump in the White House,” a week before its release. They are damning in a way we simply haven't seen before — both for their breadth and degree.
- Trump did a mock Robert Mueller interview with his then-lawyer John Dowd. In the interview, he stumbled, contradicted himself and lied, leading Dowd to inform Mueller that Trump will never submit to one. The day before Dowd resigned, he told Trump, “You are not a good witness. Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”
- Trump said of 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.”
- After a chemical weapons attack in Syria, Trump said he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them.” Defense Secretary James Mattis told Trump he would get on it, and then told others to stand down. "We’re not going to do any of that," he told them.
- Mattis once told associates that Trump, in Woodward's paraphrase, “acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
- Senior officials, most notably former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, have taken to stealing stuff from Trump's desk so that he doesn't see it and can't act upon it.
- Chief of Staff John F. Kelly once said of Trump during a small meeting: “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.”
- Trump believed the late former senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) had gotten an early release from the prison known as the "Hanoi Hilton," but McCain actually declined early release.
We've seen versions of all of these before. There was Rex Tillerson reportedly calling Trump a “moron” and H.R. McMaster saying something similar. We pretty much knew Trump's attorneys don't trust him not to perjure himself to Mueller, given that Trump's grasp of or regard for objective facts is clearly in short supply. We knew he was prone to flying off the handle and being talked off extreme ideas by his staff.
But each and every one of these anecdotes is an especially damning portrait. It's one thing to tell those around you to fire Mueller; it's another to talk openly about assassinating a world leader in the powder keg that is the Middle East. The fact that Trump can't be trusted to tell the truth even when his presidency could be on the line is extremely telling about his state of mind and steadiness as a leader. These quotes about Trump from those around him are far worse than Tillerson's purported “moron.”
The combination of them in one book is something we simply haven't seen. It suggests a White House full of top aides who have almost no confidence in the man they're serving and feel as if they are constantly averting calamity.
That's a picture previously published in Michael Wolff's book. But Wolff's credibility problems marred that whole exercise to a significant extent. The gravitas that comes with a Woodward book makes this an entirely different set of circumstances. This is perhaps the world's preeminent chronicler of the American presidency.
Some people will still doubt the claims in the book, because 35 to 40 percent of the country is predisposed toward doing that and has been for the better part of three years. These are also anonymously sourced anecdotes.
But the book also paints a portrait that is likely to be filled out by others in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.