with Brent D. Griffiths

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At the Pentagon

NOT GOING TO HELP: President Trump's latest disparaging comments about military leadership — including saying “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies” — are poised to further escalate tensions with the U.S. military. 

The disclosures from Woodward's extraordinary soon-to-be-released book “Rage” come as Trump is already under fire for other reports he denigrated U.S. troops and called those killed in combat “losers” and “suckers. And it's further stirring the pot after Trump publicly accused top military leadership on Labor Day of wanting to start wars to boost profits for defense contractors —suggesting that they were behind allegations to try and sabotage him.

  • “For him, I guess, it's all about money. He doesn't understand national security,” Wesley Clark, a retired Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "[Trump] doesn't understand what's made America great. He certainly doesn't understand the ethics and qualities of our senior leaders in uniform.” (Trump, in the book, reportedly said the generals “care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.”) 
  • For him to degrade in any way the people at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say they're 'sissies' that he wouldn't fight with them that he wouldn't wage a war with them what does that do to the soldiers who are out there putting their lives on the line everyday to say that the commander in chief doesn't trust their commanders?” William Cohen, a former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, told CNN.
  • More on the trust gap: Trump also disclosed to Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, that the U.S. military developed a secret new weapons system, leading other sources to express surprise the president would freely speak about such a sensitive development, per our colleagues Bob Costa and Phil Rucker

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee was not pleased with the latest of Trump's extensive record of incendiary comments about the military: “As a matter of fact, I've been a little dismayed at what's happened in the past few days,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, told USA Today about Trump's Monday allegation Pentagon leaders want to do nothing but fight wars to boost the military-industrial complex. “It's exactly the opposite,” Thornberry said. “Their motivation is to serve the country, and I don’t see how that can be questioned.” 

  • I know the president says things for effect a lot, but to have a commander in chief question the motivations of military leaders and basically say they're in it for themselves is wrong, and it gives our adversaries an opening," Thornberry said. "Even if you think it, you shouldn't say it.”
  • Trump's current standing with the military, Thornberry added, “is a mix.” (For his part, Trump denies making “statements negative to our military or fallen heroes.”) 

More: Trump who spoke with Woodward 18 times, sometimes late at night – “himself criticized military officials to Woodward over their view that alliances with NATO and South Korea are the best bargain the US makes,” per CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart. I wouldn't say they were stupid, because I would never say that about our military people, Trump said. But if they said that, they whoever said that was stupid. It's a horrible bargain We're suckers. 

  • Trump was far more effusive about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he called “far beyond smart."

Some Republican senators, peppered with questions about Woodward's bombshell on Wednesday, appeared reluctant to talk:

The feeling's mutual?: Trump's top national security officials also had major problems with the president, Woodward discloses. Former defense secretary Jim Mattis and former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats offered troubling assessments of Trump's conduct in office: 

  • “There may come a time when we have to take collective action” since Trump is “dangerous. He’s unfit, Mattis told Coats after praying at Washington National Cathedral for the country's fate, Woodward reports. 
  • “The president has no moral compass,” Mattis told Coats in a later conversation. 
  • “True. To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie, Coats responded. 
  • “When Mr. Mattis quit after Mr. Trump wanted to withdraw troops fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East, according to Mr. Woodward the general reflected, 'When I was basically directed to do something that I thought went beyond stupid to felony stupid, strategically jeopardizing our place in the world and everything else, that’s when I quit,'” the New York Times's Maggie Haberman reports. 

Clark said the assessment by retired general Mattis is significant: “This is the kind of information that needs to sink in to the American people: the president when he's seen up close and judged by ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and they looked at his policies, his decision-making, his character and his personality, his ethics, they say he's dangerous and unfit? That's a very, very powerful indictment of a sitting president.” 

Trump was dismissive of his intelligence chiefs, too, whom he says have “no idea” how to handle North Korea after they warned that the president's cozy approach to Jong Un is ineffective. 

Trump's open brag that he “built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before” may end up proving a more consequential disclosure than his coarse rhetoric. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before, Trump told Woodward in the middle of reflecting how the U.S. had come close to war with North Korea in 2017. 

  • Kingston Reif, the director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told Power Up that “bragging about weapons, including nuclear weapons, for the sake of bragging about them is par for the course for Trump.” 
  • “As with many things Trump says, it's hard to decipher what he was talking about,” Reif added. He has made similar cryptic and hyperbolic comments about weapons systems under development in the past. It's possible that he could have been referring to a secret weapon development effort that hasn't been previously divulged, but I find that highly unlikely, especially with respect to a new type of nuclear weapon. The most likely nuclear weapon that would fit Trump's description is the W76-2" warhead, a new low-yield variant of an existing warhead proposed by the Trump administration in 2018. 

At the White House

LORDY, THERE ARE TAPES: Trump told Woodward in an interview on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger of the coronavirus — even though he had information about the situation that was more dire than what he was publicly revealing. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.

Why he says he did it: Trump acknowledged Wednesday he “intentionally played down the deadly nature of the rapidly spreading coronavirus last winter as an attempt to avoid a ‘frenzy’,” our colleagues Josh Dawsey, Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane report. “We have to have leadership. We have to show leadership. And the last thing you want to do is create a panic in a country,” he added.

Some Republicans cautiously weighed in on the president's logic:

  • “A little more alarm about the seriousness early on could have made a little bit of a difference,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters.
  • “He did some things early on that were helpful,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said of Trump. “And could we all have done things differently? Yes, including Congress.”
  • Democratic nominee Joe Biden was less circumspect: “He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden said from Michigan.

Woodward's assessment of Trump's handling of the pandemic is scathing: “Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states,” Woodward writes. “There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.” 

  • Trump was dismissive of the book on Fox News last night: “I don’t know if this book is good or bad. I have no idea, probably almost definitely won’t read it because I don’t have time to read it, but I gave it a little bit of a shot,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity.
  • Privately, however, the president realized the book would not be good for his political fortunes,” Josh, Felicia and Paul report. “For weeks, he told advisers that Woodward’s book was likely to be negative, according to a senior administration official who spoke directly with Trump and shared the private discussion on the condition of anonymity to comment frankly.” 
  • “Honestly, his access to the White House is probably something that I would not have recommended had I been in the chief of staff role early on, but it’s the typical thing the president does,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News about Woodward’s access to Trump.

The people

OTHER BOOK HIGHLIGHTS: Trump says he does not have a responsibility to understand the anger of Black Americans. “On June 19, Woodward asked the president about White privilege, noting that they were both White men of the same generation who had privileged upbringings. Woodward suggested that they had a responsibility to better ‘understand the anger and pain’ felt by Black Americans,” per Bob and Phil. 

  • “No,” Trump replied. “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”

More details on Trump's relationship with Kim Jong Un: Kim, according to the president, thought President Obama was “an asshole.” And Trump told Woodward that he evaluates Kim and his nuclear arsenal like a real estate deal. “It’s really like, you know, somebody that’s in love with a house and they just can’t sell it.” Trump further bragged that Kim tells me everything, including a graphic account of Kim having his uncle killed.

  • The book also contains previously unseen excerpts from the letters Kim and Trump exchanged: “Kim wrote that he wanted ‘another historic meeting between myself and Your Excellency reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film,’” our colleagues write. “And he said his meetings with Trump were a ‘precious memory’ that underscored how the ‘deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force.’”

Down the rabbit hole: Woodward writes that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, “advised people that one of the most important guiding texts to understand the Trump presidency was ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ a novel about a young girl who falls through a rabbit hole. He singled out the Cheshire cat, whose strategy was endurance and persistence, not direction,” our colleagues add.

In the media

WOODWARD HIMSELF IS FACING QUESTIONS: A number of people, mostly fellow journalists or those connected to the profession, questioned why the legendary reporter held on to his tapes and bombshell revelations for months, The Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes.

David Boardman, dean of the Temple University journalism school and the longtime editor of the Seattle Times:

Woodward's response, per Margaret: “Woodward said his aim was to provide a fuller context than could occur in a news story: ‘I knew I could tell the second draft of history, and I knew I could tell it before the election.’ (Former Washington Post publisher Phil Graham famously called journalism ‘the first rough draft of history.’)" 

  • He added one of his main concerns was verifying what Trump was saying and trying to suss out the source of his information. Woodward also confirmed that he was under no sort of embargo or agreement with the White House to hold on to any revelations until the book's publication.
  • Just how early Trump expressed concern about coronavirus: “In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of, the author told me — back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.” 

In the agencies

ELECTION INTERFERENCE DATA SAID TO BE STYMIED: “A senior Department of Homeland Security official alleges that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election, in part because it ‘made the President look bad,’ an instruction he believed would jeopardize national security,” Shane Harris, Nick Miroff and Ellen Nakashima report.

  • The details: “The official, Brian Murphy, who until recently was in charge of intelligence and analysis at DHS, said in a whistleblower complaint that on two occasions he was told to stand down on reporting about the Russian threat and alleged that senior officials told him to modify other intelligence reports, including about white supremacists, to bring them in line with Trump’s public comments, directions he said he refused.” 

Murphy says Trump's political prospects were valued more than actual evidence: He claims that Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the department’s second-in-command, on various occasions instructed him to massage the language in intelligence reports ‘to ensure they matched up with the public comments by Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups,’ according to the complaint.”

  • Administration officials had mixed reactions to the complaint: “According to three former senior officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, Murphy was a poor manager and the source of low morale in his office,” our colleagues write. “Murphy himself has been a recent subject of controversy. He was removed from his position and assigned in July to an administrative role, where he remains.” 

Outside the Beltway

FIRES CONTINUE TO DEVASTATE THE WEST: “An unusually expansive outbreak of large and fast-moving wildfires threatens communities in three states with the greatest risks focused on Medford, Ore., and Oroville, Calif., as large fires advance in those areas,” Andrew Freedman, Jason Samenow, Kim Bellware and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux report.

  • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said the fires could lead to the greatest loss of lives and property in the state's history: “Nearly all of the state’s half dozen or so biggest fires are zero percent contained, due primarily to hot heavy winds, said Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry,” the Oregonian's Kale Williams and Noelle Crombie report.

A smoke-filled San Francisco:

Wildfire specialists say this is the biggest outbreak in over a century: “According to Nick Nauslar, a predictive services meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, what sets this wildfire outbreak apart from all others in modern times is its geographic footprint,” Andrew Freedman reports.

WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Most Americans support athletes speaking out, say anthem protests are appropriate: “Despite cries for athletes to ‘stick to sports,’ particularly from conservative pundits and politicians, a 62 percent majority of Americans say professional athletes should use their platforms to express their views on national issues, including over 8 in 10 Black Americans and 7 in 10 adults under age 50,” Rick Maese and Emily Guskin report on a new Post poll.

  • Support has increased over the years:

White House eyes more executive actions as relief talks appear dead: White House officials have discussed efforts to unilaterally provide support for the flagging airline industry while also bolstering unemployment benefits,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report. Senate Republicans are expected to vote on the GOP's slimmed down relief plan today.

Trump added to his list of possible Supreme Court picks: There are now 20 more names the president can choose from if he wins reelection. “Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a McConnell protege who spoke at the Republican National Convention last month, also made the list, as did three conservative GOP senators: Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.),” Seung Min Kim and Ann E. Marimow report.

Well, almost 20: