WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not clear whether President Donald Trump has much to fear from “Fear” itself. But the book of that name has set off a yes-no war between author Bob Woodward and the president, using all the assets they can muster.
For Trump, that means denials from the pulpit of the presidency and from allies who had been quoted questioning his intelligence and stability. For Woodward, it means putting nearly a half-century of credibility covering eight presidents behind a vivid account he says is supported by scores of hours of recordings.
Some choice excerpts and responses:
THE BOOK: Woodward’s prologue is a snapshot from September 2017, in which economic adviser Gary Cohn quietly removed from the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office a draft letter from Trump to the president of South Korea terminating a pair of trade agreements. Cohn, Woodward writes, was afraid Trump would sign the document and, in effect, void a critical piece of U.S. national security policy. “I stole it off his desk,” Cohn is quoted as saying.
THE RESPONSE: “That’s false,” Trump told The Daily Caller. “There was nobody taking anything from me.”
Cohn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
THE BOOK: On April 4, 2017, an upset Trump phoned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after photos showed a sarin gas attack on Syrian rebels. Women and children were among dozens killed and photographed. The attack was blamed on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“Let’s f—ing kill him!” Trump said. Woodward quotes Mattis as telling the president he would get right on that. The Pentagon chief hung up and told a senior aide, “We’re not going to do any of that.” The book also quotes Mattis, after a contentious National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19 this year, as saying Trump acted like, and had the understanding of, “a fifth or sixth-grader.”
THE RESPONSE: Mattis issued a statement, tweeted twice by Trump, saying: “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.” Mattis called the book “the product of someone’s rich imagination.”
Tweeted Trump: “Thank you General Mattis, the book is boring & untrue!”
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters Tuesday that she was in all the meetings on the Syrian attack and never heard Trump mention assassinating Assad.
THE BOOK: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted in the book as saying of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.”
THE RESPONSE: In a statement, Kelly is quoted as saying, “The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true, in fact it’s exactly the opposite.” He added, “He and I both know this story is total BS.”
Trump added: “Thank you General Kelly, book is total fiction!”
THE BOOK: Trump has made no secret of his fury with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over Session’s recusal from the investigation into Russian election meddling. In the book, Trump says of the former Alabama senator: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner.”
THE RESPONSE: Trump, who held one of his first big campaign rallies in Sessions’ home state, tweeted: “The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions ‘mentally retarded’ and ‘a dumb southerner.’ I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing.”
THE BOOK: Rudy Giuliani tried to defend the then-presidential candidate in 2016 shortly before Election Day after a recording leaked of Trump boasting of assaulting women. The “Access Hollywood” tape was “reprehensible,” Giuliani said on five network shows, and besides, Trump had apologized. On CNN, Giuliani agreed that Trump’s words were offensive.
“Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump told him. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?” He went on to say, “You’re weak, Rudy.”
THE RESPONSE: Giuliani tweeted that Woodward’s “incident about me (is) entirely false.” He added that the author “never called me.”
THE BOOK: Trump’s former lawyer, John Dowd, and the president held what Woodward described as a “practice session” to show Trump what it would be like to testify about Russia’s election meddling. When Dowd asked about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president unleashed a 30-minute torrent of rage. Dowd suggested Trump not testify. Trump agreed.
Dowd reenacted the exchange during a meeting with special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
“I don’t want him looking like an idiot,” Dowd said. “And I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with that idiot for?”
THE RESPONSE: Dowd said in a statement he was not going to address the book’s every statement. But he said “no so-called ‘practice session’ or ‘re-enactment’” took place.