WASHINGTON, DC — Bob Woodward, the famed investigative journalist who teamed with Carl Bernstein to break the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, is out with a damning tell-all book about what exactly goes on behind closed doors in the White House. Excerpts from Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” were leaked Tuesday ahead of its Sept. 11 release. And needless to say, it is chock-full of compelling — often scintillating — details.
Woodward paints an unflattering picture of President Donald Trump: bombastic, belligerent and beyond reproach. The unapologetic president of Woodward’s book has reckless disregard of the consequences of his actions and little interest in learning about world affairs. He hurls insults behind people’s backs faster than he can type them on Twitter.
As The New York Times puts it, Woodward sticks to wooden, fact-based writing, an obvious departure from Michael Wolfe’s incendiary 2017 tell-all “Fire and Fury.” Like its predecessor, many sources and names in “Fear” are never identified, The Times reported, noting that Woodward has a strong reputation for verifying facts.
Here are the five most compelling details in “Fear.”
1. Trump prints out and re-reads his tweets. The pen is mightier than the sword, so the saying goes, so why wouldn’t the president re-read his best work, even if it’s limited to 140 characters? Woodward writes that Trump orders his most popular tweets to be printed out so he can go back and study them. In one of the more amusing details, Woodward writes that Trump wasn’t exactly thrilled when Twitter bumped the tweet threshold from 140 to 280 characters, with the president even likening himself to one of the greatest writers in modern history.
“I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters,” Trump is quoted as saying.
This isn’t the first time Trump has compared his tweet skills to Hemingway. In November 2015, a year before the presidential election, POLITICO quoted Trump as saying someone called him the “Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.”
“I understand social media,” Trump reportedly bragged. “Maybe better than anybody, ever.”
Trump’s former chief of staff Reince Priebus called the presidential bedroom — where Trump’s Twitter account is most prolific — “the devil’s workshop,” and early mornings and Sunday nights, “the witching hour.”
2. Priebus compared Trump’s White House to a “zoo without walls.” Trump’s former chief of staff ripped the president for not putting together a better team of advisers, saying he “failed the President Lincoln test” by not putting any political rivals at the table.
But of particular interest is what he said in reference to the White House’s chaotic decision-making. Things quickly turn sour, according to Priebus, when the wrong people are squished together and left unchecked.
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens,” Priebus reportedly said.
3. Trump’s top aides swipe documents off his desk to prevent him from making catastrophic decisions. Trump’s own aides apparently are so worried about the president’s decision-making that they literally remove papers from his desk so he can never see them. According to Woodward, former economic adviser Gary Cohn last year snatched a letter that Trump planned to sign that would’ve withdrawn the U.S. from a South Korea-U.S. trade deal known as Korus. Woodward said Cohn was “appalled” that Trump considered signing the letter.
“I stole it off his desk,” Cohn told a colleague. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”
Woodward described the situation as “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch.
4. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said Trump was “unhinged” and an “idiot.” In what is sure to become ammunition for a Saturday Night Live skit and similar shows, Kelly often lost his cool and would tell colleagues the president was both stupid and deranged, assertions that he has since denied. In one meeting, Kelly called Trump “an idiot.”
“It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything,” Kelly reportedly said. “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.”
5. Trump said the “biggest f—ing mistake” he ever made was to clarify his “both sides” remark following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. After the August 2017 rally, Trump made a stunning conclusion that there was “blame on both sides” in regards to the violence that left a counter-protester dead. He faced swift — and fierce — backlash for the remark.
According to CNN, Woodward writes that then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter persuaded a reluctant Trump to clarify the comment. Trump eventually agreed and publicly denounced racism, the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”
But when a Fox News correspondent said Trump had corrected course and a commenter said he had admited he was wrong, Trump fumed, Woodward wrote.
“That was the biggest f—ing mistake I’ve made,” Trump told Porter. “You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?”
Trump added: “I can’t believe I got forced to do that. That’s the worst speech I’ve ever given. I’m never going to do anything like that again.”
A day later, he doubled down on the original sentiment.
It should be noted that the White House said Tuesday that Woodward had “fabricated” stories about Trump.
“This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people. Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results.”
Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images