"Fear" by the award-winning journalist who helped bring down former US president Richard Nixon has left aides and officials scrambling for cover as the book offers explosive insider anecdotes about the Trump administration.
An incendiary tell-all book by a reporter who helped bring down President Richard Nixon set off a firestorm in the White House on Tuesday, with its descriptions of current and former aides calling President Donald Trump an "idiot and a "liar," disparaging his judgment and claiming they plucked papers off his desk to prevent him from withdrawing from a pair of trade agreements.
"Fear: Trump in the White House" by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward is the latest to throw the Trump administration into damage-control mode with explosive anecdotes and concerns about the commander-in-chief.
Trump decried the quotes and stories in the book, which has not been released as yet, on Twitter as "frauds, a con on the public," adding that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly had denied uttering quoted criticisms of the president in the book.
The Woodward book has already been refuted and discredited by General (Secretary of Defense) James Mattis and General (Chief of Staff) John Kelly. Their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public. Likewise other stories and quotes. Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2018
And he denied accounts in the book that senior aides snatched sensitive documents off his desk to keep him from making impulsive decisions. He said in an interview with The Daily Caller, "There was nobody taking anything from me."
The publication of Woodward's book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all their colleagues co-operated with the famed Watergate journalist.
The White House, in a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders, dismissed the book as "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."
Statement from White House @PressSec, Sarah Sanders: pic.twitter.com/mE73HSi6Rl— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2018
Woodward did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The book quotes chief of staff John Kelly as having doubts about Trump's mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, "We're in Crazytown."
It also says he called Trump an "idiot," an account that Kelly denied on Tuesday.
The book says Trump's former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, doubted the president's ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference and potential co-ordination with Trump's campaign.
Dowd, who stepped down in January, resigned after the mock interview, the book said.
"Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit," Dowd is quoted telling the president.
Dowd, in a statement on Tuesday, said "no so-called 'practice session' or 're-enactment'" took place and denied saying Trump was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is quoted explaining to Trump why the US maintains troops on the Korean Peninsula to monitor North Korea's missile activities. "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III," Mattis said, according to the book.
The book recounts that Mattis told "close associates that the president acted like – and had the understanding of – 'a fifth- or sixth-grader'."
Mattis said in a statement: "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence."
A Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Rob Manning, said Mattis was never interviewed by Woodward.
"Mr Woodward never discussed or verified the alleged quotes included in his book with Secretary Mattis or anyone within the DOD," he said.
TRT World's Leone Lakhani has more.
Trump wanted Syria's Assad assassinated
Woodward reported that after Syria's Bashar al Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted the Syrian leader taken out, saying, "Kill him! Let's go in."
Mattis assured Trump he would get right on it but then told a senior aide they'd do nothing of the kind, Woodward wrote.
National security advisers instead developed options for the air strike that Trump ultimately ordered.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley denied on Tuesday that Trump had ever planned to assassinate Assad. She told reporters at UN headquarters that she had been privy to conversations about the Syrian chemical weapons attacks, "and I have not once ever heard the president talk about assassinating Assad."
She said people should take what is written in books about the president with "a grain of salt."
NAFTA at stake
Woodward also claims that Gary Cohn, the former director of the National Economic Council, boasted of removing papers from the president's desk to prevent Trump from signing them into law, including efforts to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and from a deal with South Korea.
The book quotes Trump as mocking his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has been a target of the president's wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
"This guy is mentally retarded," Trump said of Sessions, according to the book.
"He couldn't even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama."
Trump's phone call with Woodward
Trump did not speak to Woodward until after the book's manuscript was completed. The Post released audio of Trump expressing surprise about the book in an August conversation with Woodward and dismay that he did not have an opportunity to contribute. Woodward tells Trump he had contacted multiple officials to attempt to interview Trump and was rebuffed.
"I never spoke to him," Trump told The Daily Caller. "Maybe I wasn't given messages that he called. I probably would have spoken to him if he'd called, if he'd gotten through."
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, who spoke with Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff's book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Woodward's work also comes weeks after former White House aide and "Apprentice" contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly's decision.
While White House aides have become increasingly numb to fresh scandals, the book still increased tensions in the West Wing, especially given the intimate details shared and the number of people Woodward appeared to have interviewed. Some White House officials expressed surprise at the number of erstwhile Trump loyalists willing to offer embarrassing stories of the president and his inner circle.
White House aides on Tuesday co-ordinated with other officials quoted in the book to dispute troublesome passages.
Woodward's book ranked the top-selling book on Amazon on Tuesday.