President Donald Trump insisted Wednesday that he's "the exact opposite" of Bob Woodward's portrayal of him in a new book that has set off a firestorm in the White House with its descriptions of current and former aides calling Trump an "idiot" and a "liar".
Woodward quotes an exasperated Chief of Staff John Kelly doubting Trump's mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, "We're in Crazytown".
According to the book, "Fear: Trump in the White House", the Republican president told Mattis he wanted to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assassinated after Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017.
What did Defense Secretary Mattis say?
The book also quotes Mattis, after a contentious National Security Council meeting on January 19 this year, as saying Trump acted like, and had the understanding of, "a fifth or sixth-grader".
The administration seemed initially caught off guard by the reports of the book, but then it turned up the volume on its responses over the course of the day. "This is a pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump". Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results. While that may seem unusual to partisans, policy wonks and capital-based journalists, it is easily apparent and understandable when one speaks to people outside the political and media realm.
Separately, Mattis denied on Tuesday that he had criticized the president in the way Woodward described.
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Mattis wrote, in part: "The contemptuous words about the [p] resident attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence".
He adds: "Their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public".
In Woodward's telling, many top advisers were repeatedly unnerved by Trump's actions and expressed dim views of him.
Trump's comments Tuesday followed a pair of statements the White House released generally panning the book.
- John Dowd, who served as Trump's personal lawyer for matters related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation until March, when he resigned, was so concerned that Trump would perjure himself if he submitted to an interview with Mueller's team that he put together a mock question-and-answer sessions with Trump to prove his case.
"Well, about six people", Woodward said.
Dowd reportedly told the president: "Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit", his then lawyer John Dowd is reported to have said - and did not understand why U.S. troops were deployed in South Korea.
"That can not be a slaughter", Mr Trump said about Idlib. The two men have carried on a simmering feud for months.
"He wants to know who talked to Woodward", one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity amid the highly tense atmosphere in the West Wing in the wake of the book. The Post released a transcript of their phone call. Subjects and critics of Woodward's books over the years have complained about his zealous approach to narrative reconstructions and some of the details in his reporting, while largely failing to undermine the broader thrusts of a body of work built upon heaps of in-depth, recorded interviews and ample documentation. Trump has always been thus, and Woodward's book is the latest confirmation of that reality.