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Top players inside President Donald Trump's White House routinely went behind his back to thwart him — including a stunning instance in which his top economic adviser snatched a document off his desk to avoid a decision on trade, according to a new book that reveals life inside the chaotic administration.
The book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," by famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, contains astonishing anecdotes showing how little top aides and lawyers to the president trusted him to do or say the right things, or make the appropriate decisions.
Trump, in an interview with the Daily Caller on Tuesday, called the explosive book "nasty stuff," denying certain scenes had occurred. The president also said Woodward has "a lot of credibility problems. Woodward responded that he stood behind his reporting.
On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted it was "a shame" that "someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact" before suggesting lawmakers should "change libel laws."
Some of the striking contents of the book were published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, ahead of its Sept. 11, release. They include:
— Gary Cohn, who served as Trump’s top economic adviser until March, "stole a letter off Trump's desk" that the president was going to sign that would have withdrawn the U.S. from a trade pact with South Korea. According to Woodward, Cohn told a colleague that Trump never noticed.
— In April 2017, Trump called Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and ordered the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the strongman attacked his own people with chemical weapons. "Let's f------ kill him! Let's go in. Let’s kill the f------ lot of them,” Trump said, the book alleges.
Mattis told Trump he would proceed with such a plan, but immediately told an aide, after getting off the phone with the president: "We're not going to do any of that. We're going to be much more measured.” He, along with Trump’s national security team, then put together plans for the retaliatory airstrike that the administration eventually carried out.
Mattis issued a statement, saying, "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence. While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility."
— John Dowd, who resigned in March as Trump's personal lawyer for matters related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, 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 session with Trump to prove his case.
The session happened in January, according to Woodward, and during it Trump contradicted himself repeatedly and eventually got angry. "This thing's a goddamn hoax," Trump said, according to Woodward, adding that, "I don’t really want to testify."
— In March, following a meeting with Mueller's team, Dowd urged Trump again that he should not testify, warning the commander in chief that doing so would put him at risk of committing perjury. "Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit," Dowd said.
But this time, Trump was apparently unswayed. According to Woodward, Trump told Dowd, "I'll be a real good witness" and said he worried about how it would look if he refused to testify.
Dowd then told him, “You are not a good witness,” according to Woodward, and added, "Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can't help you." Dowd resigned the next day.
— After being ripped for saying "many sides" had committed violence during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that left one person dead, Trump, bowing to pressure, gave a second speech in which he said racism was "evil" and condemned hate groups. But after that speech, he told aides it was "the biggest f------ mistake I've made" and the "worst speech I've ever given," Woodward reported.
Cohn, who is Jewish, was reportedly furious with the president's handling of the situation and submitted a letter of resignation. But Trump responded, "this is treason" and asked him to remain in his job. Cohen did so, but then discussed with chief of staff John Kelly how disgusted he was with the president. Kelly, according to Woodward, felt the same way.
“I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his a-- six different times,” Kelly told Cohn, according to Woodward.
— Woodward's book also features new scathing criticism from Trump of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president has repeatedly insulted Sessions after he recused himself from any federal probe into Russian election meddling. At one point, according to Woodward, Trump blasted Sessions as "mentally retarded" and a "dumb Southerner" who "couldn't even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama."
— In the book, Woodward confirms NBC News reporting from April that Kelly had called Trump an "idiot" and thought of himself as personally helping to save the U.S. from disaster. Woodward also confirms NBC News reporting from April that Trump routinely mocked and impersonated H.R. McMaster, who left as national security adviser that month.
Hours after the first excerpts were published, the White House hit back, calling Woodward's book "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad."
"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," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. She added that "no one can beat him in 2020 – not even close.”
Kelly also responded to allegations in the book, and swatted down the specific allegation that he'd called Trump an "idiot."
“The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true," he said, before recycling a statement he'd provided to NBC News earlier this year, in which he called the story "total BS."