John Kelly says he did not call Trump an 'idiot', disputing Woodward's book

Kelly (above) frequently told colleagues he thought Donald Trump was “unhinged,” Woodward writes.
Kelly (above) frequently told colleagues he thought Donald Trump was “unhinged,” Woodward writes.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - White House Chief of Staff John Kelly denied a report by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward that he called President Donald Trump an idiot. Mr Trump's spokesman has also called Mr Woodward's latest book a collection of "fabricated stories".

"The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true," Mr Kelly said in a statement distributed by the White House.

"He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS."

The Washington Post published excerpts on Tuesday (Sept 4) of Mr Woodward's book Fear: Trump In The White House, a deeply reported investigation of the Trump presidency.

The book portrays an administration consumed by brutal infighting and a President whose anger at Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation can paralyse the West Wing for days at a time. Close advisers quietly manoeuvre to control Mr Trump's impulses and prevent political and national security disasters.

Mr Kelly frequently told colleagues that he thought the President was "unhinged", Mr Woodward writes in the book, according to the Post.

In one small group meeting, Mr Kelly said of Mr 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. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

The book includes details of how then-economic adviser Gary Cohn stopped the President from ordering an exit from Nafta and a trade deal with South Korea by intercepting official papers.

ASSAD ASSASSINATION ORDER

The book also describes a conversation in which Mr Trump told Defence Secretary James Mattis to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after the Syrian government launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said she wasn't aware of such an order when asked about the episode at a Tuesday press conference. Ms Haley said she'd been in all the conversations about responding to the Syrian attack and "I have not once ever heard the President talk about assassinating Assad".

 

Mr Woodward reports that Mr Mattis ignored the order and told subordinates to prepare a more conventional airstrike on Syrian military targets instead, according to the Post.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the Woodward book is "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad".

Mr Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with first-hand participants and witnesses, many of which were conducted on condition he would not reveal that they were the sources of the information. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents, according to the Post.

PILFERED LETTERS

Mr Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs Group executive, resigned as head of Trump's National Economic Council earlier this year after failing to block new tariffs on steel and aluminum. But according to Mr Woodward, he quietly saved the South Korea-US trade agreement, known as Korus, when in 2017 he removed a "letter off Trump's desk" that the President planned to sign that would have ordered a US withdrawal.

Mr Cohn told a colleague that he stole the letter to protect national security, according to the Post excerpts. He also did something similar in the spring of 2017 when Mr Trump was eager to pull out of Nafta.

At one point, the President confronted Mr Rob Porter, his staff secretary who had also taken a lead role in trade policy, over the failure to pull out of Nafta. Mr Porter has since left the White House.

According to the Post: "Under orders from the President, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from Nafta. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: 'I can stop this. I'll just take the paper off his desk.'"

Mr Cohn's intervention may have saved both Korus and Nafta. The US last week announced it had reached a bilateral deal with Mexico to salvage Nafta, and the Trump administration on Wednesday is due to resume negotiations with Canada to stay in the pact. The administration also released the terms of a renegotiated Korus on Monday that makes what most trade experts consider to be only minor tweaks.

The Post also published a transcript and audio of a phone call between Mr Woodward and Mr Trump, who the newspaper said didn't respond to the author's interview requests until August, after the book was completed. Mr Trump told Mr Woodward he wasn't informed of the interview requests, before acknowledging that one of Mr Woodward's intermediaries, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, had mentioned it to him.

Mr Woodward's book comes less than a month after former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman published a tell-all account of her first year in the Trump administration, calling the President a "con" and a "racist".