WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump so alarmed Defence Secretary James Mattis during a discussion in January of the nuclear stand-off with North Korea that an exasperated Mr Mattis told colleagues "the President acted like - and had the understanding of - a 'fifth-or sixth-grader'."
At another moment, Mr Trump's aides became so worried about his judgment that Mr Gary Cohn, then the chief economic adviser, took a letter from the President's Oval Office desk, authorising the withdrawal of the US from a trade agreement with South Korea. Mr Trump, who had planned to sign the letter, never realised it was missing.
These anecdotes are in a sprawling, highly anticipated new book by Mr Bob Woodward, which depicts the Trump White House as a treacherous, often out-of-control operation hostage to the whims of an impulsive, ill-informed and undisciplined president.
Excerpts from the 448-page book Fear, to be released on Sept 11 by Simon & Schuster, were published by US media outlets on Tuesday.
Mr Woodward, a long-time Washington Post reporter and editor, has turned the internal dramas of several previous White Houses into bestsellers. In taking on Mr Trump, he faced the challenge of an unusually leaky administration.
But Mr Woodward's book has unsettled the administration and the President, in part because it is clear that the author has spoken with so many current and former officials, though all on the condition that they not be cited as sources.
Dealing with the boss
We're in Crazytown... This is the worst job I've ever had.
WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF JOHN KELLY
Mr Kelly reportedly frequently vented his frustration to colleagues about the President. At one meeting, Mr Kelly said it was pointless to try to convince Mr Donald Trump of anything. "He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown...This is the worst job I've ever had," he reportedly said.
We're not going to do any of that. We're going to be much more measured.
DEFENCE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS
In April 2017, after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria launched a chemical attack on his own people, Mr Bob Woodward reported that Mr Donald Trump called Mr Mattis and said he wanted the US to assassinate Mr Assad. Mr Mattis allegedly hung up and told an aide: "We're not going to do any of that. We're going to be much more measured." At his direction, the Pentagon prepared options for an air strike on Syrian military positions, which Mr Trump later ordered.
I can stop this. I'll just take the paper off his desk.
FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER GARY COHN
According to Mr Bob Woodward, Mr Cohn saved a South Korea-US trade agreement when in 2017, he removed a letter from Mr Donald Trump's desk the President planned to sign that would have ordered a US withdrawal. He later did something similar when Mr Trump was eager to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mr Woodward said Mr Cohn later told a colleague he would "just take the paper off his desk".
Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit
FORMER TRUMP LAWYER FOR THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION JOHN DOWD
Mr Dowd in January discussed with Mr Donald Trump if he should submit to questions from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. At the session, Mr Trump repeatedly lied. The book said Mr Dowd later told Mr Trump why he should avoid an interview: "It's either that or an orange jumpsuit."
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, BLOOMBERG
Mr Trump, after initially brushing it aside as "just another bad book", accused Mr Woodward of making up quotes and suggested yesterday Congress change US libel laws.
After hours of saturation news coverage on cable networks, Fear rocketed to No. 1 on Amazon.
Some of the freshest details in the book involved Mr Mattis. He was portrayed as frequently derisive of the commander-in-chief, rattled by his judgment, and willing to slow-walk orders from him that he viewed as reckless.
In the North Korea meeting, during a period of high tension with the country's leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, Mr Trump questioned Mr Mattis about why the US keeps a military presence on the Korean peninsula. "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III," Mr Mattis responded to Mr Trump, according to Mr Woodward.
Mr Woodward's reporting adds another layer to a recurring theme in the Trump White House: Frustrated aides who sometimes resort to extraordinary measures to thwart the President's decisions.
Mr Cohn, Mr Woodward said, told a colleague he had removed the letter about the Korea free trade agreement to protect national security.
Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has long been rumoured to be close to resigning, once called Mr Trump an "idiot" and said the White House staff was operating in "crazytown", the book said.
Mr Woodward, who began speaking to Mr Trump's aides even before the inauguration, also documented the misgivings the President's former lawyer John Dowd had about whether the President should answer questions from the Special Counsel in the Russia investigation, Mr Robert Mueller.
Mr Woodward said he tried to get access to the President but did not interview him.
After the manuscript was completed, Mr Trump called Mr Woodward to express regret for not talking to him. In a transcript and a tape of the call published on Tuesday by The Washington Post, Mr Woodward told Mr Trump of the book: "It's a tough look at the world and the administration and you."
"Right," the President replied. "Well, I assume that means it's going to be a negative book."