John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.
In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.
“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”
The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.
Ah. He doesn’t WANT to testify. Well, that’s smart, but also different than what he has been saying since…. forever.
A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.
Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.
Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.
Sure. And how is this not evidence that the 26th should be invoked?
At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.
After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
How is it we’re not all dead?
A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”
Well, that should play well down south.
After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.
Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.
I saw that episode of The West Wing, too.
[Economic adviser Gary] Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.
Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”
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.”
That’s pretty disturbing that they have to do that, and disturbing that they can get away with it too.
Woodward recounts an expletive-laden altercation between Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist.
“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon screamed at her, telling her that she had to work through Priebus like other aides. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”
Ivanka Trump, who had special access to the president and worked around Priebus, replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter.”
And then this tidbit about why Dowd resigned:
Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
But Trump, concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had by then decided otherwise.
“I’ll be a real good witness,” Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.
“You are not a good witness,” Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”
The next morning, Dowd resigned.
But this ain’t LOL at all:
Gary Cohn came to regard the president as “a professional liar” and threatened to resign in August 2017 over Trump’s handling of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Cohn, who is Jewish, was especially shaken when one of his daughters found a swastika on her college dorm room.
Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but almost immediately told aides, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.
When Cohn met with Trump to deliver his resignation letter after Charlottesville, the president told him, “This is treason,” and persuaded his economic adviser to stay on. Kelly then confided to Cohn that he shared Cohn’s horror at Trump’s handling of the tragedy — and shared Cohn’s fury with Trump.