'He's an idiot': Trump aides describe chaos in White House
New book by Watergate reporter reveals despair and rage as staff try to keep 'unhinged' president in check
Donald Trump’s most senior aides and appointees privately said he was “unhinged”, an “idiot” and has the intellectual capacity of a “fifth-grader”, according to an explosive new book.
The US president’s senior aides are also quoted expressing fears that he could come across as a “goddamn dumbbell” and that he has gone “off the rails”. His top economic adviser reportedly “stole” letters from his desk to stop the president making dramatic changes in America’s trade policy.
The book, Fear: Trump in the White House, is by Bob Woodward, the reporter who helped bring down Richard Nixon as president by exposing the Watergate scandal. Copies of the 448-page book, which was based on hundreds of hours of interviews, were obtained by The Washington Post and CNN.
The excerpts paint a damning portrait of a president prone to rages, whose struggles to understand national security issues have left aides despairing.
Off the rails
John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is said to have told a small group meeting: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown.”
Defence secretary James Mattis is said to have been exasperated after trying to explain the importance of America’s military presence on the Korean Peninsula. He reportedly told Trump: “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War 3.” But privately he allegedly commented that Trump had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader”.
Gary Cohn, Trump’s most senior economic adviser before his departure earlier this year, allegedly was “appalled” by a draft letter formalising America’s withdrawal from a trade agreement with South Korea and so “stole it” from Trump’s desk.
Cohn is quoted as telling an associate: “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”
Avoiding a Russia interview
One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, who has left the White House, reportedly carried out a practice interview with Trump about the Russia investigation in which he stumbled, contradicted himself and lied, triggering a 30-minute rant from the president.
Dowd allegedly tried to convince Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russia inquiry, not to interview the president. Dowd is quoted as saying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say: ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’”
Dowd is said to have told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.” The president reportedly pushed back, saying he would be a “real good witness”. Afterwards, Dowd quit.
The president is quoted saying of Jeff Sessions, the US attorney-general with whom he has fallen out over the Russia investigation: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner.”
He is said to have described Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, as being “like a little rat” who “just scurries around”.
Trump also reportedly mocked HR McMaster, his former national security adviser, for wearing cheap suits that make him look “like a beer salesman”.
Trump’s erratic instincts and lack of curiosity about national security issues have alarmed senior foreign policy advisers, the book says. The president reportedly told defence secretary Mattis to assassinate Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, in April 2017 after he used chemical weapons.
Trump is quoted as saying: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them.”
Mattis reportedly told a senior aide after the call: “We’re not going to do any of that.”
The president’s inner circle is said to call Trump’s lack of understanding about the importance of allies and diplomacy “The Big Problem”.
White House infighting
Priebus is quoted as saying: “When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody.”
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, is quoted arguing with Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, about the access she enjoys. Bannon is said to have shouted: “You’re nothing but a fucking staffer! You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!” Ivanka reportedly replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’m the first daughter and I’m never going to be a staffer!”
A White House spokesperson called the book “nothing more than fabricated stories”. Kelly denied using the word “idiot”.
– © The Daily Telegraph