Trump Says He’s ‘Tough as Hell’ in Attack on Woodward Book

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump called journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book on his administration a meaningless work of fiction, as he continued to seek to discredit the two-time Pulitzer Winner’s critical account of his White House.

“The book means nothing,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “It’s a work of fiction.”

Trump specifically denied a report in the book that he had asked for a plan to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. “That was never even contemplated nor would it be contemplated,” he said.

Trump said that his chief of staff, John Kelly, and Defense Secretary James Mattis had issued statements on Tuesday denying remarks Woodward attributed to them without the president asking for the rebuttals. Trump speculated that Woodward had timed news stories based on his book to interfere with confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, that began this week.

“He likes to get publicity,” Trump said.

The Washington Post first published excerpts of Woodward’s book “Fear” on Tuesday. The book, a deeply reported examination of the Trump presidency, portrays an administration consumed by brutal infighting and a president whose anger at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation can paralyze the West Wing for days at a time. Close advisers quietly maneuver to control Trump’s impulses and prevent political and national security disasters.

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said on Twitter that he was “tough as hell on people” who work for him. The tweet appeared to concede that Woodward’s book, in its recounting of White House staff turmoil and conflicts with the president, is at least partially accurate.

“I’m tough as hell on people & if I weren’t, nothing would get done,” Trump said. “Also, I question everybody & everything-which is why I got elected!”

But Trump wrote in a subsequent pair of tweets that Woodward’s account is “total fiction” as well as “boring & untrue!” Earlier, Trump appeared to allude to the book as he tweeted a call for lawmakers to examine libel laws.

“Isn’t it 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, and get away with it without retribution or cost,” Trump said in the earlier tweet.

Assad Order

Woodward’s publisher, Simon & Schuster Inc., did not respond to requests for a copy of the book, and his agent, lawyer Robert Barnett, said he couldn’t provide one.

Woodward writes that Trump angrily ordered Mattis to prepare a plan to assassinate Assad after a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians in April 2017 that the U.S. attributed to Assad’s regime.

Mattis ignored the order, Woodward reports, according to the Post, and had the Pentagon plan more conventional airstrikes against Syrian military targets instead. Mattis told associates the president acted like “a fifth- or sixth-grader,” the Post reported.

Mattis denied “the contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward’s book” and Trump denied that he ordered Assad killed.

‘He’s an Idiot’

Woodward reports that Kelly frequently told colleagues he considered the president “unhinged,” according to the Post. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of 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.”

Kelly denied that account.

“The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true,” Kelly said in a statement distributed by the White House.

The episode echoed an NBC report in October 2017 that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump a “moron” after a meeting. Tillerson never denied making the statement and Trump later dismissed him.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday she would wait to review a full copy of Woodward’s book before determining whether it was libelous, while dismissing the reporting as “the same rehashed, retold stories.”

“We’ll see what happens with the rest of the book,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.

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