Published 11:56 p.m. UTC Sep 4, 2018
WASHINGTON – White House Chief of Staff John Kelly denied describing President Donald Trump as an "idiot," as Trump and his aides sought to push back Tuesday on a new book by veteran Washington reporter Bob Woodward that depicted the West Wing as "Crazytown."
In a tweet, Trump cited denials by Kelly and other aides in claiming that "their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public." He suggested that Woodward – whom he praised just last month – is a Democratic operative who timed the book to this year's congressional elections. "Notice timing?" he said.
Trump also tweeted out written statements by aides on the Woodward book, including one from his chief of staff.
“The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true," Kelly said, adding that the claim "is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes."
Kelly repeated a statement he made in May, saying that he and Trump "have an incredibly candid and strong relationship."
Entitled "Fear: Trump in the White House," the Woodward book is scheduled to be released Sept. 11.
Woodward, who rose to fame via his coverage of the Watergate scandal during the Richard Nixon presidency in the early 1970s, is an associate editor at the Washington Post, which published excerpts of the book Tuesday.
The excerpts described a struggle by aides to rein in Trump.
Regarding the fraught relationship between the president and his chief of staff, the Post reported Woodward found that Kelly "frequently lost his temper" over Trump, and that he thought the president was "unhinged."
"He’s an idiot," Kelly said, according to the Post's account of Woodward's book. "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.”
Trump himself said Woodward has "credibility problems" – though the president told the author last month he thought he had always been fair.
“I probably would have preferred to speak to him, but maybe not," Trump told The Daily Caller website. "I think it probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the book. He wanted to write the book a certain way.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders attributed the book's criticism of Trump to "disgruntled" former aides.
More: Woodward book 'Fear' reflects chaos in White House, says Kelly called Trump an 'idiot'
The Post published what it said was a conversation Woodward had with Trump after the book was finished. The author detailed how the White House rebuffed his requests for an interview with the president.
At one point, Trump told Woodward: "You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair. We’ll see what happens. But all I can say is the country is doing very well."
The White House denials echoed those made about previous critical books, particularly those by journalist Michael Wolff and former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman.
In the wake of the White House attacks, Woodward told the Post he stands by his reporting.
'An orange jumpsuit'
Among Woodward's other revelations:
• Former defense attorney John Dowd and colleagues did not want Trump to testify before Russia special counsel Robert Mueller because they didn't think he could tell the truth. The book discusses a mock interview that attorneys conducted with Trump in which the president fared poorly, and that lawyers re-enacted parts of that interview for Mueller himself.
“Don’t testify," Dowd was quoted by Woodward as saying. "It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
In a statement emailed to USA TODAY, Dowd said he has not read the book and does not plan to address "every inaccurate statement" attributed to him, but he denied he replayed the mock interview before Mueller, that he questioned the president's truthfulness and that he made the remark attributed to him about the orange jumpsuit.
• Former economic adviser Gary Cohn removed papers from Trump's desk to block efforts to remove the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as a separate trade deal with South Korea.
In his interview with The Daily Caller, Trump denied that aides have removed documents from his view, saying “it’s just made up” and that “there was nobody taking anything from me.”
• Trump told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis he wanted to have Syrian leader Bashar Assad assassinated after evidence surfaced of a chemical weapons attack on rebels in that country; Mattis ignored the request and planned the targeted missile strike on chemical weapons facilities that Trump eventually approved.
Mattis denies calling Trump 'fifth- or sixth-grader'
Woodward also reported that Mattis once described Trump as acting like a "fifth- or sixth-grader," prompting a denial by the defense secretary.
Mattis said in a statement that he never uttered "contemptuous words" about the president, and added that Woodward's "anonymous sources do not lend credibility" to his book.
In her statement, Sanders called the Woodward book "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."