Meanwhile Trump's former lawyer John Dowd told Axios he had never called Trump a "fucking liar", as Woodward reported. But despite a stellar reputation and numerous attempts to gain access, Bob Woodward hit a wall when he tried to speak to Donald Trump for his latest look at life inside the White House.
Mattis told Trump he would proceed with such a plan, but immediately told an aide, after getting off the phone with the president that, "We're not going to do any of that".
Trump and aides pushed back on a series of incendiary scenes in the book, including Kelly calling the White House "crazytown", Mattis telling associates Trump had the understanding of "a fifth- or sixth-grader" and Cohn plucking key documents off Trump's desk so he could not sign them. We're going to take a very, very strong look at that.
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.
Woodward's detailed account, while not the first unflattering portrayal of Trump's turbulent presidency, carries special resonance in part because of the author's central role in exposing the Watergate crimes that led to the resignation of former president Richard Nixon in 1974.
- In the book, Woodward confirms NBC News reporting from April that Chief of Staff John Kelly had called Trump an "idiot" and thought of himself as someone who was personally helping to save the USA from disaster.
"The idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true", Kelly said in a White House statement. The White House press office appeared caught off guard when The Washington Post published a story about the book on Tuesday, a week before its September 11 release date.
"Well, about six people", Woodward said.
So will Americans believe Woodward or the Trump White House? "I'm busy", said the president, offering hints of a dysfunctional office before his story gradually begins to change.
Of course, Kelly and Mattis and other staffers now deny uttering any derogatory opinions of their boss, but we need to stack that up against Woodward's stellar journalistic reputation.
"That was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated", Trump said, calling Woodward's book "fiction". "I think it probably wouldn't have made a difference in the book".
The day after, a gleeful Trump called Dowd. She told reporters at United Nations headquarters that she had been privy to conversations about the Syrian chemical weapons attacks, "and I have not once ever heard the president talk about assassinating Assad".
Trump insisted he "never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff", adding that "being a southerner is a GREAT thing". Subjects and critics of Woodward's books over the years have complained about his zealous approach to narrative reconstructions and some of the details in his reporting, while largely failing to undermine the broader thrusts of a body of work built upon heaps of in-depth, recorded interviews and ample documentation.
Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer defended Woodward's methodology.