Veteran journalist Bob Woodward used hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources and an abundance of documents in his research for his latest book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” a thorough, critical, often-embarrassing look into the lead up to and first months of the Trump presidency.
Here are the 20 excerpts from the book I found to be most telling.
Giuliani, seeming punch-drunk, made it to the plane for the departure to the St. Louis debate. He took a seat next to Trump, who was at his table in his reading glasses. He peered over at the former mayor.
“Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump said loudly. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?”
Trump turned to the others, particularly Bannon.
“Why did you put him on? He can’t defend me. I need somebody to defend me. Where are my people?”
“What are you talking about?” Bannon asked. “This guy’s the only guy that went on.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Trump replied. “It was a mistake. He shouldn’t have gone on. He’s weak. You’re weak, Rudy. You’ve lost it.”
Giuliani just looked up, his face blank.
Four of the women who claimed Clinton had attacked them or who Hillary had tried to undermine would be at the debate, Bannon explained to Trump. They were Paula Jones, who said Clinton had exposed himself to her, and with whom Clinton had settled a sexual harassment suit, paying her $850,000; Juanita Broaddrick, who claimed Clinton had raped her; Kathleen Willey, who alleged that Clinton sexually assaulted her in the White House; and Kathy Shelton, who, when she was 12, alleged that Hillary had smeared her while defending her client, who allegedly had raped Shelton.
It was an Oscar list from Clinton’s past, triggering memories of his steamy Arkansas and White House years.
Prior to the debate, Bannon said, they would sit the four women at a table with Trump and invite in reporters.
“That fucking media, they think they’re going to come in for the end of debate prep. And we’re going to let them in the room and the women will be there. And we’ll just go live. Boom!”
Scorched-earth, just the way Bannon liked it.
Trump had been tweeting links to Breitbart stories about the Clinton accusers throughout the day.
“I like it,” Trump said, standing and looking imperial. “I like it!”
Just before 7:30 p.m., reporters entered the room at the St. Louis Four Seasons where Trump and the women were waiting. Bannon and Kushner stood in the back of the room, grinning.
At 7:26, Trump tweeted, “Join me on #FacebookLive as I conclude my final #debate preparations”—effectively live broadcasting events as CNN picked up his feed.
The women breathed fire into the microphones.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Juanita Broaddrick said. “Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me, and Hillary Clinton threatened me.”
The debate organizers barred the Clinton accusers from sitting in the VIP family box right in front of the stage as Bannon had planned, so they walked in last and sat in the front row of the audience.
Money questions ignited Trump. When he learned that Christie, who would be the head of his transition team, was raising money for the operation, he summoned him and Bannon to Trump Tower.
“Where the fuck is the money?” Trump asked Christie. “I need money for my campaign. I’m putting money in my campaign, and you’re fucking stealing from me.” He saw it all as his.
Christie defended his efforts. This was for the required transition organization in case Trump won.
Trump said that Mitt Romney had spent too much time on transition meetings as the nominee in 2012, and not enough time on campaign events. “That’s why he lost. You’re jinxing me,” he told Christie. “I don’t want a transition. I’m shutting down the transition. I told you from day one it was just an honorary title. You’re jinxing me. I’m not going to spend a second on it.”
“Whoa,” Bannon interjected. A transition might make sense.
“It’s jinxing me,” Trump said. “I can’t have one.”
“Okay, let’s do this,” Bannon said. “I’ll shut the whole thing down. What do you think Morning Joe’s going to say tomorrow? You’ve got a lot of confidence you’re going to be president, right?”
Trump agreed, finally and reluctantly, to a slimmed-down, skeletal version of the transition. Christie would cease fundraising.
“He can have his transition,” Trump said, “but I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“You know what?” Trump said at the end of what had become an hour-long meeting. “I hired the wrong guy for treasury secretary. You should be treasury secretary. You would be the best treasury secretary.”
Mnuchin, right there, didn’t say a thing or show any reaction.
“Come back and tell me what you want,” Trump said. “You’d be great to have on the team. It’d be fantastic.”
Five minutes later while Cohn was still in the building, he saw a television flash breaking news: President-elect Trump has selected Steve Mnuchin as treasury secretary.
“That’s crazy,” Jared said. “Mnuchin just put that out. You freaking him out so badly in the meeting.”
As they sat down to dinner, Trump wanted to gossip about the news of the day. Senator John McCain, displaying his maverick credentials, had publicly criticized the U.S. military raid in Yemen.
Trump lashed out, suggesting that McCain had taken the coward’s way out of Vietnam as a prisoner of war. He said that as a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War McCain, whose father was Admiral John McCain, the Pacific commander, had been offered and taken early release, leaving other POWs behind.
“No, Mr. President,” Mattis said quickly, “I think you’ve got it reversed.” McCain had turned down early release and been brutally tortured and held five years in the Hanoi Hilton.
“Oh, okay,” Trump said.
Gray, who had served five years in the Marine Corps, was struck that the secretary corrected the president directly, and that Trump, known to bristle when challenged, would be so accepting.
The Saudis were not delivering enough on contracts or arms purchases.
“I’ll make a phone call,” Kushner said to Harvey. He phoned MBS directly and the Saudis increased their arms purchases.
When it looked like they were close, Kushner invited MBS to the United States and brought him to the White House where he had lunch March 14 in the State Dining Room with Trump. Attending were Pence, Priebus, Bannon, McMaster and Kushner. This violated protocol, unsettling officials at State and the CIA. Lunch at the White House with the president for a middle-rank deputy crown prince was just not supposed to be done.
Tillerson and Mattis continued to express their doubts. This is too hard, too much work to do, too many questions about the contracts.
Trump finally gave the go-ahead and the trip to both Saudi Arabia and Israel was announced on Thursday, May 4.
Trump went to Saudi Arabia from May 20 to 21 and was lavishly welcomed. He announced $110 billion in Saudi-funded defense purchases and a grab bag of several hundred billion in other contracts—certainly an exaggerated number.
The Iran deal, Tillerson said, “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran. It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”
Obama had defined the deal as a “non-binding agreement” rather than a treaty which requires Senate ratification. “Perhaps,” Priebus said to Trump,” we can declare this a document that needs to be sent to the Senate for approval. Just take it out of our hands. Give it to the Senate and say, you pass it with two thirds and declare it a treaty.”
Trump seemed intrigued but soon understood he would be giving up authority by sending it to the Senate. He agreed that for the moment they were stuck with it. Only for the moment.
Priebus and Tillerson and McMaster made sure they were “calendaring”—as they say in the White House—when the next 90-day renewal would come up.
“They’re in violation,” Trump said in a meeting before the July 17 deadline, “and you need to figure out how the argument is going to be made to declare that.”
One day Tillerson came to the dining room next to the Oval Office to see Trump and Priebus and explain to the president again that there was no violation.
“They are in violation,” Trump insisted, “and you should make the case that this agreement is done and finished.” He suggested they might consider reopening the terms of the deal. “And that maybe we’d be willing to renegotiate.”
“Mr. President,” Tillerson said in exasperation, “you have the authority. You’re the president. You just tell me what you want me to do. You call the shots. I’ll do what you say.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was a commander in the Naval Reserves, tried several times to persuade Mattis to appear on Sunday talk shows on behalf of the administration. The answer was always no.
“Sean,” Mattis finally said, “I’ve killed people for a living. If you call me again, I’m going to fucking send you to Afghanistan. Are we clear?”
“I went to parts of Pennsylvania,” the president said, “that used to be big steel towns and now they’re desolate towns and no one had a job and no one has work there.”
“That may be true, sir,” Cohn said. “But remember there were towns 100 years ago that made horse carriages and buggy whips. No one had a job either. They had to reinvent themselves. You go to states like Colorado, you’ve got 2.6 unemployment rate because they keep reinventing themselves.”
Trump did not like, or buy, any of the arguments. “It has nothing to do with it,” Trump said.
Donald Trump, full of emotion, phoned his secretary of defense James Mattis at the Pentagon on the morning of Tuesday, April 4. It was the third month of his presidency. Pictures and videos of a sarin gas attack on Syrian rebels were flooding into the White House.
It was a gruesome, brutal attack, killing dozens. Among the dead were women and children—babies, beautiful babies. Choking mouths foaming, parents stricken with grief and despair. This was the work of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own people.
“Let’s fucking kill him!” the president said. “Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them.”
The military had the capability to launch a covert top secret leadership air strike in Syria.
Trump sounded personally attacked. Syria had promised not to use chemical weapons—an apparent reference to Syrian president Assad’s agreement to destroy all his chemical weapons.
Yes, Mattis said. He would get right on it.
He hung up the phone.
“We’re not going to do any of that,” he told a senior aide. “We’re going to be much more measured.”
“What the fucking are you stalling for?” Trump said to 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.”
The president was serious again. Porter drafted a 180-day notification letter to be signed by Trump that the United States would withdraw from NAFTA.
Porter was more and more convinced that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis with Canada and Mexico. He went to see Cohn.
“I can stop this,” Cohn said to Porter. “I’ll just take the paper off his desk before I leave.” And he later took it. “If he’s going to sign it, he’s going to need another piece of paper.”
“We’ll slow-walk that one too,” Porter promised.
Cohn knew, of course, that the president could easily order another copy, but if the paper was not sitting in front of him, he’d likely forget it. If it was out of sight, it was out of mind.
Porter agreed. Trump’s memory needed a trigger—something on his desk or something he read in the newspaper or saw on television. Or Peter Navarro sneaking into the Oval Office again. Without something or someone activating him, it might be hours or days or even weeks before he would think, Wait, we’re going to withdraw from that, why didn’t we do that? Without a trigger, it conceivably might never happen.
Having failed in efforts to control or curtail the president’s tweeting, Priebus searched for a way to have practical impact. Since the tweets were often triggered by the president’s obsessive TV watching, he looked for ways to shut off the television. But television was Trump’s default activity. Sunday nights were often the worst. Trump would come back to the White House from the weekend at one of his golf resorts just in time to catch political talk on his enemy networks, MSNBC and CNN.
The president and the first lady had separate bedrooms in the residence. Trump had a giant TV going much of the time, alone in his bedroom with the clicker, the TiVo and Twitter account. Priebus called the presidential bedroom “the devil’s workshop” and the early mornings and dangerous Sunday nights “the witching hour.”
There was not much he could do about the mornings, but he had some control over the weekend schedule. He started scheduling Trump’s Sunday returns to the White House later in the afternoon. Trump would get to the White House just before 9 p.m. when MSNBC and CNN generally turned to softer programming that did focus on the immediate political controversies and Trump’s inevitable role in them.
Trump had aimed a pair of pre-6:00 a.m. tweets at the MSNBC cable show Morning Joe, starring former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough and his partner, Mika Brzezinski.
The two had been friendly and even supportive of Trump early in the presidential campaign, and Trump had called in to the show regularly during the primaries, but they were not regular detractors. Trump’s tweet said, “Home come low I.Q. Crazy Mika along with Psycho Joe came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
About 10:15 a.m. Trump was in the Oval Office reading the newspaper when Priebus walked in.
“I know what you are going to say,” Trump said as Priebus crossed the threshold. “It’s not presidential. And guess what? I know it. But I had to do it anyway.”
Trump subjected Sessions to a withering attack in the Oval Office, calling him an “idiot.” Despite his promise to Bannon, Sessions sent a resignation letter to Trump. Priebus talked the president out of accepting it.
Recusing himself made the attorney general a “traitor,” Trump said to Porter. The president made fun of his Southern accent. “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner.” Trump even did a little impression of a Southern accent, mimicking how Sessions got all mixed up in his confirmation hearings, denying that he had talked to the Russian ambassador.
“How in the world was I ever persuaded to pick him for my attorney general?” Trump asked Porter. “He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama. What business does he have being attorney general?”
Trump repeatedly said he was going to get out of the trade deals and impose tariffs. Several times he said, “Let’s do it,” and asked for an order to sign.
“We’ve got to distract him from KORUS,” Porter said to Cohn. “We’ve got to distract him from NAFTA.” Cohn agreed.
At least twice, Porter had the order drafted as the president had directed. And at least twice Cohn or Porter took it from his desk. Other times, they just delayed.
Trump seemed not to remember his own decision because he did not ask about it. He had no list—in his mind or anywhere else—of tasks to complete.
“I don’t know how much longer I can stay,” Gary Cohn told Porter, “because things are just crazy here. They’re so chaotic. He’s never going to change. It’s pointless to prepare a meaningful, substantive briefing for the president that’s organized, where you have a bunch of slides. Because you know he’s never going to listen. We’re never going to get through it. He’s going to get through the first 10 minutes and then he’s going to want to start talking about some other topic. And so we’re going to be there for an hour, but we’re never going to get through this briefing.”
Cohn had put another document, “U.S. Record in WTO Disputes,” in the daily book that Porter compiled for the president at night. But Trump rarely if ever cracked it open.
“The World Trade Organization is the worst organization ever created!” Trump said. “We lose more cases than anything.”
“This is in your book, sir,” Cohn said, and brought out another copy. The document showed that the United States won 85.7 percent of its WTO cases, more than average. “The United States has won trade disputes against China on unfair extra duties on U.S. poultry, steel and autos, as well as unfair export restraints on raw materials and rare earth minerals. The United States has also used the dispute settlements system to force China to drop subsidies in numerous sectors.”
“This is bullshit,” Trump replied. “This is wrong.”
“This is not wrong. This is data from the United States trade representative. Call Lighthizer and see if he agrees.”
“I’m not calling Lighthizer,” Trump said.
“Well,” Cohn said, “I’ll call Lighthizer. This is the factual data. There’s no one that’s going to disagree this this data.” Then he added, “Data is data.”
Navarro said that the president had told him he could have whatever title and reporting structure he wanted. He and his Trade Council represented the American worker, the manufacturing base, the forgotten man.
“Peter’s out there going rogue,” Cohn responded. “He’s creating these problems. He’s telling the president lies. He’s totally unchecked. He’s the source of all the chaos in this building.”
“Gary doesn’t know what he is talking about,” Navarro replied. “Gary’s just a globalist. He’s not loyal to the president.” And Porter was always fiddling with the process and manipulating to delay everything so Navarro couldn’t get in to see the president.
“All right,” Kelly said. “I can’t deal with this anymore. Peter, you’re going to be a member of the National Economic Council, and you’re going to report to Gary. And that’s just how it’s going to be. And if you don’t like it, you can quit. Meeting over.”
“I want to appeal this,” Navarro said. “I want to talk to the president.”
“You’re not talking to the president,” Kelly said. “Get out of my office.”
Months went by. “Where the hell is my Peter?” the president asked one day. “I haven’t talked to Peter Navarro in two months.” But, as was often the case, he did not follow up.
Kelly and Chris Crane had an intense dislike for each other. When Kelly had been secretary of homeland security, he had blocked ICE agents from a hard-line crackdown on some immigration violations.
Trump invited Crane to the Oval Office without informing Kelly. Kelly’s cut off all our access, Crane said. We put ourselves on the line for you. We endorsed you. We support all your politices. Now we can’t even communicate with you.
Kelly heard Crane was in the Oval Office and strode in. Soon Crane and Kelly were cursing each other.
“I can’t believe you’d let some fucking guy like this into the Oval Office,” Kelly told Trump. If this was the way it was going to work, he said, “then I quit!” and he stormed out.
Trump later told others that he thought Kelly and Crane were going to get into a fistfight.
Graham and Durbin showed up at the White House, thinking they would meet alone with Trump. Instead there was a group of anti-immigrant senators, congressmen and staffers, including Kelly and Stephen Miller. Graham thought it looked like a lynch mob lined up on chairs in the Oval Office.
Graham began walking through the plan, which included the money Trump had asked for on border security.
It was not enough, Trump said, condescending.
Graham said he was sure they could do more but this was where they had started. And he mentioned 25,000 visas from mostly African countries. He turned to the visas for places such as Haiti and El Salvador because of earthquakes, famine and violence.
“Haitians,” Trump said. “We don’t need more Haitians.” At that and the mention of immigrants from African countries, Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” He had just met with the prime minister of Norway. Why not more Norwegians? Or Asians who could help the economy?
Durbin was sickened. Graham was floored.
“Time out,” Graham said, signaling for a halt with his hands. “I don’t like where this thing’s going.” America is an ideal, he said. “I want merit-based immigration from every corner of the globe, not just Europeans. A lot of us come from shitholes.”
Trump snapped back to reasonable, but the damage was done.
Durbin went public, revealing Trump’s comments about “shithole countries,” and Graham backed Durbin up.
Two days later, Saturday, Trump called Graham, who thought Trump was calling to take his temperature. How mad was he?
Trump said he was playing golf at his club in West Palm Beach.
“Well, hit ‘em good,” Graham said.
“I didn’t say some of the things that he said I said,” Trump said, referring to Durbin.
“Yeah, you did,” Graham insisted.
“Well, some people like what I said.”
“I’m not one of them,” Graham said. “I want to help you. I like playing golf with you. But if that’s the price of admission, count me out. Good luck. Hit ‘em good.” ______________________________________________________________________________________