President Donald Trump checked his anger for several hours Wednesday before exploding on Twitter about Bob Woodward’s new book, accusing the storied Watergate reporter of being a “Dem operative” trying to swing the midterms.
The Washington Post and CNN published excerpts from “Fear: Trump in the White House” that claimed the president wanted to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar Assad, that he called Jeff Sessions “retarded,” and that he was once prevented from enacting a new trade policy by a staffer who stole a document from his desk.
Trump’s redress began with tweeted statements from three of his closest aides — Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — all of whom denied the book’s allegations.
Mattis called the claims a work of “fiction,” while Sanders dismissed the account as “nothing more than fabricated stories.” Kelly added: “The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true.”
Trump later posted that the book is “a con on the public,” suggesting it was timed to land before the midterms: “Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?”
“[The book] has me calling Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and “a dumb Southerner.” I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing. He made this up to divide!” Trump added later before tweeting links to articles condemning the book by Breitbart and the Daily Caller.
Trump’s criticism of Woodward stands in contrast to the phone call the president had with the journalist last month. “I would’ve loved to have spoken to you,” Trump gushed. “You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair.”
Many of Trump’s henchmen were quick to come to his defense, challenging the veracity of Woodward’s reporting. Sean Hannity called it “a book filled with speculation, rumors, hearsay,” while Newt Gingrich said: “The people who have the greatest standard for honesty are standing up and saying 'This book is not true,' and that should bother Woodward a lot.”
However, some in the Republican sphere offered public support for Woodward:
“I've been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn't like. But never once — never — did I think Woodward made it up. Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him,” Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush, said on Twitter.
Woodward’s only comment on the backlash? “I stand by my reporting.”
Cover image: Two-time Pultizer Prize winning author and journalist Bob Woodward speaks at Broward College's A. Hugh Adams Central Campus Institute of public safety on January 22, 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Vallery Jean/Getty Images)