President Donald Trump unloaded Wednesday against an explosive new book from journalist Bob Woodward, labeling the tell-all memoir “a work of fiction” as West Wing staff scrambled to rebut its vivid depictions of White House dysfunction.
“The book means nothing,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. He said the early release of information from the book this week was designed to interfere with confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, “which I don’t think it’s done.”
Venting for a second day, Trump tweeted that “Fear: Trump in the White House” was the “exact opposite of the fact.” He also revisited a call to change libel laws, though he has no authority to do so.
The book features current and former aides calling the president an “idiot” and a “liar” and depicting him as prone to rash policy decisions that aides worked furiously to derail or stall.
Within the West Wing, aides increasingly numb to drama still were shaken by the in-depth reporting, which included interviews with numerous aides and copies of internal memos. 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 Sept. 11 release date. The office was unable to quickly procure an advance copy of the book.
Key allies have pushed back against the book, which quotes Trump aides disparaging the president’s judgment and claiming they plucked papers off his desk to prevent him from withdrawing from a pair of trade agreements. Those issuing denials, at least in part, included Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly.
Underscoring the aggressive response, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted Wednesday that Woodward “got played,” adding that “most of these stories are made up from low confidence under performing people that have fallen flat on their faces because they didn’t have the talent or intelligence to be successful.”
In a statement to the Post, Woodward said, “I stand by my reporting.” He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders evaded questions Wednesday on Fox News about whether it was a mistake for the communications department not to have Trump sit for an interview with Woodward.
Trump and Woodward spoke after the book was sent to the publisher. In a transcript and audio of the call released by the Post, Woodward tells Trump he made repeated efforts to get an interview, while a clearly irritated Trump says he would have participated if he had known.
Allies said some of the ire in Trump’s orbit was focused on former staffers such as ex-staff secretary Rob Porter and onetime economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are sympathetically portrayed.
“I don’t think Woodward made anything up. It’s who he talked to,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg, adding that Cohn and Porter “look like unsung heroes.”
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.
Trump took to Twitter to deny the book’s claim that he had called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and “a dumb southerner.”
Trump insisted he “never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff,” adding that “being a southerner is a GREAT thing.” Sessions has been a target of the president’s wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
While Trump mentioned libel laws, Sanders said on Fox News that she hadn’t spoken with Trump about filing a libel lawsuit. Brian Hauss, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that a threat against libel laws was not “credible.”
“There is no federal libel law for President Trump to bully Congress to change, and the president does not have the authority to change state libel laws,” Hauss said.
The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which led to a rift between Trump and Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist. Bannon spoke with Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff’s book attracted attention with its lively anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.
Woodward’s work also comes weeks after former White House aide and “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly’s decision.
Woodward has been among the best-selling political writers for more than 40 years, going back to his Watergate classic “All the President’s Men,” co-written by fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. “Fear” renews a Woodward tradition of releasing a news-making account of a sitting president in the fall of an election season, with previous works including “The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House” and “Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq,” about President George W. Bush.
On Amazon, Woodward’s new book was ranked as the top-selling book on Wednesday.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Ken Thomas and Eric Tucker in Washington and Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.