Donald Trump wanted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assassinated and his chief of staff privately called the President an “idiot”, according to explosive claims in an upcoming book from veteran Washington journalist Bob Woodward.
Excerpts from the book, entitled Fear and written by famed Watergate reporter Mr Woodward, were published by the Washington Post on Wednesday morning (AEST).
The excerpts also portray Mr Trump as prone to profane outbursts and impulsive decision-making, painting a picture of chaos that Mr Woodward says amounts to an “administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch.
According to the book, Mr Trump told Defence Secretary Jim Mattis that he wanted to have Mr Assad assassinated after the Syrian President launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017.
“Let’s f–king kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f–king lot of them,” Mr Trump said, according to Mr Woodward.
Mr Mattis told Mr Trump he would “get right on it”, but instead developed a plan for a limited air strike that did not threaten Mr Assad personally.
Mr Mattis told associates after a separate incident that Mr Trump acted like “a fifth- or sixth-grader”, according to the book.
The White House dismissed the book as “nothing more than fabricated stories”.
Mr Woodward, who gained national fame for his reporting on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, talked to top White House aides for the book on the understanding that he would not reveal how he got his information, the Post said.
Among his other revelations: former top economic adviser Gary Cohn stole a letter off Mr Trump’s desk that the President planned to sign that would withdraw the US from a trade agreement with South Korea.
Mr Cohn, who tried to rein in Mr Trump’s protectionist impulses, also planned to remove a similar memo that would have withdrawn the US from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, Mr Woodward wrote.
“I’ll just take the paper off his desk,” Mr Cohn told another White House aide, according to the book.
The US remains part of both trade agreements as it negotiates new terms.
Other aides insulted Mr Trump behind his back. Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly called Mr Trump an “idiot” and said “We’re in Crazytown … This is the worst job I’ve ever had”.
Mr Kelly has denied that he called Trump an “idiot”.
Mr Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, reportedly fretted that he could do little to constrain Mr Trump from sparking chaos.
Mr Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Mr Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop”, according to the book.
Mr Trump treated top aides with scorn, the book says, telling Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that he was past his prime and calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded”.
Mr Trump grew paranoid and anxious over the ongoing federal inquiry into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, prompting aides to compare him to former president Nixon during the Watergate scandal, Mr Woodward reported.
Mr Trump’s former lawyer, John Dowd, conducted a mock interview with Mr Trump to convince him that he would commit perjury if he agreed to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, the book says.
Mr Trump did not speak with Mr Woodward until the manuscript was complete, the paper said.
“So I have another bad book coming out. Big deal,” Mr Trump told Mr Woodward, according to a transcript of a telephone call released by the Post.