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Mattis calls Woodward's book about the Trump administration 'fiction'

President Trump, flanked by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in November.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

By STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS Published: September 5, 2018

WASHINGTON Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other officials on Tuesday challenged aspects of Bob Woodward's new book on President Donald Trump's administration.

Hours after The Washington Post first reported several key incidents from Woodward's book, "Fear," the administration mounted a vigorous string of public denials, with statements from top advisers Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as well as from Trump's former personal attorney John Dowd.

Mattis called the book "fiction," and Sanders denounced the tome in a statement as "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees" without disputing any of the specifics that have been reported in excerpts. Trump tweeted the statements Tuesday evening and then, without providing evidence, suggested the book's release was timed to affect the midterm elections in November.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Woodward said, "I stand by my reporting."

Examples of topics related to Mattis in the book:

Korean Peninsula: According to Woodward, at a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19 Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds (versus 15 minutes from Alaska). Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

"We're doing this in order to prevent World War III,"  Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, "Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — 'a fifth- or sixth-grader.'"

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Sen. John McCain: At a dinner with Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others, Trump lashed out at a vocal critic, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He falsely suggested that the former Navy pilot had been a coward for taking early release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam because of his father's military rank and leaving others behind.

Mattis swiftly corrected his boss: "No, Mr. President, I think you've got it reversed." The defense secretary explained that McCain, who died Aug. 25, had in fact turned down early release and was brutally tortured during his five years at the Hanoi Hilton.

"Oh, okay," Trump replied, according to Woodward's account.

Bashar al-Assad: After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: "We're not going to do any of that. We're going to be much more measured." The national security team developed options for the more conventional air strike that Trump ultimately ordered.

What Mattis had to say:

In a statement Tuesday evening, Mattis said, "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence," he said. "While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility."

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The material for this story was drawn from two Washington Post stories, one by Mike DeBonis, Anne Gearan, Carol D. Leonnig, Gabriel Pogrund, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner; another by  Philip Rucker and Robert Costa.

President Donald Trump's administration is the subject of Bob Woodward's latest book on the White House, "Fear."
JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

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