WASHINGTON – An admission by President Donald Trump that he was "playing" down the threat posed by COVID-19. A new secretive nuclear program. Copies of dozens of never-before-seen letters between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Those are just a few of the jarring details included in "Rage," a new book written by veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward about Trump's tenure. It's the second book Woodward has written about the president, but for this one, he interviewed Trump 18 times and included audio of their conversations.
'Playing' down COVID-19
Trump told Woodward in a recorded interview that despite knowing how "deadly" and serious the coronavirus pandemic would be for Americans and the world, he wanted to "play it down" and wanted to continue to do so.
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump said to Woodward on March 19, according to the outlets. "I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."
Both CNN and The Post included audio of the president's remarks to Woodward, where he explains that "startling" examinations found the virus was also affecting younger people.
More than a month before the March 19 remarks, Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7 about how much "more deadly" COVID-19 would be than the flu, a startling juxtaposition from the president's public remarks at the time and in the months since about the pandemic, its lethality and its spread.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
"So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on," Trump wrote on Twitter to his millions of followers in March. "At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"
Trump boasts about new secretive nuclear program
During their conversations, Trump told Woodward about a new nuclear program that Woodward says he later asked anonymous officials about. The officials were surprised to learn Trump disclosed the program to the journalist, according to The Post and CNN.
"I have built a nuclear – a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before," Trump told Woodward, according to the outlets. "We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody – what we have is incredible.”
Woodward said other unnamed sources confirmed the program's existence, though details on it are not included.
Trump and Kim Jong Un's 27 letters
Woodward's book not only includes the first-ever published excerpts from letters written by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Trump, it also says the two leaders exchanged at least 27 of them, according to CNN.
Trump would not allow Woodward to see copies of letters he sent to the North Korean leader, who he'd had a rocky relationship with that led to threats of war before he became the first U.S. president to step inside the country last year. Trump said the contents of his letter to Kim were "top secret," though he told the author Kim called him "Excellency" and that the authoritarian leader "tells me everything."
The Post notes that included an account of how Kim had his uncle killed.
In one of the letters to Trump, Kim wrote that he found Trump's "excellency reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film" and their meeting was a "precious memory." In another, he wrote about their historic meeting when he and Trump shook hands at the Korean demilitarized zone and stepped into North Korean territory, writing about "that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest." He added that he hoped to "relive the honor of that day."
Mattis found Trump 'dangerous' and 'unfit'
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis prayed about the fate of the USA under Trump, Woodward writes. Mattis told former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that Trump was "dangerous" and "unfit," with "no moral compass." Coats said Trump was incapable of telling "the difference between truth and a lie."
"There may come a time when we have to take collective action," Mattis told Coats, according to Woodward.
Mattis reportedly told Coats he resigned after Trump announced he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria because "I was basically directed to do something that I thought went beyond stupid to felony stupid."
During his tenure, Coats repeatedly rebuffed Trump's efforts to downplay the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in his favor. According to Woodward, Coats is still suspicious about the nature of Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Fauci: Trump's 'sole purpose is to get reelected'
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described Trump's leadership on the pandemic as "rudderless." Woodward reported that Fauci said Trump "is on a separate channel" and his "attention span is like a minus number."
"His sole purpose is to get reelected," Fauci said, according to an excerpt cited by the Post.
According to Woodward, after one news briefing where the president made false statements, Fauci said at an Oval Office meeting with Trump present, "We can’t let the president be out there being vulnerable, saying something that’s going to come back and bite him.”
Trump uses vulgar term to question military leaders' resolve
According to Woodward, an aide to Mattis once heard Trump say to White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, "my f------ generals are a bunch of p------." Woodward wrote that Mattis urged the aide to document the comment in an email, according to CNN.
"They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” Trump told Navarro.
The president also decried senior military officials' support for alliances with NATO and South Korea, which they argued saved the U.S. money in the long run.
"I wouldn't say they were stupid, because I would never say that about our military people," Trump said, according to a passage cited by CNN. "But if they said that, they – whoever said that was stupid. It's a horrible bargain ... they make so much money. Costs us $10 billion. We're suckers."
Trump has strongly denied a report from The Atlantic that says he disparaged dead and wounded U.S. troops as "losers" and "suckers. But on Monday, he shared his distrust of senior military officials, telling reporters, "they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs, and make the planes, and make everything else, stay happy."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bob Woodward book takeaways: Playing down COVID, nuclear program