During the first stage of President Trump's complicated love-hate relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — the "Little Rocket Man" period — Trump's national security team was concerned that the two countries came close to nuclear war, journalist Bob Woodward writes in his forthcoming book, Rage. "We never knew whether it was real," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then CIA director, is reported to have said, "or whether it was a bluff." Defense Secretary James Mattis took the threat seriously enough to sleep in his clothes and frequent Washington National Cathedral, CNN recaps:
Mattis told Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that Trump is "dangerous" and "unfit" for the presidency, Woodward reports, and he quotes Mattis describing the final straw — pulling U.S. forces out of Kurdish-controlled Syria — that prompted him to resign: "I was basically directed to do something that I thought went beyond stupid to felony stupid, strategically jeopardizing our place in the world and everything else." Trump, on the other hand, is quoted as telling trade adviser Peter Navarro in 2017 that "my f--king generals are a bunch of pussies" because "they care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals."
Trump and Kim ended up exchanging 27 "love letters," and while North Korea has evidently expanded its nuclear arsenal, there were no nuclear strikes. Coats, fired by Trump while on one of Trump's golf courses, "examined the intelligence as carefully as possible" and "continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that [Russia's Vladimir] Putin had something on Trump," Woodward reports.
Unlike previous presidents who cooperated with Woodard's books, Trump "looks to have just held riffing sessions" with him "while the Washington Post legend burrowed his way into his senior staff with much of the White House none the wiser," Politico reports. "The result is a White House that was almost completely blindsided by Wednesday's revelations."