Mr. Cohn, Mr. Woodward said, concluded that Mr. Trump was a “professional liar.” He found a sympathetic ear in Mr. Kelly, another retired Marine general, who frequently vented his frustration to colleagues about the president, whom he labeled “unhinged,” an “idiot” and “off the rails.” Mr. Kelly’s reference to Mr. Trump as an “idiot” has been reported before.
“We’re in crazytown,” Mr. Kelly said in one small meeting, according to Mr. Woodward. “I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
Mr. Kelly issued his own denial, saying that “the idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true” and repeating his earlier insistence that he and Mr. Trump had “an incredibly candid and strong relationship.”
His predecessor, Mr. Priebus, apparently shared that view, describing the White House as a Hobbesian world, in which officials delight in sticking knives into one another, according to the book.
“When you put a snake and rat and falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal into a zoo without walls, things started getting nasty and bloody,” said Mr. Priebus, whom Mr. Trump frequently ridiculed, before ousting him and leaving him on a rain-slicked tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base.
Mr. Woodward, who began work on the book soon after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, also documented the misgivings of the president’s former lawyer, John Dowd, about whether the president should submit to questions from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III.
On Jan. 27, Mr. Woodward writes, Mr. Dowd staged a practice session in the White House residence to dramatize the pressures Mr. Trump would face in a session with Mr. Mueller. The president stumbled repeatedly, contradicting himself and lying, before he exploded in anger.