Bob Woodward book: Trump called Sessions 'mentally retarded'

President Donald Trump has called Attorney General Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded" and a "dumb Southerner,...

Posted: Sep 5, 2018 11:07 AM
Updated: Sep 5, 2018 11:07 AM

President Donald Trump has called Attorney General Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded" and a "dumb Southerner," striking a far more shocking and profane tone in private than his public attacks, according to a new book from legendary journalist Bob Woodward.

Trump's long-simmering anger stems from Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Woodward describes how Trump viewed this as a backstabbing betrayal by someone he hoped would shield him from trouble.

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The 448-page opus from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, "Fear: Trump in the White House," is slated for public release on September 11. CNN obtained a copy of the book, which Woodward says is drawn from hundreds of hours of background interviews with dozens of firsthand sources, including people in Trump's inner circle.

Woodward's reporting brings a credibility that distinguishes this book from previous efforts on Trump. The author and Washington Post journalist has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for his coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation.

The White House on Tuesday accused Woodward of spreading "fabricated stories" but did not deny any of the anecdotes in the book about Sessions.

Here are some of the many revelations from the book about the deteriorating relationship between Trump and Sessions, as reported by Woodward:

  • "This guy is mentally retarded. He's this dumb Southerner," Trump told Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who later quit amid domestic violence allegations. Trump then did an unflattering impression of Sessions' Alabama accent, making fun of Sessions' shaky performance at his confirmation hearings.

  • Trump privately told Porter: "How in the world was I ever persuaded to pick him for my attorney general? He couldn't even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama. What business does he have being attorney general?"

  • Trump once called Sessions an "idiot" to his face during an Oval Office meeting, Woodward reports. Not long after that, Sessions submitted a resignation letter to the White House, but Trump's senior aides persuaded him not to accept it.

  • The book says Trump vented to an aide that Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe was "the ultimate betrayal" and called him a "traitor."

  • Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told Sessions in summer 2017 that Trump was attacking him to create a distraction -- because Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was about to testify on Capitol Hill about Russia. Bannon reportedly said, "when Jared finishes testifying, if they think it's good testimony, he'll stop tweeting."

Late Tuesday night, Trump denied calling Sessions "mentally retarded" or a "dumb Southerner," and accused Woodward of making it up.

"The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions 'mentally retarded' and 'a dumb southerner,' " Trump tweeted. "I said NEITHER, never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff, and being a southerner is a GREAT thing. He made this up to divide!"

Some Republicans criticized Trump on Tuesday for his comments about Sessions. Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said "I resent that," when asked about Trump's mockery of Sessions' southern accent. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a fierce Trump ally, said Trump's comments were "totally inappropriate."

Over the past year, Trump has publicly attacked his handpicked attorney general on Twitter and in television interviews -- including a series of blistering tweets last month. Trump previously dubbed Sessions "our beleaguered A.G." and criticized his actions as "very weak" and "disgraceful." But Woodward's book exposes a new level of vitriol.

Sessions took the rare step of firing back at Trump after one of the President's most recent salvos. In a public statement, Sessions defended his control over the Justice Department and said it "will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

As has happened before, some senior Republicans on Capitol Hill rushed to Sessions' defense and expressed confidence in his performance.

But a few cracks emerged when two key senators opened the door to confirming a new attorney general after the midterms. Trump seemed to embrace that idea in an interview with Bloomberg in late August, when he said Sessions' job was safe until at least November.

In that interview, Trump also repeated his desire for Sessions to investigate his political opponents, including Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect reaction to Woodward's book.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 297321

Reported Deaths: 6805
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19814231
Hinds18949395
Harrison16886282
Rankin12842265
Jackson12750234
Lee9720163
Madison9516204
Jones8035148
Forrest7289138
Lauderdale6872228
Lowndes6061140
Lamar593381
Lafayette5767114
Washington5232130
Bolivar4630124
Oktibbeha443095
Panola433698
Pearl River4212132
Warren4144115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405995
Monroe3996129
Union397174
Neshoba3848171
Lincoln3624104
Hancock352978
Leflore3400121
Sunflower320986
Tate303974
Pike302697
Scott296171
Alcorn292763
Yazoo292066
Itawamba290675
Coahoma283069
Tippah280065
Copiah279959
Simpson277581
Prentiss271258
Marion258878
Wayne255641
Leake254172
Covington250280
Grenada248878
Adams235778
George232745
Newton232753
Winston222179
Jasper214145
Tishomingo213266
Attala206971
Chickasaw201954
Holmes182870
Clay179452
Stone173429
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170773
Calhoun158628
Smith153833
Yalobusha145736
Greene128133
Walthall125441
Montgomery123540
Noxubee123431
Perry123235
Lawrence121421
Carroll119425
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99824
Claiborne99030
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper91423
Quitman77514
Franklin76420
Choctaw70117
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62727
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 499411

Reported Deaths: 10149
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719951403
Mobile36396741
Madison32674469
Tuscaloosa24391423
Montgomery22789523
Shelby22250219
Baldwin19915289
Lee15070161
Calhoun13961296
Morgan13785255
Etowah13413327
Marshall11458215
Houston10121264
Elmore9509190
Limestone9435139
St. Clair9050228
Cullman8993183
Lauderdale8628214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7643165
Walker6600260
Jackson6551104
Autauga634492
Blount6252128
Colbert6007121
Coffee5261104
Dale4680107
Russell407534
Franklin400779
Covington3996107
Chilton3911104
Escambia379473
Tallapoosa3637143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3428142
Pike292973
Marion288796
Lawrence285787
Winston258568
Bibb246058
Marengo244657
Geneva240270
Pickens225757
Barbour213851
Hale212569
Fayette202657
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165141
Washington157036
Macon147845
Crenshaw146755
Clay146254
Cleburne140141
Lamar133933
Lowndes133151
Wilcox123225
Bullock117736
Conecuh107224
Perry106427
Sumter100832
Coosa90324
Greene88732
Choctaw55723
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