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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

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 144544

Reported Deaths: 3729
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto963299
Hinds9584195
Harrison6848109
Jackson6124118
Rankin528598
Lee484295
Madison4633105
Forrest368186
Jones345287
Lauderdale3350143
Lafayette315049
Washington3097107
Lamar281849
Oktibbeha239261
Bolivar239083
Lowndes228863
Neshoba2164115
Panola211749
Marshall208350
Leflore200890
Pontotoc194728
Monroe190277
Sunflower189755
Lincoln186165
Warren172257
Tate164251
Union160925
Pike160458
Copiah158940
Yazoo151239
Scott150229
Itawamba147634
Coahoma147443
Pearl River144467
Simpson144253
Alcorn143925
Prentiss140429
Grenada136945
Adams136548
Leake131843
Holmes124961
George122224
Tippah121530
Covington117636
Winston116624
Wayne115823
Hancock114139
Marion111046
Attala107833
Tishomingo106142
Newton102729
Chickasaw102432
Tallahatchie95527
Clarke88553
Clay87027
Jasper81122
Walthall75028
Stone72414
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71613
Carroll70614
Lawrence70214
Yalobusha69427
Noxubee69217
Smith68816
Perry65225
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis54217
Humphreys52618
Amite51214
Benton48417
Quitman4796
Webster42014
Kemper40917
Wilkinson38622
Jefferson33811
Franklin3235
Choctaw3077
Sharkey30617
Issaquena1114
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 236865

Reported Deaths: 3472
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31043491
Mobile19446360
Tuscaloosa12684150
Madison12528146
Montgomery12122235
Shelby992276
Baldwin837684
Lee759765
Morgan626247
Calhoun6049113
Etowah600564
Marshall596153
Houston510838
DeKalb469635
Cullman421136
Limestone408844
St. Clair403955
Elmore398961
Lauderdale387253
Walker356199
Talladega339044
Jackson302524
Colbert297641
Blount282236
Autauga266139
Franklin246233
Coffee236615
Dale228454
Dallas222331
Russell21923
Chilton218537
Covington215933
Escambia196931
Tallapoosa171790
Chambers171448
Pike156014
Clarke155319
Marion135535
Winston126623
Lawrence123936
Geneva11848
Pickens117618
Marengo117424
Barbour116710
Bibb115717
Butler114341
Randolph100321
Cherokee99624
Hale93231
Washington89918
Clay89623
Fayette86216
Henry8436
Lowndes78929
Monroe77911
Cleburne75614
Macon71720
Crenshaw70330
Bullock69019
Conecuh68214
Perry6726
Lamar6337
Wilcox62818
Sumter56222
Choctaw41813
Greene41317
Coosa3144
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