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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: 320174

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22294271
Hinds20755424
Harrison18450317
Rankin13923282
Jackson13733249
Madison10273225
Lee10063176
Jones8473167
Forrest7837153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6523150
Lamar636288
Lafayette6314121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4841133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4606148
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425973
Monroe4162136
Union415877
Neshoba4065180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3373111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314571
Adams308486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292268
Prentiss284261
Leake272374
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
Tishomingo232369
Winston230282
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210659
Holmes190574
Stone188733
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135447
Greene131834
Lawrence131224
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108334
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549013

Reported Deaths: 11311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810461571
Mobile42145831
Madison35718525
Tuscaloosa26179458
Shelby25626254
Montgomery25089614
Baldwin21901314
Lee16287176
Calhoun14724327
Morgan14639285
Etowah14183364
Marshall12454230
Houston10791287
Elmore10301214
Limestone10188157
St. Clair10161251
Cullman9958201
Lauderdale9612250
DeKalb8977190
Talladega8462184
Walker7341280
Autauga7242113
Jackson6953113
Blount6950139
Colbert6415140
Coffee5638127
Dale4930116
Russell454941
Chilton4478116
Franklin431782
Covington4279122
Tallapoosa4144155
Escambia401880
Chambers3728124
Dallas3610158
Clarke353161
Marion3245107
Pike314578
Lawrence3134100
Winston283572
Bibb268564
Geneva258481
Marengo250665
Pickens237062
Barbour234559
Hale227178
Butler224671
Fayette218962
Henry194443
Randolph187644
Cherokee187345
Monroe180641
Washington170739
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156357
Cleburne153644
Lamar146937
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124542
Conecuh113630
Coosa111629
Perry108626
Sumter105832
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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