President Donald Trump wanted to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assassinated last year but his defense secretary ignored the request, according to a new book that depicts top Trump aides sometimes disregarding presidential orders to limit what they saw as damaging and dangerous behavior.
Excerpts from the book written by famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward were published by the Washington Post on Tuesday. The book, which is scheduled for release on Sept. 11, is the latest to detail tensions within the White House under Mr. Trump’s 20-month-old presidency.
“It’s just another bad book,” Trump told the Daily Caller.
According to the book, Mr. Trump told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that he wanted to have Assad assassinated after the Syrian president launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017.
Mattis told the president he would “get right on it,” but instead developed a plan for a limited air strike that did not threaten Assad personally.
Mattis told associates after a separate incident that Trump acted like “a fifth — or sixth-grader,” according to the book.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the book is “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also cast doubt on the account about Assad.
“I have the pleasure of being privy to those conversations … and I have not once heard the president talk about assassinating Assad,” Haley told reporters on Tuesday.
The Pentagon declined to comment.
Woodward gained national fame for his reporting on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, and has since written a series of books that provide behind-the-scenes glimpses of presidential administrations and other Washington institutions. For this book, Woodward spoke to top aides and other insiders with the understanding that he would not reveal how he got his information, the Post said.
Among his other revelations: Former top economic adviser Gary Cohn stole a letter off Trump’s desk that the president planned to sign that would withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea.
Cohn, who tried to rein in Trump’s protectionist policies, also planned to remove a similar memo that would have withdrawn the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, Woodward wrote.
“I’ll just take the paper off his desk,” Cohn told another White House aide, according to the book.
Trump said that did not take place. “It’s just made up,” he told the Daily Caller.
The United States remains part of both trade agreements as it negotiates new terms.
Trump treated top aides with scorn, the book says, telling Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that he was past his prime and calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded.”