Thursday 23 May 2019

Extracts from Bob Woodward's explosive new book, Fear

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Donald Trump (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Nick Allen

Donald Trump decided early in his presidency that the US would stay in Nato, but told his defence secretary James Mattis to become its "rent collector".

Following a crunch meeting at the White House, to decide whether Trump was "in or out" of the alliance, the president was persuaded and told Mattis: "You can have your Nato".

Details of the meeting were disclosed for the first time in Fear, an upcoming book by legendary Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, which has been seen by reporters.

It was also revealed that Trump may nearly have started a conflict with North Korea in early 2018, when he proposed a tweet that "scared the daylights" out of Mattis.

The tweet was never sent.

According to the book, Trump's doctor had the president's schedule cut back because of "stress". And a picture has emerged of Melania Trump as a key, and tough, behind-the-scenes player, with one senior adviser describing her as like a "hammer".

The dinner meeting to decide Nato policy was convened in the Red Room of the White House at 6.30pm on February 8, 2017 by then chief of staff Reince Priebus. US policy had to be settled ahead of a speech by Mattis in Munich a week later.

Trump insisted on talking about the gossip of the day, until dessert, when Priebus said "We've really got to deal with the Nato issue."

Retired general Keith Kellogg, the National Security Council chief of staff, argued Nato was "obsolete" and the US was being "used" by allies. Mattis and Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, argued in favour of Nato, according to the book.

Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, also interjected, saying the US was only losing "pennies on the dollar" in supporting Nato.

Mattis expressed confidence Germany would meet the target of paying 2pc of GDP on defence. He added: "If you didn't have Nato you'd have to invent it. There's no way Russia could win a war if they took on Nato."

At the end of the dinner Trump told Mattis the US would support Nato but allies must pay.

He told Mattis: "You can have your Nato. But you become the rent collector." Mattis reportedly laughed and nodded.

During the same meeting Trump reportedly asked C Boyden Gray, former US ambassador to the EU: "Which is going to be the next country to drop out [of the EU after Brexit]?" Gray said he did not think there would be another one. Trump said he agreed.

The prospect of conflict with North Korea reportedly came closest early this year when Trump proposed sending a tweet ordering home families of the 28,500 US military personnel stationed in South Korea.

North Korea had previously made clear it would regard such a move as a sign of imminent attack.

Trump's planned tweet was considered "almost unthinkable" by aides, Woodward wrote.

The president later raised the idea with Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator with whom he plays golf.

Lindsey Graham reportedly told him: "That is a big frigging deal. Mr President, I don't think you should ever start this process unless you are ready to go to war."

According to the book Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump's doctor until earlier this year, repeatedly advised John Kelly, his chief of staff, to "dial back" the president's schedule because he was "under stress".

Kelly responded by introducing more non-specific "executive time" on the schedule, the book said,

People close to the first couple told Woodward there was "sincere affection" in the relationship, they ate dinner together at times, but Mrs Trump "operated independently".

Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, was quoted as saying: "Behind the scenes she's a hammer."

He believed Melania Trump had the most influence with th

Melania Trump was "obsessed" with raising their son Barron, and that was "her focus 100 per cent," one insider told Woodward.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward is published by Simon & Schuster on Sept 11

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