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New book recounts reports of Trump attacks on military brass, eagerness to meet Putin

Image: U.S. President Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation A
President Donald Trump addresses the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020. Copyright Kevin Lamarque Reuters
Copyright Kevin Lamarque Reuters
By Rebecca Shabad and Mansee Khurana with NBC News Politics
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The book, released Tuesday, offers a portrait of Trump's first years in office and reveals new details about previously reported episodes.


WASHINGTON — Over the course of his three years in office, President Donald Trump called a room full of his Cabinet members and top defense officials "dopes and babies," mocked his own homeland security secretary's height and indicated that he didn't know much about the attack on Pearl Harbor, a new book asserts.

Those are just a few of the episodes reported in "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America," by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig. Excerpts of the 417-page book were published in The Post last week, and NBC News reviewed a copy upon the book's publication Tuesday.

According to The Post, the portrayal of the president is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 200 sources. The authors also used private video recordings, internal memos, diary entries and calendars, the report said. Trump originally said they could interview him, but he backed out. Thetitle, meanwhile, is derived from the label the president gave himself in 2018 after a fiery tell-all about his presidency was published.

Trump tweeted about the book over the weekend, calling it "fake."

Here are five highlights from the book.

Trump insulted Cabinet officials and top military brass

The book delves into a previously reported meetingthat took place at the Pentagon on July 20, 2017, offering new details about what happened.

According to the book, James Mattis, then the defense secretary, invited Trump to a well-known room called the "Tank" for what was supposed to have been a comprehensive tutorial about America's role in the world, its alliances and its trade deals and why U.S. troops were based in so many regions around the globe.

Trump repeatedly interrupted the briefing, the book said, complaining about the United States' paying for bases in some countries and about how NATO, he said, owes the United States money. Eventually, Trump brought up the war in Afghanistan and demanded to know why the United States hadn't won after having been there for 16 years.

"You're all losers," Trump reportedly said. "You don't know how to win anymore."

Then he said, "I wouldn't go to war with you people,"adding, "You're a bunch of dopes and babies."

The president's remarks stunned many people in the room, the authors wrote.

Trump said the Constitution is "like a foreign language"

Early in his presidency, the book says, Trump agreed to take part in an HBO documentary that featured former living presidents, judges and lawmakers. According to the excerpt, the documentary was directed by Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Asked to read aloud from the Constitution for the film, Trump struggled and stumbled over the text he had chosen, according to the book. The president then blamed others who were in the room, the authors reported.

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"It's very hard to do because of the language here," Trump reportedly said. "It's very hard to get through that whole thing without a stumble."

He added, "It's like a different language, right?" According to the authors, the cameraman tried to calm Trump, who tried again, but "it's like a foreign language," he said.

According to the book, Trump had chosen to read the opening of Article II, the part of the Constitution that addresses the scope of a president's power. Article II also outlines the process of impeachment.

Trump didn't seem to know what the USS Arizona Memorial commemorates

Before he took a private tour of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii in November 2017, Trump reportedly asked his chief of staff at the time, John Kelly: "Hey, John, what's this all about? What's this a tour of?"


The memorial commemorates the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which led the United States to enter World War II.

"Trump had heard the phrase 'Pearl Harbor' and appeared to understand that he was visiting the scene of a historic battle, but he did not seem to know much else," the authors wrote.

Trump mocked the height of his former DHS secretary

Trump made fun of Kirstjen Nielsen's height when she was his secretary of homeland security, according to the book, which also alleges that he was "verbally and emotionally abusive toward her" over the issue of immigration.

"She's so short," Trump would reportedly say to others about Nielsen, who is 5 feet 4 inches tall, according to the book.

The book said Nielsen and Kelly, who led the Department of Homeland Security before he became Trump's chief of staff, would try to joke about it. "But you've got those little fists of fury!'" Kelly would say, according to the book's authors.


In May 2018, The New York Times, citing several current and former officials, and The Washington Post, citing three administration officials, reported an uncomfortable instance in which Trump lashed out at Nielsen about the issue of border crossings during a Cabinet meeting on immigration, which the book also recounts.

Nielsen resigned in April 2019 under pressure from Trump, who was frustrated with her tenure as DHS secretary, NBC News previously reported. A person close to Nielsen told NBC News at the time that the feeling of frustration was mutual.

In her resignation letter, Nielsen said she was was proud of her tenure at Homeland Secretary, but "I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws that have impeded our ability to fully secure America's borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation's discourse."

Trump was eager to meet with Putin

Trump was excited and eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin early on, according to the book.

During the transition, in the middle of an interview with an unnamed candidate for secretary of state, Trump reportedly asked, "When can I meet Putin? Can I meet with him before the inaugural ceremony?"


The book noted that Trump eventually met Putin for the first time at the G-20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, several months into his presidency. According to the authors, the president dismissed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his knowledge of Russia — Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, had business ties to the country and its powerful president— and declared that he became an expert after meeting with Putin himself.  

"I have had a two-hour meeting with Putin," Trump reportedly told Tillerson. "That's all I need to know. ... I've sized it all up. I've got it. "

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