A letter stolen from Donald Trump's Oval Office desk by his top economic adviser to stop him from ending a trade deal with South Korea is published in full in Bob Woodward's bombshell book on the president.

Woodward also obtained a copy of the astonishing note that President Trump wrote in the margins of a speech he was poised to deliver: "TRADE IS BAD."

The president never uttered the words, but Woodward says the phrase is the "truest expression" of Trump's "protectionism, isolationism and fervent American nationalism".

A copy of the scrawling in the new book.
A copy of the scrawling in the new book.

Trump planned to make the assertion during a speech that Woodward says he was working on en route to the United States from the G20 summit in 2017, the Daily Mail reported.

Advertisement

It's not clear from the book why he never did, unlike the formal notification to South Korea that Trump was unilaterally ending its trade deal, which Cohn and ex-staff secretary Rob Porter are said to have kept away from the president.

The unsigned letter to South Korea and the note Trump made about trade, in what appears to be his handwriting, are included in Woodward's book in an astonishing breach of White House security.

Woodward uses the documents to bolster the narrative that aides were engaged in an elaborate campaign that is outlined in the book to sometimes shield information from Trump – and at other times keep the president from doing things his aides thought would be disastrous.

Cohn has been silent since Bob Woodward named him in an except of his new book as someone who tried to thwart the president from within. The White House ignored a request for comment on Thursday on the newest revelations.

Woodward's book, which officially hits shelves on Tuesday, September 11 (US time), includes a draft copy of a memo withdrawing the United States from its trade agreement with South Korea that the president never signed.

That's because Cohn "stole it' off the president's desk, Woodward writes.

Cohn is said to have boasted to a colleague, "I stole it off his desk ... I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."

President Trump responds to a reporters question during an event with sheriffs in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Photo / AP
President Trump responds to a reporters question during an event with sheriffs in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Photo / AP

Trump told a news outlet this week just after the release of the excerpt that no one removed anything from his desk.

Advertisement

"That's false," Trump said of the document removal excerpt. "It's just made up." He told The Daily Caller flatly: "There was nobody taking anything from me."

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs boss, is quoted in the book stating privately: 'It's not what we did for the country. lt's what we saved him from doing.' Photo / AP
Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs boss, is quoted in the book stating privately: 'It's not what we did for the country. lt's what we saved him from doing.' Photo / AP

A copy of the book obtained by DailyMail.com includes a scan of the letter, however. And the White House did not immediately slap it down as a faked document.

The documents stated that the current trade deal was "not in the overall best interest of the United States economy".

The letter provides notice of the president's desire to "terminate the agreement" in 180 days, the required amount of notice. He committed in the letter to negotiating a new trade deal with the close, security ally of the United States.

It contained lines for salutations by Trump and trade representative Robert Lighthizer but was left unsigned.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did not respond to a request for comment via email on the document that was dated September 5, 2017.

The date of the letter indicates that it was drafted just before Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met for bilateral talks at the United Nations. At the summit the president also called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un "Little Rocket Man", escalating tension between South Korea and its autocratic neighbour.

Porter told an associate, according to Woodward's book, that there were multiple iterations of the letter, because Trump kept coming back to the topic.

"I'm tired of these arguments!" Trump said in one meeting. "I don't want to hear about it anymore. We're getting out of KORUS."

Trump made his distaste for the trade deal with Korea, a key US ally, in a White House meeting.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that current aides to Donald Trump believe he is an imbecile. Photo / AP
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that current aides to Donald Trump believe he is an imbecile. Photo / AP

Trump ordered son-in-law Jared Kushner to draft the order. The book describes a scene where Kushner took dictation. Porter heard about what Kushner was up to, and later told him: "Send me the draft. If we're going to do this, we cannot do it on the back of a napkin. We have to write it up in a way that isn't going to embarrass us."

They prepared a draft, but it was described as part of a "subterfuge" tactic. After a formal meeting on the topic, and following a debate, Trump asked for changes.

"Well, let's keep working on the letter," Trump said. "l want to see the next draft."

Cohn and Porter didn't produce a follow-up. The issue disappeared for a while.

Porter and Cohn are depicted as ignoring Trump's orders to submit additional drafts, with the president's former economic adviser roping in Pentagon head James Mattis.

"We're teetering on the edge," Cohn told Mattis. "We may need some backup this time."

Mattis, for his part, told Trump: "Kim Jong Un poses the most immediate threat to our national security. We need South Korea as an ally. It may not seem like trade is related to all this, but it's central."

Trump ultimately saw things his aides' way and did not shred the trade agreement.

Woodward calls it part of a widespread "administrative coup d'etat," with Cohen recalling, "A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren't such good ideas."

Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs boss, is also quoted in the book stating privately: "It's not what we did for the country. lt's what we saved him from doing."

Porter, who stepped down amid allegations of spousal abuse that he denied, is cast as part of the effort to head off catastrophes in the making.

Once compared by Trump the likes of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the book claims that Porter lost respect for the president after he castigated his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, as a "rat" in his presence.

Porter, whose pedigree includes Harvard Law and being a Rhodes Scholar, described efforts to manage Trump by working the tempo beyond swiping of documents.

"But slow-walking things or not taking things up to him, or telling him-right away, not just as an excuse but this needs to be vetted, or we need to do more process on this, or we don't have legal counsel clearance-that happened 10 times more frequently than taking papers from his desk. It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually," he said.

In another passage, Cohn tells Porter that he doesn't know how much longer he could remain at the White House, "because things are just crazy here. They're so chaotic. He's never going to change.

"It's pointless to prepare a meaningful, substantive briefing for the president that's organised, where you have a bunch of slides. Because you know he's never going to listen. We're never going to get through it," Cohn says, underlying claims that come up elsewhere in the book that Trump has the mental capacity of a fifth or sixth grader.

Cohn had not commented on anecdotes of quotes that included him in the book as of Thursday afternoon, unlike other current and former Trump administration officials, suggesting the letter and the story about him snatching it off Trump's desk were authentic.

The globalist whose worldview clashed with the president's left the White House earlier this year. Despite his run-ins with Trump, the president maintained that they had a good relationship until the end. He even suggested that Cohn could return one day in a higher-level position such as Cabinet secretary or chief of staff.

All of that was in question this week as Woodward's book went drip, drip, drip. Trump raged on Twitter, and in remarks, about the journalist and the disgruntled current and former employees who provided him with the juicy material.

Trump's spokeswoman had said that the Woodward book, which included damaging characterisations of the White House as "crazytown" and the president as "unhinged", couldn't possibly be true when asked it about it at the White House on Wednesday.

"I don't think you can have the type of success that we've had in this White House under this president if that book was an accurate reflection of what is taking place," she told reporters after blasting the book on two morning shows.

United States UN Ambassador Nikki Haley denied that Trump had ever planned to assassinate Assad. Photo / AP
United States UN Ambassador Nikki Haley denied that Trump had ever planned to assassinate Assad. Photo / AP

Sanders denied that current aides to Donald Trump believe he is an imbecile, as the president is portrayed in excerpts from the book that emerged as the White House was focused on another fight — the one to get Brett Kavanaugh on the high court.

She said a series of matching accounts across bombshell books that have humiliated the White House are works of "fiction" from anonymous sources with axes to grind against the president.

Sanders avoided calling Woodward himself a liar, avoiding a trap laid by the president in an interview when he suggested the respected journalist "made up" anecdotes in his book that is based on hundreds of hours of recorded interviews.

The president in a Wednesday tweet encouraged Congress to take a fresh look at libel laws as he desperately searched for ways to retaliate.

Sanders wouldn't take the bait, telling a reporter who asked if the book was met the current standards, "I think we have to see the rest of the book.

"We've seen a few excerpts that have been pretty widely pushed back on by some of the most-respected people in our country," Sanders said. "We'll see what happens."

Sanders on GMA said the book is based on the claims of anonymous sources and disgruntled former staffers. "This is just another repeat of pure fiction."

"I don't think there are that many current staffers that are painting that picture," she asserted to assembled journalists later.

She told reporters after the interview that Woodward's sources were sharing the same rehearsed stories they'd shared with other authors writing shock-and-awe books about the sitting president.

"Certainly, just because they keep getting told doesn't make them more true," she said of the pattern of degrading comments. "I think that's a ridiculous accusation."

She said the fact that the "same people keep writing the same type of books" about Trump proves nothing.

Trump slammed Woodward's book as a "fraud" and labelled him a "Dem operative" after the famed Watergate journalist wrote that John Kelly called the president "an idiot" and James Mattis compared him to a "fifth grader".

The president said in a tweet on Tuesday night: "The Woodward book has already been refuted and discredited by General (Secretary of Defense) James Mattis and General (Chief of Staff) John Kelly. Their quotes were made up frauds, a con on the public. Likewise other stories and quotes. Woodward is a Dem operative? Notice timing?"

Mattis and Kelly both dismissed claims they had questioned Trump's intellect.

Woodward asaid that Kelly castigated Trump as "an idiot", saying, "It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails."

The White House chief of staff allegedly said, "We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

Kelly denied making the claims in a statement put out by the White House.

"The idea that I ever called the President is not true, in fact it's exactly the opposite," he said. "This is both a pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from his many successes."

In another episode, Trump is said to have questioned the utility of US early warning systems in Alaska to identify a nuclear attack from North Korea.

Mattis is said to have schooled him. "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III," he reportedly said.

The Pentagon chief is said to have told colleagues after the incident that Trump had the mental ability of "a fifth- or sixth-grader."

On Tuesday he denied the account, saying in a statement of his own: "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence.

"While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility."

Bob Woodward's book Fear is already on Amazon's top-sellers' list.
Bob Woodward's book Fear is already on Amazon's top-sellers' list.

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Rob Manning, said Mattis was never interviewed by Woodward.

"Mr. Woodward never discussed or verified the alleged quotes included in his book with Secretary Mattis" or anyone within the Defense Department, Manning said.

Previous accounts during Trump's first year had former secretary of state Rex Tillerson calling Trump a "moron", and Tillerson did not explicitly deny it. This would mean three of Trump's most senior advisors have ridiculed his mental capacity.

Woodward also reported that after Syria's Bashar Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted the Syrian leader taken out, saying: "Kill him! Let's go in."

Mattis assured Trump he would get right on it but then told a senior aide they'd do nothing of the kind, Woodward wrote. National security advisers instead developed options for the airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley denied Tuesday that Trump had ever planned to assassinate Assad. She told reporters at UN headquarters that she had been privy to conversations about the Syrian chemical weapons attacks, "and I have not once ever heard the president talk about assassinating Assad."

She said people should take what is written in books about the president with "a grain of salt."

Trump suggested to the Daily Caller that "disgruntled employees" may have made the embarrassing claims in the book or that they could have been falsified Woodward in their entirety.

"It could just be made up by the author," Trump said of the journalist he once defended on Twitter against slights levied against him by the Obama administration.

The damaging statement about the widely respected journalist had former President George W. Bush's White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher shaking his head.

"I've been on the receiving end of a Bob Woodward book. There were quotes in it I didn't like. But never once - never - did I think Woodward made it up," Fleisher said. "Anonymous sources have looser lips and may take liberties. But Woodward always plays is straight. Someone told it to him."

Trump's press secretary piled on with a statement that said: "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."

In the response to Woodward's book, Sanders argued that "sometimes" Trump's approach to the office is "unconventional" but it "always gets results."

"Democrats and their allies in the media understand the President's policies are working and with success like this, no one can beat him in 2020 – not even close."

The book follows the January release of author Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, which led to a rift between Trump and Bannon, his former chief strategist, who spoke with Wolff in terms that were highly critical of the president and his family. Wolff's book attracted attention with its vivid anecdotes but suffered from numerous factual inaccuracies.

Woodward's work also comes weeks after former White House aide and Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman published an expose on her time in the West Wing, including audio recordings of her firing by Kelly and a follow-up conversation with the president in which he claimed to have been unaware of Kelly's decision.

While White House aides have become increasingly numb to fresh scandals, the latest book still increased tensions in the West Wing, especially given the intimate details shared and the number of people Woodward appeared to have interviewed.

Some White House officials expressed surprise at the number of erstwhile Trump loyalists willing to offer embarrassing stories of the president and his inner circle.

White House aides on Tuesday coordinated with other officials quoted in the book to dispute troublesome passages. But insiders speculated the fallout could be worse than that from Fire and Fury, given Woodward's storied reputation.

Woodward's book was already ranked the top-selling book on Amazon on this week.