The commander in chief lashed out at some of the country's most senior military officers and leaders just months into his presidency, telling them Afghanistan was a "loser war" and calling them "a bunch of dopes and babies," according to a new book by a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters.
Some of President Donald Trump's senior advisers, including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, planned a July 2017 Pentagon meeting with the commander in chief to explain the importance of preserving key alliances and troops' presence around the world.
But Trump grew outraged during the meeting, according to never-before-reported details published Friday in an excerpt of "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America." The book, by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, will be released Tuesday.
Trump, according to the book, began referring to the Afghanistan War as a "loser war" and telling the Joint Chiefs and others in the room they "don't know how to win anymore."
"You're all losers," the president said, according to the excerpt.
"I wouldn't go to war with you people," he added. "You're a bunch of dopes and babies."
The meeting had been led by Mattis, along with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn. All the joint chiefs were at the meeting, which at the time included Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman; Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley; Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller; Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson; and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
Mattis, Tillerson and Cohn "had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump's knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II," according to the book. They prepared a PowerPoint presentation to inform him about the international order that emerged after WWII.
"Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike," the excerpt states.
After Trump's reported tirade during the meeting, no one spoke up. That included Vice President Mike Pence, whose son is a Marine officer.
"Some staff began looking down at their papers, rearranging folders, almost wishing themselves out of the room," the excerpt states. "A few considered walking out. They tried not to reveal their revulsion on their faces, but questions raced through their minds. 'How does the commander in chief say that?' one thought. 'What would our worst adversaries think if they knew he said this?'"
But Tillerson, Leonnig and Rucker wrote, was seething. The former secretary of state watched as Mattis bowed his head toward the table, the book states, and thought of Mattis, "Gosh darn it, Jim, say something. Why aren't you saying something?"
Tillerson later told aides that it was in that moment that he realized "Mattis was genetically a Marine, unable to talk back to his commander in chief, no matter what nonsense came out of his mouth," according to the book.
Then, Tillerson spoke up.
"Mr. President, you're totally wrong," he said, according to the excerpt. After the meeting, Tillerson famously called Trump a "moron," which was reported by NBC News in October 2017.
In another December 2017 meeting in the White House's Situation Room, Tillerson again stood up for the generals, admirals and other military leaders during a meeting in which Trump said he wanted the U.S. to make money from troops being based in foreign countries around the world.
"I've never put on a uniform, but I know this," Tillerson said, according to the book. "Every person who has put on a uniform, the people in this room, they don't do it to make a buck. They did it for their country, to protect us. I want everyone to be clear about how much we as a country value their service."
Tillerson was later fired by Trump over Twitter in March 2018. Cohn resigned as the president's top economic adviser that same month.
Mattis resigned as defense secretary at the end of 2018. Trump removed him from his post months prior to the retired Marine general's planned exit.