Before 'Fear,' Trump sang Bob Woodward's praises

  • President Donald Trump has waged a full-frontal assault against renowned investigative journalist Bob Woodward in advance of an upcoming tell-all book about the White House.
  • Before and even during his presidency, Trump had referred to Woodward in private as someone who has "always been fair," and has publicly cited the reporter in his own defense.
  • The president's about-face toward Woodward, in spite of his history of compliments for the reporter, provide a stark example of Trump's scorched-earth tactic of responding to his critics.
President Donald Trump speaks to the press aboard Air Force One on September 7, 2018, as he travels to Fargo, North Dakota, to speak at a Joint Fundraising Committee. 
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks to the press aboard Air Force One on September 7, 2018, as he travels to Fargo, North Dakota, to speak at a Joint Fundraising Committee. 

President Donald Trump has waged a full-frontal assault against renowned investigative journalist Bob Woodward in advance of an upcoming tell-all book about the White House.

But before Woodward got in the president's crosshairs, the veteran Washington Post reporter who famously covered the Watergate scandal alongside Carl Bernstein was cited favorably, and even defended, on multiple occasions by Trump.

As president, Trump had referred to Woodward in private as someone who has "always been fair," and has publicly cited the reporter in his own defense. Yet in the lead-up to the expose, Trump has gone so far as to suggest Woodward has been an unreliable writer for decades.

Trump's about-face toward Woodward, in spite of his history of compliments for the reporter, provides another stark example of the president's scorched-earth tactic of responding to his critics.

Excerpts from Woodward's forthcoming book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," portray the White House under Trump as chaotic and vindictive, with the president himself frequently undermining his top officials as those same people gripe about him behind his back.

According to the book — which is based on interviews with people who mostly spoke anonymously in order to share their stories freely — Trump called his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a "traitor," "mentally retarded" and a "dumb southerner"; he said his former chief of staff Reince Priebus was "like a little rat" scurrying around; he mocked ex-national security advisor H.R. McMaster's demeanor and fashion sense, saying he dressed "like a beer salesman"; he told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, "You're past your prime."

The White House has broadly disputed the book as untrue. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad."

It also prompted full-throated denials from senior staff members, including current chief of staff John Kelly, who for the second time denied calling the president an "idiot," and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who asserted, "The contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence."

Woodward has said he stands by his reporting.

No one has pushed back against Woodward's forthcoming expose more forcefully than Trump himself, however.

Shortly after the first excerpts from the book were published on Sept. 4, Trump kicked off a stream of Twitter attacks on Woodward and his reporting that continued nearly a week later.

Claiming the book has been "already discredited," Trump floated the possibility that Woodward is a political operative working for Democrats, wondered aloud why lawmakers haven't strengthened libel laws and asserted that he himself will write "the real book" about his White House.

Yet in a recorded phone conversation with Woodward a month earlier, Trump told Woodward that he "would've loved to have spoken" with the author for the book.

"I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair," the president said during the call.

This view echoes Trump's previous references to Woodward. In 2013, after Woodward wrote an article for the Post criticizing President Barack Obama for his handling of a political fight over government sequestration, Trump promoted the "must read column by Bob Woodward."

When it was revealed that Obama's economic advisor, Gene Sperling, sent an aggressive warning to Woodward before the column was published, Trump came to Woodward's defense.

"Only the Obama WH can get away with attacking Bob Woodward," Trump said.

During the presidential transition period in January 2017, Trump thanked Woodward for questioning the authenticity of a bombshell dossier alleging salacious and unverified connections between Trump and the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin.

Trump had slammed the document, produced by intelligence firm Fusion GPS and widely scrutinized after it was published by BuzzFeed News, as a "total political witch hunt."

Woodward called the document "garbage" — a statement Trump quickly seized on.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is a minority investor in BuzzFeed.