WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump did not plan or order the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad, senior US diplomat Nikki Haley has said.
Haley on Tuesday 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 the new book of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” about the president with “a grain of salt.”
Trump on Tuesday also refuted on Twitter quotes and stories as “frauds, a con on the public”, adding that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chief of staff John Kelly had denied uttering quoted criticisms of the president in the book.
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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 4, 2018
According to the book, Trump told Mattis that he wanted to have the Syrian president killed after the chemical weapons attack in April 2017. The strike on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province killed dozens of civilians and the footage of poisoned children struggling to breathe shocked the world.
Mattis told Trump he would “get right on it,” but instead developed a plan for an air strike that did not threaten Assad personally, the book claims.
A few days after the chemical attack, the US carried out a missile strike against a Syrian regime airbase. It marked the first time the White House had ordered direct military action against Assad’s forces in the then six-year war.
Later Tuesday, Trump was back on Twitter denying the book’s claim that he had called Attorney General Jeff Sessions “mentally retarded” and “a dumb southerner.”
Trump insisted he “never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff,” adding that “being a southerner is a GREAT thing.” Sessions has been a target of the president’s wrath since recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
The publication of Woodward’s book has been anticipated for weeks, and current and former White House officials estimate that nearly all their colleagues cooperated with the famed Watergate journalist. The White House, in a statement from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dismissed the book as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad.”
The book quotes Kelly as having doubts about Trump’s mental faculties, declaring during one meeting, “We’re in Crazytown.” It also says he called Trump an “idiot,” an account Kelly denied Tuesday.
The book says Trump’s former lawyer in the Russia probe, John Dowd, doubted the president’s ability to avoid perjuring himself should he be interviewed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination with Trump’s campaign. Dowd, who stepped down in January, resigned after the mock interview, the book says.
“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit,” Dowd is quoted telling the president.
Dowd, in a statement Tuesday, said “no so-called ‘practice session’ or ‘re-enactment’” took place and denied saying Trump was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit.
Barack Obama has been heavily criticized for American inaction on Syria and for backing away from his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons as a justification for a US military intervention.