Trump did not understand Pearl Harbor, new book reveals: 'What's this all about?'

A Very Stable Genius reveals a US president ignorant of geography who struggled to read constitution

Tom Embury-Dennis
Thursday 16 January 2020 10:42
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Donald Trump barely knew of Pearl Harbor, was ignorant about the basics of geography and complained the US constitution was like reading “a foreign language”, a new book reveals.

A Very Stable Genius, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, is the latest book detailing the Trump administration’s tumultuous three years in the White House.

Named after Mr Trump’s self-declared intellectual brilliance, the book, excerpts of which have been published by The Washington Post, reveals his litany of missteps and willingness to break long-standing legal and ethical norms since becoming president in 2017.

“Hey, John, what’s this all about? What’s this a tour of?” Mr Trump reportedly asked John Kelly, his then-chief of staff, when they took a private tour in 2017 of the USS Arizona Memorial, a ship commemorating the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War.

"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," write the authors, who quote a former White House adviser concluding the US president was “dangerously uninformed”.

During a meeting with Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister’s “eyes bulged out in surprise”, the Washington Post reporters claim, when Mr Trump told him: “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border.”

China and India in fact share more than 2,000 miles of common border.

Mr Modi’s expression “shifted from shock and concern to resignation”, with aides telling the authors the Indians “took a step back” in their diplomatic relations with the US following the meeting.

Foreshadowing the later special counsel investigation into his ties with Russia, during the presidential transition Mr Trump interrupted an interview with a potential secretary of state to inquire about when he would be able to meet Vladimir Putin.

"When can I meet Putin? Can I meet with him before the inaugural ceremony?" he reportedly asked.

When the leaders did meet, at a G20 summit in Hamburg, Mr Trump dismissed the expertise of his then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson, an oil executive who knew Mr Putin personally, telling him: “I have had a two-hour meeting with Putin. That's all I need to know ... I've sized it all up. I've got it.”

He also clashed with Mr Tillerson in 2017 when he asked his help in attempting to ditch the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a decades-old law banning Americans from bribing foreign officials for business deals.

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"It's just so unfair that American companies aren't allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas. We're going to change that," Mr Trump said, according to the authors, who claim the president complained the rule prevented industry friends and his own company officials from paying off foreign governments.

When Mr Trump early in his tenure agreed to feature in an HBO documentary in which all living presidents read from the constitution, Mr Trump blamed others in the room when he struggled to read the text.

"It's like a foreign language,” he allegedly complained.

Another chapter reveals Mr Trump speculated an ex-wife of former White House official Rob Porter, who was forced to resign over domestic abuse allegations, faked a photograph in order to frame her ex-husband.

The image, which surfaced online, showed Colbie Holderness sporting a black eye.

“Maybe Holderness purposefully ran into a refrigerator to give herself bruises and try to get money out of Porter?" Mr Trump reportedly said.

The book, the authors say, is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with hundreds of sources, and corroborated when possible with documentation.

The White House has been contacted for comment.

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