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'If George Washington came back from the dead': In new book, Trump brags that even a founding father might not have beaten him

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WASHINGTON —Donald Trump boasted that even George Washington — one of the nation's founding fathers, who routinely scores near the top of historians' lists of great American presidents — might not have beaten him in an election.

"I Alone Can Fix It," by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker Trump brags to them about his pre-pandemic presidency, “I think it would be hard if George Washington came back from the dead, and he chose Abraham Lincoln as his vice president, I think it would have been very hard for them to beat me.”

The braggadocio is par for the course from Trump in "I Alone," the latest recent release to pull back the curtains on Trump's disastrous fourth year in office and the second book about that administration from the Washington Post duo.

Leonnig and Rucker's new book picks up where that first volume, their first book on Trump, "A Very Stable Genius" leaves off — a deep dive into almost three years of Trump's leadership. Except this time the pair scored a two-and-a-half hour interview with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, in which he remained adamant that he is America's greatest president.

Related: Michael Wolff's 'Landslide' recounts Trump's Brett Kavanaugh rant, fury at Netanyahu

On the 2020 election and John McCain

Unsurprisingly, Trump is still wrongly convinced that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him and has special ire for his fellow Republican members, alive and dead. Without being asked, Trump launches into a tirade against the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain calling him, "a bully and a nasty guy."

“John McCain was a bad guy,” Trump said.

The authors interviewed more than 140 people, including senior administration officials, friends and advisers of Trump.

What "I Alone" argues in a detailed case is that the catastrophe of 2020 was a result of Trump's proclivity to put political optics above all else, including American lives. The health of the economy mattered more to Trump than public health in an election year.

More from 'I Alone': 'Reichstag moment': Joint Chiefs chairman feared Trump was laying groundwork for coup

Trump scorned weakness

Another thread is Trump's distaste for appearing weak led him to make decisions that were often criticized by the American public.

The former president wouldn't wear masks during a global pandemic because “People tell me it makes me look weak.” Trump said he thinks he can defeat Biden because he is “weak.” The 2020 protests in Portland and Seattle “makes me look weak," Trump complained to Attorney General William Barr.

When Trump contracted COVID-19, he was resistant to go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center because “he worried about how weak and vulnerable it would make him — and the country — look.”

President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 2, 2020, on Marine One helicopter after he tested positive for COVID-19.
President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 2, 2020, on Marine One helicopter after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Trump's early indifference to COVID-19

"I Alone" begins with the first rumblings about COVID-19 in late December 2019 and early January 2020 and the president's blithe indifference to the reports. The authors describe Trump ignoring early warning reports on the novel coronavirus that were included in the President’s Daily Brief.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “didn’t feel the White House leadership was treating this threat seriously.” At one point, Trump didn’t know the CDC reported to HHS.

The book also recounts an insecure and narcissistic president who leads a dysfunctional administration dealing with internecine warfare — a factor that greatly hampered a coordinated effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Surrounded by sycophants holding turf battles, Trump “allowed his White House to become a nest of vipers, with senior officials often advancing their personal agendas and vendettas instead of a collective mission," Leonnig and Rucker write.

The pair make the case that Trump’s failure concerning the pandemic was selfishness.

“Most of Trump’s failings can be explained by a simple truth: He cared more about himself than the country,” Leonnig and Rucker explain.

Related: 'Anarchy and chaos': Michael Bender book describes turmoil in Trump White House

As the pandemic wreaks havoc, Trump is focused on Russia investigation

Another reason Trump was distracted from the pandemic was because he was focused on prosecutor John Durham's investigation on the origins of the FBI’s 2016 Trump-Russia probe. Trump hoped Durham’s investigation would prove the FBI was corrupt and expose misconduct from the Obama administration.

On April 8, 2020, Barr predicted Durham’s investigation would vindicate Trump during a Fox News interview with Laura Ingraham, further lifting Trump's hopes. However, Durham’s progress was delayed by the pandemic and an overlapping Justice Department inspector general investigation.

“Though he did not direct Barr to indict anyone specifically, the president frequently brought up the probe during their Oval Office meetings that spring," the authors write.

“His questions were frequently some version of, 'When do you think something might come out of that?' Barr didn’t feel comfortable responding with details and tried to manage the president’s expectations," they allege.

Later in "I Alone," Durham called Barr to tell him “there would be no report he would feel comfortable releasing before the election.” When Barr informed the White House, Trump was furious.

President Donald Trump speaks while flanked by Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the daily briefing of the coronavirus task force at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Dr. Redfield,Êhas said that a potential second wave ofÊcoronavirus later this year could flare up again and coincide with flu season.
President Donald Trump speaks while flanked by Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the daily briefing of the coronavirus task force at the White House on April 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Dr. Redfield,Êhas said that a potential second wave ofÊcoronavirus later this year could flare up again and coincide with flu season.

After Lafayette Square, Trump unloads on Mark Esper and Mark Milley

In the wake of the Lafayette Square — where Black Lives Matter protesters were tear-gassed near the White House last June — former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper distanced himself from the violence.

Esper explicitly made clear in a June 3 press briefing that he believed the National Guard should provide backup resources to the police during civil unrest. And he mentioned wasn’t in favor of invoking the Insurrection Act.

Trump lost it.

During an Oval Office meeting after the press briefing, Trump berated Esper. “You betrayed me!” Trump screamed.

“You’re (expletive) weak! What is this [expletive]? I make the decisions on the Insurrection Act. I’m the president, not you. You’re taking options away from the president.”

Afterward, Esper told Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, “I’m going to get fired.” Moments later he added, “I’m going to resign.”

Milley also distanced himself from the Lafayette Square incident. Milley apologized for his role in the photo-op during a National Defense University commencement address.

A displeased Trump asked him, “Why did you apologize?” Trump then added, “Apologies are a sign of weakness.”

“Mr. President, not where I come from they’re not,” Milley replied.

Related: Milley, Trump at odds over crackdown on 2020 racial justice protests, boo

Esper fired for not being 'loyal'

Trump fired Esper days after his election loss via Twitter. "Mark Esper has been terminated," Trump tweeted. "I would like to thank him for his service."

After an NBC story published Nov. 7 disclosed Esper had a resignation ready to go, Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called Esper on Nov. 9 and told him, “I’m calling because, you know, the president’s not happy.”

“And we don’t think you’re sufficiently loyal. You’re going to be replaced. He’s going to announce it this afternoon. You’ll be replaced by Chris Miller,” Meadows added.

Esper thought to himself: "Who?"

“That’s the president’s prerogative. My oath is to the Constitution, not to him,” Esper replied.

Due to fear of Trump loyalists creating an enemies list, Esper was not given a clap-out, where officers and staff applaud the outgoing secretary, when he left.

Other tidbits gathered from "I Alone"

  • Trump said one of the silver linings of the pandemic was not having to shake people’s hands, according to Olivia Troye, Mike Pence's homeland security adviser. “I was a businessperson in New York and I shook a lot of hands, but when you’re a politician, you really have to shake a lot more hands. I have to shake hands with these disgusting people. It’s disgusting. And now I don’t have to shake their hands. Maybe it’s a good thing.” However, Trump denied he made the comments in relations to COVID, through a spokesman.

  • Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley told Stephen Miller to “shut the (expletive) up,” after Miller implored Trump to deploy the military to shut down protests over George Floyd’s murder. “They’re not burning the (expletive) country down,” Milley continued. Milley was neither a fan of domestic use of military force nor of Miller, whom he considered “a Rasputin character, always whispering devilish ideas in the king’s ear.”

  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie advised Trump to go on a “thank-you tour” across the nation, visiting hospitals, small businesses and manufacturing plants. “The public won’t know what to do with Donald Trump running around saying ‘thank you’ to everybody — and, more importantly, Joe Biden won’t know what to do,” Christie said. Trump did not take his advice.

  • Barr and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell began having conversations about Trump’s false claims of a stolen election in mid-November. The two tried to figure who would tell Trump to accept defeat. “They agreed it would be too dangerous for McConnell to try to confront Trump,” lest it backfire and harm the senatorial Georgia races. “Barr wasn’t running for anything; he had the freedom to speak his mind and possibly make a difference.”

  • Trump initially exploded when administration officials told him of plans to evacuate additional Americans, mostly diplomats and permanent residents, out of Wuhan during the early days of the pandemic. “We’re not letting them come back,” he said. “You risk increasing my numbers. You won’t increase my numbers.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'I Alone Can Fix It' book on Trump recounts 'catastrophic' final year