What Bob Woodward Uncovered While Writing His Book On The Trump White House

Sep 4, 2018
Originally published on September 4, 2018 5:17 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On August 14, President Trump called legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. The president wanted to talk about Woodward's forthcoming book.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hello, Bob.

BOB WOODWARD: President Trump, how are you?

TRUMP: How are you? How are you doing? OK?

WOODWARD: Real well.

SHAPIRO: At that point, Woodward asks if it's OK for him to have his tape recorder running. This tape was provided by The Washington Post.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Post also obtained a copy of the book, which is titled "Fear," and has written today about the explosive details within it, from advisers worried about Trump's ability to keep the country safe to the president insulting his staff at every turn.

SHAPIRO: When Trump placed that call last month, the manuscript was already done. Here's Woodward telling Trump about the book.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WOODWARD: You know, it's a tough look at the world and your administration and you.

TRUMP: Right. Well, I assume that means it's going to be a negative book. But you know, I'm sort of 50 percent used to that. That's all right. Some are good, and some are bad. Sounds like this is going to be a bad one.

WOODWARD: It was a chance missed. And I don't know how things work over there in terms of...

TRUMP: Very well.

WOODWARD: ...Getting to you.

CORNISH: What they're discussing at the end there is Woodward explaining that he tried to interview Trump for the book. And for more, let's bring in The Washington Post's Robert Costa. He's read and reported on this, and it's set for release a week from today.

Hi there, Bob.

ROBERT COSTA: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: So in this call, President Trump is saying he wanted to participate. Woodward is saying, I was trying to get to you. In the end, we basically learn that, apparently, President Trump was not interviewed for the book. How is it sourced, then?

COSTA: The book is sourced on deep background, which means that Woodward has many quotes in scenes throughout the book. But they are not directly attributed. They are attributed to key players, to people who have firsthand knowledge of all of these events. But Woodward gives deep background cover to a lot of officials who discuss these events and everything that happened.

CORNISH: Which means - I'm going to tell you a bunch of things, but you can't use my name ever.

COSTA: That's pretty much it.

CORNISH: Are there more tapes?

COSTA: At this point, Woodward has provided a lot of documents in the book. And he is known for recording most of his interviews with his sources. So Woodward, throughout his career, has often had tapes. He does not release the tapes. He writes the books on deep background. But he's known for recording things like he did with his conversation with President Trump. But he released this tape, the call from the president, in recent weeks because he wanted to show he made the effort to try to interview the president. But that fell away at some level in the White House.

CORNISH: There are a lot of details and descriptions here about foreign policy decisions. I want to talk about one, a National Security Council meeting on January 19. There's a description of President Trump not understanding why it's important to have a huge military presence on the Korean Peninsula. What happened next?

COSTA: You have President Trump clashing with his military aides throughout the book. But on North Korea, you have the president questioning different aspects of the relationship with South Korea, questioning why does the U.S. have a relationship with South Korea on trade. And you have Secretary of Defense Mattis, who's a key figure in the book. He says, one of the goals of having a relationship with South Korea, talking to the president - this is Mattis - he said, is to prevent World War III from happening, that you need to have a relationship with South Korea to stop World War III from unfolding in that area of the world.

And so you see throughout the book, his advisers are always trying to teach the president. That's the way Woodward paints it on so many different fronts...

CORNISH: Although at one point...

COSTA: ...Teaching the president.

CORNISH: ...He's also talking about a plan for a pre-emptive military strike on...

COSTA: Correct.

CORNISH: ...North Korea. What happened there?

COSTA: Throughout the book, there are also scenes of the president thinking through maybe pre-emptively attacking North Korea. Woodward talks about how the U.S. actually got to the brink of military conflict with North Korea, some pretty stunning national security developments. He also talks in the book, the president does, about trying to kill Assad in Syria. But he was pulled back by Mattis on that.

CORNISH: There seems to be a lot about how Trump staffers would try to control what crossed the president's desk - right? - like, what he saw. Can you give an example?

COSTA: Gary Cohn, the former and top economic adviser to the president, is detailed in the book as stealing trade agreements and trade papers off of the president's desk to try to prevent his populist nationalist worldview from really changing U.S. trade policy. So you see on trade policy, on foreign policy, orders being ignored across the board.

CORNISH: Now, the Russia investigation is obviously a big part of this book as well. And you write about a portion in which the president - his former lawyer John Dowd tries to show Trump why he should not talk to Bob Mueller in that investigation. And they basically have a kind of mock interview. How does Bob Woodward describe this?

COSTA: Woodward describes the president, who has publicly said he wants to do an interview with Bob Mueller - the president, in a sense, breaks down during the course of a practice session with his former attorney, John Dowd, and says I really don't want to testify - because you have John Dowd in the book peppering the president with question after question, trying to really grill him and prove to the president, in a way, through their practice sessions, that he's not ready for an interview with Mueller about his conduct.

CORNISH: In the end, did we learn anything new about this White House? - because a lot of the palace intrigue parts, the descriptions that you write about, sound like things we've heard from other memoirs that have come out since, that it's a place where people have very sharp elbows.

COSTA: What makes this book different is Woodward's credibility and the details in the book. The book is full of scenes that have the hours, the day, the players in the room. In classic Woodward fashion, it's scene after scene with detail after detail. And he - in a way, it's painting this bleak portrait but also a portrait that comes across to the reader as credible, as someone with a lot of Washington experience with access to the key players, revealing an administration really on the brink of chaos. We've seen that before from other books, you're right. But when Woodward actually shows the documents in the book and shows the details, it gives it a different edge than we've seen from previous efforts.

SHAPIRO: Robert Costa is a national political reporter for The Washington Post. He wrote today about the forthcoming book by Bob Woodward titled "Fear: Trump In The White House."

Thank you so much.

COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.