Trump Tweets 'Fear' Is A Joke, Woodward Tells NPR That Book Is Carefully Done
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump is attacking renowned journalist Bob Woodward and his new book on the Trump administration. The book is called "Fear: Trump In The White House." Over the weekend, the president called the journalist an "idiot" - that's a direct quote. And just this morning, President Trump said, on Twitter, quote, "the Woodward book is a joke, just another assault against me in a barrage of assaults using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources," end quote. Bob Woodward joins us now live to talk about his book.
Mr. Woodward, thanks so much for being with us.
BOB WOODWARD: Thank you.
MARTIN: The president of the United States is calling you an idiot, says your book is fake. How do you respond to that?
WOODWARD: Well, actually, it's carefully done. The sources are not anonymous to me. They are people who worked or work in the White House or the administration, were participants in these events that I describe very, very specifically - who was in the room, who said what. One of the people quoted the most is President Trump himself. And he was there and said these things and did these things. I think, also, that we're underestimating how serious all of this is. People took actions to protect the country because the president wanted to do things like withdraw from a trade agreement in South Korea, which would begin an unraveling and jeopardize one of the most secret national security intelligence operations we have, what's called a special access program.
MARTIN: Let me ask you...
MARTIN: ...If I could interrupt briefly...
WOODWARD: You may.
MARTIN: ...Just to explain that particular episode. You are referring to this event where top aides, including top economic adviser Gary Cohn, actually removed a piece of paper from the president's desk so he couldn't nullify this trade agreement with South Korea. How do you characterize that kind of behavior? I mean, are those aides working on behalf of President Trump to save him from himself, or are they deliberately trying to undermine him?
WOODWARD: Well, they're trying to protect the country. And it's just not Gary Cohn. It's the staff secretary, Rob Porter. They're so disturbed about this. And one of the key parts of this book is the alliance between Gary Cohn, who was the top economic person in the White House, and Secretary of Defense Mattis. And they worked together. And Cohn told Mattis, you have to come to the Oval Office to tell the president - you can't do this. This is quoted in the book.
The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, actually takes dictation in one meeting from the president about getting out of this trade agreement. And Rob Porter takes it and says, we can't do this on a paper napkin. We have to do it right. And sometimes, these things are redrafted and shown to the president and then taken off his desk, not just about South Korea but very much about the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the president wants to get out of. And so these are - there's nothing ambiguous about what's going on here. It's very clear.
MARTIN: You quote Defense Secretary James Mattis, saying that President Trump has the comprehension of a fifth- or sixth-grader. And you quote his chief of staff John Kelly. In the book, you quote him calling the president an "idiot," saying that the administration has devolved into quote-unquote "crazy town."
Both men have denied making these statements. Are they lying?
WOODWARD: I know from my reporting that these are true. And let's set the context of why Secretary of Defense Mattis would say something like this. On January 19 of this year - so President Trump had been in office one year - and at an NSC meeting, the president says, what do we get by maintaining a massive military presence in the Korean Peninsula? What do we get from protecting Taiwan, say? And of course, there are these special intelligence operations that protect the country.
At one point, Mattis is so frustrated, he tells the president - look, we're doing all this to prevent World War III. Now, there's no more important job that a president has than to prevent World War III. When I heard about this from notes of that NSC meeting - I've never heard anything like that - that a secretary of defense - imagine Bob Gates, who was secretary of defense for President Obama, having to tell President Obama - oh, look. We have all these operations and secret intelligence partnerships in order to prevent World War III.
MARTIN: So why is Mattis denying that he said that then?
WOODWARD: Well, this is political necessity. And you know, you crank out the great Washington denial machine. I've seen this over the years, going back to the Nixon case. Time and time again, people will deny things because they're in a pinch.
MARTIN: We should point out Mark Felt, who was Deep Throat in your reporting about Nixon, actually publicly denied being that source.
WOODWARD: Yes - and then finally, 30 years plus later, surfaced and acknowledged that he had been that source. So the deny - look. I understand people have to protect their positions. But I've done hundreds of hours of interviews with people. One person I talked to nine interviews. The transcript of the tape recordings - from notes, recollections, from diaries - in this case, 820 pages. Then I would go to other people and say, did this happen? Who else was there? Again, it is one of these times when you have all - I had a year and a half to work on this. And you can, in an almost microscopic way, establish what occurred, and that's what I have done in this book.
MARTIN: Let me ask you, though, about that process. Because the president is taking issue, calling your book fiction, does your style of reporting, using those anonymous sources to reconstruct very specific conversations, does that unintentionally feed his narrative that the press is making things up?
WOODWARD: But look. These things happened. The people are not anonymous to me. It is very clear who had, quite frankly, the conscience and the courage to speak out. This is not just about a policy argument. It is about the national security of the United States, its financial security. And time and time again, the president goes back to some of his themes. In the National Security Council meeting I was describing, he will say - oh, but we're losing so much money in trade with South Korea and China and others. I think we could be so rich if we weren't stupid. We're being played as suckers, particularly on NATO, which, again, is an expense he has railed against...
MARTIN: Yeah, that's a constant criticism.
WOODWARD: ...For a very long time. Yeah.
MARTIN: Let me ask you. A fair portion of your book focuses on the special counsel's investigation and the president's rage against it. It's clear you've spent time with Trump's former lawyer John Dowd. He tried to prepare President Trump for a possible sit-down with Mueller by doing this simulation with him. What do we learn from that anecdote?
WOODWARD: Well, it's not just an anecdote. It is a scene in the White House with John Dowd and President Trump, January 27 of this year, looking out over to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. And it's a practice session in which lawyer Dowd acts like Mueller, asking questions. And the president blows up, goes into a rage, says things that are not true. And at the end, Dowd says to him - look. You cannot testify. You're not a good witness.
And at one point, the president agrees. And then he changes his position, that he does want to testify. And Dowd is so convinced and says to the president, I cannot go with you to the special counsel, Mueller, and sit next to you and repeat this performance. And he resigned.
MARTIN: Days after excerpts of your book were released, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a current member of the Trump administration who, in that piece, calls the president unfit and dangerous, says there's an internal resistance movement happening inside to try to contain him. Since then, more than a dozen administration officials have come out to say they didn't write it, including Vice President Mike Pence. But I wonder, since it did - coincidentally, I suppose - come out so close to when the excerpts of your book were released, what do you make of it?
WOODWARD: I'm not sure. I don't know who it is. It's critical. Who is this person, and why are they masking themselves in this way? I...
MARTIN: Do you think they should come out?
WOODWARD: Well, if that person had come to me while I was working on this book or if it was somebody I interviewed, I would say, I need specifics. The building blocks of journalism, of truth are specific incidents. If you look through this book, you will see things are dated, the time is often given, the participants...
WOODWARD: ...The verbatim quotes of what they said - based on my reporting. So this is not an abstraction.
MARTIN: Just in seconds remaining, the book is called "Fear." Very briefly, what is the fear?
WOODWARD: Well, fear comes from Trump's own words. Two years ago, when Bob Costa, reporter at The Post, and I interviewed Trump...
WOODWARD: ...And talked about power and President Trump said - well, real power is - I don't like to use the word - real power is fear.
MARTIN: Bob Woodward, his new book is called "Fear: Trump In The White House."
Sir, thanks so much for sharing your reporting and talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.
WOODWARD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.