the past five decades, legendary Washington Post
journalist Bob Woodward has written about nine
presidents, starting with dogged reporting of the
Watergate scandal, with Carl Bernstein, that led to the
1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.
complete ďFear,Ē his latest book, Woodward returned
to some of his Watergate-era, shoe-leather reporting
techniques, showing up to interview sources at their
homes on ďdeep background.Ē What emerges is a White
House picture not unfamiliar to readers of the news
coverage of the administration ó but with some new
reveals a cadre of White House and Cabinet insiders
increasingly alarmed at the dishonesty, lack of
learning, and reckless decision-making of the worldís
most powerful man.
Seattle Times spoke with Woodward last week about his
new book ó and the role of journalists in covering
Trump. What follows is a transcript, edited for length
open ďFearĒ in September 2017 with Gary Cohn, Donald
Trumpís top economic adviser, taking a document off
the presidentís desk ó this one-page draft letter
withdrawing from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
Why did you lead with that story and what did it
symbolize about the Trump administration?
reported on nine presidents, from Nixon to Trump, and
there often have been examples of aides to presidentsí
defiance and disagreement, but this is the first time I
actually heard that somebody took documents off the
presidentís desk in the Oval Office, to keep him from
signing them, or signing this particular document that
would Ö risk the relationship with South Korea on
trade. We have what, 28,000 troops in South Korea? And a
top-secret intelligence partnership which is vital to
the security of the country. And Trump was jeopardizing
this, so Gary Cohn, in an act of conscience and
necessity, acted in what he perceived to be the larger
Q: It is
extraordinary. I think some people might even have been
alarmed by someone who was not elected by the people
grabbing that document.
but also I think people should be alarmed about Trump.
Ö I think overall the book shows we have a governing
crisis. That the president has set up policies based on
ideas and facts that are not true, and that he is
gambling in so many areas of foreign affairs, with the
economy, with immigration, with tariffs, you name it.
Itís a gambling presidency.
Throughout this book you reveal how his own team views
him as a narcissistic, cable news-obsessed,
short-attention-span figure. And these aides are running
around trying to impede his worst impulses. You said
itís a governing crisis. Is your reportage a case for
Donald Trumpís unfitness for office?
he was elected, heís president. Thatís something for
the political system to decide, I think, not for
reporters. All I can do is report what I find. Ö
Reporters, authors need to disengage emotionally from
Trump and stick to the facts as much as possible. There
is a lot of unhinged commentary, particularly on
television, on one hand, condemnation of him on CNN,
MSNBC, and then adoration of him on Fox News.
Youíve reported very critically on Donald Trump and
yet I think I hear you saying youíre not rooting for a
particular outcome and that thatís not necessarily the
mediaís role. I think you were critical of CNNís
lawsuit over Jim Acostaís press pass. Why is that?
A: I was
at a conference in Florida and somebody asked, ďIf the
White House revoked your press pass, would you sue?Ē
And I said first of all, I donít have a White House
press pass. In 47 years, Iíve never had one, never
asked for one, never been to a White House press
briefing, never been to a White House presidential press
conference because all of those events are theater. They
should be covered and they are important, but Iím
trying to find out what goes on behind the scenes and I
donít need a press pass to do that. Ö But I donít
ó I donít criticize. News organizations, my own, The
Washington Post does a great job covering them and
theyíve got to be covered. But I think the question is
what is he really doing as president, and I had the
luxury of time to dig into it and try to describe in as
many areas as possible exactly what and why.
Youíre known obviously for your Watergate-era
reporting on Richard Nixon. In the book I was struck by
White House staff secretary Rob Porter likening
Trumpís rage about Robert Mueller to Nixonís final
days in office, when he was praying, pounding the carpet
and talking to pictures of past presidents on the walls.
What do you make of that comparison coming in year one
of the Trump presidency?
is somebody who was very close to Trump. He had that
office of staff secretary, right below the Oval Office,
and was shocked, as were others, at Trump just losing
it, losing his cool over the Mueller investigation. We
see some of that in public ó tweets, press
conferences, you know, ďItís a witch hunt. Itís
this and that.Ē But when you go behind the scenes, as
I was able to do, you see the scope and intensity of the
emotional reaction to Mueller. Lots of people I talked
to were astonished that it was a Nixonian raw kind of
unleashing of, ďHow can this be happening to me? Iím
president of the United States. This is not fair. This
is not right.Ē So there it is, but youíve singled
out a very important scene in the book to just show the
nature of this going off the rails.
the quantity of people whoíve talked about whatís
going on inside the White House, is this a cry for help?
Are they looking for action? What do you think the
always have to ask whatís the motivation. And I found
because I was able to go see people in their homes,
which was really important, that thereís a lot of
conscience and courage in this, that the closer people
are to Trump, the more they were worried because of what
they see. For instance, the chief of staff, John Kelly,
called him an idiot. Said we canít persuade him of
anything. ďHe wonít listen. This is crazy town. This
is the worst job Iíve ever had.Ē They are asking
fundamental questions about what the hellís going on
interviews were conducted on deep background, which
means you talk to people and recorded most, but youíre
not revealing them as sources. Youíve used that
technique for a long time. Did you ever consider pushing
anybody to go on the record?
a mistake, if I may say, that journalism is making, that
somehow itís pure if we get some statement on the
record. But suppose itís a lie, suppose itís untrue.
We canít run around and say, well the president said
it on the record or the secretary of state said this. We
have to test it and assess it. And particularly if we
find out itís not true, we have a responsibility to
not just report that, but to focus on that. Ö Now
increasingly because Trump says so many things that are
untrue, there is the frequent phrase ďwithout
evidence.Ē Ö People are onto it. And so they are
inevitably using background or deep background sources.
I find if Iíd said to some of these people, well how
about doing all this on the record, I think I would be
laughed out of the room, simply because, in these
matters, somebody is not going to speak on the record.
And we know that, reporters know that, human readers of
the newspaper know that.
of the people quoted in your book, including John Kelly
and John Dowd, the presidentís counsel, issued
statements some time ago trying to dispute some of your
reporting, with Dowd saying there was no practice
session or mock interview with the special counsel. Ö
The statement I saw actually said he hadnít read the
book at that point, but what is your response? Do some
of these fall in the category of non-denial denials? Or
what are they?
are politically calculated survival statements. I
understand that. Ö Theyíre not even, they donít
even rise to the level of being non-denial denials. Some
of the statements were, well, ďIt didnít reflect my
full time at the White House.Ē Ö And, well, OK.
People have been out giving interviews. Ö I think H.R.
McMaster said on the record, yeah, the document I
described was taken off the presidentís desk. So, they
should be entitled to have their say. I donít think
anyone feels that those were anything other than
attempts to paper over the truth.
close the book with John Dowd, the presidentís
counsel, calling him ďa [expletive] liar.Ē And I
think youíve been asked ó
A: On Fox
News, I think it was Sean Hannity asked him, said
arenít you worried that got out? And thatís when
Dowd said, yeah, it shouldnít have got out.
choose that as your end point? It wasnít just
chronology, I take it.
the importance of that is this is the presidentís
lawyer. This is the person whoís worked with him
intimately for what, eight months? Who is a supporter of
the president, who goes through this routine, practice
session ó whatever he said about it, it happened. And
the sourcing and the evidence is impeccable. And reached
the conclusion that the president is disabled. I guess
evidence supporting this view is Dowd threatened to and
eventually resigned because he told the president: You
canít testify. You are disabled. I will not sit next
to you and have you testify under oath because you will
wind up in an orange jumpsuit.
isnít Adam Schiff, or some Democrat, or Nancy Pelosi
or Chuck Schumer saying this about the president. This
is the presidentís lawyer. Now I vividly recall during
the Nixon case, there were lots of lawyers for Nixon and
they sometimes disputed what he said, certainly whenever
he was in office, they never said he was a [expletive]
liar. And so this is extraordinary. And the context is
the facts are disposable. Ö Just, oh, you know,
letís just come up with our own facts and statements
and beliefs on everything. Thatís the problem.
Thatís why itís a national emergency.