Welcome, welcome, welcome to armchair expert star Monaca, Plaid Man and our friend Dan Rather's get these. Thank you.
This is an addition of experts on expert Thursday, Thursday, by the way, I want to just drop a hint that we're putting together a couple more shows and I'm getting so excited.
Hopefully people want to be with us more throughout the week because we got more coming.
So today we have, without question, the most legendary journalist to ever live in this country, Bob Woodward.
He is an American investigative journalist. He started working for The Washington Post as a reporter in 1971 and is currently the associate editor in 1972.
Woodward and Carl Bernstein famously did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal. These scandals led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Nixon. He has covered nine presidents over 50 years. Now, I do want to say one thing. This one leans political, but the only thing I would plead to folks to give it a chance is simply that Bob has been critical of both sides. If there's ever been a journalist who attacked fraudulence and lies on both sides of the aisle, it is Bob.
So he has earned the right for anyone on the right to listen to him as he has earned the right for anyone on the left to listen to him read his books. Are Obama's Wars All the President's Men? The Brethren Inside the Supreme Court fear Trump in the White House and his new book, Rage. So please enjoy Bob Woodward. We are supported by fight camp. If you're looking for a workout that keeps you engaged, learning excited and motivated, a workout that's never boring and always challenging, you've got to check out Fight Camp.
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He's in chance. How are you so good? We're tremendously flattered to be talking to you, if I can tell you, I think I was seven years old the first time I heard your name. It was in Fleche.
The commander was yelling at Chevy Chase and he said, this isn't some fuckin Woodward and Bernstein bullshit. And I asked my mom, what is Woodward and Bernstein?
My education started there if she let you listen to things like that. Yeah.
And look, it resulted in a successful career in comedy, so maybe it was the right move.
Listen, I was looking up something about you and you talk about the messiness of the human condition or about human beings. And I wanted to just address that idea because I think that's exactly right. And human beings are messy. And so when you have a president of the United States is super messy, he takes and everything is magnified a thousand fold. Ten thousand fold. So the messiness of that person gets delivered into everyone's life where if it's just somebody down the street who's messy, you can deal with that.
But in this case, it's all of us.
Well, and I think to the thing that we are very interested in and this comes from me being in recovery, I'm an addict is I learn a lot more from people's struggles than I learn from their triumphs. Right. You have a lot of awards I'll never achieve, but I'm sure you've stumbled in ways in your life that you could teach me a lot about. And so that's pretty much my interest.
Mine, too. When you make a mistake, you grow. When something works out, you become self-satisfied and smug and arrogant.
Oh, that that's me. You just describe me to attack. If you'll indulge me.
We are generally apolitical because we talk about messages that I care more about than politics and I don't want to alienate anyone.
So for anyone that might associate you with Nixon and now this book, they would maybe be inclined if they don't know a lot about you, to think that you're somehow a partisan reporter. And so I just with your permission, I'd like to outline just a few times that I believe you're just a rigorous searcher of the truth.
And I think you've blasted both sides and that you've been incredibly fair in your reporting over your lifetime. Well, thank you.
That's nice. I mean, that's the goal. But I've slipped up a number of times, but go ahead. Yeah.
So I just wanted to say that obviously you and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal and that resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon. And then since then, you've written 19 books. I guess this is the 20th and. Right. You know, fourteen bestsellers. It's incredibly impressive. But in 1996, you broke the United States campaign finance controversy, which exposed China's donations to the Democratic National Committee.
So, again, there is a case where whatever your politics are, I don't know. But certainly it didn't prevent you from exposing a truth on my side of the aisle.
And moreover, in this one may embarrass you a little bit. You just said it. We all make mistakes. But, you know, you wrote four books in your career about Bush, and there was even a period where you did believe him, that they had WMD evidence and even publicly stated it. And I don't say that to embarrass you. I say that to point out that you are not partisan in your party.
Well, I try not to be take the question of George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq, thinking there were weapons of mass destruction. This is 2003 before the invasion. I wrote a front page story in The Washington Post quoting a CIA source saying, we do not have a smoking gun intelligence that there is WMD in Iraq. Now, I did not realize what I had written, because if you say there's no smoking gun intelligence, that means you don't have hard intelligence.
That means you're not sure. And I should have realized what somebody was saying to me. And I failed miserably on that front. And if I would just have read and understood my own words where I was quoting somebody, I would have then converted the story in. It would have been uncertainty about WMD in Iraq before the invasion. And now would it have made in any difference? God knows. But it's a really wonderful thing to be in journalism.
And you learn and I haven't been fired yet because there is a realization there's. It's called Good Faith, Fuck Up, and then there's bad faith, buck up and a good faith fuck. Is that where I didn't realize what I was being told? I didn't realize what I had written. And all the editors at The Washington Post were very smart. One of them could have come over to me and tapped me on the shoulder and say, hey, do you realize what you're saying here?
This is a GFW for good faith.
Fuck, that's a perfect term for us to use as we get into this, because I am curious what your takeaways are on some of the fuckups that have happened.
But again, I just want to put one more pin on your chest as far as your bipartisanism, is that you also are critical of the Obama administration for their role in the United States federal budget sequester. And I again, I just think it's really relevant. I'm sure you loved Obama. I loved Obama, but I don't think that stood in the way of you wanting to expose the truth. And so I just want to go into this setting up the fact that I have to imagine, as you started this project, why I suppose it started with fear.
Your first book about Trump. Yes, right. In twenty eighteen. In twenty eighteen. Did you enter that process? You couldn't live on planet Earth and not have an opinion about Trump. That wouldn't be possible. But you must have some safeguards that you have some some system that keeps you objective. And I'm really curious how that operates in your mind.
OK, I'm going to bring my wife in here. She is my safeguard. We lived this all together. She edited the new book Rage six times. Can you imagine that? We listened to Trump calling me on a weekend or ten o'clock at night because he would call spontaneously and to carry my little tape recorder around. So I wouldn't miss an opportunity to record the call because I told Trump that's what I was going to do. This was all on the record.
And so the first time she picked up the phone and a voice said, Is Bob there? Also said, yes. Who's calling? Said Donald Trump. And she said, Oh, Mr. President, I'll get him. And so we had these conversations and she would listen frequently. And if you've gone through the book, one of the times in early April, I'd done some reporting and realized that experts were telling me that it was important for Trump to launch a full scale mobilization of the country on the virus.
There were fourteen areas, including testing international cooperation, vaccines and so forth. And I went through it with him and Elsas listening and she said to me at the end, she said, You're shouting at him and it sounds like you're telling him what to do. Elsa said, you know, you're not supposed to tell him what to do, which is true.
Huh? We develop the kind of relationship where I could push him and I could say things that I think his staff could not say to him.
When you're interacting with them first, when you say you get a call from the president, my first thought is like I panic when the food delivery calls and I'm nervous I'm going to lose signal. So I can't even imagine what the anxiety of your signal services just being on with the president.
But secondly, you must always be trying to ride the line of being direct and getting the info you want and also not turning off your subject so that they are no longer interested in talking to you. I almost feel like it's it's almost a romantic relationship of pursuing and then laying off. So is there a dance there with when you feel like you could make those assertions and when you feel like, well, I still want to be able to talk to him?
Well, yes, but I think he decided because he denounced my first book fair and said it's pure fiction. And I said, I'm a Democratic operative. And then people who worked for him, a couple of them said, you know, Mr. President, it's all true. And Trump said, it's all it's true. Gee, I should have talked to him for that book, which he did. And so I'll talk to him for this book. And so he agreed to do it.
I said it's going to all be on the record. I'm recording it. The book will come out before the election. And I think there's something in him that wants to be pushed by. Frankly, I think because he's a one man band is president, the chief of staff can kind of say, well, wait a minute, should we do? And Trump will go. Now, that's what we're doing, Auriel tweeted out, all with no meeting, no discussion.
So it was you know, I'm not a psychiatrist, I will not attempt to be, but there's some gravitational pull, for instance, OK, the last call was a month ago, August 14. The book was done and he called unexpectedly. And Elsa came in and she said, it's the White House, it's President Trump wants to talk to you. And the book was done.
And so I went, oh, no, God, he's calling again. I can't turn it down. So we get on the line. And I said, the book's closed. Said, Can't we get something about the Israeli us, you a peace agreement? Because it's significant. And I agree it's significant. I said the book's closed, it's printed, it's done. But I need to tell you that it's a tough book. I'm going to make some judgments that you don't like.
And he said, Well, like what? And I said, well, just, you know, I didn't want to get specific and have an argument, but I wanted to kind of it's a kind of Miranda warning that what we've done maybe you're not going to like completely. I brought up something about the coronavirus. I said, that's such a big deal. The election's going to be about the virus, in my view. And he said, you really think that?
What about the economy? And I said, they're related this, you know. And he said, well, a little bit. And I said a little bit. Yeah. And he said, well, you know, a lot. And then at the end he said, Looks like I'm not going to get you on this book. I'll get you on the next one.
I heard it on 60 Minutes, your great segment on you. And yes, this very jovial attempt to say, like there might still be light at the end of this tunnel is a very, I feel, revealing aspect of his personality.
But yeah, please continue. Yeah. So we hung up most. It's going to be tough and so long. And then an hour and a half later he tweeted out the Bob Woodward book is going to be fake. Yeah. At least he assured me he didn't tune out. He tuned in. Yeah. OK, let's walk through.
First of all, I'm reading the book right now. I am not finished, but I absolutely love it. Forget whatever interest I had Trump himself learning about, you know, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson people. I didn't really know how they came to be a part of that organization and learning, you know, a good deal about them. They're very fascinating, interesting characters. When he asked Rex Tillerson to become the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who did not necessarily desire that post, said, I want to look him in the face and ask him three questions.
And one was, I got to choose my team. Will you let me choose my team? The other one was, you know, I got to get a promise you're not going to withdraw your nomination. And then the last was, I don't ever want to be in a public feud with you.
If we have an issue, I want to handle it privately. And I'm curious, how did those three things turn out?
What happened? Tillerson was offered the job in a meeting that he had with Trump and he called his wife and he said, you won't believe what happened. And she said he offered you secretary of state in. And he said, how did you know that? I said, Well, because I knew that, you know, it was you were kind of bored. He was just leaving being head of Exxon Mobil, actually, his successor was picked. He was going.
Now, he and his wife have a horse farm outside of Dallas. And, boy, they're going to ride those horses. And so he thinks, you know, maybe I better take this job. This is number one cabinet job. He really told me he would give me his cell phone. He would be available any time that there are three things, the three things you said I want his word on. So he told this to incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus.
And Priebus said, well, what are they? Intellisense said, no, I want to talk to the president elect directly. So we went up to Trump Tower and laid them out to Trump and said, no problem at all. Now, he really did let him pick his team in a way. But, you know, it was never complete. He did not withdraw there since nomination, but they had endless public feuds which are extending to today, where Trump fired him by tweet and then publicly went out and said he's dumb as a rock.
And now, look, you can make your judgments of people when you bring them out of the position of having hundreds of millions of dollars. I guess Tillerson was worth and say at the end of your career, I want you to take another job. And would Tillerson. Reason he had never served his country in the military and he felt guilty about it and he said, now this is an opportunity, I'm going to do it. So he said yes.
And he got these pledges personally from Trump. And then Trump just crushes him and excoriates him publicly. And the aversion of this happens to so many people who work for Trump. And it's hazardous duty. It's always hazardous duty being secretary of Defense Secretary of State Dan Coats, head of intelligence. But they all are people like Coats, a Republican senator from Indiana for 16 years, evangelical Christian. He and his wife, Marsha oh boy will go into retirement.
And Pence, who was one of his friends from Indiana, the vice president elect, said, do you want a job? And and coach said, no, I don't want a job. Well, come talk to the president elect. So he comes and talks and they say, we're going to offer you the number one intelligence job. Well, that's the Trump inner circle. Let's dealing with the state secrets. It's overseeing the CIA, National Security Agency.
It's a wonderful job. In fact, Obama once said to me when I was doing an interview with Obama, I had so much time to dig out what Obama had done about the war in Afghanistan and so forth. So I knew a lot because of time. And at the end, Obama said, Have you ever thought of becoming CIA director or head of intelligence? And I said, I know that's not a job offer.
And he said, no, it's not. So is it tempting job?
So Koch took it. And the way Trump treated him, Dan Coats is somebody he's got a moral and religious center to him. And how do you like that or agree with that? Well, that was almost weaponized against these guys.
So even when you bring up Rex Wright, his wife also said God's got bigger plans for you. Right. There is part of this commitment to serving the country, a commitment to, you know, his God as he understands them. And James Mattis. Right. He I don't think he personally wanted that job. But he as he said, he is committed to working for the Constitution, to defending the Constitution.
So there's this higher calling that trumps whatever. Well, not pun intended, trumps whatever reservations they have. So these men are generally making really principled decisions to join this team.
He understands the buttons on somebody's psychological console and he knows you're going to serve the country. We're going to have direct access. You'll have my cell phone number. We're never going to have a public dispute. We're going to do this right. And people are coming in and saying, wow, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. And what they quickly discover is there's no plan. There's no organization. Trump is this one man band who will sit and decide.
I mean, it's almost like part of his mind is a roulette wheel.
You don't know what number is going to come up and say, oh, I'll take the green one or I'll take double zero. And it drives people who are irrational, crazy. And I quote Maddis, the secretary of defense, saying, what's interesting about this is that the people who believe in Trump don't believe what he says, but they still believe in him.
Oh, I was just going to say, yes, I do think people underestimate the importance, value and reality of an emotional truth. So there is there is a good, objective, factual layer that we're incorporating into living.
But then we're also very emotional human beings and we want to discount that. And I think it's an error to do so. So something emotionally feels true. And I'm not one to try to argue that point with anyone.
If I may say you use this phrase emotional truth. It's a household word around here. My wife, Elsa, she used to work for the Post. She was a staff writer for The New Yorker for years, and she wrote a book called Divided Lives, about three women who are pulled to family job, family job. And you are divided and split. And Elsa talks about you not only have to get the facts of somebody's life, you have to get the emotional truth.
This is the term she uses. I teach a journalism seminar each second semester. I did in this year because I had to do the book. And Elsa comes for one session and the title. The class is emotional truth, and it's something you've got to understand how it drives people. It may be rational, it may be irrational and may be something in Dr. Freud would love to examine. It may be something you know, it's Rosebud. Yeah.
One hundred percent. If you really quantified everyone's life and you had at the end of their life, a table of how many decisions were made based on facts and how many were based on emotions, I have to imagine it's weighted in the emotional decision making.
That's just what we do, of course. And we've got to face it. And this is why your idea of it's messy being human. In the case of Trump, it's a bigger mess. It's bigger inconsistency. The last line in the book is that Trump is the wrong man for the job as president. And this is based on this overwhelming evidence that came from my reporting and quite frankly, came from him. I grabbed something from the book for you that I just wanted to read.
And this has to do with Senator Graham, who is the senator from South Carolina, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, now in the Senate. And he's the one who's leading the confirmation hearings that Trump's going to appoint somebody to fill Ruth Bader Ginsberg seat. This has exploded political Washington in a significant way. Graham is often people say, oh, he's a toady. He's Trump's best friend. I found in my reporting, again, because I have the time to go back to people and check that Graham actually has some good observations and advice for Trump.
So this is June 14th. So three months ago after George Floyd was killed by a white police officer and the whole Black Lives Matter uprising and so forth, that defines so much of what's going on right now. And one of Trump's responses was, as you may recall, when he walked out of the White House and had the street cleared of peaceful protesters by the military in a really heavy handed way. And Trump walks out and waves a Bible in front of the church down every step of the way.
But he had not thought of what does he do once he gets there? That was very clear as an actor that he was out of lines and writing once he arrived. Yes.
And didn't he hold the Bible upside down like that? Well, give him a break. And Graham is talking to Trump and saying, you know, waving the Bible doesn't work. And I quote Graham saying, quote, I've never been more worried than I am right now. Trump could have chosen three ways to respond to the racial unrest triggered unleashed by George Floyds. Killing could have chosen George Wallace, the segregationist governor in Alabama, or he could have chosen the Bobby Kennedy route of dealing with racial rest.
Or he could have chosen the Richard Nixon and the Nixon was law and order. Bobby Kennedy was. We need to have racial healing in this country. And George Wallace was more segregation. And so right now, Lindsey Graham says that you have chosen the George Wallace way. You have taken the segregation route. And I quote him saying right now, if the election were held, you would lose. Now, this is in June. So you have racial unrest.
And there are things in the book, I quote, where Trump doesn't understand the pain and anger that black people feel. Yeah.
Can I pause for one second? Because I thought it was amazing when you first asked him if he does believe that there is systemic racism in this nation and he says, yes, well, it's everywhere and it's probably not as bad here as other places. But yes. Yes, there is. So first, I've never heard him say that publicly. But he does he has the capacity to say it to you. So I'm shocked when I hear him say that to you.
But then you say, do you recognize that you and myself have a great deal of privilege growing up white and of means, and that we have been in a cave of privilege and that it is time for us to exit that cage and understand the pain and anguish that the black people in this country are going through. And he says no. And he thinks it's silly that you would want as well even more played that his response.
I said, do you understand the pain? And anger that black people feel. And he goes, wow, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you, Bob? You drank the Kool-Aid. Just listen to yourself. And he mocks me for trying to understand from the point of view of white privilege what other people are feeling. And he said, no, I don't feel that way at all. And then he runs around and says, oh, I've done more for black people than any president other than Abraham Lincoln.
Yeah. And he loves saying that and he says it and it's absurd. Remember Lyndon Johnson in the Civil Rights Act? Remember what Lyndon Johnson did for racial equality and opportunity in this country? Yeah. One thing with Trump leads to another, leads to another. So I'm talking to him about the Supreme Court decision extending the Civil Rights Act to LGBTQ people in this country. And it was written by Gorsuch, who's Trump's appointee. One conservative appointee said, what do you think about Gorsuch, your guy writing this?
And it's against the administration's position. You're in the Supreme Court saying just the opposite. And Trump says, well, I want him to rule the way he feels. And I said, OK, I've thought about this President Trump. I was thinking that if you were on the Supreme Court, you would have voted for that also because you believe in freedom, freedom for people. So I think if you've been on the court, you would have been voting with Gorsuch.
And he says, wow, that's an interesting idea. And I said, well, maybe you can appoint yourself to go. But he could do. And he said, Oh, well, I care about everyone. I care about all people.
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Well, OK, now I am going to ask you to be a little bit of a psychologist and only because, you know, I'm more than I do in these these conversations, but I just want to lay out a couple of things that I'm trying to figure out. So one is when Matus comes to meet with him, he makes a case to end torturing as a means of getting information. And he makes the most beautiful point. And he says, you know what?
Forget about the suspected terrorists. I'm not even appealing to you to worry about them. The damage it does to us to torture people is unacceptable.
It makes us worse in the FBI or the Marine Corps or something like you then are inflicting pain and inflicting pain that does something to your mind. It perverts it. And we should not do it for that reason. Right.
And then he goes on to explain the immense value of being a member of NATO and reminds him that the whole reason that we had a coalition to go into Afghanistan after we were attacked was because of NATO.
And so now in that meeting, he concedes to those points he seems to be swayed by that or acknowledge that. And then again, it happens with Rex Tillerson when Tillerson explains what's going on with Russia and what's going on with China, it seems as if Trump is like, OK, great, thanks for explaining that to me.
I'm taking it.
So my question for you, and this goes to the yes, there's systemic racism, but no, I don't need to be empathetic.
My question is, is he lying in the moment that he doesn't actually agree with those points and he's just paying lip service to those people?
Or is he someone that just oscillates regularly between in that moment? Yes, he agreed. And then on another day, he doesn't. That's what I really want to know about him.
OK, there's lots of vacillation. That's a nice word. It means you don't have a moral center or you don't have an institutional or a pragmatic center. So what happens in all of this gets scene after scene in the book where Trump is meeting with his national security team about NATO or South Korea, where we have thirty two thousand troops. And he says to the generals said, we're suckers. We're paying for thirty two thousand troops of our troops in South Korea to protect them from North Korea.
They should pay the bill. This is wasted money. And they say, no, no, Mr. President, this is the best money we spend. It's an insurance policy. It's cheap. He thinks it's ten billion dollars in South Korea. It's actually one billion dollars. And we get lots of side benefits. I quote Pompilio now secretary of state, saying that the troops we have in South Korea are very important because it protects North Korea from China.
China would like to control North Korea and our troops. There are actually some hindrance in blockage. So time and time again, this comes up about NATO's South Korea. And part of it I don't say this in the book, but I will say it here because I've been able to think about the book and talk to people. Trump thinks he's the chief financial officer of the country and he said we were suckers. We need to get more money. I just got another billion dollars from South Korea.
I'm getting the NATO countries to spend more on their defense, which they are. It's true, but it's not about dollars and cents. It's about you have I think it's Article five in the NATO agreement. Attack on one country is an attack on all. It's a joint defense. It is one of the most successful treaties in the history of the world and it has worked. There is a kind of confidence it after the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia's been threatening some things.
And Putin, you know, incomes NATO and says, we aren't going to let you do this. We're going to send troops there or we are going to speak with collective resolve. And Trump does not comprehend what the interest of the United States is not to get five hundred million dollars more. And he's obsessed with this in the conversations I had. Some of them are in the book. But hey, Bob, didn't I tell you, you know, I'm going to get a billion dollars more from South Korea?
And can I add that I actually respect. That is very fiscally minded, and I do respect that the right is very fiscally minded, but what I don't respect is the ignoring that the Afghanistan war is in the trillions and that the reason we have these expenditures is to prevent us from spending trillions down the line that could it be that he doesn't understand the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure model?
I'm fine with him being fiscally motivated. I'm a little concerned that he doesn't see the enormous fiscal win of preventing a large scale war, not only a fiscal win, but a strategic national security win.
Because the argument in Afghanistan is what happened when we pulled out a long time ago, the Taliban took over and they gave home and sustenance to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden launched an attack on the United States from Afghanistan. And so what the military people, intelligence people, diplomats say the president said this is an insurance policy. We have ten thousand troops there benefit with. You know, we all spend money on insurance. Right. And if at the end of 10 years you say, why did I have that insurance that was wasted money, but if you needed it, it could make all the difference in the world.
So he doesn't think that way. And they have to be done his head and say, no, no, don't do this. In one of the interviews I did with President Trump about South Korea and South Korea's important in all of this and he said, we're paying for them, we allow them to exist.
Now, think about that, that we are an ally that we've had since the 50s, since the armistice, after the Korean War.
Our only foothold of democracy and capitalism in a rapidly becoming communist section of the world. Yeah.
In the 50s, you know, it's like you have a friend and you help them and then they help you and you say, we're going to be friends for life. We're going to protect each other, look out for each other's interests. If we have a disagreement, we're going to say it. We're going to air it and think of the world that has existed in this century, the twenty first century we had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but we've not had other wars.
We haven't had major wars. To Trump's credit, he has not had a war himself. He told me repeatedly, he said, like with North Korea, he agreed to meet with Kim Jong un, the leader who has dozens of nuclear weapons and is the president of America, said, well, you know, the foreign policy establishment thinks you met with Kim Jong un. And traditionally you send people from the State Department, you work out an agreement, you're going to have a communique, you're going to so forth.
And I said, so people think you jumped the gun on this. And he said to me, he said, Bob, I gave him a fucking meeting. That's what I gave the jungle a fucking meeting. And I took me two days and I established this relationship.
I wasn't critical that I just want to say in the same way that I wasn't critical of Obama saying I'll talk to demigod from Iran like the right wanted to say, you can't talk to Iran. I thought, no, everyone should be talking. So I actually wasn't critical of him.
I agree. But the relationship with Kim Jong un is not good now. It's deteriorated, but in his eloquent way said no fucking war, right?
And so we're going to see over the coming years is that work? Trump talks. And in these letters that I have back and forth between them, which are extraordinary, Trump feels he has, he said to me, said, Kim tells me everything. I know what going on. He was about to go to start the war. And Trump says he stopped him. Now, Pompilio, secretary of state, heard the same thing from Kim, but he doesn't know whether it's a bluff.
Trump is sure it's not a bluff. So we're going to see. So we did something different. See, here's here's the problem. I've got so many people say Trump breaks norms. He does what's not traditional. And from the time he was elected, they've said, no, wait a minute, he was elected to break norms. People counted on him. To break norms and to sit in kind of oh, this is not traditional, this is not normal.
Trump is not going to be that way. The question is, all of these things get measured by outcomes, don't they? Remember one of George Bush's close advisers saying to me said, you know, everything depends on outcomes and it does in the end. And so we're going to see what happens to some of these things. So I had a very good friend of mine write me an email saying, you know, trumps the leadership, the irrationality, the failure to plan, the failure to have a moral compass and so forth is tragic.
But he said, well, Trump has done some good things. I agree. I mean, this is not one dimensional. A friend of mine once said years ago, I remember I was looking into a lawyer and I was trying to get some background. The friend in Houston, Texas, said, well, so what do you think? And he said, Like all of us, he's a mixed bag.
Yeah, I'm kind of of the same opinion. At least I really try to make a case for the things I think he's done.
Well, I at least attempt to, but I want to just go through and it's in the book The Price Paid for his fiscal minded objective.
Do you think the early stages of the outbreak in China would have gone differently had we not been in such a contentious situation over all the trade deals?
Do you think if we had had a more amicable recent history with them, that they would have accepted our offer of sending epidemiologists and stuff there?
Do you think that we paid a price because they were covering up the virus in China? Remember, at one point I think this was in January, China locked down seven hundred and sixty eight million people in Wuhan and all through China. Now, that's twice the population of the United States. And when China lacks things down, that means if you live in an apartment, they lock you in. That means serious lockdown. It's not literally a grocery store.
You're locked down and somebody is going to go to the grocery store for you and so forth. What happened in this is it took me a lot of months of reporting to discover the key moment. And I opened my book with this is January 20, a top secret meeting in the Oval Office. And President Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, the intel briefer, is in there talking about the virus in China and saying they're watching it. And O'Brien says, Mr President, this virus is going to be the biggest not may be this is going to be the biggest national security threat to your presidency is Deputy Matt Pottinger, who almost if you design somebody to be in that job at this moment, who had been a Wall Street Journal reporter in China for seven years and knew the Chinese line had Deep Throat in China, who told him the pandemic is coming?
And this you know, we went through this. It was all laid out to Trump. And he instead of telling the population, he ignored it and worried about a panic and worried about being re-elected. And when all of this is written for history, 10, 20, 30, 50 years from now, they're going to look back on that meeting, that moment. And this was the beginning of the tragedy for America that has led to 200000 people have died.
And some of this clearly could have been averted by telling the truth and going to the American people. So it is a staggering act of malfeasance. It is a staggering failure to be human. It is a staggering moral failure. And what's what's happened? This has gone on for so long. Oh, another thousand people died. A thousand people died a year ago. If a thousand people died in a factory explosion in Detroit or anywhere in the United States, it would be news for weeks.
Well, that's nearly half the victims of 9/11. So, yeah, we know how he felt about that. Now, here is a place that I want to attempt. To give benefit of the doubt, so here is what I feel like I could be empathetic towards, which is a mass panic and the potential downturn in the economy are going to have collateral damage that also will result in deaths. And again, to your point, forty years from now, we'll know those numbers.
We're definitely going to be paying prices in other areas. So I do see the incentive to downplay it as to prevent panic, as to prevent a collapse in the economy, so on and so forth. I don't think you'd have to be a monster to value the economy as something more than just money, but all the many things it affects in our house.
No, that's true. You've got to balance. You documented him knowing the severity and that's really important. You have documentation of him in January, February, understanding that it was the Spanish flu, understanding that it was five times as dangerous and lethal as influenza. So that's to me where it starts getting broken down. And I start feeling like even if you had that incentive, one of the things that tells me is that you have a very low opinion of the populace, that you can handle this truth, but that we wouldn't be able to handle it, that we will start running mad in the streets and lighting things on fire.
So there's there is a declaration of his assessment of us in some way by thinking we can't handle that.
Yes, this is the failure to understand who we are and who we are. I'm an optimist about the country. I remember after 9/11, I did four books on George W. Bush and George W. Bush after 9/11. Three thousand people killed and a surprise he actually six weeks before had been mourned in the top secret briefing to him from the intelligence community that bin Laden was determined to strike in the US.
And he should have acted and he paid the price for that. But at least after the attack, he stepped up and he said, OK, we're going to pay them back. We will strike at a time of our choosing. He rallied the country, rallied the Congress, all of the work he did in sending troops into Afghanistan. The first American troops into Afghanistan in 2001 were led by a colonel. You know his name, James Mattis.
I had the great pleasure of meeting him on a USO tour in Afghanistan. Yeah, incredible man. Once the thing became bigger than him. How is it that his own shortcomings as a person now start to exponentially ramp up, not being able to handle it, and I specifically mean the doing his own thing, the governing on his own, how does that now come to play into his handling of the pandemic?
Well, it's no better. I mean, it's going to get worse. All the doctors say it will converge with the regular flu. And it is a train that is running, you know, at an incredible speed and it's probably going to run faster. He's not organized. Now, let's look at what is the obligation of the leader of the president when he gets that information on January twenty eight, he should say, wow, this is on my head, my shoulders.
Let's get all of the people in who are experts. Let's get Tony Foushee and let's get the secretary of defense. Let's get Homeland Security. Let's get the smartest people around and let's say how do we act in a way to protect the American people? But there's no meeting. There's a cover up, there's denial, there is refusal. And then in March, when the virus hit us like a bang, it was just over a few days in early March.
I remember I was traveling to the West Coast, to Florida March 6th and 7th, and my wife and daughter Elsa and our daughter Diana went to Morocco. And during that period and thought, you know, everything's fine. And I was at a speech in California and I had copies of my book Fear Then to sign for hundreds of people. And somebody said, you better wear some gloves, rubber gloves. So I got my gloves out and put them on.
And I realized soon, within a day or two there thirty thousand new cases in the US, Trump gave a speech, an Oval Office evening speech, took it seriously, but then again kind of said, oh, it's going to be fine, everything's going to be OK. Kind of brushed it off instead of saying, I mean, he did some serious things. He restricted travel from China. He set up a task force to look at this, but he did he didn't put it all together in his own mind.
And, you know, for your show here to do this right, do you have a team of technicians? How many people sadly you've met?
All of us met. Rob, if you're looking at Monica and you're looking at me for a moment, machinery.
Yeah, right. That's right. Yeah. And if he'd even had three and where we got everything together and said, hey, let's work on this, let's do this. And the evidence in the book that I was able to find is overwhelming in January. Matt Patent's, you talked with Tony Foushee and laid out in truncated form what he knew that a pandemic was coming. And I quote Foushee in the book saying, oh, I thought Matt was over the moon on this and exaggerating in January.
And then when it hit in March, Pouchy is quoted saying, oh, my God, Matt was right all along. The same with Dr. Redfield, the head of the CDC, one of the also not as well known as is Foushee, but a renowned doctor cares about the country last week. Red Field is twenty three thousand people who work for him in the CDC, including contractors. He's testified under oath in Congress and he gets the mask out and he says mask is more important than the vaccine.
This can save your life later in the day. Trump's having his press conference. This is last week. And he says, oh, I heard what Dr. Redfield said. And I called him up. He said he's confused and doesn't know what he's talking about and just crushed him. And it's untrue. And Redfield knows what he's talking about. And, you know, again, this is kind of not a big headline, but it should the president coming out and saying, you know, they have all this work they've done on auto safety.
I think seatbelts are optional.
Come only I'm driving. He would be forced to resign if he said that a mosque is the equivalent of a seatbelt and an insurance policy and you have everyone saying this, knowing this, but see what's happened. We've become kind of anesthetized to this. We have been numbed. Oh, well, a thousand people died. Oh, there's a controversy about masks. There's a controversy about this. And then along comes the Supreme Court opportunity, which Trump I have things in the book and we put out the tapes of this about the Supreme Court working with Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, and Trump.
I quoted in the book and we played this tape. And Trump says to me, Mitch, Mitch is interested in one thing getting judges. Mitch tells me if we're going to get 10 ambassadors confirmed in the Senate, do the one judge pleased and Trump spouting numbers to me with enthusiasm, exaggerated numbers. But he's going to get a lot of appointments. He has over 200 now. He says three hundred. So one point I said and we've released the tape on this and I said, so, Mr.
President, I think you've got so many judges that are going to put a statue of you outside the Supreme Court. And I'm laughing.
And Trump says, what a good idea, a great idea will do it tomorrow. But I won't tell people that it's coming from me. Oh, my goodness.
OK, so I want you to try to again, I'm going to ask you to play psychiatrist a little bit. Would you chalk all of this up to incompetence? Is that what it is is just too much for him to handle? Or is there a more nefarious objective or it may be just a more self-serving, narcissistic objective? How do you explain it?
All roads lead to re-election. See, Trump knows that in our political culture, successful presidents are re-elected, right? Yeah. Clinton was re-elected. Bush was reelected. Obama was re-elected. And you can criticize all of them. Somebody like George Herbert Walker Bush was not re-elected. Jimmy Carter was not re-elected. And there kind of bites the dust heap, especially for him.
That's the losers. Yeah. This loser. And so he wants to win in such a way that he's committed everything to it and he has lost sight of is over. I mean, here look, President, I've done nine presidents. Ken Burns told me some time ago, said you realize you've written about for The Washington Post and books on nine presidents. That's 20 percent of the presidents we've had that is wild. And I said, yeah, I am that old.
I think your point is when you you know, when you cover a baseball team for 50 years, which I've almost done with the presidency, you see certain characteristics. You learn about how the manager makes a difference, how the pitcher makes a difference.
Stay tuned for more, I'm sure, if you dare.
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When you cover the presidency, you have the opportunity to try to think about it and one of the things that just hit me like cream pie in the face is the extraordinary power presidents have. They have the megaphone, they had the microphone. They are moral leaders in foreign affairs. You know, they decide Joe Biden really can't go abroad as a presidential candidate because he'll say he's trying to do the president's job. And the Constitution makes it very clear that the president.
And so President Trump says Putin's our friend, Kim Jong un. We're going to deal with him, embarrass the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, even though, according to the CIA, he's behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, one of the writers for my newspaper. And he has all this extraordinary power in the foreign affairs and domestic affairs, the economy and moral leadership and the direction of the country. And so you put it in the hands of somebody like Trump who won't organize, won't think through it.
Staggering. And I really find myself saying is I think I was quoted in the Drudge Report the other day saying historians are going to come around and they're going to say what the F was happening in America in this period. We have lost our moorings. Now, that's not by me a political judgment. I don't have politics. I can't have politics. I only vote when my young daughter wants me to go vote for her because she has a favorite candidate.
I'm just not going.
I don't think that way as I'm sitting here talking to you and I'm thinking about the reluctance and the not wearing the mask, I do wonder if you think there's an underpinning of ageism.
And before you answer, I just want to say, as I'm sitting here talking to you, I'm reminded that there would be few people more than you that defended our democracy, that kapit healthy by exposing Nixon. And then I think you're currently doing it. But I have to imagine part of the lackluster response to covid is that it is disproportionately affecting older people and we're just not valuing older people the way we would if it had killed two hundred thousand children.
And I just wonder if you have thoughts on that and I'm looking at you and you're still defending our democracy in it. It's occurring to me that this is unfair, that maybe part of it is this sense of disposability of older people.
In one of my conversations with Trump, he said, you know, it hits older people. If you get it, your life is over. He said, and I thought, boy, I'm going to go wash my hands and I'm going to wear my mask. And so, no, I don't think that's it. I think it's and this is a profound question you're asking where we need to look at ourselves as a country and our responsibility for becoming unmoored from the principle of, my God, every life counts.
Now, Trump says even one is too much. But this is going to be a sad story. We're going to have to walk everyone in this country. The painful road of introspection and the road of introspection is, you know, is indeed painful because you see yourself and your weaknesses and you see what you should have done. You wind up second guessing yourself and the country's going to have to go through that. Normally, what brings this country to its senses is a crisis.
But this crisis has been happening slowly. You know, a thousand lives here. Two thousand lives here. Oh, God, it's only five hundred today. Oh, woops. It's up to a thousand back and forth. And I think it's the I had to editor at the Washington Post, managing editor named Howard Simons, who was just a great, brilliant man. And we go to a party at the in Washington and so forth. And he knew if he said he was the managing editor of The Washington Post.
Everyone, one of you know, what about this? What about that? We're so used to go to party and what do you do? He said, well, I work for the Agriculture Department. Everyone would say, Yeah. Thank you, so nice to meet you. Hope to see you before I leave. Yes, obviously, these are kind of unparalleled times and as you say about us becoming unmoored, is it not shocking to you the difference between what caused Nixon to resign, you know, in its weight and intensity versus what kind of scandal could even exist today that would have a president resign?
Is that question makes sense? It seems like it's changed such a great deal from when your work resulted in the resignation, which about stealing stuff from a hotel room, albeit about the election.
But I just well know it was the Democratic National Committee, the opposition party. Watergate was a whole series of other illegal acts and conspiracies. And so.
Yes, and of all to undermine the election. And yes, I'm not downplaying the severity of that. I'm just saying it seems like we've eclipsed that level several times and there is really not been any true pressure for someone to confront that. Do you think what happened with Nixon from your work in the 70s could even happen today? I guess that's my question.
Yeah, certainly all kinds of things can happen. And I look at my job. My job is to find out what happened. And I've been very privileged to work at The Washington Post and have Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham is the owner. And it's a gift was a gift to me as a young reporter, needless to say. So we we have to work harder in my business. I need to work harder. The election is, what, seven weeks away?
Can you I mean, seven weeks in America goes Zoom is gone. And there are things we don't know. There are things that are hidden and we need to dig into them. And, you know, the whole system, Republicans, Democrats, accountable. Even though there's been some tough reporting on Biden, there will be more tough reporting on. But, uh huh. So everyone in my business needs to as Ben Bradlee said, when Carl Bernstein and I went and woke him up, this was in 1973 at 2:00 a.m. in the morning, this house to say we've got information that Nixon's behind it all.
And Ben came out in his bathrobe and pajamas and he said, OK, you guys have put us under a lot of pressure and go home and take a bath, rest up a little bit and then get your ass back to work. And Ben Bradlee departed long ago, but his voice of Get your ass back to work is echoing in my head. And there's no off switch in journalism. There's no off switch in covering Trump World.
But have you found that there's been over your career so much more distrust now? Because that's coming from the top.
That's coming from the elite of, you know, trying to dismantle the press and media and it's all fake. And so before with Nixon, when you guys broke that story, it was just believed, right? Or no, it wasn't.
No one. No, people didn't believe it. We wrote all these stories and in nineteen seventy two for the seventy two election, we wrote all these stories about criminality and break ins and secret funds and sabotage operations against Democrats. Pretty extensive. And on Election Day, Nixon won 49 states. It wasn't really. That's a great.
I'm glad I'm glad you pointed that out because it feels uniquely current. Yeah.
Yeah, I'm glad it's you, but it's really a good question. And we're in this age of impatience and speed the Internet. Give it to me now. Give me one sentence and so forth. And my colleagues at The Washington Post just do a great daily job. I mean, we have a team of reporters, a woman named Ashley Parker, who came from The New York Times, Bob Costa, Phil Rucker, dozens more covering the White House, covering the administration and somebody like me.
I don't have to write a daily story. I don't have to write a weekly story. And I can deal with the question, not just what did the president know? When did he know, but how did he know it? And how did Trump know that this virus was going to be a pandemic and would go through the air? Took me three months to figure that out and find out. About the January eight meeting, I wish I was faster, so it takes a long time to put the pieces together and I worry now, you know, I go to sleep and I wonder what don't we know?
And I wake up in the morning. I've said this before and I mean it. I have made it. My immediate reaction when I get up is what are the bastards, Heidi? Not one party, but both parties in institutions and business. There is a natural reflex cover up. Don't level with people. Maybe they'll never find out. Maybe they'll never discover. When you're president of the United States, you have this unique constitutional and moral and institutional role.
And it's really a truthtelling role. It's it's a role of immense responsibility. No, no one should walk into it without understanding the dimensions. And we are now in a situation where I think we need to really wake up about the peril that's coming with this pandemic right now. If it was over in history, you could kind of say, OK, it's over, can't even get close. And as I was trying to point out, get Dr. Foushee here and they'll tell you it's going to get worse.
Yeah, yeah. We're in the eye of the storm, OK. My last question, and it's for fun.
You've been portrayed in movies by the handsomest man to ever live, Robert Redford, and you've been portrayed by the funniest man to ever live, Will Ferrell, who more accurately captured Bob Woodward in the first case for all the president's men.
Redford having that role. I always have to have it fixed in my head. And I say to people and I say to you have no idea how many women are disappointed.
Oh, hell, yes, really. At the time I was that married and I would call women up for dates and, you know, identify.
Oh, yeah, I'd love to do so.
And then I go to the door and ring the buzzer and the door would open and go, ha, where's Bob Redford?
I have seen more disappointment those faces than anyone. And so what's the lesson? Don't take any of this stuff seriously. Just the Ben Bradlee rule nose down is moving slowly forward.
Oh, well, you are a national treasure. We thank you for all the fifty years plus work you've done always with the goal of keeping that fourth estate strong and keeping this democracy honest and thriving. So thank you so much. We really appreciate you taking the time.
We've got a lot of work to do in the next weeks. Enjoy the discussion. Good luck.
All right. Thank you so much, Mr. Robert.