Happy Scribe

If this is what President Trump knew about the coronavirus on February 7th, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your you know, your even your strenuous flus.


Why was he saying this about the coronavirus in public less than three weeks later? Sometimes they just get the sniffles. Sometimes they just get something where they're not feeling quite right and sometimes they feel really bad. But that's a little bit like the flu.


It's a little like the regular flu that it's a question that's dogged the president ever since that first recording went public last week from an interview with the journalist Bob Woodward. Bob Woodward, of course, is one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story that eventually led to Richard Nixon's resignation. These revelations come from hours of interviews Woodward recorded with Donald Trump for his new book. It's called Rage.


I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down. Yes, because I don't want to create a panic.


The book is out this week, and Woodward sat down with NPR to talk about it. He's an old school journalist, so committed to impartiality that he said he doesn't vote in presidential elections. But Woodward said his reporting led him to take a position on this president. Consider this.


The journalist who has covered nine presidents says this one is the wrong man for the job. From NPR. I'm Audie Cornish. It's September 14th. This message comes from NPR sponsor New Belgium Brewing and its flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale. You can't brew great beer without healthy rivers, forests and soils. That's why Fat Tire Amber Ale is now America's first certified carbon neutral beer. More at drink sustainably dotcom. This message comes from NPR sponsor Twilio, a customer engagement platform trusted by millions of developers, enabling you to reinvent how you connect with your customers.


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And I'm Chris Axelle. We're the hosts of No Compromise, NPR's new podcast exploring one family's mission to reconstruct America using two powerful tools, guns and Facebook.


New episodes drop every Tuesday. Join us for the No Compromise podcast from NPR. It's consider this from NPR, the biggest news in Bob Woodward's book is the gulf between President Trump's public statements on covid-19 and his private understanding of the threat. As revealed in interviews, his opponent, Democratic candidate Joe Biden, said the recordings show Trump lied to the American public.


He knew how dangerous it was while this deadly disease ripped through our nation. He failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.


Biden went as far as to blame Trump for thousands of coronavirus deaths. Trump's defense, he didn't want to create a panic.


The fact is, I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic, as you say. And certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence, will show strength. In an interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, Woodward comes to the conclusion that the president failed to protect the country from the virus. She's here with us now.


And Mary Louise, this is not the first book to paint a picture of a chaotic Trump administration having difficulties responding to unexpected crises. What sets it apart?


Hey, Audie. I mean, what Bob Woodward would say is this is a window into the president's mind. Woodward got extraordinary access, something like nine hours, cumulative of interviews.


And often these were interviews that were unfolding in the evening. There were no White House aides around. There was nobody to rein in the president or say, you know, we're done. That's enough for that line of questioning.


So Woodward was able to to question him at length and over months and try to gauge how the president's understanding was was evolving on everything from from racial justice to the pandemic, which has been the thing that's made a lot of headlines so far to foreign policy.


And that part of this book has gotten less play. It is really interesting what some of what Woodward learned about other threats beyond the pandemic facing our country and our national security, including one.


Let me let you hear this, where I asked about a recent threat that was a lot more urgent than many of us realized. Based on your reporting, how close did we come to war with North Korea?


I think given North Korea is a rogue nation, they have is I report. Probably a couple of dozen nuclear weapons well hidden and concealed, that it scared. Secretary of defense matters so much that he would sleep in his gym clothes. There was a light in his bathroom. Is he if he was in the shower and they detected a North Korean launch, he was worried he might have to issue orders for a nuclear strike.


Yes, exactly. But but not just shoot down an incoming missiles.


Yes. Because what if the first missile was coming toward the United States and there was a possibility it had a nuclear weapon? President Trump and President Trump told me this. He authorized Secretary of Defense Mattis on his own to shoot it down. If Kim saw that, he might launch all of his other weapons. I quote Matt is saying, no one has a right to incinerate millions of people. But he had to face that. He was not worried that Trump was going to launch against North Korea preemptively.


He believed that the problem was Kim Jong un, the North Korean leader.


In the epilogue, you wrote about Mattis, about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, about director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, the trio of original senior the senior national security team, all of whom, in your judgment, were acting in good faith, well-intentioned, trying to answer a call to public service. You say to the reader to slow down. Think about this for a moment. The top national security leaders thought the president of the United States was a danger to the country.


In your decades of reporting on Washington, have you ever encountered that? Well, in the case of Nixon, the Congress and the Republican leaders in Congress decided that Nixon was criminal and should not serve and went to him and told him that it was over.


And I'm talking about senior national security leaders who served this president coming out and saying not just I don't like him anymore, not just I disagreed with this or that policy, but he poses a threat to the security of the country.


No. I know you and Carl Bernstein written about the end of Watergate and Nixon unraveling questions about his stability, how does that moment compare to now?


You know, I don't I don't know. I mean, I think President Trump was willing to talk extensively. He called me spontaneously, I think seven times over the last ten months. I called him, I think, seven times and he either answered right away or called me up from at least one of those calls.


I know, because you write about it, that April 5th one you said I hung up distressed beyond being a reporter, feeling worried for the country.


Yes, because I had done a lot of reporting on what needed to be done with the virus. And in that call, I wanted to give him a chance. And I said, look, you're going to be judged by the virus. This is at that point, 160000 people were dead. I was pushing him to deal with it, quite frankly. And this is a reporter's question from reporting and talking to other officials. And at the end of the book, as you may recall, I say in totality, Trump is the wrong man for the job.


Is that a first for you, issuing a ruling on the fitness of a president for the job? Well, for the first Trump book, Fear, I said very explicitly that there is a nervous breakdown of the executive branch to make it personal in this one.


Well, you know, it's just it's a confusion and a judgment based on overwhelming evidence.


And can you briefly describe why why did you feel the need to come down with that judgment on this president?


No, because I had extensive information that he failed to keep the country safe when he knew and had information that could keep the country much safer because he failed to tell the truth. And if there's a tragedy in all of this, and I think there is, it's that Trump who said I wanted to play it down because I didn't want to create a panic. And my study of nine presidents, 20 percent of the presidents we've had and of the history before that is when the country's told the truth.


They don't panic. Last thing. We are in this moment where, whatever your politics, Americans are scared, everything feels so unsettled, the future of our democracy, the future of our country feels at stake. And so I guess I'm curious. You, Bob Woodward, how worried are you having lived through and having driven a million new cycles, does this feel different?


You know, there's a lot of worry about what Trump will do, that he'll put troops in the street. And he did. Yeah, in a very limited way. And there and I asked him this question, suppose you lose, what are you going to do in the election? And he said, I don't want to comment on that. But we still we can sit and have this conversation and I can make the kind of judgments of our leader that journalists in many countries in the world cannot make.


So I say in the book that for the moment, democracy is held, but leadership has failed. Bob Woodward speaking with my colleague Mary Louise Kelly about his new book, Rage.


You can find a link to more of the interview in our show notes, including questions about why Woodward chose to wait to reveal Trump's coronavirus interviews in his book. Thanks for joining us for consider this from NPR.


I'm Audie Cornish.