Last month, President Donald Trump called The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. Trump had heard Woodward was working on a book and called to ask why Woodward had never reached out to him. Woodward told Trump he had repeatedly tried to reach him through official and unofficial channels and been rebuffed. He also informed the President that the book – “Fear: Trump in the White House” – was done (it comes out on September 11) and that Trump was too late.
I picked out the most fascinating parts of the call. They’re below.
1. “It’s really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would’ve loved to have spoken to you. You know I’m very open to you. I think you’ve always been fair.”
Trump is right – Woodward is fair – but the President saying this on tape(!) makes what undoubtedly will be the White House’s attempt to discredit Woodward that much tougher. Also, it becomes clear time and time again in this phone call that people – including White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham – did talk to Trump (or his scheduling team) about sitting down with Woodward, even if the President says he didn’t know it.
2. “Madeleine is the key. She’s the secret. Because she’s the person….”
Trump is talking about Madeleine Westerhout, his personal assistant. And her being “the key” is no longer much of a secret.
3. “Well, a lot of them are afraid to come and talk, or – you know, they are busy. I’m busy. But I don’t mind talking to you. I would’ve spoken to you.”
The President of the United States is acknowledging that many of his aides are afraid of him! That. Is. Nuts. Also, Trump reiterates here that he would have been more than happy to talk to Woodward.
4. “And I certainly don’t mind talking to you, and I wish I could’ve spoken to you. But nobody called my office. I mean, you went through, I guess, different people. …”
Put a pin in this. We’ll come back to it.
5. “Who were the senators? No, they never called me about it. … Senator Graham actually mentioned it quickly in one meeting.”
In between Trump saying no senator mentioned it and him admitting Graham mentioned it comes this line from Woodward: “Senator Graham said he had talked to you about talking to me. Now, is that not true?” What happened is this: Trump made a sweeping statement. Woodward called him on it with a fact. Trump acknowledged his previous statement (seconds before) was inaccurate. Good times. (Also, see No. 4.)
6. “So I have another bad book coming out. Big deal.”
This can be read either as false bravado (Trump is trying to convince Woodward that nothing can really hurt him with his supporters) or actual bravado (Trump is convinced that nothing can really hurt him with his supporters). I’m honestly not sure which it is.
7. “I mean, you do know I’m doing a great job for the country. You do know that NATO now is going to pay billions and billions of dollars more, as an example, than anybody thought possible, that other presidents were unable to get more?”
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This line from Trump comes DIRECTLY after Woodward describes the way in which he used sources and described meeting in the White House. It’s almost as if Trump turned on some sort of autopilot function. Because in the context of the conversation, the decision to tout your work on NATO makes a total of 0% sense.
8. “Well, other than Lindsey [Graham], who did quickly mention it, nobody mentioned it.”
Um, no. Scroll down. (Also, see No. 4.)
9. “Nobody told me about it. Well, let me ask her. Why don’t you speak to Kellyanne. Ask her. She never told me about it.”
Trump hands the phone to Conway at this point. (I told you this was an amazing phone call!) Conway, with Trump listening, says this: “I put in the request. But you know, they – it was rejected. I can only take it so far. I guess I can bring it right to the president next time.” Then she adds: “I try to follow all the protocols, or else I’m accused of being somebody who doesn’t follow protocol.” Conway’s shade here at the team who handles Trump interview requests is truly epic. Look, I asked. They said no. Talk to them.
10. “If you would’ve called directly – a lot of people are afraid … Raj, I hardly have … I don’t speak to Raj.”
Raj Shah is the principal deputy communications director at the White House. He’s running point for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He’s also likely had better days than today.
11. “She should’ve come to me. She does have access to me. Absolutely. She has direct access, but she didn’t come to me.”
That thud was Trump pushing Conway under the bus while on a taped phone conversation with a political reporter.
12. “I’m just hearing about it. And I heard – I did hear from Lindsey, but I’m just hearing about it. So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad. But I don’t blame you entirely.”
Here’s where you begin to see Trump formulating what will be his spin about “Fear.” I didn’t even know about the book. Some of my aides didn’t tell me. So the book is wrong. The problem there is a) Woodward has a long track record of getting it right and b) Trump casting himself as someone his aides are afraid to tell stuff to isn’t a great look for him.
13. “Well, accurate is that nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. That I can tell you.”
Remarkable. Woodward is assuring Trump that the book will be factual and accurate. Trump responds by showing he seems to have no idea what those words mean – offering an opinion about how great he is doing as president.