During a December 2019 Oval Office interview with then-President Donald Trump, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward asked whether his bellicose rhetoric toward North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been intended to drive Kim to the negotiating table.
“No. No. It was designed for whatever reason, it was designed. Who knows? Instinctively. Let’s talk instinct, okay?” Trump said. “Because it’s really about you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was very rough rhetoric. The roughest.”
Trump then instructed his aides to show Woodward his photos with Kim at the DMZ. “This is me and him. That’s the line, right? Then I walked over the line. Pretty cool. You know? Pretty cool. Right?” the president said.
Trump’s take on his relationship with Kim – and his admission that he didn’t have a broader strategy behind the threats he made about having a “much bigger” nuclear button – are part of a new audiobook that Woodward is releasing. Titled, “The Trump Tapes,” the book contains the 20 interviews Woodward conducted with Trump from 2016 through 2020.
CNN obtained a copy of the audiobook ahead of its October 25 release, which includes more than eight hours of the journalist’s raw interviews with Trump interspersed with Woodward’s commentary.
The interviews offer unvarnished insights into the former president’s worldview and are the most extensive recordings of Trump speaking about his presidency — including explaining his rationale for meeting Kim, his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s detailed views of the US nuclear arsenal. The audio also shows how Trump decided to share with Woodward the letters Kim wrote to him – the letters that helped spark the DOJ investigation into classified documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago.
“And don’t say I gave them to you, okay?” Trump told Woodward.
Woodward said in the book’s introduction that he is releasing the recordings in part because “hearing Trump speak is a completely different experience to reading the transcripts or listening to snatches of interviews on television or the internet.”
He describes Trump as “raw, profane, divisive and deceptive. His language is often retaliatory.”
“Yet, you will also hear him engaging and entertaining, laughing, ever the host. He is trying to win me over, sell his presidency to me. The full-time salesman,” Woodward said. “I wanted to put as much of Trump’s voice, his own words, out there for the historical record and so people could hear and judge and make their own assessments.”
Most of the interviews were conducted for Woodward’s second Trump book, “Rage,” which revealed that Trump told Woodward on February 7, 2020, that Covid-19 was “deadly stuff” but still downplayed it publicly.
While the blockbuster revelations were published in Woodward’s book, the audio clips of the interviews are a stark reminder of how Trump acted as president and provide a candid look into Trump’s thinking and motivations as he gears up for another potential run for the White House in 2024.
‘Everything is mine’
In the interviews, Trump shares his views about the strongmen he admires – including Kim, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – and reveals his overarching conviction that he’s the smartest person in the room.
In a June 2020 interview, which followed the nationwide protests over George Floyd, Woodward asked Trump whether he had help writing his speech in which Trump declared himself the “president of law and order.”
“I get, I get people. They come up with ideas. But the ideas are mine, Bob. The ideas are mine,” Trump told Woodward in a June 2020 interview. “Want to know something? Everything is mine. You know, everything. Every part of it.”
The 20 interviews contained in the audiobook begin in March 2016, when Woodward and his then-Washington Post colleague Robert Costa interviewed Trump while he was a presidential candidate. The rest of the interviews were conducted in 2019 and 2020.
In the December 2019 interview, Woodward questioned Trump about North Korea’s nuclear program, prompting the president to boast about US nuclear weapons capabilities while seemingly revealing a new – and likely highly classified – weapons system, which was one of the more eye-raising episodes from “Rage.”
Woodward says that he never could establish what Trump was referring to, though he notes that Trump’s comment reaffirmed the “casual, dangerous way” the former president treated classified information.
“I have built a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before,” Trump told Woodward. “We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before.”
Throughout the interviews, Trump references his relationship with Putin, blaming the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference for ruining his chances to improve the relationship between the two countries.
“I like Putin. Our relationship should be a very good one. I campaigned on getting along with Russia, China and everyone else,” Trump said in a January 2020 interview. “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing, all right? Especially because they have 1,332 nuclear f***ing warheads.”
In a moment of rare self-reflection, Trump noted that he had better relationships with leaders “the tougher and meaner they are.”
“I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you’re not supposed to because everyone says what a horrible guy. But you know for me it works out good,” Trump said in a January 2020 interview.
“It’s funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You know?” he continued. “Explain that to me someday, okay. But maybe it’s not a bad thing. The easy ones are the ones I maybe don’t like as much or don’t get along with as much.”
New audio from Trump’s inner circle
Woodward’s audiobook also includes never-before-heard interviews with Trump’s then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien, his deputy Matthew Pottinger, as well as behind-the-scenes audio with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
During a call with Woodward in February 2020, Trump hands the phone over to Kushner to set up interviews with other Trump advisers.
“What I heard from the president is basically that I now work for you, so I will make myself available around that schedule and I will make sure I get you a good list,” Kushner said.
“I want you to know I have no illusions that you work for me. I know you work for Ivanka, right?” Woodward joked.
Kushner laughed. “Okay, fine, you get it. You get it. That’s probably why you’re Bob Woodward. That’s true.”
Throughout the recordings, a cast of Trump advisers, allies and family – including Donald Trump Jr., Melania Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Hope Hicks and others – can be heard in the background. The audio gives an inside glimpse of Trump’s inner circle, like an exchange from 2016 when Trump was asked whether he expects government employees to sign non-disclosure agreements, and his son chimed in.
“I’m not getting next week’s paycheck until I sign one,” Donald Trump Jr. joked.
In the epilogue of “The Trump Tapes,” Woodward declares that his own past assessments critical of Trump’s presidency did not go far enough. In “Rage,” Woodward wrote, “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”
Now, Woodward says, “Trump is an unparalleled danger. The record now shows that Trump has led — and continues to lead — a seditious conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, which in effect is an effort to destroy democracy.”