Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House”, which is scheduled to be released next week, paints an unflattering portrait of a chaotic administration on the verge of “a nervous breakdown of executive power” based on accounts of current and former administration officials. Woodward details how the president’s own senior aides view him as a threat, even going as far as swiping sensitive documents off of his desk in order to protect national security.
Last month, according to The Washington Post and CNN, Trump called Woodward, who had already completed the book, to repeatedly claim that his staff did not put him in touch with Woodward, even putting advisor Kellyanne Conway on the phone at one point to confirm that she “never told” him that Woodward wanted to discuss the book with him as it was being written.
[Conway takes the phone.]
Conway: Bob, how are you? Hi.
BW: Hi. Remember two and a half months ago you came over and I laid out, I wanted to talk to the president? And you said you would get back to me?
Conway: I do. And 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.
Conway: But I try to follow all the protocols, or else I’m accused of being somebody who doesn’t follow protocol.
BW: President Trump, I just want you to know I made every effort.
Conway: But you had talked to [former White House communications director] Hope [Hicks], right, who said no?
BW: Listen, I talked to anyone I could. [Laughs]
The claim that Trump wasn’t aware of Woodward’s book, even though he admitted that he did hear about it from Senator Lindsey Graham later in the phone call, is dubious. So, what was the point of the call? The answer may lie within this exchange:
Trump: But are you naming names? Or do you just say sources?
BW: Yeah, well, it names real incidents, so . ..
Trump: No, but do you name sources? I mean, are you naming the people, or just say, people have said?
BW: I say, at 2:00 on this day, the following happened, and everyone who’s there, including yourself, is quoted. And I’m sorry I didn’t get to ask you about these . ..
Named sources are troublesome for an administration that routinely falls back on claims of “fake news” to dismiss damaging stories. Those sources are also a problem for Republicans as they face a mid-term election in a little more than sixty days from now, because Woodward told Trump that he has “hundreds of hours” of tape during the 11-minute phone call.
The explosive allegations reportedly contained in Woodward’s book are not exactly new; last fall, NBC reported that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once called Trump a bleeping “moron”, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis publicly disagreed with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
At the time, Senator Bob Corker defended Mattis, Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, stating that they are the “people that help separate our country from chaos”. Senator Tom Cotton took a different approach, saying that both Tillerson and Mattis should resign if they could not accept that their job was to advise the president, not to make decisions for him.
Republicans have mostly chosen to ignore the daily drama that emits from the Trump administration, opting instead to wait it out in a safe space. Now, with distress calls coming from within the White House, they will have to act. Will they follow Corker’s lead, or Cotton’s?