White House Responds To Explosive Allegations In Bob Woodward's New Book

Sep 4, 2018
Originally published on September 4, 2018 5:17 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Bob Woodward's new book is not the first to portray the Trump White House in a negative light. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk more about this book and the potential fallout for the White House. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How has the White House reacted to this?

LIASSON: We have quite a lot of reactions from the White House. There's a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said the book is, quote, "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad," a statement from chief of staff John Kelly, who said, the idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true.

The when also have a statement from John Dowd, the president's former lawyer, who says, I did not refer to the president as a liar, and I didn't say he was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit. He's referring to an anecdote in the Woodward book where Woodward describes Dowd telling the president that he should not testify, not do an interview with Bob Mueller, the special counsel, because the alternative to that is ending up in an orange jumpsuit.

The president himself gave an interview to The Daily Caller where he said that the book was, quote, "just another bad book." And he claimed that Woodward, who's the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, has, quote, "a lot of credibility problems." He also specifically denied the story that Woodward described of Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, taking a piece of paper off Trump's desk without Trump knowing it. And finally, late in the day, we got a reaction from Secretary of Defense Mattis, who said the contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence.

SHAPIRO: So a lot of eye-popping stories and a lot of denials that those stories are true - will any of this make a difference?

LIASSON: Well, that's the big question. As Bob Costa just said, this is a book written by Bob Woodward. He - it's kind of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. This is not Michael Wolff, who wrote "Fire And Fury," or Omarosa Manigault Newman, who wrote a tell-all. This is Bob Woodward, who's won two Pulitzer Prizes and has never had his reporting proved to be fraudulent in the past.

And it rings true because it echoes similar stories of dysfunction and chaos, stories of top officials, people close to the president trying to protect him from himself, protect the country from him. So I think it's going to be harder for the White House to undermine. On the other hand, I think people are so locked in and so tribal. If you're a Trump supporter, probably this book will not shake your belief in him.

SHAPIRO: You know, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was on CNBC today and basically said, if these people are so critical of the president, why don't they go find another job? Having reported on this White House, can you actually answer that question? Why would somebody who would call the president an idiot work for him?

LIASSON: Well, that is a really good question, although one of the answers is that they have a sense of public service. When you read the excerpts that The Post has printed from the book, you see that Secretary of Defense Mattis wants to prevent the president from starting World War III. I mean, these are people who are motivated in some cases by public service.

SHAPIRO: I also want to ask you about President Trump's relationship with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who - we know this has been a fraught relationship. But according to the Woodward book, this is perhaps even more fraught than we're aware. He calls...

LIASSON: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...Sessions some pretty offensive names.

LIASSON: Right, mocks his Southern accent, says this guy is mentally retarded and says he's this dumb Southerner. So he has been mocking and humiliating his attorney general for quite some time. Over the weekend, he even - instead of chastising Sessions and telling him he should go investigate his political enemies like Hillary Clinton, he criticized him on Twitter for the prosecutions of two GOP supporters of Trump's, Representative Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, two of the first members of the House who endorsed Trump.

And of course ironically, the first senator to endorse Trump was Jeff Sessions. But that raised all sorts of questions again - perfect example of politicizing law enforcement. And it really is the opposite of the rule of law. Justice is supposed to apply to anyone, not just the president's enemies.

SHAPIRO: It - does all of this mean that Sessions might be out of a job sooner rather than later?

LIASSON: I don't think so. No one I've talked to suggests that the president is going to move against Sessions before the midterms. He - President Trump gave an interview to Bloomberg last week in which he seemed to suggest that he wouldn't do anything about Sessions until after the midterms. But I also have talked to a number of people who wouldn't be surprised if Sessions was fired after the election.

SHAPIRO: And finally, Mara, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which we're covering elsewhere in the program, which the White House would much rather be talking about than the Bob Woodward book - put this into context for us.

LIASSON: Yes. This is a day that belong - should belong to Brett Kavanaugh. The White House is very confident not only about confirming him, but also this would cement President Trump's legacy regardless of what Bob Woodward ever writes about him. He will have cemented a conservative majority on the court for at least a generation if Kavanaugh is confirmed, and that really is a much bigger story.

SHAPIRO: And we will have coverage of those confirmation hearings elsewhere on the program. NPR's Mara Liasson speaking with us about the latest Bob Woodward book titled "Fear" - thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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