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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, September 16, 2020

Guest: Bob Woodward


MSNBC exclusively interviews Bob Woodward, Author, "Rage."


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, thank you very much. Really appreciate it. Thank you. I have been riveted to every word of interviews Bob Woodward has given on this network and elsewhere about his new book "Rage," and I have a list of things from that book that I hope to discuss tonight that have not been included in any of his previous interviews, including his reporting on the Mueller investigation, which in this book is called the Rosenstein investigation because this book makes clear that Robert Mueller was never really in charge of that investigation because Rod Rosenstein was Robert Mueller's boss in the Justice Department, and he kept tight control of the investigation all the way. This book also has the first words Attorney General William Barr said privately after reading the Mueller report. This book has cinematic scenes that rival the best Hollywood screenwriting of the secretary of defense repeatedly getting into this position to watch missiles being launched from North Korea, not knowing whether this would be the one headed for Seattle that would force him to launch a response, possibly a nuclear response. I hope to get to all of that and more in this hour. But we begin with the tragedy that is central to this book. Many of the most dramatic and deadly chapters of American history have begun with shots fired -- the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the assassination of President Lincoln, World War I, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that pulled the United States into World War II, the assassination of President Kennedy, the terrorist attack on the United States on 9/11, the American invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the American invasion of Iraq. The dramatic and deadly chapter we are all living through tonight that has already left more American dead than most of our wars began not with shots fired, but with a memo on July 1st of this year. The memo was marked at the top and bottom "For internal use only, not for distribution". It's a CDC memo entitled "China Pneumonia of Unknown Etiology, Situation Report, January 1, 2020." The top line message says: The current situation relates to an epidemic of pneumonia of unknown etiology centralizing on a local seafood market, Hua Nan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China. A 79-year-old physician who spent his entire life studying and fighting infectious diseases had this reaction to that memo: "China, new virus, wet market, wow." His name is Anthony Fauci. We know all of this from Bob Woodward's new book "Rage" where that CDC memo appears reproduced in full. We've had 45 presidents of the United States and we have had exactly one Bob Woodward. No one else in American history, political history or journalism story, has done what Bob Woodward has done. He has written about nine consecutive presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. That is 20 percent of American presidents, 20 percent of our presidents have come under Bob Woodward's journalistic microscope with the closest aides to those presidents and members of the cabinet and often members of their family and the presidents themselves sometimes telling Bob Woodward everything they know on tape. No one else in American history has been able to make that close a study of 20 percent of our presidents over a 50-year period. Some of those presidents have submitted to interviews with Bob Woodward, some of them didn't. But none of his many hours of interviews with previous presidents prepared him for the phone calls he was going to be getting from Donald Trump for this book, beginning at the end of last year and running through most of this year. Bob Woodward had 19 conversations with Donald Trump covering nine hours and 41 minutes. And Donald Trump used an astonishing amount of that time to talk about the book itself. The book that he was getting interviews to create, Donald Trump repeatedly asked Bob Woodward about the book. Would it be a good book for Trump? Would it be a bad book for Trump? Donald Trump worried aloud with Bob Woodward on tape about how George W. Bush submitted to interviews with Bob Woodward and then Bob Woodward made President Bush look like an idiot, according to Donald Trump, who never gave the slightest hint that he had read any of Bob Woodward's previous 19 books. At the end of one of their last phone conversations: President Trump said, hey, Bob, could I call you later so I can get to these generals and make sure everything is good. I said I still wanted to push on some of these questions. I don't mind, he said. I hope you're truthful. If you're truthful, you're going to write a great book. And if you're not truthful, you're going to hit me. Three days later on June 22nd of this year, after Bob Woodward had already completed a first draft of this book, President Trump called again at 8:15 p.m. During that phone call, Melania Trump enters the room and President Trump says, honey, I'm talking to Bob Woodward. And then Donald Trump told his wife, apparently for the first time, that Bob Woodward was writing a book about him. And then he said, it will probably be atrocious, but that's okay. Donald Trump's obsession with the book constantly recurs throughout the interviews for the book. "The New Yorker's" review of the book begins with this line: Why would President Trump cooperate with Bob Woodward? The answer that seems to emerge from the book is that even Donald Trump knows that Bob Woodward writes the first draft of history of American presidents and Donald Trump wanted to win that first draft of history. He wanted to be the hero of this book. But this book is a tragedy because it tells the story of President Trump's failure to mount a full mobilization of the federal government and the American people against the coronavirus, and that failure has this country now approaching 200,000 deaths tonight from the coronavirus. On page 376, Bob Woodward writes: History might blame him for mishandling the crisis. And then 16 pages later, on the final page of the book, Bob Woodward delivers the verdict of the first draft of history: All presidents have a large obligation to inform, warn, protect, to define goals and the true national interest. It should be a truth-telling response to the world, especially in crisis. Trump has instead enshrined personal impulse as a governing principle of his presidency. When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job. Joining us now is Bob Woodward, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He's an associate editor at "The Washington Post" where he has worked since 1971, and he's the author of the now number one bestselling book "Rage." Bob, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it. BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "RAGE": Thank you, thank you. O'DONNELL: Bob, is this the most important book you have written? WOODWARD: You know, you never know. I am of the Bradley School. Ben Bradley, the editor of "The Washington Post" during Watergate and the genius who understood you do your job, you put it out. Sometimes it will have impact. Sometimes it's important, sometimes it's not. As he always said, nose down, ass up, moving slowly ahead. And I think it's a great doctrine for journalists. So, I don't -- I just kind of do the reporting as best I can and the writing. I had my wife Elsa, she edited it six times. Jon Karp, the head of Simon & Schuster, went through it meticulously also. And, so, these are team efforts, as you know. Just like on your show. O'DONNELL: There are some things that you write here that I have never read in any of your previous books. I have read all the books about the presidents. There are lines in here that you've written, lines like "I hung up feeling distressed", "I was worried for the country." I felt weariness. There is -- there is an emotional current going through this book, Bob, that is your emotional current that I've never seen in your work before. WOODWARD: Well, if you have the opportunity I did to talk to Trump all this time, he would call at random, I could call him, I had a number. He would pick up or he would call me back and I, from years of reporting, knew people from the White House, CIA, Pentagon, State Department, and so I could -- as much as an outsider, I believe, get a window into Donald Trump's presidency and Donald Trump's mind. And you can't hear all of this and see it. As we've released some of the audiotapes, you can hear him just -- the microphone is a microscope, as I say. It really peers into the soul. And you see what's going on, and you see the denial and the absence of responsibility, I believe, and concluded, the president has the job of protecting the country as he once told me. The president has the job of telling the truth to the people of this country and he failed miserably. So how do you not convey your emotions when you're feeling them? In the end, when I said Trump is, in my estimation, my conclusion, the wrong man from the job -- for the job, I was typing along the epilogue and it just came out. And I checked with Elsa my wife, my assistants, Evelyn Duffy (ph), Steve Riley (ph), with John Karp, the editor and head of Simon and Schuster, and Bob Barnett, my lawyer, agent, you know, the soul of Washington book-writing, quite frankly, and they all said, yes, you have to say that why? Because it's true. And the whole issue in the Trump presidency is, what's true? How do you not write the truth as you see it? Now, some people will agree. Some people will not agree and I -- and, you know, Bradley rule, that's fine. You go on. And so, I -- it was a conclusion based on -- you've clearly read through the book, Lawrence -- on overwhelming evidence. I mean, it just -- it piles up time and time again that we have somebody, the head of our country who does not know what the job is, operates on impulse, has no sense of order, no sense of reason. He will just, as Mattis, the secretary of defense, said, you know, he, Mattis, ran the Defense Department, got virtually no guidance from President Trump and had to do it on his own, and the tweets would come in, which would be orders that there had been no consultation on. I mean, it's a madness and sickness -- an organizational sickness. So how do I step away from that? A dear friend of mine, Christian Williams (ph) from California, who is a sailing companion, somebody I've known -- he worked, he was the arts editor at "The Washington Post", called me and said, of course, you had to reach this conclusion. And he made the point, think of all the Republicans in this country, in the Senate, in the House, who failed to reach the obvious conclusion given the evidence at hand and I thought -- and he said, he would be on the phone screaming at me if I had not reached that conclusion. So, there it is. It's -- there is a discussion of it. That's fine. O'DONNELL: Bob, some night, I'd love you to come on to just discuss how Ben Bradley would -- WOODWARD: I lost contact here. O'DONNELL: I think -- let's see. Bob, I don't know if you can still hear me. Bob, do you -- can you hear me here from the studio? I don't think we have sound for Bob Woodward right now. What do we know? All right. Let's -- I'm going to show -- President Trump is talking about Bob Woodward today. So let's take a look at that and we'll get Bob Woodward's response after we hear what President Trump had to say about Bob Woodward today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: You told Bob Woodward, the problem with a vaccine is a vaccine will take 13 to 14 months once you have it because you have to test a vaccine. So do you want to clarify -- DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I was -- I was saying to him -- no. But that was a long time ago when I said. I didn't -- we weren't set up at that time. Well, how many months ago? When was the statement made? REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) TRUMP: It's sort of obsolete because the book comes out. By the way, I read the book last night very rapidly because it was very boring. I read it. And if you see what I said, I said a lot of really good things. I mean, for the most part, people like to turn it around. But I said really good things in that book. And as an example, he doesn't cover -- I told him what we're doing in the Middle East and we're doing it in an entirely different way, and that's not covered in his book. The whole thing isn't covered in his book. (END VIDEO CLIP) O'DONNELL: Bob, what's your reaction to that? WOODWARD: Well, this is the call of one month ago when President Trump called me unexpectedly. The book was printed and done and out. And I told him that and he said, well, can you get the agreement between Israel and UAE in the book, which is an important development. And -- but he's complaining that it wasn't covered in the book but the book is done. There's no possibility of getting it in. And in that call, I explained to him, it was going to be a tough book. I would make some judgments, which he would not like. We turned to the issue of the virus. And he said, and I think you have the audio of it, and the tone is so important where he said, nothing more could have been done. O'DONNELL: Uh-huh. WOODWARD: Nothing more could have been done. From my reporting from what's known in public, from what all kinds of people have said, it's very evident that all kinds of things could have been done, but he still is clinging to that -- I'm sorry -- fantasy that nothing more could have been done. O'DONNELL: And, Bob, he sounds kind of mournful and defeated in that conversation with you when he's saying that. It sounds like he's throwing it out there and, yet, knows that he doesn't really have credibility in saying it. WOODWARD: Well, I don't know. I can't get in his head. I can explain what he said and what his decisions are. But at the end, when I told him this very directly, I felt I had a responsibility to do that, he said, almost playfully, well, it looks like I didn't get you on this book. I'll get you on the next book. Always the optimist, I guess. O'DONNELL: I guess. We're going to squeeze in a quick break here. Bob Woodward is going to stay with us for the full hour. And when we come back, how does Bob Woodward do it? How does he find out who said what in all of those meetings in the White House? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'DONNELL: Whenever a Bob Woodward book comes out, people always ask, "How does he do it? How does he find out what was said in all those meetings in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room, Air Force One? Here is how he does it. I met Bob Woodward when he came to my office at the Senate Finance Committee to interview me for a book about Bill Clinton's first year in office called "The Agenda." It was a study of a new president trying to move a heavy legislative agenda through Congress, most of which had to come through the Senate Finance Committee, where I was the chief of staff, working for the chairman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. After our handshake, I expected to spend maybe 20 minutes or so in small talk while I tried to decide how much I was willing to tell the most famous reporter in Washington. But Bob Woodward -- Bob Woodward sat down, flipped open his notebook. And this was his first question, a question that I can never forget. He said, "You were in the meeting with the president in the Cabinet Room on May 7th and everyone says you were taking notes. Can I have your notes?" And at that moment, two things happened. I realized I was in way over my head, and my respect for Bob Woodward went through the roof of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Before ever speaking to me, Bob Woodward knew more about me than any other reporter, including some who I had been dealing with for years. So that's part of how he does it, homework on top of homework on top of homework. And the second time I talked to Bob Woodward for that book, I knew I was going to have to prepare for it like I was presenting a case to the Supreme Court. Bob Woodward is back with us. Bob, as I was reading your interviews with Donald Trump, I had to wonder... WOODWARD: Yes, I -- I remember that... (LAUGHTER) ... Lawrence. That was, what, 27 years ago? O'DONNELL: A while ago, a while ago. It was -- it was really -- it was really stunning, and it was one of those moments where I just, kind of, went, "Oh, boy. OK. I really have to hold on here. This is..." WOODWARD: OK, but let's not leave out the headline. May I say this? O'DONNELL: Go ahead. WOODWARD: You helped me. You gave me lots of detail. I was able to talk to Senator Moynihan a number of times extensively and get his input. And as you know, Senator Moynihan was at core a truth-teller, and so he was extremely helpful also. Is that... O'DONNELL: But on the keys... WOODWARD: ... fair to say? O'DONNELL: Yes, it is. But one of the keys to it is that, by the time you were talking to me -- and this is true for many, many interview subjects, including many people in this book, I'm sure, you had already talked to a number of people who were in that room. And so the interview -- the person who is being interviewed knows, "OK, Woodward knows already most of what went on in that room; I have to play this pretty straight because he already knows what's there." But it -- it made me wonder, as I was watching -- I say watching your conversations with Donald Trump because they leap off the page. I can see both of you in these conversations, even though they're in print. Was he the least prepared person you have ever interviewed for a book? WOODWARD: Well, he was willing to open up, and he subjected himself to an interrogation, as you've read. I would say things like, "Well, the virus is a big deal." He said, "You think that's the main thing?" And -- and he mentioned the economy, and I said, "But the two are related." And he said, "A little bit." And I think, in dismay and wonder, said, "A little bit?" And he said, "Oh, no, yeah, they're definitely related here." So it -- it was one of the most interesting reporting excursions of my life because it was all in 10 months. I was able to check with other people. I had the luxury of time. And as I've said to Steven Ginsberg, who is the national editor of the Post, who I, kind of, report to, that what's in the book dovetails with the coverage in the Post of Trump. And it's the same person, their coverage and my coverage. And you -- you realize we are getting -- never perfect, never the complete story -- as somebody once told me, "You never get the engineer's drawing." You never have all the tape recordings and the notes and so forth. But it's about as close as you can get to what's going on. Now, I want to say I hear an echo in the phone here that they've hooked me up to you. I don't know that that's going through the air or not, but somebody else is talking. (CROSSTALK) O'DONNELL: It's not a problem on television. We'll try to get it fixed in the commercial break... WOODWARD: OK. OK. It doesn't -- no, it's just... O'DONNELL: ... it's coming up. But it's not a problem on TV. Let me... WOODWARD: OK, good. O'DONNELL: Let me -- let me read for the audience an extraordinary conversation that you captured for this book. And this is a part of the book that people have not been talking about because there's so much important stuff in this book I don't think anyone can cover it all, and we won't cover it all tonight. This is the -- the Mueller investigation. And this is, as far as we know, among the very first things William Barr ever said to anyone after reading the Mueller report. And this is a phone call. The attorney general calls the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, who has jurisdiction over the attorney general's Justice Department. So there's a reasonable connection there between these two positions. He calls him to tell him what he has found in the Mueller report. And this is before William Barr's letter about the Mueller report goes out. And so this is the very first thing he says privately. He's on the phone with Lindsey Graham. And it's this. "You're not going to believe this," Barr said. "What?" Graham asked. "After two effing years he says, 'Well, I don't know; you decide," Barr said. "What do you mean?" Graham asked. "Well, there's no collusion," Barr said. And that was Barr's quick telephone summary of the massive Mueller report. WOODWARD: And it -- it turned out to be basically true. There is lots of discussion about this, and so forth, but Mueller found no collusion. And Trump of course has overstated the exoneration. But, as you know, that there was no -- there were no other indictments. There was no other action from the Mueller report, and so it, kind of, landed with great expectation and left in a whimper. Do you think that's... O'DONNELL: And you refer... WOODWARD: Do you agree with that? O'DONNELL: You refer to the Mueller report as "the Rosenstein report" in here because you make it very clear Rod Rosenstein was in complete control of this investigation from beginning to end. WOODWARD: He was. He was the deputy attorney general because the attorney general was recused. He had this power, and it's extraordinary. He supervises the Mueller investigation much like he supervises other U.S. Attorneys in the country. Traditionally, the deputy, in this case, again, Rosenstein, oversees the FBI. And also, he had the relationship, Rosenstein did, with the Trump White House. So he's got the -- the ball. And I go through it not in great detail, but he kept a hammer lock on the investigation, and himself personally concluded that there was no criminal obstruction of justice by President Trump. O'DONNELL: And -- and, Bob, in your reporting, it seems he concluded that before the Mueller report was completed. He seems to have told an associate that he, kind of, knew all along that there wouldn't be something that looked like an indictable offense. WOODWARD: Yes, that's correct. Because he had -- Rosenstein had one of his deputies go speak with Mueller and his -- Mueller's staff every week. So it was a total -- and one of the congressmen in one of the hearings said, "We know, Rosenstein, you were in charge." And Rosenstein was in charge. And I quote from the letter of resignation that Rosenstein sent to Trump, and it's almost like one of those Kim Jong-un letters... (LAUGHTER) O'DONNELL: Yes. WOODWARD: ... to Trump, where -- where he says, "Hey, you know, look, we had a great relationship. I -- I appreciate your humor." I'm not too sure anybody else has written a resignation letter... (LAUGHTER) ... to the president and praised him for his humor. But Rosenstein makes it clear that he's part of the Trump team, part of the Republican team. O'DONNELL: And you also report that the Mueller investigators and Mueller himself were worried that if they went too far, they could be fired. One of the reasons they did not subpoena Donald Trump in the end was that they were afraid that Mueller could get fired for that and some of the prosecutors could get -- or they could all get fired for that. We're going to squeeze in a quick break right here. Bob Woodward is going to stay with us. We'll be right back with Bob Woodward. And this book is a portrait of alienation of traditional Republicans from Trump Republicans. And that is captured in the deterioration of the relationship between two old friends from Indiana, Dan Coats and Mike Pence. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person, you don't have a chance. WOODWARD: Yes, yes, exactly. Does the monster... TRUMP: So, this rips you apart. WOODWARD: This is a scourge and... TRUMP: It is the plague. (END VIDEO CLIP) O'DONNELL: That is not the way the president talked to the American public. That's just the way he talked to Bob Woodward and Bob Woodward only, as far as we know. Bob, I want to read Dr. Fauci's view of the president. Page 353, "The president is on a separate channel," Fauci later told others. Trump's leadership was "rudderless." Fauci marveled at Trump, who would hopscotch from one topic to another. "His attention span is like a minus number," Fauci said privately. Trump seemed interested in one outcome. "His sole purpose is to get re-elected," Fauci told an associate. That's -- and that's from someone who isn't even political. That is from someone who is supposed to be in there as a technical expert, who, in another White House, probably wouldn't even be able to be in a position to observe what a president is doing or thinking about to get re-elected. WOODWARD: Yes, I think that's true. And it's to -- it's to Trump's credit that he would have some consultation on that. But as Fauci said, when you're talking to somebody and they're hopscotching all around and they have a minus attention span, which is notorious with Trump, it's not particularly useful. And it's one of the sadnesses in all of this. I -- I have to return to that, that there -- there is a non-decision-making process. There is -- there's no order. There's no, "Hey, let's sit around the table and talk about things." There is Trump's tweets and his impulses, and the idea that the United States is run in this way. And as you see, Trump just recently seesawing back and forth. He kept telling me he played down the virus. And just, I guess, the other night, he said, well, he "up-played" it, whatever that means. That's a new word. And suppose you're a person who wants to know what's going on in the country and you're not particularly political. You're looking at this and you're saying, "How do -- how do I make sense out of this? How do I protect my family? How do we make family decisions about travel, about schooling, about medical care?" And there is no guidance from the president of the United States. It's my view, from doing all this work on presidents, that -- that the president has that sacred trust. The person needs to be -- everyone, Democrats, Republicans, people who love Trump, people who don't like Trump, need to be able to look at him and get some guidance. And it comes out muddled, in the middle of a pandemic that he knew about. And the key scene is that January 28th meeting in the Oval Office when his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien -- after the intelligence briefing, the intelligence briefer was, kind of, saying, "Well, we've got this problem in China. We're monitoring it." And O'Brien, to his credit, stepped up and said, "Mr. President, the virus is going to be the biggest threat, the biggest national security threat to your presidency." And Trump's head kind of popped up. And then Matt Pottinger, the deputy, laid out all of these details. And Pottinger had been a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and China. You know that kind of ground truth the reporter can get. And Pottinger was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "The Wall Street Journal." And he covered the 2003 SARS epidemic and knew that the Chinese lied, and he built up contacts in China and Hong Kong in the medical community. And he consulted with them in a four-day period in January. Pottinger spoke Mandarin. He could read Chinese social media about what's going on behind the scenes. And he came in after O'Brien and said: Mr. President, that's exactly right. And what we are facing is much like the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in our country. The president asked some questions. He clearly got the message. And, so, 10 days later, Trump tells me all about this. It took me until May to find out about the key January 28 meeting. But that's where I begin the book. That's where the awareness of -- you listen to it, and I looked through my reporting. And I had one of -- one of my assistants, Evelyn Duffy, she said: We're going to -- what we have written here about this, we're going to reverse-engineer it. And she went back and read all the interviews of everyone about this and said: Yes, this is exactly what we got from witnesses and participants and the record. And, you know, this is as if somebody had called Franklin Roosevelt or his national security team and said: You know, the Japanese are going to bomb Pearl Harbor in three days. And Franklin Roosevelt said: Well, we don't want to tell people because that will create panic. And the president failed in that core response -- I'm sorry, Lawrence, for getting emotional about this, but I feel this way. And I feel the evidence is overwhelming. And people -- people can accept it or reject it. But this is what I found. And this is the nature of the presidency we are living in. And it's frightening, quite frankly. O'DONNELL: Yes. Bob, I have never seen you get emotional in the work that you have done before. And so I completely understand where those feelings come from. And every reader of the book is going to completely understand it. And those emotions are on the pages of these -- of this book. I want to talk about Dan Coats for a moment, before we go to a break, because... WOODWARD: Sure. O'DONNELL: Dan Coats, Republican senator from Indiana, good friend of Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana. Mike Pence gets elected vice president and says to him: Do you want a job? He says: No, I do not want a job. He gets talked into being the director of national intelligence. And then the relationship between these two Indiana friends begins to fray over time. And Mike Pence had this repeated phrase that he would say to Dan Coats when things were getting wild and out of control with Donald Trump. He would just quietly say to him: Stay the course. Stay the course. And Dan Coats, we watched, trying to stay the course for as long as he possibly can. And he finally gives up and writes his resignation letter to the president. I want to read this passage about Dan Coats, former Republican senator, explaining the current condition... WOODWARD: For 16 years in the Senate, Lawrence... O'DONNELL: Mm-hmm. WOODWARD: ... somebody who -- an evangelical Christian. He and his wife, Marsha, went to Wheaton College in Illinois. I was raised in that town. I know the evangelical community and how powerful it is. And, as you know, Vice President Pence is evangelical also. And this is -- this is where they met. And, in Indiana, I mean, they were as close as two political people can be. And, as director of national intelligence -- I think people get lost in the jargon and the hierarchy, but he's the number one intelligence officer. He oversees the CIA and everything. O'DONNELL: Let me read what he said about the Senate. James Mattis says to him at some point, in their grief about this situation: "What could make a difference?" And the next line is: "'If the Senate stood up,'" Coats said. He knew the Senate intimately, especially the Republicans. He had served 16 years as a Republican senator, and he kept in touch with half-a-dozen Republican senators who were friends. None were bailing on Trump, not out of conviction, but for political survival. 'The Senate is not going to stand up.'" Bob, are you surprised -- as surprised as I am, having watched Washington as long as you have, having watched the Republican Party as long as you have, and the Republicans in the Senate, at the way they have treated the Trump presidency, including violating many of the positions they all held before -- policy positions they held before Donald Trump took the presidency? WOODWARD: Well, as you know, you can go back-channel to some of these senators, and they know what's going on. Coats says, they get it. They understand. But political survival is the key here. And I quote Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, who is an aide in the White House, and effectively the White House chief of staff, for practical purposes. And Kushner says that Trump has executed -- quote -- "a hostile takeover" of the Republican Party. And I think that's true. See, we need to -- I'm sorry -- I know you have got to get to a break. O'DONNELL: Bob, let's... WOODWARD: But we have got to get -- sure. O'DONNELL: Go ahead. What do you want to get to? But we're going to get to a commercial break. But tell us what you want to talk about when we come back from the commercial break. WOODWARD: OK, because I think we have got to -- there's much discussion in the media about, Trump breaks norms, and he doesn't operate by the old playbook. And I have discussed this with Trump. And, of course, he does. He was elected to break norms. And there are people, his supporters, who love it. People say, oh, Trump doesn't -- he shows no decorum. And Trump supporters love that he shows no decorum. And we in the media need to spend more time understanding the Trump voter. And there has been a lot of talk in the media about, oh, there is one way to look at Trump. And there are many ways to look at Trump. And Trump voters need to be understood. I know lots of them, open, secret Trump supporters, financial advisers, businessmen, workers, law enforcement people, military people. And I'm sorry to dwell on this, but I think it's -- it's something we got to get our arms around. And I saw Trump a couple of days ago at one of his rallies, and he kind of turned away. And he said: "You know I'm with you." And there were these cheers. And he has tapped into this disgust, quite frankly, with you and me and the media elite and the financial elite and so forth. And we need to understand. And where is this coming from? These are many people -- many of these people are very decent people. Sometimes, people in the media say, well, no, a decent person has to look at it this way. That's not true. We -- understanding the Trump voter is absolutely essential here, and that we have to not pander to the Trump voter or to the Biden voter or anybody. We shouldn't be in the business of pandering. But, as I said to Trump at one point, my job is to understand people, just like I think the president's job is to understand people. And we have got to really listen, and we have got to say, OK, you can look at this situation very differently. If somebody came up to me, as people have, and said, I don't like you and I don't like your book, and I'm going to support Trump forever, my reaction is not, how can you? My reaction is, tell me what you think. What's the basis of it? What's going on here? What happened in America? And I talked to Trump about this, about Barbara Tuchman's great book "The Guns of August" about the causes of World War I. And she writes how, years before World War I started, there was a funeral of one of the English kings. And she said, all the -- nine kings came to the funeral. And she said, and the old order was dying in a blazing -- in the blazing sun. In 19 -- in 2016, the old order died. Donald Trump actually caught it and understood that, for one reason or another. The Democratic Party didn't understand it. The Republican Party didn't understand it. I sat in the Oval Office asking Trump about this. He didn't know about Barbara Tuchman's book. But he could get the concept that the old order is dying. And I said, yes, it's in the book. You know, yes, the old order is dying. And we need to figure that out. It's a journalistic journey that we need to make. Sorry to take so much time. O'DONNELL: That's OK. We are going to take a quick break here, Bob. And we will be right back with Bob Woodward. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'DONNELL: On page 81 of Bob Woodward's book "Rage," Former Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks to some of what Bob Woodward was just telling us. He says: "This degradation of the American experiment is real. This is tangible. Truth is no longer governing the White House statements. Nobody believes. Even the people who believe in him somehow believe in him without believing what he says." And that is a very important point to consider, when you think about the unbelievable things that Donald Trump says and his followers accept. Bob Woodward is back with us for our final few minutes of discussion tonight. And, Bob, having been -- having read all of your books about the presidency, you have been now for five decades going into the White House and coming out with a book, telling us everything we didn't know about that White House. When I finished this book, I think I found what you have been looking for all these years. And I'm not even sure you're conscious of it. But, in the disappointment... WOODWARD: Oh, thank you. O'DONNELL: In the disappointment and the sadness of this book, and in the ending of this book, I think what I found is that Bob Woodward has been going into that White House hoping, hoping to find someone in the Oval Office that he could really admire. And I say that, because I read the last page of your book already. The second-to-last page of your book, which leads up to that, has a president that you apparently do admire that you never got to be in the Oval Office with, and that's Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And you quote him at length at the end of the book, saying -- after Pearl Harbor was attacked, saying: "We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories, the changing fortunes of war. "So far, the news has been all bad. We have suffered serious setback. It will only be a long war -- it will not only be a long war. It will be a hard war. We're all in it all the way. Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart." And, Bob, I think you go into that White House hoping to find that person behind the desk in the Oval Office. WOODWARD: Well, actually, just to be factual, my wife, Elsa, who really edited this book, is the force behind the book, we -- because she lived this with me, because Trump would call, and she would listen in, and say: "You're shouting at the president. You shouldn't shout at the president." And we -- in our endless dinner and lunch conversations, she kept asking the question: "What should have Trump done? What's the remedy? What is a reasonable level of expectation?" And she went back to Roosevelt's fireside chats, which you're quoted from -- you're quoting from, two days after Pearl Harbor. And Roosevelt, at that point, truly understood the country he led, and he realized -- and this is the greatness, one of the greatnesses of Franklin Roosevelt -- and he had his weaknesses. He had -- but one of the strengths, one of the greatnesses was, he understood. And he could say: I know you're not -- you're going to get all of this bad news. And it's only bad news after Pearl Harbor. And you will not lose heart. Trump's response, when I asked him, well, why are you approaching the virus this way, he said: Well, I always play it down. I always play it down, because I don't want to create a panic. Now, if Trump had the understanding of the country he leads, he would realize our core strength. And our core strength is, if we get the truth, then we will rally around the president. This has happened time and time again. And it happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. George W. Bush... O'DONNELL: Bob, we're going to have -- we're going to have leave it there. This is one of those nights when I wish I had two hours, but Brian Williams has shown up for work again tonight. And he's going to want to get in on this. (LAUGHTER) O'DONNELL: Bob Woodward. The new book is "Rage." WOODWARD: OK. I'm sorry to be so... O'DONNELL: That's OK. Bob, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it. WOODWARD: Thank you. O'DONNELL: That is tonight's LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.


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