A short time ago The Washington Post published a transcript of an August 14th, 2018 call between President Trump and Bob Woodward. The call is from Trump. After months of refusing an interview with Woodward for his book, suddenly he wants to do one – even though the book is already at the printer.
I wouldn’t say that I felt sorry for Trump reading the transcript. But it’s a deeply awkward read. Trump’s angle is that he would have been happy to talk to Woodward for the book. But Woodward never asked. No one ever told him. Over the course of the interview it becomes clear that Woodward has asked basically every senior member of the President’s communications team: Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, Raj Shah, et al. He even asked Lindsey Graham – Trump’s new best bud – to talk to the President on his behalf.
Trump does admit that Graham had mentioned it to him. It’s the only point he concedes. But no one else ever said anything.
It gets even more awkward when at one point Trump calls over Kellyanne Conway and puts her on the phone. Woodward presses her. We talked. Why didn’t you tell the President? There’s some shambling hemming and hawing about following protocol and well she did the best she could. And it’s all in the past now so … bye, Bob! Great talking to you.
Here’s the actual portion of the transcript where Conway comes on.
Trump: Well, other than Lindsey [Graham], who did quickly mention it, nobody mentioned it.
BW: You say Kellyanne’s there, ask her.
Trump: 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.
[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]
Conway: You talked to a number of people and they all said no?
BW: I talked to Raj.
BW: He was going to work it out.
Conway: Hope. [Me?].
[The president says something in the background that is inaudible.]
Conway: I said you tried talking to everybody? What about when you interviewed, like, other people? They all said yes? That they’d try?
BW: Yeah, well, about six or seven people. I tried. And I couldn’t have — you and I spent a whole lunch on it, Kellyanne. And I said, I want to cover the substantive issues in foreign policy and domestic policy. And you said you would get back to me. Nothing.
Conway: Yeah. So, I did. I presented it to the people here who make those decisions, but . ..
BW: Who are the people?
Conway: But anyway, I’ll give you back to the president. And I’m glad to hear that you tried through seven or eight different people. That’s good. You should tell him all the names. [Laughs] Thank you.
Trump presses for clues about the tone of the book. Woodward, half comforting, half menacing, assures him that it’s all accurate. He talked to everyone. He taped all the conversations.
After a while Trump falls back on his stump speech. The economy is doing better than it ever has in history. Everybody is amazed at how good a job he’s doing as President. The economy would have fallen apart with anyone else.
Then back to pretending he’d never heard about the requests for an interview. Then bragging.
Trump knew the book would be good. And he was right.
What comes off most clearly in this transcript is Trump’s weakness. Lying is one thing. But the exchange in this call is a different subspecies of lying. It’s lying about not doing your homework. Lying because you want a second chance. Lying because you didn’t have the guts to do the interview in the first place.
Hanging over the call is the chance that possibly some of these messages didn’t get to him? The story of White House dysfunction is so wild we can’t entirely rule it out. Maybe Trump shot down requests from a couple staffers and people knew not to bring it up again? It’s impossible to know. But the stench of weakness and cowardice can’t be cleaned off this thing. This is the real Trump.