As It Happens·Q&A

Bob Woodward says Trump Tapes reveal 'evasions,' 'denials' — and outright lies

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward has already published three books based on his extensive interviews with former U.S. president Donald Trump. Now he wants people to hear those conversations for themselves.

Veteran journalist releases audiobook of his interviews with the former U.S. president 

Side-by-side photos of older men in suits and ties against black backdrops.
Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward, left, spent hours interview Donald Trump, right, during his U.S. presidency. He's now released the recordings of those interviews as an audiobook. (Tasos Katopodis, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward has already published three books based on his extensive interviews with former U.S. president Donald Trump. Now he wants people to hear those conversations for themselves.

Woodward is a Washington Post associate editor who has covered 10 U.S. presidents over 50 years. His reporting on the Watergate scandal, alongside colleague Carl Bernstein, played a key role in the fall of former president Richard Nixon.

But Woodward says he's never encountered a president like Trump. 

His new audiobook, The Trump Tapes, allows listeners to listen to recordings of the interviews conducted with the former Republican president for his trio of books: Fear, Rage and Peril.

Here is part of Woodward's conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

Mr. Woodward, I'm wondering what you think the value is of hearing Donald Trump in this way, through these tapes that you've put out, given we've heard so much — and continue to hear so much — from Mr. Trump, himself?

This is different because I was able to interrogate him and follow-up with questions, sometimes a dozen or two dozen times. And so that really focused on key issues like the virus, race relations, foreign affairs. And, as you know, public officials don't like to subject themselves to repeated questioning on one topic, and I was able to do that.

So you not only hear him, but you see the evasions and the denials and the insistence on a number of things that are just not true.

[In one clip from the audiobook] you're asking Mr. Trump if he's given [North Korean Leader] Kim [Jong-un] too much power. He says: "If he shoots, he shoots." So what's going through your mind at that moment when you hear him say that?

The whole theory and operation of nuclear deterrence is [that] ... using nuclear weapons, as we now see that Putin is threatening in Ukraine, it's unthinkable. But here Trump is kind of casually — and again, it's in the tone of the voice — "If he shoots, he shoots." As if that is not of great consequence.

President [Joe] Biden now is talking about Putin and nuclear weapons and Biden says, "He's not joking," taking this very seriously, as you must.

And so there is a kind of casualness that is dangerous. And the people in the national security team for Trump, as I say, were traumatized.

A square audiobook cover features two older men, face to face. The title reads: "The Trump Tapes: Bob Woodward's Twenty Interviews with President Donald Trump."
Bob Woodward's audiobook, The Trump Tapes, follows his trio of books about the former U.S. president: Fear, Rage and Peril. (Simon & Schuster )

If we can rewind a bit to the 1974 midterms, after President Nixon resigned, Republicans lost 49 seats in the House at that time and five Senate seats... If the polls are correct and voters do stick with the Republicans after what we saw with January 6th, you know, that's in a way they didn't do after Watergate. So why do you think that is? 

After Watergate, of course, it was a giant setback for the Republican Party because of their association with Nixon. And if you look at that period almost 50 years ago, the Republican Party rose up against Nixon and forced him to resign.

And now we see the Republican Party clinging to Trump, almost across the board in a way that is, I think, unheard of.

As I did these interviews with Trump, it reminded me again [of] a piece of history. Back in 1978, David Frost, the talk show host, interviewed Nixon in these Frost-Nixon tapes that are part of history. But at that moment, Nixon could not run again. Trump can run again.

He has told people close to him: I'm going ... to do it. So we are going to have somebody who was president four years ago, who learned where the levers of power [are], running again —  and certainly, possibly, being elected.

So my goal here is to put out as much information about Trump [as possible]. And when you hear it in his own voice, it's different and it's comprehensive. 

We've covered all the issues, and you see plainly how he lied about the coronavirus, saying that it was under control, telling that to me repeatedly, saying [it] to the public. And at one point in one of those interviews, 140,000 Americans had died of the virus. 

[It] took me weeks and months of reporting this to discover that Trump got a warning from his national security adviser that I've never heard given to a president. It's Robert O'Brien and you can hear this on the tapes.

You can hear O'Brien saying, recounting, how he said to the president: This virus will be the biggest national security threat to your presidency.

Since the news broke that you would be releasing these tapes, Mr. Trump has has called you a "sleazy guy." He's threatened to sue you. That's at least what he's saying in public.

In the audiobook, you point out he was friendly and co-operative with you in private, even after he was making public statements of the books you wrote, condemning the books that you'd written about him before. Are you still in direct contact with Mr. Trump now?

I am not speaking with him. 

He did say that these interviews were all on the record, taped with his knowledge. If you listen to him, you'll hear many times he says, "Now, you've got your recorder on, don't you?".

We agreed this would all be public. I don't believe that a sitting president can talk with the reporter any other way than on the record.

But he says some things. For instance, at one point, he insists he knows the most about Kim Jong-un's nuclear facilities in North Korea. And, again, it's him saying he's the one who knows … not because he'd studied them in depth, but he says he has an uncle who worked at MIT. 

And so Trump told me, you will hear it on these tapes: So I understand that stuff, you know, genetically. 

Meaning, somehow, he thinks that the smart uncle who worked at MIT passed on something to Trump that makes him an authority to speak and make judgements on Kim's major nuclear facilities. I mean, I've never heard anything like this, let alone imagined. Genetically!

You've asked Mr. Trump many, many questions over many hours. But if you were to get back in touch, if you were to interview Trump tomorrow, is there one question you'd want to ask him now more than any other?

In these tapes what is important is that I ask 600 questions, not one. And I think asking one question is not the answer. You want to follow them up.

Historians who are going to be writing about Trump for decades [will ask]: Who was he? Where did he come from? How'd he win? Why did he lose in 2020?

Henry Kissinger, who was Nixon's national security adviser and his secretary of state, once said about history and the large figures in it, that: "What extraordinary vehicles destiny selects to accomplish its design."

Whether you like Trump or don't like him, there's no question he's an extraordinary vehicle. 

Interview produced by Chris Trowbridge. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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