Nothing in Bob Woodward's sober and grainy new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, is especially surprising…You turn the pages because Woodward, as he accumulates the queasy-making details, delivers on the promise of his title.09/17/2018
In a compulsively readable narrative "drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses," Washington Post associate editor Woodward contends that members of the Trump administration took steps to "intentionally block some of what they believed were the president's most dangerous impulses." Woodward deems those actions "no less than an administrative coup d'etat." In the most dramatic example, Gary Cohn, Trump's top economic advisor, removed a draft letter from the Oval Office that terminated a free trade agreement with South Korea, which constituted, in Cohn's view, "a potential trigger to a national security catastrophe." As Cohn had hoped, Trump "never noticed the missing letter." Woodward also offers other sensational anecdotes unrelated to his administrative coup theme—such as an argument between chief of staff John Kelly and the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement union that was so heated that Trump later said he thought the two were going to get into a fistfight—as well as the occasional positive comment, such as those about the First Couple's affection for each other, and Trump's newspaper-reading habits. He ends with another sensational claim: that John Dowd, Trump's lawyer for the special counsel Russia investigation, told Trump that he would end up behind bars if he agreed to be interviewed by the special counsel, and considered Trump "a fucking liar." Woodward's reporting, with its heavy reliance on "multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources" who remain anonymous, will be problematic for some, especially those not already inclined to believe the worst about the president. But readers who trust the reporting will find this to be both entertaining and disturbing reading. (Sept.) “In the worldwide capital of leaks and anonymous dishing that is Washington, secrets can be almost impossible to keep. But somehow over the past 19 months, the fact that America’s most famous investigative journalist was quietly chipping away at a book that delves into the dysfunctions of President Trump’s White House remained largely unknown.”“Senior officials, acting as lone wolves concerned with preserving their own reputations, spoke to Woodward on their own — with some granting him hours of their time out of a fear of being the last person in the room to offer his or her viewpoint. As one former administration official put it: ‘He hooked somebody, and that put the fear of God in everyone else.’ Another former official added: ‘It’s gonna be killer. Everyone talked with Woodward.’”“Donald Trump is about to get the Bob Woodward treatment.”“A harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency . . . Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.”—Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa, The Washington Post
“A damning picture of the current presidency.”—David Martin, CBS News
“An unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President's inner circle. . . . stunning.”—CNN
“A devastating reported account of the Trump Presidency that will be consulted as a first draft of the grim history it portrays . . . What Woodward has written is not just the story of a deeply flawed President but also, finally, an account of what those surrounding him have chosen to do about it.”—Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker
“Fear is Woodward at his best, the quintessential investigative reporter with an eye for detail and an uncanny ability to get key players to ensure that their perspective is etched into history. Its timing could not be more critical for a nation exhausted by tweets and spin, and trying to assess the danger to democracy posed by a presidency that shatters its norms and demeans its institutions.”—John Diaz, San Francisco Chronicle
“In an age of ‘alternative facts’ and corrosive tweets about ‘fake news,’ Woodward is truth’s gold standard. . . . explosive . . . devastating . . . jaw-dropping.”—Jill Abramson, The Washington Post
“Woodward's latest book shows the administration is broken, and yet what comes next could be even worse.”—David A. Graham, The Atlantic
“[Woodward] is the master and I'd trust him over politicians of either party any day of the week.”—Peter Baker
“Woodward . . . depicts the Trump White House as a byzantine, treacherous, often out-of-control operation . . . Mr. Woodward’s book has unsettled the administration and the president in part because it is clear that the author has spoken with so many current and former officials.”—Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman, New York Times
“The more heartening message from FEAR is that we still have institutions and individuals, including Bob Woodward, who will continue checking the most destructive instincts of Donald Trump.”—Joe Scarborough
“You can trust that Woodward has gone to inordinate lengths to get to the best obtainable version of the truth.”—Mike Allen, Axios
“I wonder how many journalists have arrived in Washington over the years dreaming of becoming the next Bob Woodward . . . Though his books are often sensational, he is the opposite of sensationalist. He’s diligent, rigorous, fastidious about the facts, and studiously ethical. There’s something almost monastic about his method . . . He’s Washington's chronicler in chief.”—Nick Bryant, BBC
“No, Bob Woodward is not a Democratic operative. He’s a highly respected journalist who has a track record of writing meticulously detailed books about presidents with an uncanny knack for getting behind-the-scenes details.”—POLITICO Playbook
“He’s got tapes. That’s what the Trump White House really did not understand until today, if they understand it even now.”—Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC
“I think you’ve always been fair.”—President Donald J. Trump, in a call to Bob Woodward, August 14, 2018
A dish-filled tiptoe through the current White House in the company of an all-knowing tour guide, legendary Washington Post investigative reporter and definitive insider Woodward (The Last of the President's Men, 2015, etc.).
"He's always looking for adult supervision." So says big-money donor Rebekah Mercer to alt-right mastermind Steve Bannon of Donald Trump early on in Woodward's book, setting a theme that will be sounded throughout the narrative. By the author's account, Trump, sensitive and insensitive, out of his element and constantly enraged, cannot be trusted to act on his own instincts while anywhere near the Oval Office. Indeed, the earliest and instantly newsworthy moment of the book comes when economic adviser Gary Cohn spirits away a letter from Trump's desk that would have broken the U.S. alliance with South Korea. Trump demanded the letter but then, it seems, forgot about it in its absence. "It was no less than an administrative coup d'état," writes Woodward, "an undermining of the will of the president of the United States and its constitutional authority." It's not the sole instance, either, as the author steadily recounts. Drawing on deep background, meaning that sources cannot be identified—the reasons are immediately evident—Woodward ticks down a long list of insiders and their various ways of adapting to the mercurial president, sometimes successfully but more often not. One figure who can be seen constantly walking that line is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, whom former staffer Reince Priebus sold on Trump by saying, "you're a lot of fun. He needs fun people around him." Trump emerges as anything but fun—but also rather easily managed by those around him, so long as he is able to sign documents ("Trump liked signing. It meant he was doing things, and he had an up-and-down penmanship that looked authoritative in black Magic Marker") and otherwise look presidential.
Woodward's book will shock only those who haven't been paying attention. For those who have, it reinforces a strongly emerging narrative that there's a serious need for grown-ups on Pennsylvania Avenue—grown-ups who have read the Constitution.