WASHINGTON – One of the most respected voices in the history of journalism in the United States says that President Donald Trump is unable to lead the country and uses bluster to hide his inadequacies.
“The problem is ... we have a governing crisis because ... all of the bullying and the tweeting and the angry statements and the insults are to a certain extent a disguise. (Trump) is hiding the simple fact that he does not know how to govern,” Bob Woodward, a veteran investigative reporter and editor for The Washington Post, said in an interview with EFE.
Woodward sat down with Spain’s international news agency this week at his mansion in this capital’s affluent Georgetown neighborhood to talk about his book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” published last year by Simon & Schuster.
Based on the 75-year-old journalist’s interviews with members of the Trump administration, the book describes a chaotic White House in which the president rules by impulse and baffles his own advisers, who he says often “ask him ‘where do you get these ideas?’” but do not dare confront him face-to-face.
Close aides instead opt for a different approach, hiding important documents from Trump or ignoring his orders, said Woodward, who is best known for his and reporting partner Carl Bernstein’s award-winning coverage of a massive scandal stemming from a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC.
That scandal led to the 1974 resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon.
Woodward said the title of the book comes from a remark by Trump, who told the journalist on one occasion that “real power is fear.”
In writing it, Woodward relied on interviews with Trump aides who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, thus employing a reporting tactic that the president has often criticized.
While the president says stories based on anonymous sources are an unfair and abusive strategy of the “fake news” mainstream media, Woodward defended that type of reporting as valid and necessary.
“If you go to the White House and ask to speak to somebody or some Cabinet officer and say you want the real story, and you’re going to quote them on the record, you will get a press release; you will get BS,” he said.
Although the acclaimed reporter calls his sources “important witnesses,” he says the key to the book’s credibility is that, beyond their eye-opening comments, they provided “lots of documents and notes ... so there’s documentary evidence backing up what I report.”
But he said he is not surprised that Trump has waged a battle against anonymously sourced reporting, which he says is necessary to shed light on some of the darkest secrets of any organization, and government secrets in particular.
“This is the old strategy that Nixon used in Watergate. Make the conduct of the press the issue rather than the conduct of the president,” Woodward said.
The reference to the ex-president is not trivial, especially now that the opposition Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives and are conducting investigations into possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by Trump.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller also has led an investigation for nearly two years into alleged Russian machinations to help Trump win the 2016 election and possible coordination between the campaign and Moscow.
“It’s possible, but it’s going to turn on the quality of the evidence,” Woodward said when asked about the possibility of impeachment proceedings, adding that for now there is no proof that Trump committed any crime.
“As we go down the road on this, we’re going to see whether there are witnesses and documents, whether there are secret tape recordings,” Woodward said.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged the political challenges in seeking to oust a president from office.
“We have a divided country, and lots of people believe Trump can do nothing right and lots of people think he can do nothing wrong.”
In this context, the media’s role is more important than ever, he said, though adding that reporters must not let their emotions interfere with their objectivity.
“What we need to do is all to take tranquilizers, and be as calm about this and look at what are the facts, and not what your political position is or your emotional reaction to Trump,” Woodward said.
With three investigations now ongoing, recent sworn congressional testimony by a former Trump lawyer who accused the president of being a con man, a racist and a cheat and Democrats now in control of one house of Congress, the possibility of impeachment seems greater than ever.
So what’s the missing piece? A recording perhaps? EFE asked Woodward.
“Great question. There’s something, there’s an evidentiary purity in the tape recording. And if you can authenticate it, not only do you hear what happened, but you can hear the tone and the nature of the relationship where people are talking,” Woodward said with apparent nostalgia about a secretly recorded conversation between Nixon and an aide that showed the then-president’s role in the Watergate cover-up.