‘Everyone talked with Woodward’: Trump White House braces for new book
Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post journalist, was sitting on the couch in press secretary Jay Carney’s office, presenting Obama administration officials with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
It was 2011, and Woodward was working on a book chronicling President Barack Obama’s debt-ceiling negotiations. He pulled out a secret memo written by Peter Orszag, the former budget director, that Woodward had obtained and which held potentially damaging revelations about the administration.
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Participating in his project, Woodward said, would give people like Carney the opportunity to respond to such memos. Woodward then pointed to a safe that is kept in the press secretary’s office, which holds classified documents. “I’d like access to everything, including what’s in there,” he said, “some of which I might have already.”
The impression he left on the people in the room that day, according to a person familiar with the episode, was that they didn’t have much of a choice: Woodward knew everything, and if you didn’t participate, you were screwed.
The result was that the Obama administration cooperated in an attempt to shape the narrative to be more favorable to the president.
“We decided to put it all above board so that we at least had some visibility into it,” recalled Dan Pfeiffer, a former communications director for Obama, who said press aides would often sit in on interviews Woodward conducted with senior officials. “We put in place a process to facilitate cooperation to help shape a book that was going to be written.”
Now Woodward is taking on the Trump administration. Simon & Schuster, Woodward’s publisher, announced Monday that it plans to release his 19th book, titled “Fear: Trump in the White House,” on Sept. 11.
But the process for managing the book has not been as formal in President Donald Trump’s White House — in fact, there hasn’t been any process at all. According to half a dozen former administration officials and people close to the administration, Woodward was never officially granted access to the White House or to the president, and the communications department did nothing to help him in researching or writing his book.
For example, when Woodward approached then-National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton, with whom Woodward had worked closely on his books about the George W. Bush administration, about an interview with national security adviser H.R. McMaster, he was officially turned down, according to a person familiar with the request.
The result is what often happens in Trump world: 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.”
According to Simon & Schuster, the book will reveal “the harrowing life inside Donald Trump’s White House and how the president makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.” The cover is a striking red wash over an uncomfortably close close-up of Trump’s face.
The book has been kept under wraps, which one publishing source said was the typical MO for the release of a Woodward book: quiet followed by a publicity blast beginning the month before publication.
But it has also stayed secret in a White House where everything seems to leak. Over the past 18 months of the Trump administration, Woodward has not been spotted often on the White House campus, officials said. He did not camp out in anyone’s office, a la author Michael Wolff, author of the best-selling “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”