scorecardWhy Trump agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward 18 times, despite everyone else's advice
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Why Trump agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward 18 times, despite everyone else's advice

Tom Porter   

Why Trump agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward 18 times, despite everyone else's advice
PoliticsPolitics3 min read
  • Top aides are said to be baffled about why President Donald Trump agreed to 18 separate interviews with the veteran reporter Bob Woodward.
  • In the recorded conversations, first unveiled Wednesday, Trump can be heard making damaging admissions, including that he deliberately downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.
  • News outlets including Politico and CNN are reporting that Trump ignored the advice of aides and went ahead with the interviews because he believed he could "charm" Woodward.
  • Throughout his presidency, Trump has placed faith in his charisma and in his capacity to charm and cajole. This time it appears to have backfired.

The White House is reeling from Wednesday's revelations from the veteran reporter Bob Woodward that President Donald Trump deliberately underplayed the threat of the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.

The news itself was stunning. But what's also surprising is that the information was gleaned not from briefings with anonymous administration sources but in hours of taped interviews with the president himself — 18 sessions, over several months, totaling nine hours.

Given the damaging nature of the revelations, why did the president agree to the interviews?

The answer, according to administration officials who spoke with Politico and CNN, is Trump's unshakable faith in his power to charm and cajole — and, therefore, get good media coverage.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday reported that Trump had been furious when he learned that aides had rejected Woodward's requests to interview him for "Fear," the Watergate reporter's first exposé on the Trump administration.

"Trump talked to Woodward 18 times for this book, a decision many are now questioning. One reason Trump was so irritated aides didn't tell him about Woodward's attempts to interview him for his last book was because he thought he could have made himself look better in it," she tweeted.

According to Politico, aides had long feared the consequences of Trump freely conversing with Woodward — half of the reporting duo who exposed Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate break-in in the 1970s — but the president brushed away their concerns.

"Trump bulldozed through them all, believing he could charm the man who helped take down a president and chronicled half a dozen administrations over the past half-century," Politico reported.

Trump's belief that he can change a narrative through the force of his personal magnetism has been one of the shaping forces of his presidency.

Eschewing the advice of his national security team and rejecting diplomatic norms, he has formed a bizarre friendship during his presidency with North Korea's authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un.

Trump seemingly believed that, through personal chemistry, he could succeed where other presidents had failed and persuade Kim to abandon his nuclear-weapons program.

So far, the charm offensive has accomplished little: Trump and Kim have met three times, and signed vague statements, but North Korea is nowhere near dismantling its nukes.

Indeed, among the revelations of Woodward's coming book, "Rage," are letters exchanged between the leaders in which Kim is said to describe their relationship as like something out of a "fantasy film."

Trump's niece, Mary, a trained clinical psychologist, has also described the president's tricks to flatter and charm.

In her book, "Too Much and Never Enough," she described visiting her uncle in the White House shortly after he took power, saying: "When he saw me, he pointed at me with a surprised look on his face, then said: 'I specifically asked for you to be here.'"

"That was the kind of thing he often said to charm people," she wrote, "and he had a knack for tailoring his comment to the occasion, which was all the more impressive because I know it wasn't true."

It's a style formed in the tough world of New York real estate that works wonders with some and leaves others cold.

Top executives who have met Trump told Reuters in 2017 that the president's brash and brutal social-media tone was worlds away from the flattery he deployed in person.

The outlet said they described Trump as "flexible and inquisitive, a schmoozer who remembers birthdays and often lavishes praise on their companies."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed less impressed by the president's personal style, reacting with consternation when told by a reporter that one of Trump's former ambassadors to Germany, Richard Grenell, said that Trump had successfully deployed his "charm" on her.

Trump has also always been impressed by fame, and during his years as a property developer and reality-TV star he was a regular on the celebrity circuit.

In the world of journalism there is no bigger name than Bob Woodward, and the star appeal may have been another factor in the president's decision to go on the record with comments that threaten to dent his chances of reelection.