Bob Woodward on Government Shutdown and Mattis Resignation: 'This Is a Dangerous Time'

December 27th, 2018 6:43 PM

Just three days after his old Watergate reporting buddy Carl Bernstein argued that Defense Secretary James Mattis’s resignation letter proved President Trump was “unfit” to serve as President, Bob Woodward appeared on CNN’s New Day where fill-in co-host Erica Hill asked for his take on the government shutdown and the resignation of Mattis. While generally more mild-mannered and less outwardly partisan than Bernstein, Woodward sounded more like Bernstein, describing the current situation in Washington as a “dangerous time.”



Throughout the segment, Woodward argued that the Trump administration was in the middle of a “governing crisis,” arguing that the government shutdown was causing “grave damage” “to the economy and to national security.”

Woodward repeatedly painted Mattis and former economic adviser Gary Cohn as the glue that held the White House together and kept “really bad things from happening.” After mentioning that they’re both gone now, Woodward warned: “we better face the reality...this is a dangerous time. This is not just another government shutdown or another example of this impasse. It is something people better think about it.”

Throughout the course of the entire conversation, Hill asked Woodward if he had made contact with any of his sources for his book, Fear, which paints an unfavorable portrait of the Trump White House, and also brought up the New York Times op-ed by an anonymous Trump White House staffer; asking Woodward if he had “any sense” of who the author might be and whether or not “they have some influence.”

Woodward went on to explain that it was Mattis “who took Trump to the Pentagon in 2017 and sat him down and said look, the basis of the United States’ strength in the world are these trade agreements, the security agreements like NATO, and the top secret intelligence partnerships” with Trump responding that Mattis's briefing as “all B.S.”

This analysis echoed comments Woodward had tweeted with a link to an article referencing an assertion in his book that Mattis compared President Trump to a “fifth or sixth grader.” Based on this rhetoric, Americans might as well begin preparing for the apocalypse.  All told, it sounds like quite the severe case of Trump Derangement Syndrome-fueled hyperventilation.

A transcript of the relevant portion of Wednesday’s edition of New Day is below. Click “expand” to read more.

CNN's New Day

December 26, 2018

07:32 a.m.

ERICA HILL: President Trump getting political again on a holiday call with troops.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: As soon as I said I want to build the wall, they were all against it. Take Comey. Everybody hated Comey. They thought he did a horrible job. The Democrats hated him. And once I fired him, everybody said oh, why did you fire him, why did you fire him? It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.

HILL: Other than that, Merry Christmas. All of this, of course, coming as the President’s Defense Secretary James Mattis is being forced out next week after he resigned in protest of Mr. Trump’s sudden announcement U.S. troops would be leaving Syria. A senior administration official telling CNN’s Jim Sciutto national security decision-making has “basically, stopped working.” Also noting, decisions are “made on a whim on phone calls.” Joining us now, Bob Woodward, who is the author of the best-selling book, Fear on the Trump presidency. Always good to have you with us. I’m just curious, Bob, given everything we’ve seen over the last couple of days and heard from the President, have you heard any more from these insiders who you spoke with for the book?

BOB WOODWARD: Well, first of all, I think we’re at a moment where grave damage is being done to the economy and to national security. And I was looking at some old files going back to the Clinton administration when Bill Clinton was President, starting out…and he was very worried about what the Federal Reserve was going to do in terms of interest rate increases like President Trump is now. And what Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen did, they made a deal…quite an amazing deal. I have a tape interviewing Lloyd Bentsen when he was Treasury Secretary and he explicitly said they made a deal that the Fed would not raise interest rates if Clinton cut the deficit, and it actually worked. So I think there’s an opening here where you could perhaps extinguish or at least diminish the tension between Trump and the…and the Fed…the new Fed chairman, Jay Powell. And, Trump may think he can break the Fed. I don’t think he can.

HILL: I’m not sure the best way to make that deal either is to continually bash the Fed on Twitter. It’s so interesting…


HILL: …to see how that would work out moving forward. And as we’re hearing, too, from our own reporting that the President may not be very happy with Secretary Mnuchin at this point despite his efforts to try to smooth things over, as we saw. That only helped to spook the markets on Monday. When we look at what’s, what’s playing out now in the White House…whether we could end up seeing a deal in that arena or not…it’s hard not to think about who’s left, right? So, with Secretary Mattis leaving and with every other vacancy we’ve seen, the people now in acting positions, and with our reporting from Jim Sciutto about decisions just being made on a whim, what are you hearing from people about what is actually happening inside the West Wing?

WOODWARD: Well, we…it’s a governing crisis. You have the exit of Mattis, which is a tragedy for the country, a tragedy for President Trump. Mattis was able to thread the needle and try to make his points and, quite frankly, educate President Trump on some of these issues. And so, the departure of him is something that is, I think, going down in the history books. But what…I’m sorry to go back to this idea of a deal…

HILL: Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: …but this is the only way you get out of the mess we’re in. And in a traditional deal, it’s one for you, one for me. People are going to have to give up some of the things that they hold dear. Now, President Trump is obsessed with the wall…wants $5 billion. The Democrats say they’re not going to give it to him. Unfortunately, Trump probably is not going to give on that. The amount of money, $5 billion, is not much. And I’m sorry to go back 25 years ago when Greenspan, who was the Fed Chairman, and Lloyd Bentsen, the Treasury Secretary made this deal, it was we’re going to cut the deficit $140 billion. And that was enough to cause the Federal Reserve to reach this gentlemen’s agreement.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: So if you…if we’re just going to have the situation that we’re in right now, Trump is not inclined to give, the Democrats are not inclined to give, there’s a government shutdown. Somebody has to be brave and say let’s sit down and talk. I see The Wall Street Journal, this morning, is asking the question have there been, traditionally, meetings between presidents and chairmen of…

HILL: Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: …of the Federal Reserve? And the answer is yes. Clinton met with Greenspan all the time and they worked things out. Everybody got part of what they wanted, but not all.

HILL: It will be interesting to see if, if perhaps, history could serve as a lesson for this administration, whether we can see that meeting, whether there could be a gentlemen’s agreement. A lot of questions up in the air, especially when you have those heels being dug in so deeply. I just want to go back, though, to ask you about…as you laid out so well in your…in your book and so much of what we saw…I mean, even from the beginning. Gary Cohn snatching papers off of the President’s desk, in his words, in the interest of national security. Who has reached out to you? Who have you reached out to… are you still hearing from people inside this White House…inside this administration?

WOODWARD: Well, it’s a governing crisis and your reporting shows that. If they’re sitting around making decisions on the President’s whim, which is exactly what I show in the book time and time again…and Gary Cohn, who was the chief economic adviser in the White House to Trump, former President of Goldman, Goldman Sachs, and General Mattis had an alliance. Let’s keep really bad things from happening.

HILL:  Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: They are both gone now…

HILL: It’s…

WOODWARD: …and so, we, we better face the reality. This is a…this is a dangerous time. This is not just another government shutdown or another example of this impasse. It is something people better think about…

HILL: It is something new.

WOODWARD: Well, it is something…

HILL: It is uncharted territory in many ways, which makes me wonder about that…an op-ed in The New York Times back in September, anonymous…in which this person wrote that they’re working diligently to frustrate parts of the President’s agenda and his worst inclinations. The New York Times Opinion Columnist, Bret Stephens, responding on Friday, saying, hey look, if this is what you were trying to do, it’s not working. Do you believe a) anonymous is still working in this White House, and b) if so, any sense of who it may be and whether they have some influence?

WOODWARD: I don’t know the answer to that question. But you…I’m sorry to go back to Mattis, but Mattis…

HILL: Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: …is, in many ways, the key to this. He was the one who took Trump to the Pentagon in 2017 and sat him down and said look, the basis of the United States’ strength in the world are these trade agreements, the security agreements like NATO, and the top secret intelligence partnerships. Trump’s response was it’s all B.S. Well, it’s not. You can’t…if you have to live in the house…and we all are living in the house of Trump, in many ways…you can’t burn it down. Yeah, Trump’s going to change some things… fine. But he needs to absorb that lesson and everything we’re seeing now is he is not.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

WOODWARD: And, Mattis is gone, Gary Cohn is gone. The new regime, I don’t think quite has that clout, frankly. And who is going to be the Defense Secretary?

HILL: That is a…

WOODWARD: Critical decision.

HILL: That is a major question. And…

WOODWARD: Major question.