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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Exclusive Interview With Bob Woodward, Author of "Rage". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[20:00:15]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome.

Our guest tonight for the hour is Bob Woodward.

His new book and the subject of it cannot be more timely. The title of the book is "Rage." The subject is Donald Trump's leadership.

As of tonight, more than 195,000 Americans have died. We are, of course, experiencing a steep recession and the presidential election a little more than a month-and-a-half away.

Bob Woodward spoke 18 times to the president in the making of the book. He recorded the conversations. And you will hear many exchanges for the first time tonight.

Others have already been released. And they have already become front- page news, establishing, in the president's own words, that he knew very early on just how deadly and contagious COVID-19 was. He did not share that with the public, with the very people whose security, health and welfare are supposed to be every president's, any president's first priority.

What's more, as the president himself suggested to Woodward in a conversation on the 19th of March, his first priority was to withhold the truth, to -- quote -- "play it down." He said and continues to say he wanted to minimize panic.

We will speak with Bob Woodward about that and much more over the next hour.

The book, again, is called "Rage."

Bob, thanks very much for being with us.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "RAGE": Thank you.

COOPER: So, Jared Kushner today said that the president -- that President Trump was very forthcoming with the American people about what he knew and when he knew it.

I want you to respond to that.

But, before you do, I want to play a conversation you had with President Trump back on April 13 about the virus.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person, you don't have a chance.

WOODWARD: Yes, yes, exactly. And so...

TRUMP: Like, a friend of mine died, very -- great real estate developer from Manhattan. He died yesterday.

WOODWARD: Yes, I know.

I mean, listen, students of mine -- I teach a journalism seminar -- have written me, have had it. And one of the women said she had it. They said she was cured, and they kept coming back with -- with the new symptoms. Strange things happened. She had intense headaches. She...

TRUMP: So, what happened?

WOODWARD: And she is in agony. And they are telling her, oh, you're cured now. You're over it.

So, this -- I mean, you have said it. This is a monster.

TRUMP: So, this ripped her apart.

WOODWARD: This is a scourge and...

TRUMP: It is the plague.

WOODWARD: It is the plague. And the...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And, Bob, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't even believe it.

WOODWARD: I know. It's...

TRUMP: I mean, you can be in the room.

I was in the White House a couple of days ago, a meeting of 10 people in the Oval Office. And a guy sneezed, innocently, not a horrible...

WOODWARD: Yes.

TRUMP: ... just a sneeze. The entire room bailed out, OK, including me, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: And, today, Kushner is saying that the president was very forthcoming with all of us about what he knew and when he knew it.

That's certainly not the tone or the content we ever heard from the president.

WOODWARD: Or the words.

And let me take you to the scene in the Oval Office the end of January, January 28, when the national security adviser to the president, Robert O'Brien, said: Mr. President, this virus is going to be the biggest national security threat to your presidency.

He said it with passion. This was a top-secret intelligence briefing. Matt Pottinger, the deputy, stepped in and said: I agree. Pottinger is the person, it turns out, almost perfectly placed by accident.

He had been in China as a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" for seven years. He knew the Chinese lie. He told the president this. Pottinger had contacts in China, reliable doctors, who said to him: This is not just going to be a little problem. This is going to be a pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu.

And the president asked questions.

So, fast-forward to 10 days later, when he told me all of this. I thought he was talking about China, because he'd been on the phone with President Xi. I thought, for a long time, it was China. And it was the United States.

And, tragically, unfortunately, he failed to tell the public the truth that he knew. On February 4, a few days before I talked to him -- and he told me this -- he gave his speech, the famous State of the Union speech, to the Congress.

[20:05:08]

Forty million people watched. He spent 15 seconds on it, saying: We're doing everything that we can.

This is the moment a leader would say: I got a warning. Trouble is coming. There are things we can do. But then he goes on and says...

COOPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: ... oh, I didn't want to tell the truth because I would panic people.

That's not what people in this country do when they're told the truth.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Americans rise to the occasion, as long as they feel they're getting a straight deal from somebody.

President Trump, he said to you on those recordings that were released last week that he believes in downplaying the virus. He likes to downplay it. He still likes to downplay it.

He was asked just moments ago, as part of a town hall on another network that he was participating in.

I want to play the exchange, the question he was asked, and what he said, and have you respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, I didn't downplay it.

I actually -- in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's amazing.

I mean, it is literally -- he said to you he likes to downplay it, for the record.

I mean, I -- in fact, let's just play him telling you he likes to downplay it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, but just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old -- older.

WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people. We're looking at what is going on in...

WOODWARD: So, give me a moment of talking to somebody, going through this with Fauci or somebody, who kind of -- it caused a pivot in your mind, because it's clear, just from what's in -- on the public record, that you went through a pivot on this to, oh, my God, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable.

TRUMP: Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you...

WOODWARD: Sure. I want you to be.

TRUMP: ... I wanted to -- I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down...

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: ... because I don't want to create a panic.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: "I always want to play down. I still like playing it down."

And now, just tonight, at this town hall, he says he up-played it, he didn't play it down.

WOODWARD: We are living in an Orwellian world.

And this is not just about some political problem or some geopolitical problem. It's about the lives of people in this country. And he was told. He knew. He told me about it. I thought it was about China.

And, quite frankly, it took me three months to find out about that key January 28 meeting in the Oval Office, which was a top-secret intelligence briefing. And the briefer from the intelligence community is saying: Well, their problems in China, but they're working on.

And that's when the national security adviser and the deputy stepped in -- i have witnesses to this, participants in this -- and said, no, no, and pushed a very contrarian view, based on facts and experience.

COOPER: But it was interesting to me, because, later on, in one interview, you asked -- you mentioned the O'Brien -- O'Brien saying, this is going to be the biggest national security challenge for you.

He didn't even remember his national security adviser saying that to him -- I mean, or he claimed he didn't want to, and he didn't want to talk about it.

WOODWARD: No, but here's -- I mean, here, we have that tape.

Look at the dodge here. It's classic. It's so, quite frankly, sick. I asked the president specifically about that. This is in May, after I had learned about it. I said: Do you remember your national security adviser saying that this virus is going to be not the biggest national security challenge; it's going to be the biggest national security threat to your presidency? You're president of this country.

And you know what the president said? I asked: Do you remember it?

And he said: No.

But then he said: But I know he said it. I know he said it.

[20:10:00]

So, he doesn't remember it. But, twice, he tells me he knows that O'Brien said it.

COOPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: What kind of -- I don't know how to not -- my job is not to be emotional. And I have done it for 50 years.

And I try to bleach the emotions out of it. But this is a story. And, unfortunately, it's not over. We're right in the middle of the damn pandemic. And you talk to the doctors, as I have, and the experts, and if we had received the kind of warning and this kind of, this is what you as citizens can do, this could be over.

COOPER: Yes. WOODWARD: Many people -- I mean, there are estimates.

I'm not sure what estimate you're going to believe, but some of them go up to 180,000 people would not have died of those 195,000.

COOPER: I want to -- you said Orwellian.

I want to play another part of one of your conversations with the president. It's from just last month, August 14, where the president talks about his administration's response.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WOODWARD: Listen, I mean, you and I...

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.

WOODWARD: Well...

TRUMP: I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: We will -- we will make -- this will...

TRUMP: So, we will see.

WOODWARD: This will be the history that we start the first draft of, and it will continue. And...

TRUMP: So, you think the virus totally supersedes the economy?

WOODWARD: Oh, sure. But they're related, as you know.

TRUMP: A little bit, yes.

WOODWARD: Oh, a little bit? I mean...

TRUMP: I mean, more than a little bit. But the economy is doing -- look, we're close to a new stock market record.

WOODWARD: Yes.

But you have tens of millions of people in this country who are your citizens who don't have jobs and don't have that money coming in that came in for a number of months.

And you -- I always worry, as you and I have discussed, that, in my position of privilege, that I don't realize that enough.

And, you know, that's going to be part of the election. It's going to be...

TRUMP: I agree.

(END AUDIO CLIP) COOPER: What's fascinating to me about that, him saying, you think -- and with genuine surprise in his voice, you think the virus totally supersedes the economy, he's talking about his record, his legacy.

Like, he's not talking about human lives or -- I mean, to him, the high stock market, that was the be-all and end-all.

WOODWARD: Yes.

I mean, just listening to it again, I remember participating in it. This wasn't two months ago or last year. That was one month ago, when he called me to see if I could get the deal between the Israelis and the UAE into the book. I said, the book was closed. It was not possible.

And I told him quite directly, I said, there are judgments I make in the book that I feel I have to make, as an independent reporter, and you're not going to like them. It's going to be tough.

And, at the end, he said to me: Well, it looks like I didn't get you on this book. I will get you on the next one.

COOPER: And, then, is that the conversation that, then, a few hours later, he tweeted -- once he knew that it was going to be tough, he tweeted out that it was all going to be fake?

WOODWARD: Yes.

Actually, one hour and 30 minutes later, he tweeted out, I guess, as he thought some sort of defense.

Now, this morning, he was asked about the book on FOX News. And he said he read it last night. OK. He's a speed-reader.

COOPER: He's not known to be a big reader and certainly not a speed- reader.

WOODWARD: And he said, it's very boring.

And then the anchor on FOX News -- thank you -- asked him: Is it accurate?

And you know what the president said? I mean, I want to be accurate here. He said: "It's OK. I mean, it's fine."

And he'd been out saying it's a political hit job and all of these things.

The -- I don't know, to be honest, whether he's got it straight in his hand what is real and what is unreal.

[20:15:03]

That is why, at the end of the book, I say, in totality, my judgment is, this is the wrong man for the job. How can you have the experience of living this White House, the way I

have for the last four-plus years, and having not just discussions with him, but people in the White House, people in the CIA, people in the Pentagon, people in the State Department, trying to get the whole picture of what this is administration is?

COOPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: How can you have that experience...

COOPER: Well...

WOODWARD: ... and not reach that conclusion?

COOPER: What you just said, though, is pretty terrifying, and that he doesn't know what is -- I don't want to paraphrase you incorrectly, but the difference between what's real and what's not real, or, in his head, he doesn't know the difference between what is real.

WOODWARD: Well, it's -- the evidence is right just in the way...

COOPER: No, I agree with you.

WOODWARD: Yes.

COOPER: But it's terrifying to hear you say it, given the fact that you have interviewed so many presidents.

Is there any other president you have ever interviewed who you would say the same thing of, that they don't know the difference?

WOODWARD: No.

And it's -- look, the responsibility he has -- I mean, there are two pillars. As he told me once, the job of the president is to pick -- to -- I'm sorry -- to protect the people, and the second job is to tell the truth.

And I could get out Franklin Roosevelt's quotes in those wonderful fireside chats. Two days after Pearl Harbor, what did Roosevelt say? It's all bad news. The very survival of this America is at stake here, and I'm calling on everyone. We're going to have to work on this every month, every week, every hour, every minute.

And then he said -- this is Roosevelt. I mean, play it. It will bring you to tears, because Roosevelt said, well, I'm counting on everyone to deal with all of this and not lose heart.

COOPER: We didn't hear anything like that from this president.

WOODWARD: No, not even -- not even close.

And I spent hours digging into this and asking about his fundamental attitudes. And if you -- you look at what's in the book and what's on these tapes, you find -- and this is part of the paradox -- he submitted to an interrogation. I was put -- you heard it. You say -- I'm saying, whoa, wait a minute. What do you mean just a little bit of a connection between the economy and the virus? And when he -- I push back, he says: Oh, yes, well it's a lot.

Well, of course it's a lot.

COOPER: Yes.

We have got to take a short break.

More unreleased sound coming up next, what President Trump says about his meeting with Kim Jong-un, what he thinks about former President George W. Bush, and more of Bob Woodward's thoughts on the president.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:21:54]

COOPER: We're talking tonight with Bob Woodward, author of "Rage" about President Trump's leadership at key moments, including as the president sees those moments, in his own words.

He said -- and not being Bob Woodward here, I'm paraphrasing -- that, when it comes to the pandemic, the president does not have this straight in his head.

They're taken from conversations with the author. And we're hearing many of them tonight for the first time.

Bob, this next exchange, it's long. It's about four minutes. But it's really, I think, important and haven't -- I hadn't heard it before.

President Trump continued to tell you he's doing a great job. And when you press him on some of the realities of what's going on, he doesn't budge. I just want to play this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WOODWARD: The question is going to be, we're going to look back, and we're going to say, end of July, August, September, October, what happened with the virus?

Did people -- people want -- we have talked about this. People want their president to succeed. Now, you're right. There's some people who don't.

TRUMP: No, no, no, I think you're wrong.

WOODWARD: But -- but -- but...

TRUMP: Bob, people don't want me to succeed.

WOODWARD: No, no, but, if you succeed, they succeed. TRUMP: Even the RINOs, even the RINOs don't want me to succeed. Now,

they will end up with a Supreme Court and lots of things that they're not going to be too happy with.

WOODWARD: Yes.

TRUMP: Bob, I have opposition like nobody has. And that's OK.

I have had that all my life. I have always had it. And this has been -- my whole life has been like this.

In the meantime, right now, I'm looking at the White House, OK? I'm staring right at the walls of the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODWARD: Where are you?

TRUMP: I have had my opposition all my life, Bob, more than most. And let's see how it all turns out. We got 105 days. Let's see how it all turns out. I think it's going to turn out...

WOODWARD: OK. Today, at 5:00...

TRUMP: I was unlucky with the virus, because it came in.

WOODWARD: Sure. I...

TRUMP: And whether it was me or anybody else...

WOODWARD: But you got it. You got it. The country has got it. And the world has got it.

But you're in charge of this country. And, you know, look...

TRUMP: And we have done better than any other country, just about done better than any other country...

WOODWARD: Oh.

TRUMP: ... at handling it. And it's a bigger, more diverse, more difficult country.

And we have done better than any -- other than with the press. Other than with the press, I have done a great job. With the press, I can't do a good job, because it's fake.

WOODWARD: Well...

TRUMP: It's fake news.

WOODWARD: But -- but what...

TRUMP: It's a fake group of people. And you know it, and you won't write it.

WOODWARD: OK. Are you going...

TRUMP: It's one of those things, Bob.

WOODWARD: Are you going to acknowledge that, in the last six, seven months, you made some mistakes in judgment on the virus?

TRUMP: I will see how it all turns out. Let's see how it all turns out.

WOODWARD: OK. But...

TRUMP: I took a big chance on vaccines. I upped the program. You wouldn't be looking at vaccines for three years. We're looking at them next week.

WOODWARD: No, I understand. I understand.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, no, but you don't understand.

WOODWARD: I do. I do.

TRUMP: What I was able to do with the FDA and scheduling -- a vaccine takes years before it ever even gets tested. We're testing vaccines for three weeks already.

WOODWARD: OK. You're in charge of the national interest. And the national interest...

TRUMP: Will I get credit for it? Probably not. But I will take the credit, because I have no choice.

WOODWARD: No, you are in charge of the national -- look, I have learned one thing in 50 years in writing about nine presidents, nine, including you, going back to Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Obama, you name it.

[20:25:10]

And that is, presidents have power, extraordinary power. And people are leaning on you. And I'm saying, from my reporting...

TRUMP: They do have extraordinary power.

But, in my case, they never accepted it. And they never accepted this president, because they are a bunch of dishonest people. And they spied on my campaign. And we caught them. They spied before and after I won. And we caught them. And we caught them cold. Let's so what happens.

WOODWARD: Yes. We're indeed going to see.

Is there any lesson you take? Because I think this is so important. I have -- I keep -- because I'm in the business of trying to understand other people, I keep learning about, how do you really understand people? How do I understand you? I mean, you and I have...

TRUMP: You don't under -- you don't understand me. You don't understand me. But that's OK. You will understand me after the election. But you don't understand me now.

WOODWARD: You don't think so?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so.

WOODWARD: What -- why -- what...

TRUMP: I don't think -- I don't think you get it. And that's OK.

WOODWARD: What are the questions I have not asked that have not been answered?

TRUMP: I think you have asked me a lot of very good questions, a lot of personal questions.

I think you have asked me a lot of good stuff.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: It's a fascinating exchange.

I mean, the sense of him being a victim, and it's -- a lot of it, we have heard before of him constantly going after the press, of course, and saying that Obama spied on him, the usual stuff that we have heard from him.

But that he's saying it in just kind of conversation, it reminded you almost of some sort of tapes you have heard that were released by the Nixon Library of Nixon, seemingly late at night, rambling and talking about enemies.

WOODWARD: Well, but he's angry. He's so angry.

He's angry at me. He's angry at Democrats. He's angry at Republicans. And, as I learned a long time ago from...

COOPER: He's a victim. He sees himself as a victim.

WOODWARD: He sees himself, yes, as a victim. And he's just striking out at everyone.

But I learned from my colleague Carl Bernstein 40, 45 years ago -- I remember, we were talking. We spent a lot of time together working on the Nixon case. We'd sit in McDonald's and have coffee and Big Macs.

And somebody was really angry about something. And Carl said: "You know, anger is really pain. Somebody is feeling pain."

And I'm not a psychiatrist. I can't leap to that. But I -- when I listened to Trump on this, and I reflected back on what Carl had said. What's going on here? And then you connect it to this Orwellian: Well, the book is fine. No,

it's a hit job.

Just today, this morning, he acknowledged that he wanted to assassinate Syrian President Assad, and that Mattis, then secretary of defense, wouldn't let him or talked him out of it.

I have in my first book two years ago, "Fear," exactly that scene, where Trump calls Mattis.

And I can't use the language, but he says: Let's F-ing kill him. Let's -- I mean, in a fury about -- and I understand the emotions, because he'd seen actual video of a sarin gas attack...

COOPER: Yes.

WOODWARD: ... on women and children by Assad.

But what did Mattis do? He said: Oh, we will get right on it, Mr. President, and turned to one of his aides and said: We're not going to do that. We will find a measured response.

And they did.

COOPER: Yes.

I want to move on to another compelling portion of the book that focuses on the president and dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

And it's so interesting to me when -- the letters that you have -- you have read about what Kim Jong-un said and how he played to the president's weaknesses, which are -- is flattery.

I mean, the president, the times I interviewed him, especially during the campaign, he's -- I have never met somebody at that level who -- that wealth -- or alleged wealth -- that he has, who is so needy for some sort of recognition and flattery, and so susceptible to it.

[20:30:01]

I want to play part of your conversations with him -- it hasn't been heard before -- when he's showing you photos of the two of them at one of the summits.

The idea that he's showing you photos is bizarre to me.

And we want to warn viewers, the president uses profanity here. But these are his words, and they're important context for the conversation.

So, we're going to play this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at that picture. He's having a good time. You know? Nobody has ever seen him smile.

Look, look at him smiling. He's happy. He feels happy.

But he's very smart. Remember this, when you take over and I really mean this, too. You take over a country and you're 25 years old and you survive. You've got, you know, millions of people that are all smart as hell and energetic. You know, the energy is credible.

WOODWARD: Well, they show you reports about those camps in North Korea. President Bush once told me about Kim's father, Kim Jong-Il, said I love Kim Jong-Il because of what he's doing to his people and for --

TRUMP: You know what? That attitude got him nothing. In the meantime, they built a huge nuclear force during the last two administrations. They haven't done it during me. Now you know you hear reports that they'll start again. But for three years, I gave nothing.

WOODWARD: Has he given you --

TRUMP: You know, they'd say, President Trump agreed to meet. What the fuck? It's a meeting. I agreed to meet? What? You mean instead of sitting home reading your book, I met?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: I mean, he blows right through your question about the human rights abuses and concentration camps in North Korea. I'm wondering what you made of the response.

WOODWARD: Well, and then he told me actually that Kim Jong-un, the current leader, killed one of his uncles and put the head on the body, and Trump makes the point that you thought politics was rough here in the United States, look at this. So, he -- and there is other audio that we played.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What is it about him and dictators?

WOODWARD: Well, we have that tape where he says extraordinary tape just out of blue. He said, well, I get along with the Turkish leader Erdogan who's probably got the worst human rights record possible, a tyrant. And Trump says, gee, I get along with this guy. Explain that to me sometime. And I don't get along with the bad guys.

And he asked me. He said as I say, explain it to me and I kind of thought, well, that wouldn't really be hard because he loves that sense of power. So as president, he's in charge of foreign relations as we know and so, he can -- the face of America is the face Donald Trump puts out.

And he had said, we're going to have good relations with Putin or the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, other repressive regimes. Oh, but -- and he'll deal with Kim Jong-un.

But he tells me, South Korea, he wants to get out. He wants to pull all of our troops out.

And at one point, it's almost shocking. He said, we have those troops there and we are allowing them, South Korea, to exist.

The idea that we would -- that the president would think we're letting a country that is an ally where we have 32,000 of our troops and he's got these inflated numbers that is costing --

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: -- all this money and it's not.

COOPER: I want to listen to another part of your conversation with President Trump about Kim Jong-un and, again, I want to warn viewers, the president uses some profanity.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: He didn't respect Obama. Didn't like him, didn't respect him. Thought he was an asshole, OK.

Bush was too stupid to know what was happening. Bush has no clue, OK? That's why we ended up in the Middle East and we spent $8 trillion.

When I did this, I said, what do we have to lose? You know, my famous expression with African American. What do we have to lose? It's a great statement, because they said -- and now, the best employment, the best this and the best that -- OK.

So the fake news says -- the first 24 hours, people couldn't vote. CNN's like, holy shit, I can't believe it. He wants to meet with President Trump. He wants to meet. This never happened. OK.

The second -- you know, after a few days, they said, well, let's pull it back. It's making Trump look too good. This is no good, let's pull -- so, now, what they actually said: I've given him so much.

[20:35:01]

You know what I've given him? Nothing. I met. I met Kim.

WOODWARD: And what comes through --

TRUMP: You know? I haven't taken sanctions off.

WOODWARD: He realizes how important it was to him. He keeps telling -- you know, Your Excellency, Your Excellency, you know, this is going to go down in history. This is going to be --

TRUMP: And you've seen what he called Obama. What he called others.

WOODWARD: Yeah.

TRUMP: He didn't call them "Your Excellency".

WOODWARD: I understand. (END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Kim Jong-un knows how to play Trump. He calls him "Your Excellency".

I mean, Kim, he's not calling the others that. That's -- it's fascinating to me that the president thought that that is what registered with the president. Do you see what he called me? I mean, that's -- I mean, it's the easiest trick in the book.

WOODWARD: And look at the pictures. He's smiling.

Well, I've had one of my assistants Evelyn Duffy (ph) and Steve Riley (ph) check the photos and there are lots of photos of Kim Jong-un smiling and so forth.

Again, Trump has got this reality in his head and you -- the first interview I sat there in the Oval Office, I brought my tape recorder. In fact, because he would call at odd hours, I had to carry this Olympus tape recorder around with me because once he called and I didn't have the tape recorder, so I had to have one by the side of the bed, one downstairs and so, I took this -- this is December 5th, last year, plunked it down on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and said, this is all on the record.

This is the history. It's going to come out before the election. He had these pictures of Kim Jong-un. He had the orders appointing judges, which is very important and he had a stack of the letters between Kim and himself.

COOPER: He was trying to impress you?

WOODWARD: No. I don't know what he's doing. I mean, these are props.

I've interviewed a number of presidents in the Oval Office and you sit at the other end and you do it without props. But Trump had his props in this case.

COOPER: Yeah, there's -- we're going to actually play that later. We're going to take a quick break.

Next, why the president agreed to talk to -- to Bob Woodward. We'll hear him explain on tape and my conversation with Bob Woodward continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:41:08]

COOPER: Bob Woodward has been chronicling American presidents for nearly 50 years, and he and his reporting partner Carl Bernstein exposed Watergate.

President Trump declined to be interviewed for Woodward's first book on his administration back in 2018. That was the book "Fear." The president reversed course for "Rage" in a big way. Before we play some more sound, Bob, I want to ask you about some of the details on your book about the national security. You recount a falling out between President Trump and two of his top officials, Secretary of Defense Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

After National Security Council meeting which President Trump wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and South Korea, you write about what Mattis and Coats said to each other, saying the president has no moral compass. Mattis replied, the bluntness should have shocked Coats, but he's arrived at his own hard truths about the most powerful man in the world.

True, Coats agreed. To him a lie is not a lie. It's just what he thinks. He doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie.

I mean, Mattis even went as far to say that President Trump is unfit.

I mean, it's extraordinary. The -- I mean, this is a top national security people around the president.

WOODWARD: Yes.

COOPER: This is "Mad Dog" Mattis who the president kept praising on the campaign trail until he actually met him and spent time with him and then threw him under the bus.

WOODWARD: Well, but he threw him under the bus because Mattis did his job, and as I quote Mattis in the book saying, he, Mattis, ran the Pentagon got almost no guidance from President Trump, except through tweets.

And Mattis knew you can't run national security or defense policy with tweets, and time and time again, these impulsive tweets come and the portrait of Mattis, I had the luxury of time really to dig into the story, it's almost a book in itself.

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: Because this is a man who was retired, who was willing to serve. It got to a point where he was worried about some war with -- some war with North Korea, and he had --

COOPER: Hey, Bob, I got to -- I got to jump.

WOODWARD: -- to sleep in his gym clothes. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Yeah, sorry, I got to jump in because, you know, we had a computer -- we have a glitch on the transmission so I couldn't show you right now.

So, I want to play you something, we'll fix it while it's playing, about one of the things that really struck me that was consistent throughout this process, was the president -- I mean, interviews are fascinating things between reporter and a president or anybody. He has this habit of praising the person he's talked to, try to butter them up essentially, thinking that that's' going to work with Bob Woodward.

I just want to -- this is him praising you throughout this process.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: I love this guy. Even though he writes shit about me, that's OK. Go ahead.

I have such respect for you.

WOODWARD: I wrote four books on George W. Bush's wars. I went through NSC notes, CIA reports. I spent hours with Bush, all of the people.

TRUMP: Oh, you did?

WOODWARD: And you know what went --

TRUMP: Didn't he come out terribly in those books?

WOODWARD: Well, see, what he did, I mean, the third book was called "State of Denial" because he got into denial.

TRUMP: Let me ask you.

WOODWARD: Sure.

TRUMP: He spent all that time with you.

WOODWARD: Yes.

TRUMP: And you made him look like a fool, OK, in my opinion.

WOODWARD: No, no.

My job is to find the best attainable version --

TRUMP: In the end, you'll probably write a lousy book, what can I tell you? I respect you as an author.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: I mean, he -- I don't know if he's ever read any of your books, I would be surprised if he had.

But have you ever experienced that with a president before that essentially, I mean, it's such an old trick, it's such an old thing to try to do to an interviewer to, you know, schmooze, oh, I've been watching you work for years. You're doing great.

[20:45:01]

Your ratings are crazy. They're great -- you know, all that.

WOODWARD: No. And what's so interesting -- look, I knew what I was doing. I was trying to find out what t happened and if you've looked through the book like on the North Korean relationship, it was unorthodox. It was risky. But it's something that as Trump kept beating into me, we did not have a war and he's right.

Now, where it lands in history, obviously, we don't know. But I've -- he -- I knew I couldn't say oh, yeah, don't worry the book is going to turn out great. I just went poker face and learned from reporting on the CIA for many, many years that the power of silence, sometimes you just have to let the silence suck out the truth.

COOPER: That is very true, indeed. You know that better than anyone.

Jared Kushner was asked today about something that he said to you, that, quote, the most dangerous people around the president are overconfident idiots. It's something you wrote as a reference or interpret as a reference to former Secretary of Defense Mattis, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, the former National Economic Council director.

This is how Kushner responded today and I want you to respond to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Yeah, so he actually mischaracterizes who I was referring to. Obviously, the people that we had, some people from the campaign, who were in there who were obviously always trying to tell the president with confidence without the real facts.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I just want to be clear because you just said, he -- Woodward says you were referring to General Mattis, Tillerson and Gary Cohen, an economic advisor. You're saying that's not what you meant.

KUSHNER: No, that wasn't clear. And again, he's got tapes of everything. I have tapes of everything. So, that was never implied in that regard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I want you to respond.

WOODWARD: Yeah. First of all, this is the whole trick and you have to give Kushner an Academy Award for saying, oh, well, I mischaracterized and then he goes on to say, some people from the campaign who were in there, suggesting that he was talking about campaign people.

As he says, I have tapes, he has tapes. I could prove to you that he was talking about people who worked in the White House, who were in the administration, who were these over overconfident idiots and Mattis and Tillerson and Coats are the ones that left.

And President Trump, when I asked him about Mattis, said, oh, he's just a PR guy. He publicly called Tillerson who was his secretary of state dumb as a rock. He -- anyway.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: And General Kelly. He said, Kelly is -- you know, wasn't up to the job, wasn't over his head, that sort of stuff.

I mean, it does strike me with this president. I mean, everybody is a sucker or a loser or, you know, what are some of his other -- you know, everybody is an idiot. They are a sucker. They're loser.

It is his view, his go-to view of other people, of all the people around him unless you praise him and -- especially if you're a dictator -- and then it's fine until suddenly he senses that you've turned against him and, all of a sudden, you're an idiot, too.

WOODWARD: No, it's not -- you don't have to turn against him. What -- I mean, people like Coats and Tillerson and Mattis were doing --

COOPER: True.

WOODWARD: -- their job as I show in the book.

I mean, think of these meetings that they have to have national event conferences, which are very super secret and Mattis was in charge of the Defense Department, Trump authorized Mattis and Trump confirmed this to me to shoot down an incoming missile from North Korea on his own authority.

And Mattis took this seriously because he realized the nuclear arsenal that North Korea had was stunning. It was hidden. It was probably a couple of dozen nuclear weapons. And so, Mattis is in his quarters and he has a light that will flash in case he's in the shower, and there is a national event conference called and he has to get on the secure line and watch the missile coming out of North Korea and in some cases, it landed in the Sea of Japan, none -- never came to the United States. But --

[20:50:07]

(CROSSTALK)

WOODWAR: What a responsibility?

COOPER: Yeah.

I want to play some new sound and it's about the president's leadership and how he sees this moment in history. You asked President Trump about it, and let's listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WOODWARD: Was there a moment in all of this, the last two months, where you said to yourself, you know, you're waking up or you're -- whatever you're doing, and you say, ah, this is the leadership test of a lifetime?

TRUMP: No.

WOODWARD: No? TRUMP: I think it might be, but I don't think that. All I want to do

is get it solved. There are many people that said that to me. They said, you're now a wartime president.

WOODWARD: Who said that first to you?

TRUMP: Oh, many people have said that to me.

WOODWARD: Well, help me. I'd like to make it concrete.

TRUMP: I don't like to sit back and think about that kind of thing.

WOODWARD: Why?

TRUMP: Because I don't have that much time to think about it, Bob. I'm busy as hell.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: It's like when he was asked what his favorite Bible passages, you know, there are so many, he can't even name on. The idea that there's a lot of people telling him he's a wartime president. I think it was he -- I mean, it sounds more like he himself was the one who's said he's a wartime president.

But did his explanation make any sense to you?

WOODWARD: Well, he did say that publicly.

COOPER: Yes, I know. Yes, he did.

WOODWARD: He did say, I'm a wartime president.

COOPER: Yeah, exactly. So, that's the people -- you know, it's like when he says people are talking.

He says he's as busy as hell, but last week, he said he watched Fox's morning show and all of their primetime programs, binge-watching Fox.

Just compared to other presidents, all the presidents you have interviewed or reported on, I mean, the word "liar" is not a word reporters generally use to describe a president. But in this administration, it's become --

WOODWARD: I don't use that word.

COOPER: I know, it's -- I hadn't until really this administration, because it is -- there's no way the president does not understand what he's saying is not factually correct. And so, there's both intent and not just incorrect information, but it seems to be repeated intent to mislead.

WOODWARD: Look, I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not -- I can't put my finger on his motivation.

My -- I mean, where he says, I think you played this, well, I don't understand him. I think that's a fair point.

But what I'm trying to do is describe his actions and his motives and the result of his actions. And he -- a couple friends of mine have said, you know, they've read the book and they say, these are psychiatric hours -- they are not psychiatric hours. That is not my business.

My business is to find out what happened and what he is willing to say about it, and what astounded me is, he would let me push on the impeachment issue. I went down to Mar-a-Lago and essentially for 20 minutes did the impeachment interrogation of him that the Senate and the House was never able to do. And we were shouting at each other, another time he called the House and my wife Elsa said, you know, you're shouting at the president, and she said, you shouldn't be shouting at the president. I said, well, I've got questions to ask.

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: What is -- what's important for me is that he would let me do that.

COOPER: Yeah. Stay with us. As he (ph) mentioned, Bob Woodward's book ends with something he's never done before, and all these previous books about U.S. presidents. That's next.

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[20:57:01]

COOPER: Famously in all his books on U.S. presidents, Bob Woodward never delivers an overt opinion on the people he's writing about through his reporting. He lets readers form their own conclusions. As he said to me earlier in the program, not this time in his book, "Rage".

Bob, the very last lines of your book are, when his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.

How -- what made you do that?

WOODWARD: A con -- a conclusion based on overwhelming evidence. I looked -- I was typing along and the epilogue and out it came. And I realized and consulted people that that was actually my obligation. I got as close as an outsider might get to the inner Trump and what were -- how the White House works and functions.

And I -- can I tell a quick story? Do you have a moment to tell a story about Katharine Graham who was the owner and publisher of "The Washington Post"?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I would love to hear it. We got like two minutes.

WOODWARD: OK, I'm going to do it quick. COOPER: OK.

WOODWARD: After Nixon resigned, so this is 1974, she wrote Carl Bernstein and myself a letter on yellow legal pad, and she had more stationary than any 500 people in Washington but she got -- Dear Carl and Bob, you wrote some of the stories and Nixon is gone, do not start thinking -- do not think too highly of yourselves.

I want to give you some advice: beware the demon pomposity. And --

COOPER: That's good advice.

WOODWARD: -- that's really important for all of us in our business and other businesses.

And so, I pondered that, I consulted with Elsa, John Karp, the publisher and the top person at Simon and Schuster, with my assistants and said, is this pompous or is this true? And the answer was, from everyone, it's true.

You can't -- the whole business of Trump is about running away from the truth. You cannot run away from the truth here because you've seen it.

COOPER: I was stunned by the quote that Kushner gave to you, saying that if you want to understand the president, you should look at the Cheshire cat in "Alice in Wonderland". He paraphrased the cat saying, if you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there.

The fact that one of the president's closest advisers is intimating he doesn't know where he's going, you know, and is willing to take any path to get there, is scary.

WOODWARD: It's only one of the scary truths in this book.

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: But I, you know -- it's -- it was very -- and it's been very unsettling to me to travel this road and stare down what I heard and saw and verified and went back, and my wife Elsa who edited this book six times and is my counselor and would come to me and say, well, this is a good section, but you're not saying what you mean -- which, of course, is the dreaded verdict to any reader.

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: But she was right and she helped me, and she -- and so, we're struggling, the two of us with this -- not just peering into the White House and Trump and so forth.

COOPER: Yeah.

WOODWARD: Peering into America.

COOPER: And I think a lot of people across the country are wrestling with that as well, and peering into the country and themselves, and this president.

Bob Woodward, thank you very much.

The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME".