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Interview With U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer; Interview With Author Colson Whitehead On "Harlem Shuffle"; Walter Isaacson Interviews Bob Woodward On "Peril". Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 29, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
STEPHEN BREYER, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: This document, the Constitution of the United States, has held these millions of people
together, a very diverse group, thinking so many different things.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): A rare interview with a sitting Supreme Court justice. I speak with Stephen Breyer about the danger zone, when politics
interferes with the law.
Then: a furniture salesman and a hotel heist. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead brings us inside that world in his latest novel,
BOB WOODWARD, CO-AUTHOR, "PERIL": Peril remains. It's not over. Trump is out there.
AMANPOUR: Investigative journalist Bob Woodward joins Walter Isaacson with new details about the turbulent transfer of power from Trump to Biden.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
In just days from now, the Supreme Court of the United States will begin its new term. And on the docket are a number of high-stakes issues that
have the potential to reshape American law. It includes a gun case from New York and a Mississippi case that could gut Roe vs. Wade, the 50-year-old
ruling that guarantees the right of a woman to choose.
You might recall the court allowed a controversial Texas abortion law to go into effect earlier this month. Meantime, polls show the public support for
the Supreme Court is declining.
Now, only nine Americans have the privilege of sitting on America's highest court at any one time. And one of them is Stephen Breyer. He was appointed
in 1994 by Bill Clinton. And following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg last year, progressives are pushing for Breyer's retirement during this
But, so far, he's not revealed when he might retire, only that this certainly rather likely, most likely, will happen. The justices rarely do
interviews. But, earlier, I did speak to Breyer about his new book, which covers all of these issues.
It's called "The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics."
He joined me from Washington.
AMANPOUR: Justice Breyer, welcome to our program.
BREYER: Well, thank you. It's nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to start by asking you, by virtue of the fact that I am talking to you from abroad, about something you use in the beginning of
the book, towards the beginning.
And it's an encounter with the Supreme Court justice in Ghana. And she basically said to you that, why does the American public do what the
Supreme Court says? She was chief justice in her own country. And I wonder whether she was surprised by that. But the question is, why? What did you
BREYER: Well, that's the question, all right. That's a very good question. And there is no obvious answer. It's a question of habit. It's a question
of custom. It's a question of what you're used to.
And the point of going through that in about, I don't know, maybe 30, 40 pages, and giving a few examples, is, it takes a long, long time before the
public in the United States or in any country becomes used to what I would call a rule of law. And a rule of law means, sometimes, particularly if
courts are involved, following decisions or laws that you don't like, that you might think a court decision is wrong.
And maybe it is wrong. But it's the people who don't like it who have to be convinced that it's in their interests to follow it. Otherwise, there's no
rule of law.
AMANPOUR: OK. Indeed.
So you laid that out. And that makes perfect sense. She probably comes from a nation where there isn't that much trust. And there is, unfortunately, in
many countries abroad a tendency for their highest courts to be politicized.
That seems to be, in many people's judgment, what has happened to the Supreme Court of the United States. So, given that this is a really
important area of your study, I want to ask you about whether you think the American people still trust the court enough to -- quote, unquote -- "do as
it says," whether they believe it or not, because the latest polls say that trust in your court is in decline.
Only 40 percent of Americans approve the job that you all are doing. It's the lowest since these polls began in 2000. Another new poll says a sharp
decline from 60 percent approval in July of this year to 49 percent in September of this year.
How do you account for that alarming drop in approval?
BREYER: I think that's a very good question.
And I would make two points that also struck me from that. The first, of course, is that the Supreme Court, if you take your figures on approval, is
far higher than any other government institution. Try Congress, even the presidency. And you will see what that reflects, generally, in my opinion,
a problem of trust in institutions in America, particularly government institutions. That's a huge problem.
And I think the second is the question. The question is, do you approve of the court? Well, often, that's interpreted, often, that's interpreted as,
do you like the recent decisions that the court has made? On that one, I don't like quite a few of them myself, you know.
AMANPOUR: We all think that the Supreme Court of the United States is just a teensy-weensy bit higher in terms of importance, because of its
jurisprudence, rule of law, and the idea that it stands above politics and adjudicates fairly.
And that seems to be in decline. And I know that's also a concern of yours, and what you have focused on a lot of in your book...
BREYER: It is.
AMANPOUR: ... the perils of political interference.
BREYER: It is.
AMANPOUR: So let me just read you this.
Your close friend, or she became a close friend of yours in the court, was Sandra Day O'Connor. Now, she was appointed by Ronald Reagan, conservative
president, but she wrote something that goes to the heart of all of this, and I want to know your reaction to it.
And this was back in 2005, when she voted with the liberal -- her liberal colleagues, such as yourself, that it was unconstitutional for a
politically motivated Ten Commandments by a Kentucky courthouse.
She said: "We see around the world" -- and now she's warning America about what they see around the world -- "the violent consequences of the
assumption of religious authority by government. Americans may count themselves fortunate. Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between
church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served us so
So I want to ask you this in terms of what just happened to the Supreme Court. In the dead of night, the Supreme Court basically decided to punt on
this Texas banning of abortion laws. She was right, Sandra Day O'Connor.
BREYER: I think she was right. I think I joined that opinion.
These last three decisions, which I just send it very strongly from, do they show a big shift in the court? No, I don't think so. There are always
decisions with which I disagree, and sometimes very, very, very strongly.
The one you're talking about is not really -- it's a procedural matter. The court there did not decide anything about the constitutionality of the
Texas law. It was a question of procedures, and you would have to look it up to understand just why we divided on that.
I thought they were wrong. When I first came to the court, I had really never seen so many matters I was involved in where I thought how right I am
and how wrong the other side is. And that's always been true.
But, with a little time, I began to have a more mature attitude. This is a big country, very big, 331 million people. And we have every race, every
religion, every point of view imaginable. And it is a miracle, a miracle that this document, the Constitution of the United States, has held these
millions of people together, a very diverse group, thinking so many different things.
And what I'd say my more mature attitude was, it isn't so terrible if, over time, different judges on our court, for example, have different ways and
different views about how you should go about deciding legal questions.
It isn't quite what you normally mean by the word political. You normally mean what I learned the few years I worked in the Senate. You have the
votes, are you Republican or Democrat, et cetera. That's not the way the court operates.
And I have tried to explain in the book in about 15 or 20 pages -- it's a pretty short book. I have tried to be more nuanced and explain why I think
you're tempted and other people just use the word political. And I'm tempted to use different words, like different ways of approaching law,
different jurisprudential philosophies, long, long shifts in values over long, long periods of time, et cetera.
AMANPOUR: I mean, basically, are you saying that you don't agree that the court has shifted very dramatically?
BREYER: I serve...
BREYER: And in this book, what I'm doing is, I'm giving people my experience, how I saw it, over 27 past years.
BREYER: And Nino Scalia and I used to go and debate in front of students, about -- thousands, I mean, over time.
Now, do I really see -- what's the truthful answer, do I really see some shift from that? No.
But here's where you have a very good point. We don't know. We don't know. It takes any person appointed to that job -- and it's a tremendous
privilege or honor to be appointed to that job, me, David Souter, Sandra O'Connor, or whoever.
Justice Douglas said it took five years -- maybe it takes three. It takes a number of years.
AMANPOUR: Isn't that the point, that it is a tremendous privilege, and people like yourself need to park whatever natural human inclinations you
might have in terms of thinking about issues, but that the fact is that, over the last several years, we have come to a position where six of the
current Supreme Court justices are considered conservative, and proudly so, and three are now considered more on the liberal side, or liberal?
That is not an equal, by any stretch of the imagination, divvying up. And I guess I want to ask you. When you say -- when you say -- and I'm really
interested in what you say -- when you say, no, you don't think it's motivated by any politics, this is what President Trump himself said. He
wanted to be president to elect -- or, rather, nominate reliably conservative judges.
The Federalist Society was his main backer. And this is what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said. Let's just play it, and I will get your view on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): One lane of activity is through the conduit of the Federalist Society. It's managed by a guy -- was managed by a guy
named Leonard Leo.
And it's taken over the selection of judicial nominees. How do we know that to be the case? Because Trump has said so over and over again. His White
House counsel said so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BREYER: You're talking about the selection process.
BREYER: I think the selection process is political. And I think it always has been, really.
And the person selected, however, puts on the robes of a judge. And once that happens, the mores of the judicial institution take over, and it is a
very different world.
AMANPOUR: My question to you would be, then, why do you name your book "The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics"?
You must be concerned. And, in that regard, I wonder, what is your most concern, or your biggest concern right now of what's in front of you? We
have had Roe vs. Wade. And most people believe that, with the Mississippi case coming up, it's going to put another nail in the coffin of this
fundamental law for women's right to choose.
We have got scaling back of voters rights in the United States of America that is being dealt with or being adjudicated by the court. We have got all
sorts of things, whether it's health care and other such stuff.
Why do you put politics and the peril of politics in your title? And what are your biggest concerns about rolling back the clock on the docket in
front of you or ahead of you?
BREYER: Well, my biggest concern, at the moment, is the case in front of me usually. And you listed a few that are very concerning.
I don't doubt that. You know, there have been terrible cases, decisions in the history of our court. Plessy vs. Ferguson, try that. Separate but equal
segregation, try that one. Try Dred Scott.
There have been some terrible decisions. And that's why the job and the question of the woman from Ghana, the chief justice, was so important. And
what I said to her, you don't have to convince the judges. You don't have to convince the lawyers. They already think a rule of law is a good idea.
You have to go to villages, to towns, to ordinary people. So a rule of law has lots of disadvantages, lots, but it also has some advantages. And those
are important, namely, keeping us together. And that's why, if there's a single point in this book which is so trite, but so true, it is the
importance of teaching the next generation.
My children know, my grandchildren, yours, when you have them, they're the ones that are going to have to solve the problems of this country. They're
the ones that are going to have to deal with environment, with health, with international commerce, with all kinds of problems that extend beyond
AMANPOUR: What you say is massively important. And we all believe in the rule of law. That's why we look to the United States with such jealous
possessiveness of your Constitution.
So I want to ask you, do you think the Constitution and some of its most important provisions, particularly its democratic and human rights
provisions and individual rights, are at risk, for instance, after or around the attack on Congress January 6?
I guess what I'm trying to say is, are you worried about a threat to this great Constitution that you're holding up, waving...
BREYER: Of course. Everyone is worried all the -- well, look, you know what I suggest you read? And it's really worthwhile. My wife gave each of our
grandchildren $20, I think, if they would memorize this, and the thing to memorize is Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
AMANPOUR: I have read it.
BREYER: And he repeats what Washington wrote in a letter.
You know why? Because he answers your question. He says, we're here in the Civil War, he says, to see whether this nation or any nation so conceived
and so dedicated, I mean, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal, so conceived and so
dedicated, can long endure.
And George Washington put it in terms of an experiment. And, of course, it's an experiment. And it's still an experiment. And that's what I want
those grandchildren to understand. And that's why I emphasize that. It may be corny, but it's so true. It's up to them to carry that experiment on.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe and would you like to see any reforms currently in the selection process or the makeup or what the Supreme Court looks like?
There's so many -- so many ideas.
BREYER: Yes, of course I would like to see -- I mean, of course, I would like to see -- I would like to see less controversy in the political world.
I would like to see less division in this country. And when I worked in the Senate and begin to think -- that was many years ago, but I worked on the
staff of Senator Kennedy. And one thing I came away with was, when the public that elects the senators and the congressmen comes to the conclusion
that they want to see less fighting and more agreement, that will happen, that the senators and members of Congress ask the questions and take the
actions that they think, by and large, their constituents want.
And so, when I'm talking to the college students, I say, my friends, I learned from Senator Kennedy one thing that I think is important, and maybe
more, but at least one. And that is, listen to people who disagree with you. And if you listen long enough, you will find, on something, they agree
And then, when you get that, you say, let's work with that. Let's work with it. And you work with it and try to produce something positive, something
that maybe gives you 30 percent of what you want, but better 30 percent than 100 percent of nothing.
AMANPOUR: You're going to get really even more irritated with me now, because I'm going to ask you about retirement.
BREYER: I'm not irritated.
BREYER: Listen, one thing I have learned is not to get irritated.
AMANPOUR: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the beloved justice, was then criticized afterwards when she didn't actually retire in order to give the sitting
president the ability, who was a Democrat, to appoint a different and a new justice.
People are asking the same about you. You have not answered it. You said: I don't want to die on the court. I don't think I'm going to be here forever.
So maybe that's part of your answer. But let me try to get your thought process. They say that you are best known for your rational cost/benefit
analysis to government actions. So, what is your rational cost/benefit analysis to the idea of what might be best for you, the court, the country
in deciding when to vacate the space?
BREYER: You're quite right that I have said -- I'm sorry to be so difficult, but this is not really about my leaving the court.
And so I don't want to go beyond, in this interview, what I have said before, which you have encapsulated pretty well.
AMANPOUR: OK. I will let you get away with it, because, no matter how much I press, you're not going to answer.
Justice Stephen Breyer, thank you so much. Your thoughts, your thinking, your explaining, have been -- really fascinated. Thanks for having this
conversation with us.
BREYER: Thank you
AMANPOUR: Now, some of the issues before the Supreme Court, civil rights voting rights, the legacy of slavery, form the heart of my next guest's
The American writer Colson Whitehead, famous for his novels "The Underground Railroad," "The Nickel Boys," is out with a new one, a
thrilling tale of a furniture salesman who finds himself wrapped up in heists, and contending with double-crosses in civil rights era New York.
The book is called "Harlem Shuffle." Colson Whitehead, who has the distinct and very rare honor of winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction not once, but
twice, joins me now from New York.
Colson Whitehead, welcome to the program.
COLSON WHITEHEAD, AUTHOR, "HARLEM SHUFFLE": Hey. Hi.
AMANPOUR: Yes, I don't know how much of that interview you heard. But he does talk, the Supreme Court justice, about many of the issues that you
care and you write about.
Just wondered what you thought of some of his answers on where the court is, where those issues are, like voting rights, women's rights, and his
conviction that it's not about party politics when it comes to sitting on that bench?
WHITEHEAD: Well, I think, after writing about slavery and Jim Crow, that a lot of these gains in '64 and '65 are very, very precious, and we have to
And just because we make an advancement and make a little progress forward doesn't mean that those gains are permanent. And, sometimes, the people who
are not necessarily the great actors are our Supreme Court justices.
AMANPOUR: So, let's sort of transition into why you're with us, and that is to talk about "Harlem Shuffle."
You have tried yet another genre. You have been all over society with your writing. So I just want to read from a review, who said -- one of them says
you have rendered a Harlem that is at once deeply familiar and entirely opaque to the untrained gaze.
Do you know what that is -- what that reviewer means? And what is the untrained gaze that you're trying to reveal?
WHITEHEAD: Yes, I must have missed that review. I assume the rest of it was good.
But, for me, I came to write about Harlem. I started to live there as a small child, and I hadn't spent a lot of time there in my adult years. So I
had to go and actually make it vivid for me and true to the reader. So that means a lot of research. Whether I'm writing about plantations in Georgia
in 1850, or Harlem in '61 and '64, I have to do the legwork.
And so I am trying to make it real for people who don't know what the place is actually about.
AMANPOUR: OK, so let's just pursue that, because you said, I hope the rest of it was good.
Well, in the same review, and I have read others says, that, in fact, you crafted a brilliant crime novel that doubles as a meditation on the nature
of black geography.
So, let's drill down. You have chosen a heist novel in Harlem, but it is all about the space and the time. What are you trying to say about the
geography of that place at that time?
WHITEHEAD: Well, New York is just a great, dynamic place. And Harlem reflects those changes and that dynamism.
And so it starts off as farmland and pasture lands in the 19th century. Speculators start building tenements uptown, and people come. Waves of
Italian, Irish, Jewish immigrants try to make it in a new country in New York City, and they move out. And Southern blacks move up north, folks in
the West Indies.
And there's this great churn and dynamism in Harlem. And so it is about a heist, but once you start bringing in Harlem and making it real, it becomes
a story about the city and all the strivers who come through.
AMANPOUR: OK, so your main character, Ray Carney, in this heist is a fence. And that means he, I guess, takes the goods, off-loads them, and on it
And so I want you to read -- I know it's from the beginning part of the book -- a passage that we have asked you to choose just to set the stage.
He's -- he has a furniture store. That's his front. And he dabbles in illegal activities. And part of the story is mapping the arc of his descent
into a more criminal lifestyle.
"Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked in practice and ambition, the odd piece of jewelry, the electronic appliances Freddie
and then a few other local characters brought by the store he could justify, nothing major, nothing that attracted undue attention to his
store, the front he put out to the world.
"If he got a thrill out of transforming these ill-gotten goods into legit merchandise, a zap-charge in his blood like he'd plugged into a socket, he
was in control of it and not the other way around, dizzying and powerful as it was. Everyone had secret corners and alleys that no one else saw.
"What mattered were your major streets and boulevards, the stuff that showed up on other people's maps of you. The thing inside him that gave a
yell or tug or shout now and again was not the same thing his father had, that sickness drawing every moment into its service."
AMANPOUR: It's really wonderful.
And I just love and I'm sure everybody loves the line, Carney was only slightly bent when it came to be crooked in practice, and ambitious. I
think that's just really wonderful, because I think what -- are you trying to say that, in everyone, there is a spectrum of being bent in this regard?
WHITEHEAD: Well, I mean, I think he grew up with his father as a crook. And that was his model for manhood.
And he's decided to turn his back on that and become a businessman, a family man, have the life he never had as a child. And so I think all of us
do have those secret alleyways and corners to our personality, what we show to the world, and what we have inside.
And illustrating the places where we overlap with people like Carney is part of the fun of writing this book.
AMANPOUR: And at the end of that passage, you talk about the generations, parents.
What did you learn from your parents about this particular area, including the Hotel Theresa? And I think they started married life in Harlem, right?
WHITEHEAD: Yes, I was born in '69. And the book takes place in the early '60s.
So I didn't realize when I started the book that I was writing about their Harlem and my friends' parents' Harlem. So my parents were newlyweds,
starting a family, started their own business. And I was writing the book and doing research. I found out about the Hotel Theresa, which was called
the Waldorf of Harlem.
And in the first floor, it was chock full of nuts. So I wrote the whole scene, and then talked to my mom about it. And she was like, oh, yes, I
used to eat at that place all the time. I lived around -- I worked around the corner.
And each time I would find these nuggets of Harlem or -- and lure, I would tell my mom about them, and she would give her own perspective. So I should
have actually just been talking to her and not hitting the archives in some places.
AMANPOUR: Can I just ask you about sort of the counterintuitive nature of various storytelling, particularly yours and others, about what maybe
outsiders think of Harlem and some of the stereotypes and cliches?
It just so happens that, this summer, we saw the release of that hidden documentary "Summer of Soul," which hopefully gave a wider group a view of
Harlem that is completely outside the stereotype, the close community, obviously, the wonderful music and artistry, but the community and the
wonderful time that that incredible concert took place, while there was a whole lot more negativity going on at Woodstock at the same time.
We have also seen films this year, "Malcolm & Marie." We have seen "Sylvie's Love" that show the ordinary human life and relationships of
blacks in Harlem, which goes against the stereotype.
And I just wonder whether that strikes you at all?
WHITEHEAD: Well, there's so many different Harlems. I talk about my parents' Harlem. There's my Harlem, walking through, doing location
So I am charting the decline of Harlem in the mid-'60s. But if you walk down 125th Street now, you see the big chain stores that are everywhere.
Gentrification has revitalized and changed and altered the landscape.
One of the great things about the Internet is that amateur photographers upload their film. And so I can go to YouTube and put in 1960s Harlem
scene, and some amateur photographer has video of 125th street in 1963.
And I got a lot of great, great bits from that footage. If you walk the streets now, it's a Magic Johnson multiplex. There's a Nike store. And so
there's the Harlem renaissance. There's the decline because of high crime. And then there's its current -- Harlem's current incarnation, where we have
all sorts of people walking around.
And all that is contained in that small geographical space.
And that's the dynamism of the city.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. Let me move on to the idea of parenting. We talked about it a little bit. It does feature, obviously, in "Harlem Shuffle." It also
features in "The Underground Railroad," Cora, the protagonist.
It's all about her mother, the mother's legacy, the mother who abandoned her, et cetera -- at least that's a big part of the story -- and we heard
from Barry Jenkins that he believes -- and he said it outright -- those who were enslaved in America showed the greatest act of collective parenting
that perhaps history has ever known.
Do you agree with him?
What do you think about that, given it's a feature in your novels?
WHITEHEAD: Sure, well. The main character is named Cora and she runs north to escape the plantation. Part of her story is the courage it takes to
imagine this place of freedom.
She has to imagine in order to live that there's a place of safety and refuge up north. Part of what I'm trying to describe in "The Underground
Railroad" and also in the "Harlem Shuffle," how has this character, Ray Carney, damaged by how he was parented, step up and become a better father
and a better man?
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about the emotional impact on yourself about writing and about the, I would say, equal burden of success compared to
failure. You have been twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Oprahed, as I say myself. You've been chosen for her Book Club. That's a very powerful
thing, to be the recipient of the global Oprah effect.
But you've also said about feeling exhausted and depressed. Those, I believe, are your words, after writing books like "The Nickel Boys." Tell
me why and how much this really hard stuff that you write, a lot of it anyway, you know, affects you?
WHITEHEAD: I like writing a heavier book and then a lighter book. I like writing jokes and humor as a big part of my project. So writing
"Underground" and "Nickel Boys" back-to-back was different for me. I chose "The Nickel Boys" because it was the early part of the Trump
And I had to wrestle with my own ideas about whether America was headed in the right way or were we on or a very terrible groove that we can't escape.
And definitely, when I got back to the end of "Nickel Boys," I had sent my characters out on this tragic path two years before.
And the closer I got to the ending, the more depressed I got, I was really just dealing with American history, whether it was slavery or Jim Crow, for
five years. So stepping into the world of Ray Carney was an immediate relief.
I was able to joke and, with the supporting cast, imagine a different imperative than a novel about slavery and Jim Crow. So that's my reaction
in terms of the material, in terms of the ups and downs of one career, one's career.
And I've been up and I've been laid low a few times. It doesn't get easier to write the page the next day, whether things are going your way or not
exactly as planned. You still have to figure out how to fix the paragraph, fix the sentence. And you're always starting fresh.
Of course, I'm glad when people appreciate the books. But it doesn't make the work easier or harder.
AMANPOUR: You must be looking there for some more, a lighter side because you've chosen, for the first time, to write a sequel, not just the same
genre but the same character, Ray Carney, in your sequel. Tell us about it if you can, quick, quick and is that's why you're doing it?
WHITEHEAD: Sure. Usually, I write an outline for a few months and then write for a year and a bit and that's one project. But I fell in love with
Carney and his world and I knew halfway through "Harlem Shuffle" that I wanted to continue. So the 1970s New York is a very different New York than
a '60s New York.
WHITEHEAD: And there's a fiscal crisis, crime's at an all-time high and there's more to tell. So it's great after 25 years to find a new way of
AMANPOUR: Well, we'll all be waiting and watching for that. Congratulations, Colson Whitehead. Thank you very much indeed for joining
Now next, Washington, where top military leaders testify for a second day on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley revealing president Trump ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan by January 15th
before walking that decision back days later.
General Milley also addressed and defended his actions during the last days of the Trump administration. He specifically spoke about new details in
"Peril," the latest behind the scenes political reporting by Bob Woodward with Robert Costa, which reveals phone conversations to reassure nervous
Despite criticism, Milley said he doesn't regret speaking to Woodward. And Woodward, of course, as we know, is the award winning investigative
journalist known for work on the Watergate scandal and here is now talking with Walter Isaacson about the latest revelations.
WALTER ISAACSON, CHAIR, BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS: Thank you, Christiane.
And Bob Woodward, welcome to the show.
BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thank you.
ISAACSON: General Milley just gave some extraordinary testimony and, among other things, he totally confirmed what you and Bob Costa had in your new
book, "Peril," and he said he made the phone calls that your book opens with, with the Chinese leader, with the full authority of the Secretary of
Defense, briefing the White House and the secretary of state.
Comment on that if you would and what you thought of his testimony.
WOODWARD: I thought we had heard some things but we had not been able to confirm them. And I was sure, because his testimony was so accurate, that
that occurred, that he had instructions or knowledge of these senior people.
ISAACSON: And he briefed the secretary of state.
How come the secretary of state and others, if this was so bad, didn't push back?
WOODWARD: Well, I think they kind of flipped, really, carried them all. I think we find and we show in the book, secretary of state was Pompeo. And
finally, into November and the days after the election, Pompeo is telling Milley that president Trump is in a dark place and, quote, "the crazies are
ISAACSON: Your book has wonderful scenes in which all of these types of things are explained. Very intense inside narrative but it's also a bigger
morality play and the book reminded me of the play, "Antigone," which pits the people who are collaborationists, who enable king and power, versus
those who speak truth to power.
And it's that clash. There's so many in us a collaborationist instinct at times but the heroes of your book say, let's push back.
That was Gina Haspel, Robert O'Brien, who else?
WOODWARD: And Milley; Milley was the activist here, because he saw it. I mean, back before the election, he gets this call, which he confirmed this
week, and talks to the Chinese -- head of the Chinese military.
And the general said -- this is two days after the insurrection. So it's January 8th.
And Lee's (ph), "What's going on in the United States?
"Is it collapsing?"
The Chinese go on alert again. Turns out Iran went on alert. Russia went on alert.
And Milley is saying, my God, I've got to convince these people that everything is fine in the midst of this same day. He gets this call from
Nancy Pelosi, in which we have a transcript.
And Nancy Pelosi is saying, with a kind of almost cinematic clarity, you know, Trump's crazy. He could launch nuclear weapons. What is the
And Milley says, oh, no. don't worry. Procedures are fine.
And then it goes on and he realizes that she's got a point. And one of the most extraordinary scenes, he calls in the people at the National Military
Command Center, the Pentagon war room.
WOODWARD: And he says, if you get an order from anyone, including president Trump, I have to be in on it.
And as you know, from your Kissinger book, this didn't happen any other time we know of, except 1974, when Secretary of Defense Schlesinger was
worried about Nixon going around the bend and did exactly the same thing, issued orders; no one take directive from Nixon or the White House without
So this is, as we reported it out, Milley is alarmed. And now people who have read this book are alarmed. This was a national security crisis. This
was not just a domestic crisis.
And what is fascinating, one aspect, is that Milley alone alerted the national security state -- the CIA, the NSA, the Chiefs, the admiral
running operations around China -- and the world didn't know. We were on the edge, in peril.
ISAACSON: What surprised you, if anything, about General Milley's testimony this week?
WOODWARD: This is very interesting. He issued a statement, saying what he said to Pelosi. And then he added, which was not in the statement -- and I
am not qualified to determine the mental health of a President of the United States.
ISAACSON: Why would he add that?
WOODWARD: Well, I think it's true. I think he's not qualified. And as we know in our lives, people will say so-and-so is crazy. And we're not
qualified to make a medical or psychological --
ISAACSON: But is it part of his role as the Chairman of joint Chiefs, if he's communicated a nuclear order, to try to figure out whether the
president is truly sane in doing it?
WOODWARD: I think it is. I think the responsible course of action -- he did not take away any power, constitutional power that the president has, his
commander in chief. He merely said, I must be involved.
And he's, in that very unique role, adjacent to the chain of command, not in the chain of command. And when he calls Admiral Davidson on January 8th
to say, I'm not, he tells him, reminds him, I'm not the chain of command. I can't order you.
But it would be best if you postpone or cancel the very aggressive military exercises that are going on in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. And
Admiral Davidson agrees immediately and postpones that exercise.
Those exercises, this is clearly someone who's alarmed. He goes to the Joint Chiefs and he says, watch everything.
ISAACSON: But would we worry if that had happened, say, with rogue generals, doing that to a mainstream president?
WOODWARD: Well, I think you wouldn't see -- I don't see any evidence -- maybe there will be evidence that surfaces at some point that this was a
rogue operation. As we reported it -- and if you go back into the book and see all of these screaming fits that Trump had, I mean, this is -- and what
Trump is saying about the election and insisting that it was stolen. . And we present evidence that rebuts that, as completely, as you can, from Trump's closest advisers, closest supporters. Senator Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina and Senator Mike Lee of Utah, they take the memos that they get, which we've got, which we produce for the first time.
And you see these staunch supporters looking at the evidence and saying, there is zero evidence of any stolen election.
We -- Bob Costa and I spent a long time looking at this. Maybe there would be evidence of a stolen election.
WOODWARD: We found none and Trump's closest supporters in this case (INAUDIBLE).
ISAACSON: Let me go through some of the characters in your book, as they fall into this divide of either enabler, collaborationist or people willing
to stand up and tell truth. One of them is Bill Barr, the attorney general. Give me your thumbnail of what you discovered.
WOODWARD: Well, Bill Barr rode both horses. You're familiar with this in Washington, where some -- he was supportive of Trump. He wanted Trump to
win in 2020 last year but he gave him some very candid advice.
And Barr said in an extraordinary meeting with Trump last year, president Trump, Barr said, I travel around the country as much as any cabinet
officer. And you have support there. I talked to your supporters.
But Mr. President, let me tell you, they think you are an effing A-hole. And laid it right out and said you've got to change if you want to be
Of course, Trump did not. And then Barr praised Trump when he resigned later in December of last year. And so, like many figures, they take both
positions. But he gave -- and people have written about this, having looked at the book, that some of Barr's advice was pretty good to Trump.
ISAACSON: One of the people on the most collaborationist and stoking up, enabling side, was Rudy Giuliani, on the scene with hair dye streaming down
his face. And he's the one in your book that stokes up the president, who might not have done this.
Were you surprised about what you found about Giuliani's sort of creepy behavior?
WOODWARD: Well, it's not just creepy; it's bogus in many ways. We have his memos that he sent to Lindsey Graham which make claims that thousands of
prisoners voted. There's no evidence of that. It all evaporated.
But you see Giuliani irrationally, in one day, in the White House, saying I have eight affidavits to support my position and then, I think in the same
day, just declares it's 28 affidavits and then I think at the end, he says I have 80 affidavits.
Well, not true. And Trump took it, believed it, staked the whole year on the claim of the stolen election. Giuliani and this lawyer, John Eastman,
who wrote the memo, which is really a blueprint for trying to get Pence to throw the election, in a way, people have landed on that and said, this is
This is -- but there it is. Eastman saying to -- in the memo that he gives to Senator Lee, saying there's seven states that have alternative electors.
And Lee said, wow. That's amazing. And he spent days -- as you know, a senator who could get anyone on the phone, calling around to people who ran
the legislatures in Arizona and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
Everyone said nothing. Does not exist. There are no alternative legislators. Now it's not a matter of it just being untrue; the allegation
evaporates. It's nothing.
ISAACSON: You know, Michael Pence, we think, as vice president, was the one who stood up and did the right thing and certified the election after that
But in your book, it was a closer call than I thought it was.
How dangerous was that?
WOODWARD: Well, it was. And again, Pence is somebody who rode both horses. He was trying to accommodate Trump, if possible -- and we chart in detail.
He gets a call from Dan Quayle, the former vice president, who, in 1993, had to, according to law and Constitution, certify the election of Bill
Clinton and Al Gore.
WOODWARD: And here's Quayle standing up, essentially validating, not essentially, validating the process that elected Clinton and Gore. And so
Bush Senior and Quayle were out.
And it's interesting because here's Quayle, citing the Constitution, citing the law to Pence. And Pence is looking for some way out and it zigzags,
quite frankly. And in the end, he did the constitutional, legal thing but there's no certainty in that.
ISAACSON: The other people in the book, two of the leaders, Kevin McCarthy in the House, Mitch McConnell in the Senate, they end up being enablers,
Is the Republican Party and are people like McCarthy and McConnell going to try to take the party back or have they decided they have to make their
peace with Trump?
WOODWARD: We showed that they both disdain Trump in private and, sometimes, quite directly and then, publicly, are behind him in using him and,
particularly, McConnell is very happy with all the conservative judges that had been appointed, not just the Supreme Court but the district courts and
the appellate courts.
That legacy is going to live on for decades, quite frankly.
Trump, in my last book, "Rage," I concluded he was the wrong man for the job and I think we see continuing evidence of that. But we have a democracy
and he's out there. Bob Costa's somebody who loves the punishment of reality. And so he listens to Trump's rallies. They are quite something.
People are dismissing them.
Don't dismiss them. He's, in a way, Churchillian, saying we will never give up. We will fight forever. It's quite -- and the people in the audience
love it and cheer and -- he is essentially going out, giving war speeches.
ISAACSON: The last sentence of your book hit me hard. It's only two words long. Tell me what the last sentence is and what it means.
WOODWARD: "It all remains. It's not over."
Trump is out there; unlike Nixon, Nixon never said it was going to run again. Trump is campaigning for that nomination and position. And look what
he brought us. And as, you know, he had a way of not only touching that chord with tens of millions of people but, in 2016, he mobilized them.
And in 2020, last year, if you change 45,000 votes in three states, Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia, Trump would be president again.
So talk about dodging the bullet, it couldn't be clearer. And -- but the bullet's dodged and it kept going and then it turned around. And it's
heading for the United States once again.
ISAACSON: Bob Woodward, thank you so much for joining us.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And on that note, we really do want to pay attention to what, you know, Stephen Breyer told us, that progress does happen individually, step
by step. But we all have to guarantee that it doesn't turn back.
Finally tonight then, a fitting tribute to a hidden heroine. Betsy Campbell has become the first Black head teacher in Wales and today a bronze statue
was unveiled to celebrate her tireless work, promoting education, equality and diversity. Campbell died in 2017 at the age of 82. She is now the first
Welsh woman to be honored with a statue in Wales.
And here's to another first. In its 138 years, New York's Metropolitan Opera has never presented a work by a Black person until now. The iconic
institution opened its new season this week with "Fire Shut Up in My Bones."
It was written by Grammy winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard and based on a memoir by "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow. Blanchard said he wanted
to capture a universal story told through the language and sound of Black America.
AMANPOUR: That is it for now. Thank you for watching. Let's leave you with an aria from "Fire Shut Up in My Bones."