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President Trump’s risky strategy: Granting Bob Woodward interviews for his new book, ‘Rage’

President Trump’s hubris led him to grant Bob Woodward 18 interviews for his book “Rage.”

President Trump granted Bob Woodward 17 interviews for “Rage,” from Dec. 5, 2019 to a few weeks ago, July 8.
President Trump granted Bob Woodward 17 interviews for “Rage,” from Dec. 5, 2019 to a few weeks ago, July 8.
Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Even Sean Hannity said he was “surprised” President Donald Trump granted so many interviews to the Wheaton-raised author Bob Woodward for his new book, “Rage.”

“I don’t think a lot of good comes from talking to Bob Woodward, my own personal opinion,” Hannity told Trump.

The Trump-friendly FOX News host confronted Trump during an interview on his Wednesday show over his decision to extensively cooperate with the influential journalist famed for his insider accounts of four presidencies.

Trump’s hubris — that he could sway Woodward, known for his deft handling of sources — led him to grant Woodward 18 interviews for the book: one from 2016 and 17 from Dec. 5, 2019 to a few weeks ago, July 8.

Excerpts from Woodward’s book, to be published next Tuesday, focused on his admission, in a recorded interview, that he knew how deadly the coronavirus could be as early as February. Trump phoned Woodward with the “surprising detail about the virus” at his home about 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7.

The origin for Trump eagerly talking to Woodward stemmed from a decision he regretted. He declined to be interviewed for Woodward’s first book on the Trump White House, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” and he came off poorly.

Trump’s risky strategy with Woodward was a calculation that giving him access would lead to a favorable book. That tactic backfired.

A remarkable feature of Woodward’s book, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, is how Trump’s feelings, musings and concerns about how he will be portrayed are threaded through the text.

After one “free-wheeling late-night tour of the world according to Trump,” lasting about 30 minutes — where he bragged to Woodward about dismantling ex-President Barack Obama’s legacy — “he told me to come in for another interview soon.”

Said Trump, “We’ll see if we can actually get a fair book.”

In another passage, Woodward counseled Trump to move past the Mueller probe because his fixation was “getting in the way,” Woodward offered, of handling the pandemic.

Trump mentioned the books Woodward wrote on former President George W. Bush.

“He spent all that time with you and you made him look like a fool, okay, in my opinion.” Woodward objected to the characterization, stating Bush “had his say. He didn’t object.”

Trump added, “And in the end you’ll probably write a lousy book. What can I say? I respect you as an author.”

A page later Trump is asking him when the book will be out, and Woodward said September or October.

“So if it’s a bad book — no, think of it. If it’s a bad book, you’re right in front of my election. That’s a beauty. That’s terrible.”

Trump then said Woodward’s “Fear” was “horrendous,” and added it was his fault. He would have “loved” to have talked to him, but his staff, he said, “didn’t tell me you were calling.”

After Woodward rebutted Trump, telling him he tried to make contact with the president through six advisers for “Fear,” Trump said. “Okay, I hope you treat me better than Bush, because you made him look like a stupid moron, which he was.”

A few pages later, Trump is telling an “utterly surprised” Woodward his view that China’s president “intentionally let the virus spread” — and then turned to the book.

“You’re probably going to screw me. You know, that’s the way it goes. Look Bush sat with you for hours and hours and you screwed him. But the difference was, I ain’t no Bush.”

And after talking about the upcoming election, Trump — seemingly trying to work the ref — tells Woodward, “If I have a fair book, it’s going to be a great book.”

In a subsequent chapter, Woodward is pressing him on race relations, and Trump denies he has been a “privileged white person.” After Woodward pushes him on some related questions, Trump tells him, “I hope you’re truthful. If you’re truthful, you’re going to write a great book. And if you’re not truthful, you’re going to hit me.”

On July 8, Trump called Woodward “unexpectedly,” and Woodward noted this was their 17th conversation for the book.

“All I ask is fairness. And, you know, I’m sure I won’t get it, but that’s okay, I’m used to that.”

Trump is now trying to clean up the self-inflicted fallout from the Woodward book just weeks before the election against Joe Biden.

And, yes, Trump got the hit he thought he could talk his way out of.

Wrote Woodward in his last lines, “I can only reach one conclusion. Trump is the wrong man for the job.”