Former White House Press Secretary Weighs In On Bob Woodward's Latest Book
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This week has brought several explosive accounts of President Trump's own staff defying or undermining him. Bob Woodward's book describes defense secretary, Jim Mattis, ignoring an order to kill Syria's leader. It says White House economic adviser Gary Cohn orchestrated the theft of a letter from the president's desk in the Oval Office so Trump wouldn't sign it. And last night's anonymous op-ed in The New York Times by a senior official, who works for Trump says, quote, "like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda." Ari Fleischer was press secretary to President George W. Bush, and joins us now to put this in perspective for us. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ARI FLEISCHER: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: This quiet defiance within the administration has been described in terms as mild as palace intrigue and as extreme as constitutional crisis or administrative coup d'etat. Last night, President Trump tweeted treason with a question mark. How serious do you think this behavior is?
FLEISCHER: Well, it hasn't been very quiet, frankly. It's been quite noisy. And I separate Bob Woodward's book, which I have experience with Bob Woodward, as being genuine. Now, whether or not people were settling scores or taking liberties, none of us know because they're anonymous quotes. The op-ed is impossible to gauge because none of us know how senior the author is. And therefore, we have no - can reach no conclusions about that piece. To be fair, there are 25 assistants to the president at the White House - 25 deputy assistants, and there are 75 special assistants to the president. That's 125 senior people. We don't even know who this person is. They can be a deputy assistant to the cabinet secretary.
SHAPIRO: But while the specifics of the Woodward book and the op-ed can be debated, they are consistent with accounts that we have consistently heard over the last year from such a wide array of sources. If there are people within the president's own administration - within the president's own cabinet actively trying to undermine him on a daily basis, how serious is that?
FLEISCHER: Then resign. If there is anybody who works for any president of the United States who feels so strongly that their boss is not qualified to be the president, the honorable and noble thing - and it's a part of America's tradition - is resign and go public.
SHAPIRO: Do you think that this is, as some have described it, a constitutional crisis?
FLEISCHER: Oh, heavens. No. Our system is so resilient, and it works so well. The solution to the problem, as people think Donald Trump is a problem, is to elect Democrats in the House and the Senate. The corrective action is overt politics, not a covert op-ed.
SHAPIRO: When you look at some of the specific events described in the Woodward book, whether that's removing a letter from the president's desk or ignoring a kill order, could you imagine anything like that happening in the Bush White House?
FLEISCHER: Well, you know, not to the Bush White House. But I can imagine a president saying, we need to kill the SOB, and then somebody in the Pentagon saying, well, only if they're a part of operations and control can we do that. That's the law. And the United States has gone after people, haven't we? President Obama with his drone program. So there are instances where presidents have gone after operation and control as well as terrorism. So again, our system is resilient. And there are many times where presidents may say things, and then it's them venting, you know? I think the same was probably true of President Obama and everybody who came before him.
SHAPIRO: I guess I'm just trying to evaluate on a scale of ordinary White House palace intrigue on one end...
SHAPIRO: ...And extraordinary infighting and chaos on the other end. Where does this fall?
FLEISCHER: Well, OK. On that question, there's no question about it. The Trump White House is full of infighting and backbiting to a degree that's terribly unusual in Washington. But I think it's also fair to say President Trump was not elected to do things the way things have been done in Washington. And one of the most unfair comparisons you can make to president - of President Trump is, how does he do compared to what his predecessors did? Like it or not, and I often don't like it, he came to Washington to change Washington.
SHAPIRO: I know that you think the author of the op-ed was cowardly and made the wrong choice. But if this person's intentions really are to manage President Trump's more erratic impulses, publishing this anonymous op-ed in The New York Times seems likely to have the opposite effect. It seems likely to enrage him. So what do you think the author wanted to do by publishing this?
FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it only enrages the president, justifiably so. But it turns all the colleagues into a circular firing squad saying, was it you, was it you, was it you? And that's not healthy for the White House or for the nation. This is why I feel so strongly that whoever wrote this should have put their name on it, should have resigned. They would've had everybody listening to them if they are indeed senior. Now if they're a junior-level or a medium-level person, The New York Times will have a lot of egg on its face. But if it is indeed a senior person who believes this, there's a noble course in standing tall and saying it.
SHAPIRO: Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration, thanks for joining us today.
FLEISCHER: Thank you, Ari.
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