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Review: Who Are The Sources in Bob Woodward's 'Fear'?

By Dustin Rowles | Books | September 17, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | September 17, 2018 |


Having finished Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House, on the first year and a half of the Trump presidency, three things are clear: 1) That Trump is a dangerous, incompetent, unqualified lunatic; 2) there is no doubt about who the sources were that provided the bulk of the information in the book, and 3), that Donald Trump almost certainly didn’t directly collude with the Russians.

That doesn’t mean that Trump didn’t try to collude with the Russians, nor does it mean that Trump didn’t obstruct justice, because it is fairly obvious that he did. But what we know about Trump’s involvement with Russia so far seems to be all there is. I don’t think where it concerns collusion that Mueller has another card up his sleeve, not unless something shakes loose with Paul Manafort’s deal.

Did Trump know that the Russians were helping him? Absolutely. He even encouraged it. Did members of his campaign — George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Roger Stone, among others — know that the Russians hacked into Clinton’s emails and were going to release them in order to damage the Clinton campaign? Yes. Did Trump know that the Russians hacked Hillary’s account? Of course! Was he appreciative? Yes! Did Trump know about the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr., Kushner, Manafort and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin? Damn right, he did. But did he tell the Russians when to release the emails? No, he didn’t have to. The Russians knew exactly what they were doing, and why would they listen to Trump? He’s an idiot.

Did Trump coordinate with the Russians? No, because that would have required some strategic thinking, and Donald Trump is incapable of strategic thinking. That is made abundantly clear by Woodward’s book. Donald Trump is incapable of thinking beyond the next tweet — he couldn’t possibly have played the game of four-dimensional chess it would have required to actually work directly with the Russians to destroy the Clinton campaign. If he had, it would have leaked, because absolutely everything in this White House leaks. Everything. There are no secrets in the White House. Trump leaked classified information to the Russians in the Oval Office. He doesn’t know how to keep a secret.

That doesn’t mean that Mueller doesn’t have Trump dead to rights on obstruction, although Trump’s defense — and the one that he has advertised frequently — is that there can’t be obstruction when there is no collusion and that everything that Mueller collects on Trump is the fruit of a poisonous tree. That’s his only defense, because he knows he committed crimes in the coverup. Plus, that’s not how this works. Kenneth Starr nailed Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He was investigating Whitewater. Nixon resigned not because of the crime, but the coverup.

But why is Trump so cozy with Putin? BECAUSE HE WANTS HIM TO RIG THE ELECTION FOR HIM AGAIN, and probably because Putin has something on him. God knows, Trump can’t rig his own election, because he’s not smart enough to pull it off. Russian interference came by way of hacking into the DNC and by dividing the electorate via social media. Trump doesn’t even know how to send an email. He doesn’t know the first thing about computers or Facebook.

Most of what we learn from the Mueller investigation in the book comes by way of Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd (and it’s obvious, because the book has detailed conversations between Dowd and Mueller, as well as Dowd and Trump, and there are only three people who can provide those, and Trump wasn’t interviewed, and Mueller obviously isn’t the source, either). John Dowd eventually quit for one reason: Because — at the time — Trump was willing to be deposed by Mueller, and John Dowd knew that would be a disaster. Why? Because “Trump is a fucking liar,” and he couldn’t get three minutes into a deposition without committing perjury. Dowd tried to do a dry run with Trump, and within five minutes, Trump was ranting, raving, and lying, and Dowd legitimately feared that Trump would fire Mueller during the deposition.

He probably would, too.

As for the other sources? It’s obvious in most cases. Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, and probably James Mattis and John Kelly. Rob Porter — Trump’s former staff secretary — is probably responsible for one-third of the book. It’s not just obvious from the quotes, but because these are the “characters” that acquit themselves the best. That come off looking like heroes for saving us all from the irrational decisions of Donald Trump, although in almost every case, Trump eventually made the decisions that these people tried to stall (see, e.g., the trade war). All of their accounts, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, but I do believe their recollections of Trump encounters (although not necessarily a lot of the self-serving details).

The gist of the book is that Trump has five or six ideas rattling around in his head, and he’s fixated on them, and everything else he knows he gets from watching Fox News six to eight hours a day. He’s in a constant state of meltdown. He’s paranoid. He berates everyone. He operates almost exclusively through fear and bullying. The way he handled North Korea is how he handles those inside of the White House: He bullies and threatens, and then he kisses ass. It’s the Art of the Deal. It’s the only move he knows.

As for the book itself? There’s honestly not many new details in the book (other than what has already been printed). Nothing in Fear will come as a surprise to anyone who follows the news regularly (and people who don’t follow the news regularly probably won’t be inclined to buy the book). A lot of it recounts stories that have already been published in Politico or the Times or The Post or Axios, and in a lot of ways, it feels like watching a movie we’ve already seen.

But in other ways, it is instructive. We’re familiar with many of the scenes from the book, but Woodward strings it together into a movie, and in doing so, he provides a more holistic view of the Presidency. It paints a picture of an impulsive, temperamental man who pits his own people against each other, who lies constantly, who berates and raves, who watches too much TV, who doesn’t really understand how government works. He doesn’t listen to his advisors, who spend most of their time trying to work around the President, and the President is mostly too preoccupied with Fox News or his thoughts on Mueller to notice, or too dumb to understand what they are doing. Donald Trump is clueless, which is exactly why he couldn’t collude with the Russians. He wouldn’t know how, and the Russians and Putin didn’t involve Trump because they knew he’d fuck it up. And he would have. He’d try to take control; he’d try to tell them how to meddle; and then he’d tell everyone around him exactly how he did it, because he’d want to take credit even for that. Because Trump doesn’t do anything without taking credit for it.

So, no: I don’t believe Mueller is going to take down Trump for collusion. Stormy Daniels might take him down. Michael Cohen might. Paul Manafort might, and Trump — if he testified — definitely will take down himself. But it won’t be on collusion. It’ll be on the coverup. Or on financial crimes. Or campaign finance laws. Or perjury.

More likely than not, however, it will be the voters who will take away Trump’s power by electing enough Democrats to neuter Trump, to involve him in so many investigations during the last two years of his Presidency that he won’t be able to accomplish a single damn thing. Trump will in effect destroy himself.

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