Trump's call with Bob Woodward reveals a breakdown in the West Wing chain of command 

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump told renowned Washington Post editor Bob Woodward during a phone call in early August that he was never informed of Woodward's interview requests for his forthcoming book, "Fear," about Trump's presidency.
  • In the same call, recorded by Woodward, Trump admits he was told of the interview requests but that he and his staff were "busy."
  • The call reveals a startling breakdown in the White House chain of command in recent months, as Trump has sidelined his chief of staff and sought to act as his own communications director.
U.S. President Trump speaks on the phone in the Oval Office.
Pete Marovich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

When renowned Washington Post editor Bob Woodward was doing research for his forthcoming book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," the author tried repeatedly to speak directly with President Donald Trump.

The interview never happened. But in a taped phone call from early August, released on Tuesday, Trump blamed White House staff, saying they failed to tell him about the requests, even as the president admitted that he knew Woodward had asked for an interview.

"Nobody called my office," Trump told Woodward during the call, as the president struggled to explain why the author was never granted an interview. "It's really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would've loved to have spoken to you," Trump said, according to a tape of the phone call obtained by The Washington Post.

Over the course of nearly 12 minutes, Trump repeatedly claimed that he would have liked to have spoken to Woodward but that the reason he never did was simply that he never knew Woodward was trying to reach him.

Yet during that same call, Trump admitted that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told him that Woodward had been trying to reach him for an interview. He also told Woodward, "you know I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair,."

Given Woodward's stature as one of the country's foremost presidential biographers, it seems unlikely that, for more than two months, no one in the White House mentioned to the president that Woodward wanted to interview him.

The phone call did not provide real answers as to what exactly happened to Woodward's requests. But it did provide a window into the breakdown of key parts of the chain of command in the West Wing in recent months.

The chaos in the White House has been exacerbated by the president's reported decision to sideline his chief of staff, John Kelly, and his decision to act as his own de facto White House communications director following the departure of Hope Hicks, his most trusted aide, in March.

The bizarre phone call between Trump and Woodward also seemed to illustrate the portrait of the Trump White House that is emerging from excerpts of Woodward's book. "Fear" paints a picture of Trump as an uncontrollable and unstable leader, whose closest aides, including Kelly, consider him to be a pathological liar and a threat to national security.

The book, to be released Sept. 11, also describes how top White House officials reportedly disparaged the president, undermined his policy directives, and even removed documents from his desk to keep him from signing them.

Nothing but fabrications

In a statement Tuesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the book "nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the President look bad."

Sanders also acknowledged that Trump's White House does not function like those of his predecessors, saying, "While it is not always pretty, and rare that the press actually covers it, President Trump has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people. Sometimes it is unconventional, but he always gets results."

Indeed, the August transcript of Trump's call with Woodward offered glimpses of a process in disarray, where important requests such as Woodward's are simply dropped without any follow-up, and where White House staff, led by Trump himself, will go to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

At several points in the call, Trump also seemed to pretend that the Oval Office was just like any other business office and that if Woodward had simply called him directly, he would have been connected to the president.

"But you never called for me. It would've been nice, Bob, if you called for me, in my office," Trump said at one point during the call. "I mean, I have a secretary. I have two, three secretaries. If you would've called directly." 

Trump repeated this claim Tuesday afternoon in an interview with The Daily Caller, telling the conservative news outlet, "I never spoke to [Woodward]. Maybe I wasn't given messages that he called. I probably would have spoken to him if he'd called, if he'd gotten through. For some reason I didn't get messages on it."

During his call with Woodward, Trump suggested that some of the aides Woodward spoke to about his interview request were too afraid of Trump to actually tell him about it.

"A lot of people are afraid," Trump said, mentioning deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah specifically. "I don't speak to Raj," Trump said.

Trump's senior advisor, Kellyanne Conway, also picked up the phone during the call, and she told Woodward that she had passed his request for an interview up the chain of command, but that it had been rejected.

"Kellyanne went to somebody, but she didn't come to me," Trump said of Conway.

"Well, does she have access to you?" Woodward asked.

"She should've come to me. She does have access to me. Absolutely. She has direct access, but she didn't come to me." Trump said. "And you know what? That's okay. I'll just end up with another bad book. What can I tell you?"

At no point did Trump mention Kelly, his chief of staff, or Sanders, the White House press secretary, who would have been two of the most logical conduits for a major interview request in previous administrations.

Instead, Trump said his executive assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, "is the key. She's the secret. Because she's the person…"

Woodward interrupted him, saying, "Well, I talked to Raj [Shah] about it. I talked to . . . I talked to Kellyanne."

"Well, a lot of them are afraid to come and talk, or — you know, they are busy. I'm busy," Trump said.

As the call concluded, Trump seemed to blame Woodward for the near total lack of process in the Trump White House for transmitting something as simple as an interview request from a journalist.

"I'm just hearing about it," Trump said, again, of the interview request. "And I heard — I did hear from Lindsey, but I'm just hearing about it. So we're going to have a very inaccurate book, and that's too bad. But I don't blame you entirely."

Woodward pushed back, "No, it's going to be accurate, I promise," he said.

"Well, accurate is that nobody's ever done a better job than I'm doing as president. That I can tell you," Trump replied.

This story has been updated to include comments Trump made in a Tuesday interview with The Daily Caller.