tv Peter Baker and Susan Glasser The Divider - Trump in the White House... CSPAN October 23, 2022 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT
cycle of violence and there was actually a famous rap star who got tied up in all of this, too name was huey and he had a hit called pop lock and drop it, which i'll play for anyone who goes to tiffany's tonight. if you don't know the song, then he was killed just like literally blocks away from daryl was killed, and this was, you know, like a billboard or like chart topping rap or and his death was never solved either. and it turns out that were like a lot of the same people all in the mix with these two murders. and that kind of plays into this sort of perpetuating cycle of violence. so, yeah, unfortunately it is really not slow down down. yeah. so all right. thank you again, everybody. and we'll see you over at tiffany's.
we are very pleased to have today, speaker, not only you, he wrote back in person, but our speakers today and our moderator of all join with previously. and it is great to have and them back after the program will be signing their books out in the lobby for brief periods. we encourage you to buy the books both either during the program, if you can do it quickly or after the program outside. so with that, i am very pleased to peter baker, susan glasser and adam lashinsky all back to commonwealth club. good afternoon and welcome to today's commonwealth club event.
my name is adam lashinsky. i'm absolutely to be the delighted to be back in person the first time in three years and welcome as well to our to our online audience. before i introduce our guests, i to tell people in the room that i will be taking questions. you will be rewarded for penmanship the clearer you write. the more likely it is that i'll choose your question and be able to read them. and i'm looking forward to your questions even more than mine. it is my pleasure to introduce peter baker and susan glasser. peter is the chief white house correspondent for the new york times and a political for msnbc. susan is a staff writer for the new yorker and as global affairs analyst for cnn. and it is no. that they are married to each other. sure. and i'm going ask about that. i think everyone is fascinated to know how that works. the club hosted peter and susan virtually for their previous book, the man who ran washington
the life and times of james. a the third and is pleased to have them in person this time around for their latest book, which launched today. and his number it was number nine this morning on the amazon bestsellers list. i don't know where it is right this moment. the book is the divider. trump the white house 2017 to 2021. peter and susan, welcome. thank you so much. thank you guys for having us. i told peter and susan that i'm going to ask every question to the two of them and let them adjudicate how to answer. they'll figure it out because they've figured out so much already working together. let me ask you to start. we all know and think we know much about donald trump. what did you learn in researching and writing this book that you didn't know before you? wrote and researched it? yeah. great.
you know, all the tough questions. all the tough questions. good well, first of all, let me thank all of you coming out in person and you this is actually not only the launch day for the book, but our very first official book, event for the divider. so we are delighted to be to be sharing that day with you and, you know, as you mentioned, this is the first book that peter and i have written together. and so first book was about vladimir putin. our second book was about jim baker. and our third subject is donald trump. so you can imagine, you know, baker comes out pretty well in that in that trifecta. right. you know, in a serious sense, peter and i really felt strongly, especially you know, sitting in our home in washington, d.c., watching as i'm sure the rest of you were watching on january six, 2021, and seeing the capital of the united states under attack by americans in barring trump flags
and in the name of a president who refused to leave office peacefully, who wanted to overturn the election. and i know that we've all spent, you know, the good part of the last months kind of hashing over those events. but i think i was really especially in going back and thinking about what did we learn how to frame this, why do we do this? the historian michael beschloss that very afternoon made the observer nation, you know, that this moment was foreshadowed by every single minute of this presidency. and i think that peter and i felt, there was a real urgency to establish as much of the historical record as possible. and that you could really understand. unfortunately, january six is the sort of violent. but in execrable culmination of the four year trump presidency. and, you know, peter and i have both been in washington for every presidency from, bill
clinton on down. we also wrote a book that covered the reagan and president first bush presidency. and so i think we felt that to try to understand the disruption in the context of what is the real legacy to the presidency and, you know, how can we reckon with this? we knew there was more to be learned. we conducted about 300 original interviews for this book. all of them. trump left office after his second impeachment. in addition to trying to synthesize and analyze events and the record that already existing. so we you people are going to be finding out new stuff about this presidency for decades to come. we're still writing books about watergate and nixon. right. but we felt that it was very important to have a one volume, you know, first crack at history. so let me invite you. keep going. either of you, there's there's been a lot of, you know, many of the nuggets in your book have been reported for even people who haven't read them. so share with us something something that was that was
fresh at either well either surprised you were confirmed what you thought going it. yeah thank you very much and i thank you guys again for having us. it's some some we learned a lot about events we thought we knew already and discovered how much more there was. and we learned events we didn't know anything about. one of the most, i think, important ones was i think trump's war with zone generals. the idea that he wanted to use the military for what the generals perceived to be his political purposes, and the generals who believe united states military supposed to be an apolitical force, not an instrument of power for a politician fighting. and most, most notably, the chairman of the joint of staff, general mark milley, who was so upset at what trump was doing, his mind that he wrote a resignation letter. now, people reported at the time, we knew at the time was a resignation letter that he had written and didn't submit. we found out after trump left office, we got a hold of this resignation letter for the first time, and it's a real doozy.
i mean, it's a remarkable document in which he's the number one military officer in the country, accuses commander in chief of not subscribing the beliefs that stand america stands for, of being against the values that america went to war, world war two for. he says, you're ruining international order. he says you are a destructive force to the country and i can't serve you now. he doesn't end up submitting the resignation letter. what he ends up doing, telling his staff and telling the people around is, i'm going to stay and i'm going to fight. i'm going to fight this president. now, he doesn't mean disobey orders. you know, a lot of people in the military have discussed this. where did milley cross a line or not cross the line? in his mind, he wasn't disobeying legitimate legal orders. what he was trying to say is, i'm not going to let military be used inappropriately improperly as a political and it all right up the end. he was worried about that and i think he was one of the most compelling figures in that presidency. so there's a lot of stories like that. i think, that were sort of known in general and we managed to, i think, bring a lot more to the table. i read that letter.
i read it in the new yorker. right. in your excerpt. it is an extraordinary letter it's sort of shocking. it's the sort of thing that that maybe you or or i might think or write. but we aren't the chairman of the chiefs of staff. he wrote it chosen by trump. yeah. and i do. just to echo that, i mean, peter and i have both done, you know, three decades of reporting in washington and as well as reporting overseas from, moscow and other places. i would say that i never encountered in a in some ways reporting that was more kind of mind blowing to me than understanding true nature and depth of the concerns of chairman of the joint chiefs. and, by the way, the other military chiefs as well. this was not partizan. this is not, you know, the stuff of cable news, right? like this is like these are really hardcore, serious people who believed that the president of the united states was the
most serious threat to national security in a way at that moment in time. and i want to. let's stick with military for a while, because you did so much reporting on it. what you're describing strikes me as one of several putin style constitutional crises that could have happened. but. and i'm having trouble wrapping my head around that. it's not just once, it's many times. so let's start high level. would you reflect on that? how close were to a constitutional crisis, the trump presidency? yeah, it's so funny. in my bureau. my bureau chief, elisabeth bumiller, who is wonderful, had a sign on her desk that she brought up when trump took office and it said the is is not in a constitutional and we would like we would debate about when we would flip it. you know does this count as a constitutional crisis or not? i'm not sure that one's enough for a crisis. a crisis today is a constitutional crisis. and you're right, because we pushed and tested the constitution in for four years that we had never done before because president trump came into office as the first president in our history without a day in public office or the
military. not one day he treated the presidency the way he did the trump organization, a family business with no shareholders, no board, no accountability other than what he himself wanted. and he believed the presidency was that so? he believed people ought to be or take orders at the military, work for him to do what he wanted. the justice department, if he to prosecute his enemies, doesn't matter if his evidence, they should be doing that. if he wanted them to let his friends go who were committing, they should do that, too. we saw it again and again and again. and i think that that's what susan was talking about. january six is not an outlier. i mean, to understand january six, 2021, you have to understand january 20th, 2017. and every day in between, because it was all building to that moment, he was pushing, pushing, pushing every chance he got to see how far he could go until we got to the next conclusion. and what do you make of the that because because said something very interesting, which is that milley and others tried to distinguish between disobeying orders the one hand and i can't
remember you put it but trying to do the right thing on the other they're trying to push back on what were bad orders or bad policies or legal illegal. and i'm i'm still trying to i'm thinking of how we'll look at it 20 years from now. we get there. it didn't happen. i think it didn't happen. if you know what i mean. and so why? or how or what do you make of that? well, a couple of things. so, first of all, there is this question still not fully defined about where we were, weren't we in a constitutional crisis? to my of thinking, that was a constitutional crisis. and actually we remain in it because we have a situation where the leader of one of our two political parties and donald trump definitely remains the de facto leader of. one of our two political parties has not accepted the constitutional norm, the transition of power and continues to defy in fact, a lawful, constitutionally
mandated process of transition and to make that a litmus test for one of the two parties. so in my view, we are in a constitutional crisis as a result of that, that we don't actually fully know how it ends. and related to that, as far as trump and the military, you know, i think his testing of the boundaries throughout a very interesting essentially applying the trump m.o. that he might apply a real estate deal or to any one of his business dealings before and laying that on to america's national security, the entire weapons apparatus and so on. because what was doing and what we heard in interviews with numerous senior officials and i should say that was was interesting to me to milley's account gotten a lot of attention in our book and in others. but what i our book does that the other books haven't done yet is to show that that was a through line donald trump was testing military and they were
responding in a similar way almost from the very beginning of the presidency. joe dunford was the much more low profile predecessor as chairman of the joint chiefs to milley. trump pushed him out early ahead of time, but had the same concerns. and that shows, again, that it was trump looking for the weaknesses in the institution. but he would stop short of giving an order. so it wasn't like donald trump. it's not a legal order. if donald trump is sitting in the oval at the resolute desk and he says, you know, you f-ing generals. and by the way, that's literally a quote that he used. you're all f ing losers. i want to get out of afghanistan right now. those are all things he said again and again and again. you f-ing generals, you won't listen to me. i would like to withdraw all military dependents from korea now. i'm sick of this. we're getting ripped off, and i'd like to do it. so he said that not once. not twice. again and again. is that an an order, a lawful
order? no, not under our of government. it is trump's wish he's probing and probing the might then push back and say, well, sir, mr. president, you know, if we withdraw all of the military dependents, this actually in january 2018 and in some ways it was potentially as close as we came to setting in motion an actual war on the korean peninsula. our national security leadership was completely worried about this because had trump followed through and made it a legal order to withdraw all those dependents, that would have sent the message to kim jong in north korea, we are about to attack you. and that could have led to a real war. so you know, i think it was really a crisis, not a crisis averted. and the interesting aspect about, if i'm hearing you correctly, your opinion is at points he could have said, okay we've we've discussed this and
i've decided we're pulling the dependents out of korea to use one example. and he didn't. any insight into why not? well, in part, it's because some of the people around him slow walked him or tried to talk him out of things or, you know, found ways of circumventing him. you had a situation where you had, for instance, a national security advisor john bolton who when when wanted to do something he thought was reckless or, unwise, would find allies on capitol hill. he would go to congress, say, can't you stop him or go to overseas allies and work with overseas to try to talk or maneuver trump out of things? so people were trying constantly to find ways eventually influencing him. a good example, we see the queen's funeral yesterday. well, when trump went to see the queen, he was very enamored of this. his mother was scottish born. oh, my gosh, the queen. this is validating for him whether his staff wanted to use that opportunity to see if they could nudge him a little bit on climate change. so his staff talk to prince charles or his people and asked prince charles if then prince charles, now king charles, if he
wouldn't raise the issue with president trump when they were there. and so he this is his own staff trying to influence trump through other people because they figured he's more likely to listen to other people, needs to listen to us, which is often the case, although, by the way. right, trump comes back from his meeting or lunch or whatever it was with prince charles and oh my god, all i do is talk about climate change. so i didn't 100% get through, but that was what they trying to do. let me ask one last question on the military and then we'll move on. what sense you're spinning it. interesting. i don't know if you use these words, but you're suggesting that trump's the military as yet another example of the deep state. these these the career or government officials who were were against him. yeah. there's a conventional wisdom that enlisted corps of the united states military is heavily conservative and heavily trump, if not maga. and you're suggesting that that's certainly true for the for the flag officers. but what's your sense of that conventional wisdom?
and what do you make of it? yeah, i think you've you've hit on something that's very interesting, especially as the reports about the division between trump and generals have become public over last year and a half. there's great alarm, i would say, at the leadership level of the pentagon that it's a purposeful strategy at this point, in effect by trump and his allies, political allies, to separate the generals and them from the rank and file of the military. and that, you know, that's part of why you see, you can tune in to tucker carlson and he often is now doing segments the woke generals and criticizing the generals. and it looks to many of them with whom i've had conversations, this is almost a purposeful political campaign to, you know, of course, to tear down an institution that has enormous respect in american society at a time when many institutions, including, of
course, the media, do not. and, you know, one of the reasons we called the book the divider was because this is absolutely trump's playbook, whether the military separate, dividing people, finding the fault, and fissures in american society, even finding the fault lines and fissures within his own aides, his own family, and exploiting them is trump's personal m.o.. it strikes me as well as his political m.o. , to tell everyone about your interviews with him. what set the scene with telephone in person? why'd he do it? what was your reaction. as much as you'd like that. well, we'll be briefer than he was. yeah. what we were. and hopefully more truthful. factual, we, we. look, i covered him for the times before your susan wrote about him for the new yorker. i'd interviewed a number of times in office, but we decided we would a shot. actually, he wanted talk to us. he wanted to talk to authors, which is interesting because he knew wasn't going to be, you know, some sort of sycophantic book or anything like that.
i also knew, excuse me that he probably wasn't going to read it right. well, he would read parts of it or people would read him parts of it. you know, in fact, we chris christie wrote his book and sent it to the white house with with stick. it notes on the pages he wanted trump to read, which said nice things about ignoring the parts of said bad about trump and bad things about jared and trump. and we work, by the way, when we went and talked to maggie here and i went talk to trump. we said, what do you think of that, chris christie? because it was great and nice things about me say, well, you know, it said really crappy things about jared. yeah, but say nice things about me and. so that's true. so we went to see him twice after he left office mar a lago in 2021 for this book. he was willing to see us. we give him credit for that. obviously, anybody was willing to give an interview. we want to take an interview and hear his point of view. but he's a he's a hard interview because he's not a reliable witness. right. you come on, david, you can't go there to write a history and to get, you know, factual account
of an event that happened or whatever, because it's going to be completely contradicted by everybody else in the room or he maybe even conducted by himself. right. so he contradicted himself between our first interview and our second interview. the first interview we were asking about the vaccine for covid, which should have been in his mind, one of the biggest accomplishments he had. this is a pretty big deal. this vaccine is early on after leaving office, he had taken himself, of course, and we. are you going to do a public service announcement for that? yeah. in fact, they've asked me, the biden ministry, they've asked me to do a public service announcement to talk to people who are most resistant or concerned, skeptical. and that would be his people. so he said, you got to do that. okay. well, we showed up again seven months later for our second interview. i said, well, how come you never did that public service announcement? you said you were going to do? oh, i never nobody ever asked me do that. well, who told you that? you told us that you were our source. and that's that's that's the challenge. and trying to interview him so you and susan like to say it's random, rambling, kind of conversation that always comes
back to whatever it is he wants to talk about. and it's usually not an answer. question you specifically ask is often not a what does he say at now in a verb a period or not exactly in sequence there. so but it is revealing at times of mindset. right. what is he thinking about? he wants you to hear all about the stolen election, the rigged election. you can push all you like and say, sir, you know it's not true. doesn't matter. he's going to keep on going and it just doesn't matter to him in some way whether. you're listening or not. he just wants to talk. yeah, that's right. i'm having trouble now? remembering which figure, the many who commented about him, who on his intellect. it was. it was comey who who commented on his intellect or lack thereof. i think comey said he thought he was intelligent. i'd like to know what you two think. that's because you're alternating. as i said, all the tough questions. you know what? it's hard to look inside someone's mind. what i would say that's that's
very striking goes to this point about what donald trump knows, what wanted to know, what he didn't know, what he didn't know would fill many books. and, you know, he came to office not only with without a single day of experience in government or military unlike any other president, american history. but it was his own staff who told us how shocked they were when they started at the beginning of the administration in 2017. to understand and actually just what that really meant. and they're the ones who said there's an incredible quote in the first chapter from a senior official in the white house saying, you know, he knew nothing about most things. he did not. he confused the baltics and the balkans. and by the way, he did that in a meeting with the leaders of the baltic countries. he did not know that it is congress that under our constitution has the power to
make war. he did know that finland was not a part of russia, you know, and on and on and on list goes. how much does it actually matter? well, it actually matters a lot. in the case of somebody who's supreme self-confidence meant that he did not actually care. right. you know, it's not like, well, i'm going to learn on the job. it said he didn't want to. he didn't he wasn't interested in the facts as we now, of course, all know all too clearly and, you know, so what does it mean? think trump did have an incredible i call it a survival mechanism, instinct, people. i do think that he is very one of his gifts is identify the weaknesses in others and to exploit them very skillfully. many people have access certainly a theme of the book, the enablers who surrounded donald trump and why did the people work for him?
well, one of the things he said, donald trump was expert at surrounding himself with people who were dependent upon him, who never would have had the job if weren't for him, you know, or who had some character flaws or weaknesses, made them susceptible to remaining in his influence and, you know, i wouldn't i don't think i'd characterize that as intelligence, but it's an industry really valuable skill. obviously, there's no denying his political success, for example. yeah, yeah. a i want to ask a sort of a, an unusual or a warm and question. but when we when journalists interview people, we, we can't help but either like or dislike them. sometimes. how did you feel about him or we like you? but but that's dodging the question. yeah, i started question, you know, i mean, look, i like both of you, i mean, it's not our job to like or dislike, obviously. and it's we try as hard as possible to try to remain as detached and neutral is as we
can he has this interesting quality in person where he tries to you he has a susan's that's kind of when we saw him a kind of a cross between napoleon and elba, a banquet hall greeter. you know, it's like a coke. and i get your diet coke. how's it going? and in the middle of the first interview, which was conducted in the lobby of mar a lago, people kept coming by, hey, how are you doing? you rigged election a terrible elections. hey, how's it going? everything all right? kimberly guilfoyle at one point walks in and says, you're going to come to the event later, right? he says, yeah, i'll definitely be there. and she walks away. we say, what events? i have no idea. it's just he he has this sort of, you know, and some people find charming. they tell you that they think he is charming. and i think it's partly his public persona is so bombastic, so harsh that when he is anything less than naff, two people in person, they find themselves like, oh, my gosh, he didn't, you know, buy my head off. well, that's that would be my minor asterisk. i agree. absolutely. like that definitely was our experience i think it's the use
of the word charming that i found. you know, i've heard that from many people over time, they would say versions of many journalists would say, well, we interviewed trump and we found him to be more true in person. i think that's not the right word. and i not my word i'm saying. yeah, no, i know. so i was a little surprised because i had heard many accounts, you know, where they say, well, in person he's not there. so guess what, guys? i mean? my take is that he's exactly in person. what you think he's like, okay, you know, like he's at a rally. he's not, like shouting hate speech at you. okay, so but with that caveat, like, he's it was like listening to a live action version of his twitter feed, you know, including like random insults at random people just thrown into the conversation, you know? so we would just be asking about something and be like mitch mcconnell is the stupidest person ever, you know, just like random thrown in, you know, and so it is true, like he would offer, you know, would you like a diet coke or you know, he then insisted that we stay for dinner
at mar a lago, which was very interesting experience, because he does he's not inviting you to have dinner with him. and that is what i found to be fascinating and revealing about trump. right. like it goes to this point, you can't think of who is that? even his friends, right? almost all presidents, including richard nixon. right. you know, they had a friend or two, you know, bebe roboto or whatever. you can't name a friend, a personal friend of donald trump. so donald trump says, thank you for the interview after the first one. i'd like you to stay for dinner on the patio. great. then he says, i can you a good table, you know. so there's a host. yeah great. so they take to a tv was a good table. it was very table. but it's just me and peter there. and then he goes down and he performs at the charity cocktail event that kimberly guilfoyle that he had no idea who it was but he just it's a show and he really answer he there's like women in skirts doing a hula
dance and then after that show, he comes in, he welcomes and they clap. then he comes upstairs and he makes grand entrance on the mar a lago patio and all of the paying customers are interrupt their dinners and they stand and they applaud him every night. and like, he's like waves at them as if it's a crowd of thousands. and then here's the very revealing part. he sits down by himself at dinner with the two young aides that he's brought with him from the white house. and he spends a whole time the table and a rope, red velvet rope. by the way, i take it. and he he's talks on the phone during the dinner with the two aides sitting there. and then when we leave, you know, he, like puts the phone on hold and he smiles like this and he says, you know, did you have a good time to have a good time? so let's just talk about a larger group of people than the the hundreds or thousands cheering him at mar a lago, which is and you know where i'm going with this, which is the 74 million people who voted for him
in november of 2020. they largely knew about his most of what's in your book. they just didn't know the great details that you have in your book. and yet they voted for him, what do you make what do you make of that? how should we think about them? well, look, it's important to think about that because this is our country and they feel very strongly, many of them, about him. they like him. they like his policies. they like in some cases they like his personality. now, sometimes a different right that you hear from some people. look, i wish he didn't tweet so much. i wasn't i wish he wasn't kind of a jerk. but i like tax cuts. i you know, i don't like socialism. and i i'm against abortion or. i'm, you know, whatever. if you are against abortion, he is the most successful president in the history of the country. right. he put three justices on the supreme court and roe wade was overturned. every other republican president failed to accomplish what that part of the country wanted to accomplish. so he did. so some people it's transactional. i don't like him, but he's doing what i think is right policy wise. and then there are other people who who couldn't care less about
policy. it's not about economics or or anything else. it's it's sometimes i mean, obviously there's a racial element to. this in some cases he has tapped into a great racial resentment and divide this country and he has given liberty to people who responded to obama's presidency with a sense of, you know, this great theory and oh, my gosh, they're taking blah, blah, blah. he's played into that and. then there's a lot of other people who just like him because he's a he's fighting for us. we don't like them. whoever them is with them might be racial. it might be the it might be people on the stage. it might be the coasts. it might be whoever. i think it's a metaphor. it's those fancy pants people who know the difference between the balkans and the bottle might be the people who know they never got tired of exactly salted for thinking that they should need to. and guys like bush and mccain and romney told them not to, you know, not to to to to fight in their view. and and trump is channeling. yeah, whatever anger, grievance and resentment that they have.
will he run for president in 2024? and if the answer is no, when will we know it? i think that we will know very soon after the midterm elections. i think, you know, a year ago, peter and i might have said, well, maybe not. you know, that he has a vested interest. he's sort of created a post-presidency business model. right. and raising money off of being a continued presence in and his grievance about 2020. he wants to relevant more than anything else and that the second he says he's not running of course goes away even the spectacle we saw at mar a lago, you know, sort of influence us. there was an element of pathos to it, as if he really was sort of a, you know, a kind of washed up wannabe strongman that was the vibe, i would say. however, or, you know, the last year suggested a number of things that make it possible more likely that he'll run. first of all, i think this sort of metastasized, dismissing
investigations of trump and his perception of legal jeopardy possibly encourages him to run. i think that he believes that there would be a certain protection in being a presidential candidate. i that sharing the stage or ceding the stage to a new generation of republicans is infuriating to him. if you just look at his personality, he wishes to be the all consuming center of attention. you can already see the friction a little bit with ron desantis, the governor of florida a few times you see the statements from trump. well i made him he wouldn't have gotten elected without me things like that. i think that he's not ready to cede the stage. there's the legal jeopardy issue and then there's the fact he has you, you know, done and said everything that a candidate for president would do and say. so i'm listening to you very carefully. if i had a take, i would my take away would be that you think he's going to run. i would not be surprised if he runs. and i do think that we'll
know quickly. there is the possibility if republicans were to do as well they expected to do in the midterm elections and there was a backlash and a blame on trump for basically pushing more extreme, especially in senate and you could imagine a scenario where that is possible, but that that would be a turn off for him. yeah. the bottom line is that, you know if you have been waiting again and again and again for the republican party for four years to make a jail break from donald trump, you know, they didn't. so after january six, the ultimate, you know, get out of jail free card instead, you they're they they doubled down to mix my metaphors hopelessly forgive me for that but yeah i delete you it you two are expert on on on russia and putin having
written a book having been co bureau chiefs of four in moscow for the washington. so i'm going to ask you a question could take up an entire hour but don't please take up the entire hour which is number one. share with us what how do you trump's relationship with slash affection for vladimir and how do you handicap the next six months in russia? and yeah. i'll do the second one first will quickly. putin showed his hand he wants to have a referendum now in and lugansk the territories in the east that he already basically even before the invasion he won't have a referendum on them as ceding to russia so his hand now is i think take that territories that he can call a de say i won find a way to get out. that doesn't mean that that end it and he'll face pressure at home about that from the conservative the hardliners he thinks he he's he's maybe mess up and ukraine might not it because they're on the run right now are they got on the run
right now they've got some momentum why would they accept losing some territory? but i think that's where seems to think he's heading on trump and putin. it's still the unanswered question. okay. you know, robert mueller says, there was no criminal conspiracy between trump and the russians. fine that doesn't mean that there weren't extradition. still unexplained level of contact between them. and it's extraordinary and still unexplained affection between trump and putin or trump. putin, i would say in fact, it was so striking. we found this out that after that helsinki meeting, where trump stands there next to putin, says basically, believe him and not my intelligence agencies that in washington the intelligence chief dan coats had director of national intelligence appointed by trump republican senator republican ambassador was so agog at this that he told people at the time, he says, i don't know that. what does lewin have on him that he himself thought, the man who appointed him, was somehow compromised the russians and didn't know any better.
and he had access to information than the rest of us do not. and if he thought that was possible, that tells you something. now, the other thing i would say, though, that we learned in process of this book is it may have been a one sided street, one sided director wonder, which was phrased many ways, a one way street, one way street. there is a meeting we're having trouble with our metaphors. there are metaphorical troubles. putin is meeting with trump at, the sidelines of the osaka summit g20 summit and. trump is being trump braggadocio. you know, poland wants a name, a ford after me, and israel wants to name a settlement after me and putin very dryly says, well, maybe they should just name all of his really. after you, donald. right. mocking his pretensions and his nazis statism because putin has his number. putin gets him, frankly, a lot of the foreign leaders did. but putin wasn't sucking up to him. yeah, he was mocking. and that makes you think that this is really one way street. so a lot of people tell you, michael cohen, his lawyer, would tell you it's about money russia was a source of money to him when he needed it. some of his nsc staff would tell
you it's just about this affinity for strongmen as not just putin. it's all of them. and we'll never because we don't have a reliable source to ever tell us. right. well, he's not going to tell us. so that's what i meant. one last question before i go to questions, a little bit of journalistic inside baseball. two things. one, what do you make of this criticism of the two of you for having withheld the juicy stuff in your book and thereby denying your two employers that information? and secondly, explain the marital division of labor on writing. i'm writing a book. well, both of this issue. sorry again, u know, i really it's okay. i'm not, you know, paranoid. and you know what? this is not a tough question, peter. and i obviously we are lucky to be able to work together. and i would say this, you know, we're still on speaking terms. so it worked out okay. it's not an easy thing to write a book, but, you know, we're really lucky to have been able to to work on three together and
each of them had its own, you know, challenges. but, you know, the day we wrote kremlin rising after our four year tour in moscow and this is actually a true story but we finished it the day that our son was born the actual day that he was born he was born early i should say. so we weren't like late with our deadline, but. you know, so that was really that was really a tough project, obviously you know, and actually reason we're here is because today was the day that we had to bring our son to college. so it's every book is somehow there's some timing, right? you know, some big life event, right. we tried to get the publisher to change the date, but they very sensibly said, no, we're we're locked in. so that's why we're here with today. yeah, but you know, peter and i are super lucky to be able to do it together. but do you write every chapter together or do you do do alternate chapters or like could you imagine sitting down and writing 700 page book with the two of us sitting at the seven
pages? and it's not 700 people that's with the notes. okay, so no, we have had different organized options for different books, but basically we essentially did what most collaborators would do. we came up with an outline we divided it 5050 in terms of who would write the first draft and then who would, you know, edit it and write through it. that's great. so that's how we did it. to your first question, you know, no did not save any juicy bits for this as you all i'm sure. no we pretty much killed ourselves to. do everything we could during four years of the trump presidency. i tell you, peter baker was writing stories. the new york times, you from the time we woke up in the morning often he would have written three stories for the new york times. he was even able to get out of his pajamas and, you know, he would still be writing stories, you know, long after had, you know, fallen asleep in exhaust gin because that was the trump
news cycle. we did this book because it's important for the historical record that we keep going back at it and find out more. and i think the fact that we have all this new reporting, you know, speaks to the urgency of that project. we totally recognize that there is a lot more still to be done. when we first found out about some the information involving, mark milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and his level of concern about a possible war with iran, i wrote in the new yorker more than a year ago based on the interviews we had done for this book, because i found it to be such an alarming disclosure, and i felt that it to become public at that time. good. this is one of those things i'm convinced that the public could care less. i'd be voted out of the fraternity. not asking you the thing that journalists about, okay, i'm going to race through a bunch of your questions in the room and online. the first is, did trump having classified information at mar a lago surprise you at all?
well, we didn't see it when we were there, but the file cabinets weren't. yeah, we should have asked because he might have showed it to you. i would have know his his. he was always very cavalier about this when we were when i interviewed him in the oval office, during his presidency, he would just pull out stuff, you know, that you see, he was most in these love letters from kim jong un. did you see these love letters? and they're really very pro forma stuff. the fact he found them flattering was rather striking. but no, we didn't know that. are we surprised that. no, not surprised by that. he he sees as being his property. why do you think lots of republicans, including james baker, still support donald trump president? yeah, it's a great question, you know baker who we wrote our last book about we were working on that book, writing it all through the rise of donald trump. and so, of course, it was a recurring theme in our conversation since in so many trump stood exactly opposite to
everything that baker, you know, the republican establishment had for including, you know, strong alliances and nieto and free trade. attention to budget deficits and a sort of personal brexit feud as well. and baker really did not like donald trump. he told very openly he thought he was crazy. you know, he thought he was, you a terrible thing for, the republican party. but it fascinated us that he could not he would not disavow him in terms of the party. he said, you know, i'm a republican and in the end, that's where i'm going to stand. he was begged by many his family and who were close him not to vote for trump. he voted for him both in 2016 and in 2020, while saying he didn't represent what he for. and i think in a way that was helpful to us understanding the
the partizan grip on probably many millions of republicans. there are hardcore fan base for donald trump in the republican party. that's i think approximately about a third of the country. but then, of course, there's a much higher number of republicans who for whom maybe was not their personal a cup of tea, but their partizan affiliation is so strong. a friend of mine in washington, this the anti anti-trump and you know those are basically for whom democrats are so problematic or so concerning or so opposite to their core ideological beliefs that they're essentially willing to support any republican, even one they find distasteful. this question follows on. they're looking to the future. is there anything trump could do to raise questions in the 50% of his supporters? could his repeated threats of civic unrest if he is charged
with any crime, start a long breaking? i think this is another way of asking is what might change those. yeah well look told us in 2016 that he could go out on fifth avenue, shoot somebody and he would lose their support and we we quote lindsey graham in this book. lindsey graham, of course, became one of his closest allies. you know, he could kill 50 people on our side and it still wouldn't make a difference. and that's lindsey graham saying it. so, you know, we thought after january six, well, that has to be the moment that the republicans furious at him, you know they really were. and yet what happened? he they came back around him so he has a that as susan has put it, you know has the party its grip right now. could that change? yeah, it could. but what it will i don't know. i mean, the truth is that his being searched by the fbi was seen as a political win because that meant that he was a victim. yeah, right. they're out to. get him. they are political themselves. and so what will actually change people's minds? i don't know. there was number in the latest
nbc poll that came out this week. let's ask republicans, do you consider yourself more of a of donald trump or more of a support of the republican party and a number who said they're more of a supporter of donald trump was 33% which is the lowest number since nbc had been asking that question in 2019. so maybe there may be a slow erosion, but as susan says, you know, don't bet the house on it. it may reflect that he's off twitter and the passage of time and what have you the rise of i think there's a fatigue people don't want to keep talking about 2023 who still like him but losing the question from the audience are people generally eager to talk to you. well know we're journalists so no but you know it's very interesting. you know, we were able to conduct around 300 original interviews for this and that included wide array of you know certainly boldface names that you would with the trump
administration but also people who would still be in pretty hardcore trumpist territory. you know i was interested in that now i think many of them you know wanted to find out what what we were going to be reporting. you know, i wouldn't say some of those interviews were our most candid back forced. but, you know, we did have a wide array of cooperate and with figures from the trump administration and the trump white house across, what i would call the different facts and lines and figures. right. so there were certainly the kind internal resistance. you know, there were the people many people, of course, were fired and cycled through the trump white house. but there were also people who were there with trump till till the end. and to me, that's fascinating, too. i learned a lot more in doing this book. also, i like, i understand better the very complicated
internal factional politics of the trump administration and just few years time it was practically know like the early soviet union with the bolsheviks and the mensheviks and the you know, i mean, there was a lot of different factions in that in that trump world. when you say. so this is from this from online how does this book attempt to unite americans different different sides of the political has a book try to unite americans. well you know look we called the book the divider because he not because he invented this, but because he came along at a time in our history where we already were divided. and he figured out how to exploit. and then he it was a strategy for him. other presidents have been divisive because it's the nature politics, but they at least aspire to the idea that there was a responsibility especially for those who were elected
president to bring us together at times. right. h.w. bush wanted a kinder, gentler nation. bill said he's going to be a repairer of the breach with george w bush, that he wanted to be a uniter, not a divider, sort of foreshadowing where we are today, barack obama said there's not a red america and a blue america. there's a united states of america. now, all four of them didn't live up to those aspirations the time, but they at least recognize that that something we wanted to have as our ambition. donald trump never gave voice to any of that. he didn't think it was his job to bring together. he didn't want to bring us together. so i don't know if our book us together. i think our book hopefully explains some of this to folks and i think our book to those who might be skeptical of it because they they are very admiring of donald trump, too. susan's point all of our sources of, all the stories that they're hearing now, a republicans, for the most part, right they're almost all republicans and almost all worked for donald trump. at some point. those are the people who were concerned. so if you if you're skeptical of the book, fine, it's up. that's fair. but but this is a book built the
accounts of people who are in the room to the to that previous conversation about people being eager or willing to talk to you. i wonder if it is actually coincidence that, you know, the the head of all of this is somebody who leaked talked to the press his entire life and he took you would get on the phone with maggie haberman you would you always wanted to talk and so maybe it's no that the entire administration wanted to talk because he did well there's something to be said there. i think it was a group of people led by the president himself that were extremely focused on appearances on the media for all of trump's characterization of the media as the enemies of the people and use of the sort of dehumanizing language and, you know, attacks on the institute tution of the media, he was a uniquely focused president who
bashed the new york times. but really, really cared what the new york times said about. and i think spilled over to his aides trump, you know, a hated cnn and yet couldn't stop himself from watching it, you know, and that i think who he was he once told there's this extraordinary moment in the book where he was overheard by one of his senior advisers once telling someone, not only the old new york adage, right there's no such thing as a bad publicity he, he amended that. and donald trump's version of it was, there's no such thing as bad publicity as long as they don't call you a pedophile, you know this man really believed in talking. the press redefines low bar, a friendly, friendly question, i think to your thesis, it seems, mark meadows did a disservice to trump by being an enabler instead of a real chief of staff, and comment on that and share a little bit about your what you learned about mark
meadows and his role. the great question because mark meadows was a mystery to us when we started book because we could not figure out where he was coming from because we'd heard a couple of versions. one, he was on these phone calls with, mark milley and and others who wanted to land the plane. that's what they were call land. the plane calls after the election were worried about something getting out of hand. and they wanted to make sure that things were kept relatively stable and. he would tell people that he was trying to get trump there. don't worry, it's going to be okay. and then at the same, he was texting with jenny thomas and. these congressmen, these freedom caucus congressmen, and saying, yes, this is a battle for good and evil and the lord is on our side and and we have to, you know, have fake electors. and we have to do all these things. so know, to the extent that we thought for a while that he might be, you know, we clearly tried to say what everybody wanted him to say whoever he was talking. he tried to say what he thought they to say. but in the end if it was a question of was he really wanted to land the plane, guys trying to keep things calm, or was he somebody who was as a republican
called him the matador, was waving the flag saying, come on in. it turns out he was the matador. you know, the guys like who who were saying, let's the voting machines and let's declare martial law and let's have fake electors pressure the justice department into saying the things that they don't believe in order to overturn the free, fair election were given the ability to that by the white house chief of mark meadows. and so we had this great conundrum in our book in a lot of ways about these people who debate whether they should stay or not in this administration because they just can't stand it any longer. but they always tell themselves, if it'll be worse if i'm not here and in some cases self-justifying. right gosh, if it wasn't for me, bad things would happen. but here's a situation where you could see where that would be different if john kelly, who came to a really president trump, had been this white house chief of staff at the end, he might not have been able to stop january six, but he would have thrown himself on the doors to a stop of the office to keep some of these characters out. if he could. and that's the difference. i love the next question because
shows that even in san francisco, we are not all of one mind given biden's recent philadelphia speech where he called many republican fascists are. you going to write a follow up book on biden as the as the great divider or the. i'm sorry. the question is, as the divider in chief virtue. yeah i mean, look, this is a great challenge for journalists because we're used to operating a system where we essentially look on our political system as like we just have two political parties. and the line is that that has been changed pretty radically in the last few years. and it is our responsibility, you know, to to hold up the politic in a country to a mirror. it's not to create the reality that we want to create. that's hard to do. many times there's a lot of noise, but that is in fact our responsibility it's not to say, well, these things are always
equivalent and that's the bottom line. and there is just that's a false equivalence. you know, there's only one party in america today that is led by who has denied the legitimacy of an american election, who has forth a violent mob of his supporters with a specific goal of obstructing the peaceful transition of power. on january six, 2021. that just that's happened in american history, democrat or republican? we've never a president in american history who tried to overturn the legitimate results of an election. i think we're all still having a hard time in a way, critics and, leakers of donald trump. together, we have a hard time processing that it's never before happened in american history that does not require of us as as independent journalists to say that, calling out that behavior is of divisiveness. i mean, it just it's not the same thing. joe biden speech is not the same
thing as what donald trump has been doing to the country for four years. i appreciate your use of the word equivalence. i think it's the most important word. there's a big difference when hillary clinton whining about the result, the election and donald trump for the very first time not attending his successor's inauguration. correct. he was shocking. hillary clinton. there's lots of criticize about hillary clinton. that's fine. but she did call to concede. she did show up for his inauguration. by the way, president didn't try to stay in office. he didn't talk to the military about what to do about it. he ask the justice department to prosecute, you know, in order stay in office. i mean, these are not equivalent you can say that hillary did or didn't do good things are bad things. you criticize barack joe biden. fair enough. that's and we write a lot of critical stories. that's our job it is not the same thing. we shouldn't say it is. we have time for one last question. it's to be mine. but before we go reflect a little bit, one of the observations about your book is that it's it's heavy in color and lighter on policy. what are your thoughts about the about trump's policy successes
and failures in his four years in office? yeah, i mean, the bottom line is that donald trump is light on policy. and if you want to book about his presidency, know if you want write a book about trump in the white house. that's just that's the way right now i get i had heard that one more i'm going i'm going to i'm going to agree there's go ahead. i'm going to go i'll give an anecdote, though. we took we took seriously his number one policy, domestic policy goal was tax cuts. right. let's just we said we take it seriously. we analyze it the book and we talk to guess who his top tax policy guy who told us? guess what? this had nothing to do with donald trump. that's an on the record quote on record quote from the guy whose job it was who's brought in specifically to do tax cuts, said donald trump had nothing to do with this bill. it was all done on the hill. it was all done by congressional republicans. trump decided name to the only he cared about was what to call it, and he wanted to call the cut cut cut act because they thought that was good branding. but that basically he did nothing when it came to that. so he was used as a line on
policy, even the thing he cared about, he really didn't spend time on. as long as we have a moment, just continue then he had a foreign policy achievement. well, which was the abraham accords, right. and talk about that. also, something really is wasn't he something he spent a lot of time on personally? now give him credit. it was it happened on his watch. and he didn't get credit for what happens on their watch. but the abraham accords in which israel diplomatic relations with some several arab countries was important breakthrough but it was something was happening already and it was something that if got credit obviously jared kushner, the one who was pushing it within his administration and showed up for the ceremony with happily so but even even even without i think this is already susan will say this to ari starting to happen because there's why the israelis and the arabs see ground. well what an interesting conversation our thanks to peter baker and susan glasser, authors of the divider trump in the white house 2017 to 2021. just a reminder that peter and susan's book is available for here or at your local bookstore.
if you would like to support the club's ongoing efforts in making virtual and in-person programs possible, please visit w ww commonwealth club dot org. despite having a gavel to call this meeting to close, i. adam lashinsky thank you and take care and here if you have. that was great. that was fantastic. one analyst great. thank you
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