Author Had Rare Access to Bush for 'Dead Certain' Robert Draper, author of the new book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, had unprecedented access to the president and his immediate circle, including six interviews with him in 2006 and '07.
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Author Had Rare Access to Bush for 'Dead Certain'

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Author Had Rare Access to Bush for 'Dead Certain'

Author Had Rare Access to Bush for 'Dead Certain'

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Author Robert Draper, a fellow Texan, was granted rare access to the president. Six interviews, each about an hour long between December 2006 and this past May.

ROBERT DRAPER: He also didn't have much of a sense of history back then. His real template were the administrations of his father and of Ronald Reagan. Now, he's a real voracious reader of history. Now, having said all that, he still remains fundamentally the same guy. He can be very impatient and he can be very dismissive. But he can also be expansive and he can be reflective, and I was fortunate to see that he was those in the course of these interviews.

BLOCK: A voracious reader of history and also a counter of the books he's read. He tells you, I've read 87 books this year. Karl Rove's already up to 102.

DRAPER: That's right. He has - Rove always beats him on that. They have a really interesting, complicated relationship, I think. I liken it to a relationship between the quarterback of a high school football team and the nerd who takes the quarterback's term papers for him. So, it's a very odd, sort of a brotherly relationship that those two have.

BLOCK: There are some - a number of conversations where you talk with him about leadership and decision making, of course, his famous line, I'm the decider, and he seems to keep coming back to this again and again. It's a very flat, one-dimensional view, it seems, of leadership.

DRAPER: And I think that that clarity of purpose, that sort of steadfastness can be seen as a virtue, it can also be seen as stubbornness and as a vice, and it can lead ultimately to a credibility gap. After a while, people ceased to listen to what he's saying. And he said as much to me when he said that David Petraeus is now going to have to sell the surge, he said, because no one listens to what I say anymore.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about a dinner that you describe, a meeting at the White House in April of 2006. And you write that there was show of hands vote. He asked for a show of hands vote on whether Donald Rumsfeld should be forced out as defense secretary. And even though seven people vote that he should be voted out and only four said he should stay; Donald Rumsfeld stayed.

DRAPER: That's right. Yeah. The meeting wasn't about Rumsfeld, per se, it was sort of about whither of the White House - this was April of 2006 as you mentioned, and things were not going well message-wise and really in any other way in the Bush administration. And so the president convened some of his trusted aides. Someone floated the notion that, perhaps, this would be the time to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld. But in any event, as you mentioned, there was a show of hands. Four people including himself thought that Rumsfeld should stay and that's the way things obviously continued until November.

BLOCK: And did you ask the president about this? Did he confirm that he, in fact, did ask for a show of hands on Donald Rumsfeld?

DRAPER: And, ultimately, what the president said was that, yes, he had considered at various junctures. He had been watching Rumsfeld closely with a not uncritical eye. But that there was always something else coming up, whether it's the retired generals or a Baghdad security plan that was in effect or getting close to the midterm elections that in his mind made impossible the notion of letting Rumsfeld go.

BLOCK: You talk with the president in one of your last interviews about his future plans after the White House. And one thing that he mentions to you, and I'm trying to imagine whether he was laughing or joking when he says this, as he says, he needs to replenish the old coffers. He's going to go out giving speeches and making a lot of money.

DRAPER: Now, the president is not exactly a poor man, but I think he knows there's money out there to be made. And, you know, Bush, as far as I can tell, is not a, you know, he's not greedy man and he's not looking, I think, to capitalize necessarily on his experience. In a way, I think it's more that other presidents have done it, and it's there to be had, so he'll do it, perhaps, in a way, to see his own market value for he's own sake and to enrich himself further.

BLOCK: And he also has plans for a vaguely defined freedom institute.

DRAPER: And it was clear that Bush, from what he said to me, that Bush is very interested in promulgating this notion of freedom and how it plays across in other countries. He mentioned that he intended to raise something like $500 million. And Bush is not the kind of guy who likes to talk about the future. He tends to focus on the present, and even to the sort of disdainful of those who suggest that it's time for him to start thinking about retirement. But he talks very comfortably on the subject.

BLOCK: Robert Draper, thanks very much.

DRAPER: My pleasure.

BLOCK: Robert Draper's book is titled, "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush." And you can read an excerpt at npr.org.

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