DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Trump administration is vigorously denying claims laid out in a new book. The first leaks from the book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward began to circulate yesterday, as did tape of Woodward's phone call with President Trump, describing his efforts to interview Trump for the book.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOB WOODWARD: Sorry we missed the opportunity to talk for the book.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I just spoke with Kellyanne. And she asked me if I got a call. I never got a call. I never got a message. Who did you ask about speaking to me?
GREENE: NPR's Mara Liasson covers the White House, and she is on the line with us.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, David.
GREENE: Wow. That tape is just something.
LIASSON: Yes. And Kellyanne actually walked into the room during the phone call.
GREENE: Which is even - yeah. I mean, I could just listen to this, the entire thing, over and over again. I mean, it seems so revealing. So this book is called "Fear." Why is that? And what kind of picture of the White House is emerging in this account from Bob Woodward?
LIASSON: Well, the picture that emerges through Bob Woodward's deep reporting and his vivid recreations of scenes in the White House is very similar to what we already have heard about the Trump White House - a lot of dysfunction, a lot of chaos, a lot of disparagement of Trump by his top officials, what Trump would consider a lack of loyalty. But also, it shows people close to the president trying to protect him from himself - from his worst instincts - and protect the country from him, whether it was ending a trade deal with South Korea that they thought would damage U.S. national security, starting a war with North Korea or sitting down for an interview with Bob Mueller.
GREENE: Yeah. I mean, they actually - I mean, there was some pretty dramatic language used by one of the president's attorneys talking about whether or not he should testify with Mueller.
LIASSON: That's right. He is reported in the Woodward book to have told Donald Trump that he could sit down - the choice was between testifying to Bob Mueller or an orange jumpsuit.
GREENE: That's amazing. And that was attorney John Dowd, who used to be one of the lawyers in the White House.
GREENE: I just want to listen to a little more of that phone call between Woodward and the president here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WOODWARD: I got to go talk to people and see them outside of the White House and outside of their offices and gained a lot of insight and documentation. And it's - you know, it's a tough look at the world and your administration and you.
TRUMP: Right. Well, I assume that means it's going to be a negative book. But you know, I'm some - I'm sort of 50 percent used to that. That's all right. Some are good, and some are bad. Sounds like this is going to be a bad one.
GREENE: OK. So it shows the president's starting to talk about what he might see from this book. I mean, what could the fallout be - for him, for this White House, for his staff - Mara?
LIASSON: Well, first of all, we should say that the White House has denied a lot of what's in this book. White House chief of staff John Kelly denied calling the president an idiot. That's something he's denied in the past. As we already said, the president's former lawyer, John Dowd, denied telling Trump that if he testified to Mueller, he would end up in an orange jumpsuit. Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, said that the contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me. The president himself denied that a piece of paper was ever taken off his desk without his knowledge. And he is claiming that Bob Woodward has a lot of credibility problems. Of course, Bob Woodward has won two Pulitzer Prizes. And in the past, his reporting has not been debunked.
But what struck me about the reaction of the White House is that it seemed to lack some of the intensity with which they went after previous book writers like Michael Wolff, who wrote "Fire And Fury," or Omarosa Manigault Newman. It seemed like they might even understand that it's going to be a lot harder to go after Bob Woodward and undermine his credibility.
GREENE: Really briefly, Mara, I just want to ask you about one other thing - The New York Times reporting last night that Bob Mueller has informed the president's legal team that he would accept some answers in writing from Trump and not necessarily a sit-down interview on whether his campaign conspired with Russia back in 2016.
LIASSON: Right. Several news organizations are reporting that Bob Mueller has told the president's legal team that he will accept written answers from the president to questions about possible coordination between the campaign and Russia. What we don't know is whether Mueller will accept written answers related to questions of obstruction of justice. So we don't know if this resolves the problem of whether the president will sit down and talk to Mueller or not. We know that his lawyers do not want him to do that. That also figures in the Woodward book. They think...
LIASSON: ...That he would perhaps perjure himself. But we've also heard that the president wants to sit down with Mueller because he thinks not doing it would look bad.
GREENE: NPR's Mara Liasson.
Mara, thanks a lot.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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