Why Trump agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward 18 times, despite his top aides’ advice

Trump
President Donald Trump speaks on the phone in the Oval Office on June 27, 2017.
  • Top aides are reportedly baffled about why President Donald Trump agreed to 18 separate interviews with veteran reporter Bob Woodward.
  • In the recorded conversations, Trump can be heard making damaging admissions, including that he delibeately downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak. 
  • News outlets including Politico and CNN are reporting that Trump ignored the advice of aides and went ahead with the interviews because he believed he could "charm" Woodward. 
  • Throughout his presidency, Trump has placed faith in his charisma, and capacity to charm and cajole. This time it appears to have backfired.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The White House is reeling from the revelations from veteran reporter Bob Woodward that President Donald Trump deliberately underplayed the threat of the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.

The failure of leadership, critics say, is stunning. But what's also surprising is that the information was not gleaned from off-the-record briefings with administration sources, but in hours of taped interviews with the president himself — 18 sessions, over several months, totalling nine hours.

Given the damaging nature of the revelations, why did the president agree to the interviews?

And the answer, according to administration officials who spoke to Politico and CNN, is Trump's unshakable faith in his power to charm and cajole — and, therefore, get good media coverage.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday reported that Trump had been furious when he learned that aides had rejected Woodward's requests to interview him for "Fear," his first exposé on the Trump administration.

"Trump talked to Woodward 18 times for this book, a decision many are now questioning. One reason Trump was so irritated aides didn't tell him about Woodward's attempts to interview him for his last book was because he thought he could have made himself look better in it," she tweeted.

According to Politico, aides had long feared the consequences of Trump freely conversing with Woodward — one of the reporting duo who exposed Richard Nixon's involvement in the Watergate break-in in the 1970s — but the president brushed away their concerns.

"Trump bulldozed through them all, believing he could charm the man who helped take down a president and chronicled half a dozen administrations over the past half-century," Politico reported.

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Bob Woodward on "The Daily Briefing" at Fox News Channel Studios, New York City, on September 11, 2018.

Trump's belief that he can overturn the odds, and change the narrative through the force of his personal magnetism, has been one of the shaping forces of his presidency. 

Eschewing the advice of his national security team and rejecting diplomatic norms he has formed a bizarre friendship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during his presidency.

Trump seemingly believed that, through personal chemistry, he could succeed where other presidents have failed and persuade Kim to abandon his nuclear-weapons program.

So far, the charm offensive has done nothing: Trump and Kim have met three times, and signed vague statements, but North Korea is nowhere near dismantling its nukes.

Indeed, among the revelations of Woodward's upcoming book are the letters exchanged between the leaders,  in which Kim describes their relationship as like something out of a "fantasy film."

Trump's niece Mary, a trained clinical psychologist, has also described the president's tricks to flatter and charm.

In her book, "Too Much and Never Enough," she described visiting her uncle in the White House shortly after he took power, saying: "When he saw me, he pointed at me with a surprised look on his face, then said: 'I specifically asked for you to be here.'"

"That was the kind of thing he often said to charm people," Mary wrote, "and he had a knack for tailoring his comment to the occasion, which was all the more impressive because I know it wasn't true."

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A composite photo of Mary Trump (right) and her book is about her uncle, Donald, and their "toxic" family.

It's a style formed in the tough world of New York real estate that works wonders with some, and leaves others cold. 

Top executives who have met Trump told Reuters in 2017 that the president's brash and brutal social-media tone is worlds away from the flattery he deploys in person. 

"This Trump is flexible and inquisitive, a schmoozer who remembers birthdays and often lavishes praise on their companies," they told the outlet. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed less impressed by the president's personal style, reacting with consternation when told by a reporter that Trump's former German ambassador, Richard Grenell, said that Trump had successfully deployed his "charm" on her.

Trump has always been impressed by fame, and during his years as a property developer and reality TV star was a regular on the celebrity circuit. 

In the world of journalism there is no bigger name than Bob Woodward, and the star appeal may have been another factor in the president's decision to go on the record with comments that threaten to dent his chances of reelection.

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