With damning news being broken about an embattled, cartoonishly corrupt president in the last few months by reporters named Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, there’s a decided hint of déjà vu in the air. On Monday’s Late Show, Woodward sat down for an extended interview with host Stephen Colbert about his new book about the Trump White House—aptly entitled Fear—and about how his signature patient, persistent approach managed to get high-ranking members of the White House staff to open up about just what the hell is going on in there every day.
On the subject of Fear (and fear), Woodward answered Colbert’s “What makes you afraid?” with a succinct, “Not knowing.” Well, as now nine presidents have discovered to their greater or lesser chagrin, there’s not much that Bob Woodward doesn’t know, once he starts just showing up at generals’ doors unannounced. “I thought I was going to get shot,” confessed Woodward about his visit to that particular source, revealing that, instead, the two-time Pulitzer winner and Washington Post mainstay walked away with the insider information he came for. Marvelling at people’s continued willingness to talk to Woodward, considering how much press the press legend’s eventual books receive, Colbert joked, “I’m not home” to Woodward’s hypothetical knock on Colbert’s door.
But a lot of people were home to Woodward, and, despite predictable denials from interviewees like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and former Trump lawyer John Dowd, Woodward stands by his reporting about a White House in daily disarray attempting to keep up with the impulsive, contradictory, and uninformed ramblings of a president thoroughly unsuited to the job. “I’m not,” was Woodward’s succinct response Colbert reading Donald Trump’s inevitable (and, you know, impulsive) tweet calling Woodward a liar. (The only questionable claim the pair touched on is Woodward’s report that spineless Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham actually stood up to Trump over that whole “shithole countries” thing.)
Introducing his guest as the new “master of horror,” Colbert listened as Woodward detailed his nearly five-decades-tested methods of gathering information and getting sources to open up about things that, indeed, should scare the hell out of anyone who thinks there should be a functional adult in charge of the nuclear codes. In Woodward’s telling, there are plenty of people in the Trump White House who—while apparently just fine with, say, giving trillions to billionaires, taking health care from millions, inflaming racism in his base for personal gain, stealing children from parents, and installing a human get out of jail free card on the Supreme Court—are freaked out enough to tell jaw-droppingly incriminating stuff to the guy who helped bring down Richard Nixon. You know, like stealing secret information right off the Oval Office desk so that Trump doesn’t do something disastrous with it. Or coming away from a security briefing muttering “He’s a fucking moron,” as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reported to have done. Or that time former Trump attorney Dowd came away from a practice Robert Mueller Q&A so sure that the President of the United States was too “disabled” to testify. To Woodward’s choice to end Fear with Dowd’s reported quote to Trump, “You’re a fucking liar,” Colbert could only accuse the journalist of burying the lede.