Trump takes on Watergate reporters

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President Trump in consecutive weeks has been locked in battle with Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, a striking confluence of events that further invites comparisons to Richard Nixon’s presidency.

The new fight was sparked by Woodward’s forthcoming book, which describes a White House in a state of chaos where Trump trades insults with aides, who are sometimes working against him.

Trump and the White House have responded by blasting “Fear: Trump in the White House” as an untruthful tomb based on anonymous quotes from disgruntled former employees.

{mosads}The president responded to Woodward directly Wednesday on Twitter, calling the legendary journalist a “Dem operative” who has “a lot of credibility problems.”

Later, in remarks from the White House, Trump said Woodward was just out to sell books.

“The book means nothing. It’s a work of fiction,” he said, before noting that Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly had already issued statements denying remarks attributed to them in the book.

“If you look back at Woodward’s past, you have the same problem with other presidents,” Trump said. “He likes to get publicity, sell some books.”

The battle with Woodward comes one week after Trump targeted Bernstein, who is now a CNN analyst. Bernstein was Woodward’s reporting partner at The Washington Post in the 1970s and co-authored “All the President’s Men,” which was later turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

Trump called Bernstein a “degenerate fool” over a CNN story that Bernstein co-bylined. Bernstein, alongside Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen, reported that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the controversial Trump Tower meeting. 

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, later recanted the story and admitted to being an anonymous source for CNN’s story.

Trump quickly slammed Bernstein, calling him “sloppy” and accusing him of “making up story after story.”

CNN backed up the story, which was supported by sources other than Davis. (Davis is an opinion contributor for The Hill.)

“I have spent my life as a journalist bringing the truth to light, through administrations of both parties,” Bernstein tweeted in response to Trump. “No taunt will diminish my commitment to that mission, which is the essential role of a free press.”

“CNN stands by its story, and I stand by my reporting,” he added. 

Parallels between the Nixon and Trump’s presidencies could be identified well before the Watergate reporters became characters in today’s saga.

Both then and now, an embattled president faced escalating investigations into their possible involvement in efforts to sabotage Democratic opponents. Impeachment loomed in both cases.

But the entrance of Woodward and Bernstein has painted the comparison in an especially evocative way.

Though Woodward remained largely silent in the face of White House pushback, Bernstein went to bat for his former reporting partner in comments to The Hill.

“What this book is about is those closest to the president of the United States deciding and acting on their belief that the president of the United States is a threat to the country and to the world because of his ignorance, because of his recklessness, because of his dishonesty,” Bernstein told The Hill. “That’s what this book is about. That’s what the reporting demonstrates beyond any doubt.”

He said on CNN on Tuesday that Woodward’s reporting style is airtight, adding that the new book is notable for its “verisimilitude” and stating that it is backed up by tapes — hundreds of them.  

Woodward on Tuesday spoke out only once in a statement to the Post. “I stand by my reporting,” he said. 

As Bernstein and Woodward began their reporting in the early 1970s, Nixon’s White House also accused them of colluding with Democrats. Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, accused the Post of engaging in “shoddy and shabby” journalism, calling their reporting a “blatant effort at character assassination” — comments he later apologized for. 

In his Tuesday comments on CNN, Bernstein added that he believes the situation with Trump is “worse than Watergate.” 

“In Watergate, the system worked,” Bernstein said on CNN. “It worked because Republicans decided, we cannot have a president of the United States who is a criminal or a danger to the presidency of the United States. This situation is far more dangerous.” 

Woodward and Bernstein are situated differently than they were in the Nixon era. Woodward, an associate editor at the Post, has produced investigative books about multiple presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Bernstein, meanwhile, has been reporting on the daily deluge of the Trump administration. 

But the two continue to maintain a close professional relationship.  

“We keep each other posted pretty well,” Bernstein said during a recent phone interview with The Associated Press. “Obviously, we do different things. But we also have a lifetime of understanding each other and looking at news together.”

The two are often quick to mention that Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, ultimately confirmed the Post’s Watergate reporting in their memoirs.  

“I was wondering who the ‘Woodward and Bernstein’ of the Trump presidency would be,” one Twitter user, bassist Marc Brownstein, wrote in a widely shared tweet on Tuesday, “and it turns out it actually may be Woodward and Bernstein!” 

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump James Mattis John Kelly Robert Mueller
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