Preet Bharara: Hey listeners. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the Stay Tuned team is cooking up something special for next week’s episode, and we need your help. As we come to the end of an intense and at times inspiring year, we want to know what you are grateful for. Record it as a voice memo on your phone and email it to [email protected] Or, you can call us and leave a message at (669) 247-7338. That’s 669-24-PREET. Personally, I’m thankful for all of you. Well, let us know what you are thankful for this year, and stay tuned for more.
Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Carl Bernstein: None of us knows what is going to happen in this presidency, in this impeachment proceeding. Let’s not be so sure of anything.
Preet Bharara: That’s Carl Bernstein. He’s an author and Pulitzer-prize-winning investigative journalist, who along with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s; a story that not only made these two Washington Post reporters household names, but also resulted in the resignation of then president, Richard Nixon.
Preet Bharara: Bernstein and Woodward would go on to chronicle their search for truth, and the end of the Nixon presidency in the bestselling books, All the President’s Men, and The Final Days. Today, Bernstein is a CNN political analyst and a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. He joins me to talk about the Trump impeachment inquiry, and how it compares to the presidential impeachment he reported on on those 50 years ago. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: So Week 2 of public impeachment hearings are underway. Seven witnesses have testified so far, including; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former special envoy, Kurt Volker, and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland. Two more witnesses are set to testify today, Thursday; foreign service officer, David Holmes, and Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council official responsible for Ukraine policy.
Preet Bharara: As you’ll hear in my interview with Carl Bernstein, we spend a little bit of time talking about Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony, but there’s a lot to take in and to make sense of. So in many ways, Gordon Sondland is at the center of key events impeachment investigators are focusing on. He’s one of the few witnesses who had direct conversations with President Trump about Ukraine, delivering specific investigations. And this is very interesting incident that he initially seemed to have forgotten about, a phone call with President Trump on July 26th, Saturday, giving him an update on how much President Zelensky loves Trump.
Dan Goldman: You confirmed to President Trump that you were in Ukraine at the time, and that President Zelensky “loves your ass”. Do you recall saying that?
Gordon Sondland: Yeah. It sounds like something I would say.
Preet Bharara: Here’s some of what Sondland said in his highly anticipated testimony.
Gordon Sondland: First, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and I, worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the president of the United States. We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt. We all understood that if we refuse to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose a very important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the president’s orders.
Gordon Sondland: I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question; was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes. Mr. Giuliani conveyed to Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker and others, that President Trump wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing to investigations of Burisma and the 2016 election. Mr. Giuliani expressed those requests directly to the Ukrainians, and Mr. Giuliani also expressed those requests directly to us.
Preet Bharara: Sondland made news when he said this.
Gordon Sondland: Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19th, days before the presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to run a fully transparent investigation and turn over every stone where necessary, in his call with President Trump.
Gordon Sondland: I mentioned at the outset that throughout these events we kept state department leadership and others apprised of what we were doing. State department was fully supportive of our engagement in Ukraine efforts, and was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing.
Preet Bharara: And there was this exchange with Dan Goldman.
Dan Goldman: I’m going to move ahead in time to the end of August and early September, when you came to believe, I believe as you testified, that it wasn’t just the White House meeting that was contingent on the announcement of these investigations that the president wanted, but security assistance as well. You testified that in the absence of any credible explanation for the hold on security assistance, you came to the conclusion that like the White House visit, the aid was conditioned on the investigations that President Trump wanted. Is that what you said in your opening statement?
Gordon Sondland: It is.
Dan Goldman: So let me break this down with you. By this time, you and many top officials knew that that coveted White House meeting for President Zelensky was conditioned on these investigations, right?
Gordon Sondland: The announcement of the investigations. Correct.
Dan Goldman: Thank you. And that includes Secretary Pompeo, right?
Gordon Sondland: Many people.
Dan Goldman: Well, Secretary Pompeo?
Gordon Sondland: Yes.
Dan Goldman: And acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney?
Gordon Sondland: Yes.
Dan Goldman: And you testified that this was a quid pro quo. Is that right?
Gordon Sondland: I did.
Dan Goldman: At this point, by the end of August, knew that the aid had been held up for at least six weeks. Is that correct?
Gordon Sondland: I believe I found out through Ambassador Taylor that the aid had been held up around July 18th is when I heard originally.
Dan Goldman: And even though you searched for reasons, you were never given a credible explanation. Is that right?
Gordon Sondland: That’s right.
Dan Goldman: And no one you spoke to thought that the aid should be held, to your knowledge. Is that right?
Gordon Sondland: I never heard anyone advocate for holding the aid.
Preet Bharara: And there was this exchange with Steve Caster.
Steve Caster: Just getting back to the irregular channel, did anyone else express any concerns to you about the so-called irregular channel?
Gordon Sondland: I’m not sure how someone could characterize something as an irregular channel when you’re talking to the president of the United States, the secretary of state, the national security advisor, the chief of staff of the White House, the secretary of energy. I don’t know how that’s irregular if a bunch of folks that are not in that channel are aggrieved for some reason for not being included. I don’t know how they can consider us to be the irregular channel and they to be the regular channel when it’s the leadership that makes the decisions.
Steve Caster: We have all this back and forth, but as we get to the end here, you don’t have records, you don’t have your notes because you didn’t take notes. You don’t have a lot of recollections. I mean this is like the trifecta of unreliability. Isn’t that true?
Gordon Sondland: Well, what I’m trying to do today is to use the limited information I have to be as forthcoming as possible with you and the rest of the committee. And as these recollections had been refreshed by subsequent testimony, by some texts and emails that I’ve now had access to, I think I filled in a lot of blanks.
Steve Caster: But a lot of it speculation, a lot of it is your guess, and we’re talking about an impeachment of the president of United States. So the evidence here ought to be pretty darn good.
Gordon Sondland: I’ve been very clear as to when I was presuming, and I was presuming on the aid. On the other things, Mr. Caster, I did have some texts that I read from. So when it comes to those, I’ll rely on those texts because I don’t have any reason to believe that those texts were falsely sent or that there’s some subterfuge there; they are what they are, and they say what they say.
Steve Caster: Okay. Thank you, sir.
Preet Bharara: And there was this exchange with Chairman Adam Schiff.
Adam Schiff: In August when you worked with Rudy Giuliani and a top Ukrainian aide to draft a public statement for President Zelensky to issue that includes the announcement investigations into Burisma, you understood that was required by President Trump before he would grant a White House meeting to President Zelensky?
Gordon Sondland: That’s correct.
Adam Schiff: And the Ukrainians understood that as well?
Gordon Sondland: I believe they did.
Adam Schiff: And you informed Secretary Pompeo about that statement as well?
Gordon Sondland: I did.
Adam Schiff: You’ve testified that Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet, that is announcing these public investigations, to get the White House meetings. Is that right?
Gordon Sondland: Yeah. A lot of people were aware of it, and-
Adam Schiff: Including Mr. Mulvaney?
Gordon Sondland: Correct.
Adam Schiff: And including the secretary of state?
Gordon Sondland: Correct.
Preet Bharara: My cohost, Anne Milgram, and I will dig into this week’s hearings and what’s next on Monday’s episode of the CAFE Insider podcast as always. To listen, try it for free at cafe.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Carl Bernstein. He’s an author, CNN analyst, and award-winning journalist who broke the news of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, sharing the byline with fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. An investigative reporter determined to get the truth, Bernstein carefully covered the events that unfolded after his initial blockbuster scoop, culminating in President Nixon’s resignation before the House could vote on the articles of impeachment.
Preet Bharara: I’ll talk to Bernstein about the lessons we can learn from Watergate, how to navigate the tricky waters of this presidential impeachment inquiry, the role of the press today, and the pursuit of truth. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Carl Bernstein, welcome to the show.
Preet Bharara: Good to be with you. So I’m trying to think, why did we book you? What is going on in the news that makes you the perfect guest? I’m thinking, “Is it is a dancing with the stars? Is it sports?” What’s going on in America at the moment, Carl?
Carl Bernstein: Oh. I’d imagine it has something to do with impeachment and with misconduct by a president of the United States, with little regard and even contempt for the law and the constitution.
Preet Bharara: You’ve refreshed my recollection. I wasn’t going to get immediately into things that have just happened. And we’re recording this on Tuesday afternoon, November 19th. And right before we started taping, the first thing you said to me was, “What did you think of this morning?” And this morning was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, and I thought rather than do that without the tape going, maybe we do a very quick reaction of yours to what happened today, and then we’ll do the comparison to what happened in 1974. What did you think of today?
Carl Bernstein: Well, I think you had two individuals who are dedicated, patriotic public servants, who have given their professional lives to service to the country, and who were very circumspect in their answers, stuck to the facts, and then were harangued and harassed by the Republican members of the committee; certainly most of them, and particularly grievously by a ranking member Nunes and by Jim Jordan. And that not only was it undeserved, but it was really awful to watch, I think, for anyone with an open mind.
Carl Bernstein: I think there are many differences between Watergate and what we’re witnessing now. And we can talk about those differences later. But one thing that occurred during Watergate was not only decorum by many and indeed most Republican members involved in both the Senate Watergate Committee investigation and the impeachment judiciary committee investigation, but also a real desire and interest in getting to the truth. It’s very clear there is no interest in getting to the truth by these Republican members, and it’s just awful to watch.
Carl Bernstein: And I think that, indeed, the dynamic of this presidency and this president’s contempt for the law that makes it so easy for him to continue in his words and actions to engage in such contempt for the law and the constitutional order of the presidency, is these Republican enablers who were watching today more grievously, I think, than we’ve seen them to date.
Preet Bharara: So we’ve had a few people come and testify. And in a number of the cases, people have said, Adam Schiff and others, have congratulated those witnesses on their bravery, and their courage for coming forward. And in part, that’s because we see almost in real time, character assassination, attacks from literally the official White House Twitter account.
Preet Bharara: Today, we had what I thought was an extraordinary moment when Lt. Col. Vindman ends his testimony by addressing his father. And remember, he’s an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. And he tells his father, “Dad, you did the right thing coming to this country.” And he says, to reassure his father, that he should not worry because, “I will be fine for telling the truth.”
Preet Bharara: And the fact that a decorated military veteran, purple-heart recipient and other awards also from the military has to say, “I’ll be fine for telling the truth,” is there any analog to that from Watergate’s time where witness, after witness, after witness worried about being publicly flogged simply for telling the truth?
Carl Bernstein: I certainly have no immediate recollection of that. Maybe during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, there were a couple of senators who were a little aggressive in their questioning of some witnesses, but I certainly can’t remember anything comparable to this.
Carl Bernstein: I was just thinking while you were speaking about something else here, your first question about why might I be here talking to you, and it’s really because I’m a reporter and a journalist. And what reporting is about is the best obtainable version of the truth. And I’ve been struck throughout this presidency, how pejorative sometimes my remarks on the air and other reporters’ remarks on the air about the president and his conduct sound, as opposed to the kind of reportorial tone that we’re accustomed to. And it’s not pejorative, it’s reportorially based, and because of what is demonstrable, truthful, factual and contextual, and reportorially achieved by journalists; including myself, many others who have done far more intimate work at this White House than I have.
Carl Bernstein: So what sounds pejorative, including my opening remarks with you, is factually based. It is about the best obtainable version of the truth. That’s what’s so disturbing in part about what we’re watching with the Republicans, who seem to have no interest in the best obtainable version of the truth about this president; his conduct, his words, and his actions, and what it all means. And a great element of the best obtainable version of the truth is context.
Carl Bernstein: Back to what you were saying about the stirring nature of what the colonel said about his father, reporters also are sensitive to emotional moments as part of their reporting as well as being affected like any other human being, and it registers on them. And that’s part of the reportorial process. And a big part of the reportorial process of what occurred today, I think and hope will be to show the emotional aspects of this hearing in terms of the witnesses, particularly the colonel, as well as simply mere words. That, too, goes to a difference between the reality of these hearings on the House side, and what happens when a reporter such as I, talks to Republican senators, which I’ve done a good bit of.
Carl Bernstein: What’s so interesting to me is that Republican senators, many, who refuse to go on the record about what they are seeing and reacting to, many are deeply, deeply disturbed by the conduct of this president, particularly by what’s occurred here, in terms of what… Let me ask you, I’ll turn around and be a reporter again. Preet, does this look like bribery to you in terms of how you would approach it as a prosecutor?
Preet Bharara: Well, before I answer that question about bribery, and I will answer it, because I do have a view, I want to stick for another second on this point of the attacking of the press. Devin Nunez, today, in his opening statement, referred to the media as “puppets of the Democratic Party”, echoing some of the comments and criticisms made by the president of the United States. And you yourself have been at the opposite end of harsh words by the president of the United States.
Carl Bernstein: I believe he called me a degenerate fool.
Preet Bharara: Degenerate fool? Which is actually like a classier thing that he has called many other people, and more intellectual. Degenerate was actually spelled correctly, I believe. Do you end up getting a vicious cycle here? Is there some other way that Republicans who feel, in good faith or not, that the press is not giving the president a fair shake; or even if they are, your distinction between being pejorative or being reportorial, I think that subtle distinction is lost on a lot of people who don’t come out looking good in the press. What is the way that they should, given the hard-knock nature of politics and survival, how should they be responding to even the reportorial assault that they feel?
Carl Bernstein: Who is “they” in this case?
Preet Bharara: It’s the allies of the president and Republicans who are supporting the president, who under an assault of bad news, how should they respond?
Carl Bernstein: I can’t give advice to the Republicans, except to say that I would hope that there would be an interest in the truth, and particularly as I say, the contextual truth or that element of the truth that’s so essential, which is context. I’ve seen almost no interest in the truth by the members of this committee. Or, by the way, that Republicans on Capitol Hill, generally, have defended this president when he has done so many things that by almost any objective standard I would think, and again involving the truth, are indefensible.
Preet Bharara: Do you think all the Democrats are after only the truth, or do they have some political agenda also?
Carl Bernstein: No. I think, of course, there is a political agenda that the Democrats have that has to be factored in here. But by and large, do I think that what has led the Democrats to where they are now is about the grievous conduct? Did they and others, whether they be Democrats, Republicans or Independents in this country have witnessed? And which again is demonstrable by fact. I think that there is a real constitutional interest here. I mean, look at the reluctance of Speaker Pelosi to commence impeachment proceedings.
Carl Bernstein: It wasn’t until this very extreme and recorded, literally recorded act of what is almost unquestionably given the evidence we have today, an attempt by the president of the United States to undermine the free electoral process of our country by soliciting the intervention of a foreign power in our election, as well as… I’m not a lawyer, but this looks like bribery.
Preet Bharara: Although in fairness, what’s interesting about the bribery reference in the constitution, I mentioned this a couple of times before on the show, I’m guessing that what the founders were thinking about in terms of bribery was that the president of United States would be removable if he was offered a bribe or took a bribe.
Preet Bharara: I’m not sure it was in the contemplation of the founders that the most powerful person in the country would be the one who was engaged in doing the bribing or soliciting something in exchange for something of value. Right?
Carl Bernstein: It’s a long time since I’ve gone back and looked at the Federalist Papers and done that kind of historical research.
Preet Bharara: I can take a short break, and you can Google it.
Carl Bernstein: Okay. What’s so extraordinary is that either way, we would be talking about a bribe involving the president of the United States, or an extortionate demand. It’s almost unfathomable, except that we, in this case, we have the actual summary based on a recorded attempt to get the president’s words in a phone call. There’s a device that’s used that forms the basis of these summaries and we have witnesses who listened to the conversation, and there seems to be nothing very ambiguous about this.
Preet Bharara: Although the president will say, and has said many times, “Read the transcript. Read the transcript. Read the transcript.” You read it and you think it’s bad for him, I read it and think it’s bad for him, and he says it’s perfect and beautiful, and I’ve now seen all these members on the House committee also trying to make that same argument.
Preet Bharara: Let me ask the question this way; have there been such a clear transcript or read-out of a call of that nature between Nixon and a foreign leader? And this gets to a question of how the Republicans may have changed, do you think that the Republicans of that era would have defended the president, Nixon at the time, in the same way, or is the relationship between Trump and the Republicans super different from Nixon and the Republicans?
Preet Bharara: And I’m not talking about later in the process of Watergate when Nixon began to lose support, but I’m talking about at the beginning when he still had a lot of support. Would they have defended him in the same way that these folks are defending Donald Trump?
Carl Bernstein: At the beginning of the process in Watergate, I think they were. Most of the Republicans were prepared and did defend Nixon. Howard Baker on the Senate Watergate Committee, who asked the crucial question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” began on the committee as a defender of the White House; meeting in fact with people at the White House to say that he would represent their interests.
Carl Bernstein: But as the facts became known, these Republicans were open-minded and honest, and that was the end of their defense of the president because Nixon’s conduct was indefensible, just as Trump’s conduct here is indefensible.
Carl Bernstein: But the other thing, this impeachment investigation also is not taking place in a vacuum. And here again, we get to how deeply disturbed, in private, Republicans in the Senate will tell you they are at the president’s conduct in regard to Vladimir Putin and Russia. Most Republicans in the Senate that I have talked to are deeply disturbed and suspicious about why the president continually capitulates, and represents, and is obeisant to the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Carl Bernstein: And that’s the undercurrent of this impeachment investigation, just as it was the undercurrent of the mother investigation. And in this case, it is so glaring because of what Ukraine is and what it represents. The great element of postwar stability has been the immutable boundaries of Europe established after 1945. And those boundaries became no longer immutable when the Russian forces moved into Ukraine. And lo and behold, this president of the United States at every opportunity seems to have defended, and sided, and been sympathetic to the Russian action in Ukraine.
Carl Bernstein: We also can’t look at this hearing in isolation and this element of it from what the president did in Helsinki in regard to going along with Putin’s characterizations, and trusting Putin above his own intelligence agency in regard to Russian interference in our election. There is a straight line that goes from the president of the United States having the notes of his interpreter or interpreter(s), confiscated so that they might never see the light of day, perhaps, regarding his meeting with Putin, and what has occurred in regard to many other dealings with Putin.
Carl Bernstein: So this hangs over this impeachment proceeding in a really very, very disturbing, factual, contextual way in which the question has to be asked, why is it that the president of the United States… The United States and the West won the Cold war. Putin has been successful in thus far prevailing in the post-Cold War, and Trump has enabled Putin as he had not been enabled here before this presidency.
Carl Bernstein: So I think that’s an underlying text of everything that’s going on, whether the president witting, unwitting, or half-witting about his enabling of Vladimir Putin.
Preet Bharara: The other context here is the political one. It just continues to endlessly fascinate me how it can be that you have independently elected members of the House and the Senate, who you and others have said are very worried by, concerned by, trouble by the conduct of the president of United States.
Carl Bernstein: I don’t know how many House Republicans are, incidentally. Not nearly enough, it would seem to me. The Senate is a different story.
Preet Bharara: But more than zero, you would think.
Carl Bernstein: More than zero. Yes.
Preet Bharara: But about zero, or say anything about it; and the one guy who did left the Republican Party, Justin Amash. And so one reason seems to be that this president… I’m trying to get the differences between back then and now… is this president I believe is more comfortable weaponizing his presidency in terms of retaliation against anyone who would say a bad word against him.
Preet Bharara: Also, this president unlike Nixon and unlike Clinton, is not a lame duck. It’s not the second term. It’s the first term. And so he’s going to be on the ballot, and he’s going to be campaigning. And he’s made it very clear that he will not tolerate any kind of negative words. He won’t even tolerate, it seems, defenses based on process, although he makes process arguments too. He wants everyone to defend him on the substance, “It was a good, and beautiful, and perfect call.”
Preet Bharara: And so is it the case that, let’s stick with the Senate, that members of the Senate are more weak than they used to be, or that this president is more in tune with how to get at as enemies than even Nixon was?
Carl Bernstein: First, I think there is more craving… I don’t know what other word there is to use… and attitude by Republicans in both the House and Senate, who are willing in the face of overwhelming facts and context, to put political considerations above the national interests and above the truth.
Carl Bernstein: But I think what your question lacks is the larger reality of the time we live in now and the time of Watergate, which is to say, there was great upheaval during the Nixon presidency over Vietnam, no questioning. We had a very divided country and bitter politics, people in the streets.
Carl Bernstein: At the same time, we are in the midst of a cold civil war in this country that predates Trump coming to the presidency. And Trump has exploited that cold civil war. He has brought it to the point of ignition, and consciously, intentionally it would seem, poured fuel onto this fire to the point where we are at the point of ignition or near ignition.
Preet Bharara: Who are the sides? Who are the sides in the cold civil war?
Carl Bernstein: I’m not sure, because all kinds of people… We should never look at politics, or journalism for that matter, as separated from the rest of the culture of this country. And this cold civil war is about the culture of our country and great divisions in our country. Who is on one side and who is on the other, and occasionally, I think, there is some movement between the two sides; not often, increasingly less. People are more and more dug in. I’m not sure how I would define the two sides.
Preet Bharara: Let me ask it this way. It seems that what in part you’re saying is that, you mentioned this phrase a minute ago, “people are more dug in,” and it has been a famous observation, made over, and over, and over again about President Trump, he has made it himself; that his base doesn’t leave him no matter what he does. There is no kryptonite.
Preet Bharara: And he has said famously, and it’s been thrown back at Trump’s lawyers, literally in federal court, if President Trump were to shoot someone on 5th Avenue, he wouldn’t lose any support. And that’s an interesting phenomenon today. And I dare ask, it must have been different in 1974, and just to overuse the metaphor, if Nixon before everyone had turned against him had shot someone on 5th Avenue, he would have lost support. People would have changed their minds, right? People were not as locked in about him as there is a 37%, 38%, 41% group of people with respect to Trump. Is that fair?
Carl Bernstein: That’s absolutely right. And I think we can look at some of the reasons. And again, it has to do with the time we live in and the time that the Nixon presidency and impeachment occurred. There was the ability to have a fact-based consensus about the misconduct of the president of the United States develop by the time Nixon was forced to resign because of the inevitability that he would be convicted in the US Senate of high crimes and misdemeanors, and the articles of impeachment that were voted with Republican support; heroic and courageous Republican support by members of the House Judiciary Committee, which conducted its impeachment investigation.
Carl Bernstein: And in fact, when Bob Woodward and myself wrote The Final Days, reconstructing the last year or so of the Nixon presidency, we went to see Senator Barry Goldwater. And Goldwater had led a delegation of Republican leaders to the Oval Office two days before Nixon resigned.
Carl Bernstein: Well, Bob Woodward and myself were in Goldwater’s apartment, pulled out a diary he had kept and read to us, verbatim, his notes of what had occurred in that meeting of himself and the other Republican leaders. They had gone to the Oval Office. And at the time, there was a lot of conventional wisdom, and Nixon certainly thought, and hoped, and believed that the Senate of United States would never acquit him.
Carl Bernstein: And he turned to Goldwater, and he said, “Barry, many votes do I have in the Senate?” thinking that the Goldwater would tell him that he would be able to survive in the presidency because he would get more than a third of the senators to acquit him in the Senate trial. And Goldwater looked at the president and he said, “Mr. President, you may have four votes right now, and you certainly will not have mine.” Contrast that with now.
Carl Bernstein: But why? And I go back to this idea that a consensus could develop that had not existed before the evidence was gathered by the House Judiciary Committee, and the impeachment committee, and by the Senate Watergate Committee. That consensus developed because people in the country itself… Obviously there were people who did not subscribe to this, but certainly an overwhelming majority or a large majority of the people concluded that Nixon had violated the law, had abused the constitution, was guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and had to leave office because of the information that they had read in newspapers, seen on television, watched during the Watergate hearings.
Carl Bernstein: There was no social media at the time that spewed out, and engineered, and manufactured misinformation and disinformation aimed to support Nixon, and at odds with the truth that did not exist at the time. It was a very different culture. And also, our politics had not evolved as it has now in a hyper partisan way that is so definitive and with such disdain for the other side that it is now.
Carl Bernstein: And when I say our politics, I think also, we’re talking about the larger culture. We’re talking about that what we’re seeing between the Republicans and Democrats on the Hill is also reflected in the country. And that’s why I keep coming back to this idea of we have to look at the larger culture of this country. We’re the most complex society, I think, in the world.
Carl Bernstein: This cold civil war, the reason I couldn’t come to a definition of, how do you define each side in the cold civil war, because it’s not simply Democrat and Republican. I’m still thinking, “How could I come to a succinct definition of the two sides?” I’d have to sit down at the computer and really think it out, and try some writing and deep thought to figure out, “How would you define the two sides in the cold civil war?”
Preet Bharara: You have your assignment, sir.
Carl Bernstein: I’m not sure I can do it.
Preet Bharara: You have your assignment.
Carl Bernstein: I know it’s there.
Preet Bharara: And I’ll get off this topic in a second, but it does endlessly fascinate me, and it shows that what’s happening now is not just about the facts and the evidence; it’s also about relative political strength and people being dug in, which is a phrase that works. Because if you look at the relative political at the start of their presidencies, Nixon and Trump, there’s no contest. People I think may not always remember, Nixon began his second term having won 49 states.
Carl Bernstein: That’s correct.
Preet Bharara: I believe there are 50 states. So that’s 98% of the states, if I’m doing my math correctly.
Carl Bernstein: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Trump lost the popular vote.
Carl Bernstein: He did.
Preet Bharara: And yet, Trump’s support, such as it is, is more rock solid even in the face of lots and lots of evidence than Nixon’s was. And that’s the last time I’ll ask this question, just rephrased it.
Carl Bernstein: It’s cultural.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Carl Bernstein: That’s it. I keep coming back to this. It’s cultural, and it’s the way people get their information particularly. And let’s go to Fox News. Fox News is the most potent political force in this country in the past 25, 30, 35 years. It has utterly changed our politics, and hence our culture. If you were to do an analysis if you’re a political scientist, and a sociologist, and a historian, all combined, all three of those professions would look at Fox News in terms of their analysis, I am sure. And it did not exist.
Carl Bernstein: And again, social media coming up right behind. But Fox News is not interested and has nothing to do with the best obtainable version of the truth. It’s not reportorially based. It’s not factually based. It is ideologically based, and based on cultural notions as well as political notions. It has its own ideology that dictates its basic approach to how it looks, discusses and covers America, politically and culturally.
Preet Bharara: I’m always interested when a member of the media, the press, a journalist; and especially someone as notable as yourself launches a criticism on Fox News. And the reason for that is-
Carl Bernstein: Not a criticism. It’s not a criticism. I’m trying to look at the reality of it as cultural facts.
Preet Bharara: It’s an implicit criticism when you say they have no interest in readily obtainable version of the truth. That’s not a compliment, is it?
Carl Bernstein: Several of their reporters do, but that has not been their mission. And if you go back to Roger Ailes’ history, and whom I knew in Nixon White House, Roger Ailes never pretended that its primary interest had anything to do with the best obtainable version of the truth.
Preet Bharara: Right. I thought what you were saying is, is that Fox News as a whole is not great for the country. Are you not saying that?
Carl Bernstein: I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that it is a cultural reality that is part of the dynamic of the cold civil war, and that is probably the most important change in our political landscape and the dynamic of our politics in the past 25, 30, 35 years.
Preet Bharara: So one element of hard reporting, groundbreaking reporting, Pulitzer-prize-winning reporting is sources. And you and Bob Woodward have one of the great, famous sources of all time. I think it’s fair to say of all time. You had many sources, of course. But in particular, there became known your source, Deep Throat. And for 30 years, that source remained secret.
Preet Bharara: I’ve been thinking about this aspect of it a lot, and in particular in the days leading up to this interview, knowing that I was going to be talking to you. Because there’s all this talk about the whistleblower in connection with the Ukraine scandal, and the Republicans keep saying, “We need to know who he is. We need to know what his biases are. We need to know a lot of things about this person,” so that the character assassination can commence. And on the other hand, I see people point out, “Well, Watergate unfolded perfectly okay, and Deep Throat’s identity was kept secret for 30 years.
Preet Bharara: And just to remind people, at the end of several decades, the family of the source came forward… I think he came forward. And then you and Bob Woodward had a difficult decision to make about whether or not to confirm the source, and it turns out it was the number two official at the FBI, Mark Felt. And I’m going to throw a lot of questions at you at once, then you can discuss.
Preet Bharara: In light of the whistleblower controversy in Ukraine, in light of the fact that the former FBI director was run out on a rail and criticized in multiple inspector general reports, one of them having to do with the fact that a couple of non-classified memos he gave to a friend at a law school, who then gave them to New York Times reporter for the purpose of making it clear to the public and known to the public, that President Trump had asked him for a loyalty oath and various other things. At the same time, Mark Felt who was giving, it seems chapter and verse, to two particular reporters from the Washington Post.
Carl Bernstein: I’m going to stop you on that because I want to come back to that. He did not give us chapter and verse.
Preet Bharara: Well, he gave you a lot more than Jim Comey gave to the New York Times. Jim Comey vilified Mark Felt, in some quarters held up as a hero. Discuss.
Carl Bernstein: Okay. Let me first point out a few things about Mark Felt and Deep Throat. One is that most of the information that we got in Watergate came from other sources, and we were able to confirm a lot of that information through Deep Throat. And his principal role, which was absolutely essential in giving us a certainty about knowing we were right in what we were reporting and writing, because we knew his position, and we knew that his knowledge was certainly great of what was occurring. And when he said, “You’re right,” then we knew we were right.
Carl Bernstein: There were also occasions when he did give us original information, particularly late in the Nixon presidency. But by and large, it was to confirm what we had learned elsewhere. So we’ll start with that. It wasn’t as if some all-knowing source through a bunch of stuff over the transfer matters and we just rewrote it.
Preet Bharara: Fair enough.
Carl Bernstein: Secondly, knowing motivation of a source. You want to be sure as a reporter that your source doesn’t have an axe to grind. And if you know that the source might have an axe to grind, you have to be doubly cautious. It doesn’t mean that people with an axe to grind can’t have good information. Felt might have had impart an axe to grind in that he had been denied the directorship of the FBI when he thought he should have got it after J. Edgar Hoover died.
Carl Bernstein: At the time, we didn’t know or understand all of Felt’s motives in cooperating with us and being helpful. And in fact, in the years afterwards, we still didn’t know. Bob wrote a whole book called The Secret Man, about his relationship with Mark Felt that tried to get to some of those answers. But, well, one thing we did know and understood is that Felt also had a commitment to the best obtainable version of the truth, for whatever reasons.
Carl Bernstein: And the necessity of protecting him as a source, of protecting sources is elemental to a reporter. It’s an absolute of what we do, otherwise we’re not trustworthy. And so we gave him that assurance.
Preet Bharara: So in that regard, the whistleblower, I take it, you feel that the whistleblower’s identity should be protected, even though you’ve just said that it’s important for a reporter, and presumably it would also be important for congressional committee to find out if a source has an axe to grind, even though it’s also true that a source with an axe to grind can still have good, valid, true information.
Carl Bernstein: My point about knowing that a source might have an axe to grind is that it makes it doubly important as a reporter that you check out the information. That’s all. Look, there is a statute. There is a law that established whistleblowers. Look at who the Republican champion of whistleblowers was. Chuck Grassley. Look at how whistleblowers particularly on questions of waste, fraud and abuse have identified it in democratic presidencies as well as Republican presidencies.
Carl Bernstein: It is elemental why this law provides for the protection of whistleblowers, and makes no distinction between whether they are Republicans, or Democrats, or liberals, or conservatives. And the conduct of this committee, the Republicans on this committee, in terms of trying to make the whistleblower the issue in the impeachment is outrageous, it’s wrong.
Carl Bernstein: Again, let’s look at what President Trump has done in terms of making the issue, throughout his presidency, and throughout his instances or regular lying misconduct, abuse, whatever of presidential authority, contempt for the law, all of these things; his response has been to make the conduct, first and foremost, of the press the issue. Secondly, the conduct of those he perceives as his political opponents as the issue. To make the issue sometimes minorities, sometimes immigrants; everything but his own conduct.
Carl Bernstein: Nixon did the same thing in terms of the press. He tried to make our conduct the issue in Watergate, especially in the first few months. We were attacked almost every day by the president of the United States, or that was speaking on his behalf. It didn’t work.
Carl Bernstein: Trump has been more successful at it, again, because of the cold civil war, but also because of this base, which is part of the cold civil war. Talk about a reportorial failure. We journalists did not do a very good job of understanding the country up until the 2016 election. I don’t think there was an expectation when Trump began his campaign that he would have any real measure of great success. That it was quixotic, perhaps. Well, we were wrong. And sure, by the time he got to nomination, a number of us said, “Yeah, he could win, especially against Hillary Clinton in the way she’s conducting her campaign.” But that was late in the game.
Carl Bernstein: So we, along with a lot of political professionals as well, did not understand our country well enough. And maybe we need to do more reporting outside of Washington, that helps us understand country. Look how Bernie Sanders identified some of the same elements in his campaign. Two things. Donald Trump is the legitimate president of the United States. That’s the first thing that needs to be stated here. He won the election because the electoral college certified his election. And that confers legitimacy on his presidency, no matter how and what occurred getting there.
Carl Bernstein: But if we’re to look at that 38%, 40% of the people of this country who have stayed with him day, after day, after day regardless of what his words, actions have been, that reflects a misreading, I think, that most of us who are journalists had made about the country itself. It calls out for more reporting on that.
Preet Bharara: There’s an argument to be made that maybe, just off the top of my head, you’re taking on too much responsibility on behalf of reporters. There’s an argument that maybe there are others too who can also give an understanding of the country; political scientists, and sociologists, polling, and politicians too. Sometimes politicians read the country better than reporters. Right?
Carl Bernstein: And in this case they did. And Bernie Sanders read it, in fact a lot of it, on some of the same questions that Trump read it. Look, my last book, I guess it’s now the standard biography of Hillary Clinton, A Woman in Charge.
Carl Bernstein: And what Hillary Clinton, amazingly, given the fact of how acute her husband was in terms of understanding working-class people in this country, especially, Hillary Clinton was totally out of touch with understanding and articulating why so many working-class people in this country, and especially white working-class people. And again, I’ll talk as a reporter here. Maybe we should have done more reporting over the years about how white working-class people have been screwed over in this culture over the past 30, 35 years, because they have been.
Preet Bharara: Reporters congregate around the coasts and the cities. Right?
Carl Bernstein: Yeah. I think that’s true. Meaning the reporters who cover the presidency and the Congress of the United States do, but we also have more reporters between the two coasts than we do in Washington and on the two coasts if you look at local news reporting, etc. But the point that I’m getting at here, I want to go back to the fact that Trump and Sanders identified all kinds of things in the campaign that defied simple partisan explanation and conventional wisdom, and as a result turned out to be more in touch with some realities than their opponents.
Preet Bharara: Is that true of Elizabeth Warren now, too?
Carl Bernstein: Yes, I think it is. But I think did she… and this is not based on anything reportorial, this here is a little bit speculative on my part. I’m trying not to speculate too much, but I think what I’m about to say is apparent, that she has made a really unwise misjudgment about digging in on Medicare for All; that for all her being so acute about problems in the country. And she also has a remarkable record of dealing with problems as a legislator, as a public official. She has really misjudged on this question of Medicare for All, and it’s liable to cost her the nomination if not the presidency itself.
Carl Bernstein: I’m surprised she hasn’t maybe found a way to say, “Look, I listened to the people of the country on this, and I’m wrong.” That, “Yes, it’s an objective perhaps, but right now we have a system. Let’s improve it.” Anyway, I’m not about to tell her what to do.
Preet Bharara: She’s an open mind. She’d probably take a selfie with you.
Carl Bernstein: I think she’s been hurt by it. And I think we’re starting to see the numbers, even an hour.
Preet Bharara: So there’s a person out there, speaking of sources as we’ve done a lot of that in this conversation, who goes by Anonymous and famously wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, claims to be a high-ranking official in the Trump administration, big book coming out, presales I think are very high, but they’re not giving out their identity. Hero or coward?
Carl Bernstein: Craving, I would say in this instance. I think you got to look at the progression of Anonymous from the time he/she wrote a very interesting and probably relevant piece at the time, a couple of years ago, the original op-ed in the New York Times, had a reason for fascination. We didn’t know as much. And it’s interesting that that came out around the same time as my colleague Bob Woodward’s book Fear.
Carl Bernstein: And here’s another thing about reporting, if I can say this parenthetically, that with all the great daily reporting that we had, this renaissance of great reporting, very different than occurred in the Nixon administration, that we’ve had in the Trump presidency by those in the White House press corps covering what I spoke about before, there still is no substitute for the kind of reporting that Bob did in Fear. And that is to take time; days, months to work with sources, until you have a big picture of everything that’s going on.
Carl Bernstein: When we reported on Watergate, yes, we tried to get stuff in paper as quickly as we could when we thought we had a story, but we also took weeks, and in a couple of cases months to develop stories and to get them into the paper. And there were times when we had no stories in the paper for a couple of weeks, because we had the luxury of time. We didn’t have to put something on the air every 24 hours.
Carl Bernstein: It’s not an accident that so much of the great reporting, not just on politics in this country, in the past 20 years or so, has been done in books rather than on the air or at the traditional news organizations. So there’s a dynamic there. What Bob’s reporting in Fear got and what Bob made so clear in that book is it’s those closest, especially in the national security area to Trump who served his presidency. Mattis, Tillerson, McMaster, now we know Kelly, et cetera, et cetera. Gary Cohn on the economics side. They came to believe that the president of the United States conduct was so egregious that he was a danger to the national security of the United States itself. That is unheard of.
Carl Bernstein: In the Nixon presidency, you did not have his closest aides coming to believe that he was uninformed, shot from the hip constantly, that he himself, that Nixon was a danger to the national security of the United States. There is a lot of argument about his policies, about pursuing the Vietnam War. About, in fact, whether Nixon kept pursuing the Vietnam War because he did not want to be, as Lyndon Johnson had said, the president lost the war and another 25,000 American soldiers were killed on his watch when there probably could have been a settlement of the war earlier.
Carl Bernstein: But whatever the case, the point I’m trying to make here is that what Bob’s book establishes so clearly, and what we’ve learned so much more about and what we see in these impeachment hearings particularly, is that the president of the United States is a danger to the national security of the United States.
Carl Bernstein: And in the case of Ukraine, once again, has capitulated… And also Erdogan in Turkey, right before our eyes while this same impeachment process is going on, the president of the United States capitulates once again, to the desires and interests of Putin and Russia rather than the long-term interests of the United States, the West, and the kind of security that we have made the hallmark of our foreign policy for 75 years.
Preet Bharara: So all of that makes complete sense. It seems very reasonable. They seem to be logical and legitimate conclusions. My question to you is, is there any hope or expectation that a broad consensus will form on that, or are we hopelessly going to be divided along pro-Trump and not-pro-Trump lines? And do you see looking forward, any change in the rock-solid support that Trump has in the House and the Senate with respect to his conduct?
Carl Bernstein: First, I think the cold civil war is going to be with us for a long time. In terms of policies involving Russia and United States, I think they will change the minute Trump is out of office. We will not have, ever again, a president who serves the interests of Russia, of Putin, et cetera. That this is not only anomalous, it’s unprecedented. And hopefully, we’re going to find out more about the reasons, and as I say, whether he’s doing this wittingly, half-wittingly, or unwittingly.
Preet Bharara: What about consensus on impeachment?
Carl Bernstein: You cannot understate any reporter. There are good reporters on the Hill for all of the major news organizations. And those reporters know that many, many of the Republican senators despise, not too strong a word, Trump and a lot of what he does. They’re afraid of him, and they also are deeply disturbed beyond about what I’m talking about in terms of this obeisance to Putin and the interests of Russia rather than the interests of the United States.
Preet Bharara: Have any of them called Trump a degenerate fool?
Carl Bernstein: No.
Preet Bharara: That’s your term.
Carl Bernstein: They have not. In fact, that is the remarkable thing that is going on. I said at the beginning of these proceedings a few weeks ago, I said, “Look. None of us knows what is going to happen in this presidency, in this impeachment proceeding. Let’s not be so sure of anything.” And could the senators break, the Republican senators? Yes, it’s possible. Do I expect it so far given the development of what we’ve seen in these last couple of weeks? I don’t expect it, but that’s speculative. What I really know is, I don’t know where this is going. I don’t know where this presidency is going. I don’t know where his health is going. I don’t know if he is going to be running for re-election. I don’t know what the result of that election is going to be.
Preet Bharara: Well, eight weeks ago we thought impeachment was a dead letter. It wasn’t going to happen, so proves the point.
Carl Bernstein: I was never so sure of that, but conventional wisdom is just what it is, it’s conventional.
Preet Bharara: Do you have any thoughts and observations about some of the main players in impeachment? Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, the chair of the intel committee, eventually those proceedings will move to judiciary under chairman Jerry Nadler. Any thoughts about how they’re doing compared to their counterparts from a long time ago?
Carl Bernstein: I think, again, you’re looking at different times in our history. I think Nancy Pelosi in the best sense of partisan, looks for the aspirations of her party and the success of her party. Her regard for the constitution of the United States is paramount to any partisan interests. And I think it’s the history of her own record in life. And I also think as a tactician, certainly since the midterms and including the midterms, as a tactician for her party, she has been demonstrably reportorially brilliant.
Carl Bernstein: At the same time, in terms of wanting an impeachment proceeding to commence, she didn’t until such time as she did, but why did she? And I think an awful lot has to do with what became evident in the president’s conduct that made it inevitable.
Carl Bernstein: Let’s look at one thing for a minute. If Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as the president of the United States had done anything like what Trump has demonstrably, factually we know done here, their impeachment and conviction, I think we can safely say, would be inevitable, including their conviction by members of their own party. Can’t say that with 100% certainty.
Carl Bernstein: But also, this impeachment does not take place in a vacuum from the other two years of the Trump presidency. Look, you’re the prosecutor, not me, but I would say as a layman and as a reporter, that we have pretty good evidence here of a conspiracy to undermine the electoral process through the intervention of a foreign power. Is that a fair statement, Mr. prosecutor?
Preet Bharara: It is. More than fair.
Carl Bernstein: Okay. I would say that in other times would not have much trouble being passed as an article of impeachment, and probably result in conviction.
Preet Bharara: Give me 30 seconds on Adam Schiff.
Carl Bernstein: First of all, he is a prosecutor. And he’s an able prosecutor. I think he may be a somewhat vulnerable to the base, particularly the Trump-based target in terms of being attacked as a partisan, but I think that’s more visceral than it has to do with what’s actually occurring here.
Preet Bharara: Final question. Are you ready? It has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
Carl Bernstein: Good. How about rock and roll?
Preet Bharara: Which is your favorite actor, Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford?
Carl Bernstein: I’m going to pass.
Preet Bharara: Oh, boy. You would be forgiven. You would sound magnanimous if you picked Robert Redford.
Carl Bernstein: It’s a great question because they’re both great actors. They go about their craft very differently. I honestly couldn’t say who is. Look at the movies both of them have been in. Look at Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and look at The Graduate. There’s my answer.
Preet Bharara: Some of our listeners may not appreciate why I’m asking you that question.
Carl Bernstein: They probably never heard of those movies.
Preet Bharara: it’s because a great film called All the President’s Men, you were depicted in it by-
Carl Bernstein: Dustin Hoffman.
Preet Bharara: And Bob Woodward was depicted by Robert Redford.
Carl Bernstein: That’s right.
Preet Bharara: So I thought maybe you had a preference or maybe you had a reaction to those performances that has guided your view of their work in the decades since. But I guess not.
Speaker 7: Good work. Thanks team. You’re both on the story.
Carl Bernstein: The great thing about the movie All the President’s Men, is that both Hoffman and Redford, and particularly the director, Alan Pakula, understood that this was not a movie about Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
Carl Bernstein: That it was really a movie about reporting, and the process of reporting, and the values of reporting, and how you go about reporting. And how an institution such as the Washington Post, under the most difficult circumstances of all, when the president of the United States has made your conduct as reporters, and editors, and your institution the issue in a great national, more beyond controversy in matters of grave, grave import to the country, how do those people go about their business? And that’s really what that movie is about.
Preet Bharara: Thanks for making a very light question very serious, Carl.
Carl Bernstein: Yeah. What can I tell you? I said, “Let’s talk about rock and roll,” but you don’t want to go there.
Preet Bharara: My favorite bit of trivia about the movie and the book, which I hope is true because I referenced it in my own book, and that is one of the most famous phrases in that movie is, follow the money, which was I believe not in your book, but in-
Carl Bernstein: It is not. It was written by a screenwriter.
Preet Bharara: William Goldman, the greatest screenwriter.
Carl Bernstein: Bill Goldman.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, if not one of the greatest.
Carl Bernstein: Bill Goldman came up with the line, “Follow the money.” He did.
Preet Bharara: Follow the money.
Carl Bernstein: And let me tell you, it is very good advice, and we should be following the money right now and following the lives right now. And I think that’s what has happened in this presidency. And one of the reasons that we are now at the point of impeachment of a president of the United States is because the press, for all the right reasons, followed the money and it followed the lies.
Preet Bharara: Words delivered by Carl Bernstein. Thank you so much for being on the show. A real honor. Thank you for your service all these years.
Carl Bernstein: It was fun to do. Thanks.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. To hear the Stay Tuned bonus with Carl Bernstein and get the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast, go to cafe.com/insider. Right now, you can try a CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks at cafe.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Carl Bernstein. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with #askpreet. Or, you can call and leave me a message at (669) 247-7338. That’s 669-24-PREET. Or, you can send an email to [email protected]
Preet Bharara: Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer Tamara Sepper. And the CAFE team is David Tatasciore, Julia Doyle, Carla Pierini, David Kurlander, Calvin Lord, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, Stay Tuned.