Fox’s Jennifer Griffin Goes In Depth on Her Atlantic Reporting, Woodward’s New Book, and Trump’s Demand She Be Fired in New Episode of The Interview
“The good news is I don’t work for President Trump, and he doesn’t get to decide whether I’m fired.”
That’s what Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin had to say when I asked her, on this week’s episode of The Interview podcast, about President Donald Trump’s demand she be sacked for her reporting.
Last week, Griffin reported that Trump disparaged veterans, corroborating much of The Atlantic’s bombshell story about the president’s tendency to insult Americans killed in war, and drawing that call for her termination. Trump’s demand is what prompted me to interview Griffin — a renowned national security reporter who joined Fox News in the 1990s — to get some more insight into what so enraged the president.
Griffin brushed off the Trump attack as standard operating procedure for reporters under the current administration.
“It’s pretty ill-advised,” she said of Trump’s tweet. “He’s targeted the press. He’s called the press ‘fake news’ from the get-go. It’s his go-to mechanism. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I have a reputation in this in Washington and from my years of reporting from the Middle East, and nobody would accuse me of pulling my punches.”
I also asked about some of Griffin’s colleagues at Fox News who attacked the reporting that Trump had disparaged American service members. I noted that Lou Dobbs called the reports “horrible lies” and that Greg Gutfeld said the story was a “hoax.”
Griffin brushed off that commentary as well, replying that she didn’t take it personally and has always felt supported at the network.
“Any of those people that you just quoted, I am quite certain they will be quoting my reporting in the future,” she added.
We went on to discuss Trump’s public record of disparaging Americans who served in the military.
For our interview, Griffin called me from the Pentagon on Wednesday afternoon. Fresh reports on Bob Woodward’s upcoming book, Rage, had just published, adding some urgency to our conversation. After all, Griffin is one of the most plugged-in reporters at the Pentagon, and bombshells from Woodward’s book include former Defense Secretary James Mattis describing the president as “dangerous” and “unfit.”
Griffin said that description of Mattis rang true, and that the friction between Trump and the generals can be traced back to a 2017 meeting in The Tank at the Pentagon, during which Trump shouted at the assembled brass — which included then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Secretary of Defense Mattis — “you’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
“It really descended into chaos pretty quickly,” Griffin explained of the meeting. “After that 2017 meeting, it really became a very tense relationship with the White House. There were times where Secretary Mattis and Gen. Joe Dunford really tried to spend as little time directly over at the White House with the president as possible. Because, frankly, they did not want to be given orders that they did not want to have to implement that they viewed as either in breach of the Constitution or inadvisable.”
In our interview, Griffin also explained her reporting on The Atlantic story in detail and addressed questions as to whether it conflicted with former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s account of a cancelled trip to a cemetery in France in 2018. Listen to the full interview here, and read selected excerpts of our conversation below.
On the use of anonymous sources:
Sometimes you have to use anonymous sources. It’s not our preference. Of course, I would prefer to have people on the record, but there are a variety of reasons right now, particularly under this administration, that anonymous sources are needed.
I’ve said this before, but Deep Throat was an anonymous source. It didn’t make him less real. It didn’t make what he said less true. That’s just the way it goes. And I’m quite certain that the president knows who these anonymous sources are, because they are real.
It’s my understanding, Aidan, that one of the biggest anonymous sources for the White House press corps is President Trump himself, and the people around him are often the anonymous sources that you hear them talk about at the White House. So it’s completely hypocritical. People are picking and choosing when they want to hear from anonymous sources.
Again, as a journalist, it’s not my first choice. I much prefer to have people on the record. And for the most part, I do get people on the record. But this was a sensitive story, and I have to respect the wishes of those sources as to why they don’t want to go on the record at this time.
On covering the Pentagon during the Trump administration:
This has been a difficult time to cover the Pentagon. And as you may have noticed, we have not heard from the senior leadership, [Defense Secretary] Mark Esper and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Gen. Mark Milley in the Pentagon briefing room, really since June 3rd. That’s almost three months. That’s unprecedented. I started this beat and Robert Gates and Admiral [Michael] Mullen would come out, usually once every two weeks, and brief the press and take our questions in the briefing room.
For the last four years, the senior leaders here have not wanted to take questions publicly from the press in press conferences, because they knew that they would be asked about things that they could not necessarily defend that the president was doing, and they didn’t want the press to put them on a collision course with the president, so they preferred to go under the radar. But in the process, the media really covering the Pentagon has been hurt and the American public has been hurt because we don’t have as many on-the-record briefings or opportunities with these senior leaders.
On Trump driving a wedge between enlisted troops and military leadership:
I can tell you from firsthand reporting that the top leaders of the Pentagon and the officer corps were pretty shocked to hear the way he was trying to drive a wedge between the enlisted troops and their leaders, who are the officers who are the heads of the military branches and who are the leaders of those enlisted. I mean, that has never happened. I can guarantee you, no commander in chief has ever, knowingly, tried to drive a wedge with the way he described general officers and the leaders of the Pentagon basically as war profiteers, and the wedge he was trying to create between the enlisted and saying that the generals don’t like him.
I mean, all you have to do is go back to the 2017 Tank meeting, which has now been well reported on, where he called the generals dopes and babies. And during the campaign, he said he knew more than the generals. But creating a wedge between the enlisted and the general officer corps, that creates problems. If you had to go to war tomorrow, that is an issue of good order and discipline, and really raises eyebrows here in the Pentagon.
On Trump not understanding why people serve:
Well, I think the way to see it, and this is what my source told me when I spoke to about The Atlantic article, is that President Trump sees everything as transactional, and he truly not understand why someone would give their life for their country. He doesn’t understand why soldiers do. He’s in awe of why they do what they do, given the fact that they aren’t paid Wall Street salaries. And he constantly would say as much. He said as much standing at the grave of Robert Kelly, John Kelly’s son in Arlington National Cemetery. Multiple people witnessed it.
He is constantly musing as to, “Why, if you could make money, would you serve in the military?” But as you said, he also likes the pomp and the ceremony that goes along with being the commander in chief, and he knows that it’s a very important part of his base. And so he has fully funded the military for the last four years, and those budgets have been big, and he expects a certain degree of loyalty as a result.
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