Transcript: Chris Whipple on “Face the Nation,” Jan. 15, 2023

The following is a transcript of an interview with Chris Whipple, author of “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House,” that aired on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, on “Face the Nation.”

MARGARET BRENNAN: We are joined now by Chris Whipple, author of a new book about the first two years of the Biden administration. It’s called “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House.” Good morning to you.

AUTHOR CHRIS WHIPPLE: Good to be here. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you spent a lot of time working on this book over the past two years. And you met a lot of these characters who are so close to Joe Biden, the man and now the president, one of them, Bob Bauer, who is now the president’s attorney in regard to this story we’ve been talking about for most of the show with classified documents. He also happens to be married to one of the president’s closest advisers. What do you make of how this is- is playing out? And why is Bauer the man to defend him here?

WHIPPLE: Well, let me come back to Bob Bauer in a second. But I think that this is a real problem, because there’s just this constant drip, drip, drip of information that comes out about the documents. And it’s surprising to some extent because I spent two years talking to almost all of Joe Biden’s inner circle. And usually they’re much more adept at handling these crises. I can tell you, this is the most battened down, disciplined, leakproof White House in years, as I think you know. So it’s- so it’s a little bit surprising, but I think, and you can sympathize when they say that look anything we say could be contradicted later. We can’t get ahead of the process. But they really need to raise their game here, I think, because this really goes to the heart of Joe Biden’s greatest asset, arguably, which is trust. I mean maybe not for 30 to 40% of the American people, but for Democrats and Independents. And that’s really at stake here. Bob Bauer is a fascinating choice to do this. He’s- he’s a very bright guy. I’ve interviewed him for the book. He tells some great stories in it about the transition. And I think that Bauer is a- is a very smart lawyer and very cautious. He’s not going to want the White House to get out there and talk a lot about what’s going on. And as you noted, he’s- he’s married to one of Joe Biden’s most influential political advisers, Anita Dunn. So you really have to wonder what it’s like around that dinner table. If I know Bob Bauer, he may not even be talking to her about this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s a very tight knit group around the president. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: It has been for years. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: How did something like this happen?

WHIPPLE: Well, you know, look, everybody’s baffled by it and you have to wonder if you were to search some of the other presidential properties of other presidents whether we’d be finding the same thing. I think Mike Morell is right. There’s got to be a much better process. It’s just a sloppy process, I think. But again, substantively I think this is really serious in one way, because I think that it now becomes difficult, if not impossible to bring charges on the Mar-a-Lago documents case. And the reason- the reason I say that, is because no matter what anybody says about this being only about the facts and the laws, it is inarguably a political decision with enormous political ramifications. Jack Smith and Merrick Garland have to be thinking about a jury, choosing a jury, and whether that jury is going to think that what Trump did is all that egregious if documents keep popping up every other day in Joe Biden’s residences.

MARGARET BRENNAN: At this point in a presidency, you often see officials rotate out. I know you spoke to Chief of Staff Ron Klain extensively. Is he staying on? And should we expect other changes? 

WHIPPLE: That’s a really big question for Joe Biden. Look, he’s had a very successful two year presidency. It’s particularly- I mean, the second year has been one of the most consequential years for any president in modern history. The first year was- was tougher. We can talk about that. But I think–

MARGARET BRENNAN: I assume you’re talking about Afghanistan. 

WHIPPLE: Yeah, Afghanistan in particular. But I think that Joe Biden- Joe Biden will have a very tough decision to make if Ron Klain decides to move on anytime soon because those are very large shoes to fill. Ron Klain is arguably belongs in elite company, James Baker, Leon Panetta, some of the best chiefs of staff around. So I think it’s going to be a really, really important decision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They didn’t tweet like he does. He’s very active on Twitter. So let’s go to something serious here, Afghanistan. That was a huge black mark on the Biden administration.

WHIPPLE: It was.

MARGARET BRENNAN: To really have such a chaotic withdrawal on something they just really didn’t expect to go sideways like it did.

WHIPPLE: I think- I think this is a tale of two presidencies, the first year and the second year. The first year overshadowed by Afghanistan, even though he had a lot of accomplishments that first year. It was chaotic, God knows, watching it on television. But what I discovered and report in my book is that behind the scenes, there was a lot of drama. 


WHIPPLE: And Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State told me in no uncertain terms, that everything we did was based on a fatally flawed intelligence assessment that the Afghan government would last for 18 months. This was news to CIA Director Bill Burns when I sat down with him and talked to him at length about it. He said: Look, if you pulled out two legs of the stool, as he put it, American forces and contractors, we- we predicted that that could collapse very quickly. So Afghanistan- and I also have this wonderful story that I mean Joe Biden shared with me what it was like, on the worst day of his presidency, what he called the hardest of the hard days, when 13 service members were killed by the suicide bombing in Kabul. Afterwards, Biden had to confront, had to try to console the families of those fallen soldiers. Some of them blamed him. Some of them were upset because he invoked his son Beau. This was personally really wrenching for Joe Biden, and it’s a- it’s a, I think, a great insight into him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s a compelling- it’s a compelling book. Thank you very much. 

WHIPPLE: Thanks so much, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be back in a moment.

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