CNN, AP, BOB WOODWARD, SIMON & SCHUSTER
By Jamie Gangel and Jeremy Herb, CNN
Colin Powell opened up to journalist Bob Woodward about his health struggles in what is believed to have been his last interview before his death.
“Don’t say no and don’t feel sorry for me, for god’s sakes. I’m (almost) 85 years old,” Powell said after telling Woodward about battling multiple myeloma for nearly two years. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.”
Powell, the first Black US secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, died Monday from complications from Covid-19 at the age of 84. Multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells, suppresses the body’s immune response. He also had Parkinson’s.
“I’ve taken lots of exams and I get there on my own. I drive up in my Corvette, get out of the Corvette and go into the hospital. I also go to a clinic to get the blood tests taken,” Powell said. “I don’t advertise it, I don’t make an announcement about it, but most of my friends know it.”
CNN obtained audio of Woodward’s July 12 phone interview with Powell for Woodward’s latest book on former President Donald Trump, “Peril.”
In the interview, Powell and Woodward discussed everything from the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and former President Donald Trump to his views on war and who he thinks is the greatest person he knows.
When the conversation turned to the January 6 insurrection, Powell said what happened was “awful.”
“He was going in there to overturn the government,” Powell said of Trump.
Powell’s trailblazing career spanned numerous presidential administrations. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the George H.W. Bush administration and the US-led victory in the first Gulf War. But as secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, he played a key role pushing faulty intelligence before the United Nations to advocate for the 2003 Iraq War, something he’d later call a “blot” on his record.
In the July interview, Woodward asked about Powell’s views on war and his moniker as “a reluctant warrior.”
“Whenever that is asked of me, I say, true. I am a reluctant warrior. I don’t like wars. I don’t want to be a warrior,” Powell said. “But remember the other thing that is well-known about me. And that is we go to a war, and I will do everything I can to beat the crap out of somebody, and win.”
“That’s known as the Powell doctrine by the way,” he added.
Powell told Woodward that he didn’t have a problem with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, though the interview was conducted before the Taliban swept to power in August and the US struggled to complete evacuations of Americans and Afghans ahead of the US military leaving the country.
“Afghanistan you’re never gonna win. Afghans are gonna win,” Powell said. “They have hundreds of these (soldiers) willing to fight and die for this country of theirs. And they’re doing it now, and they’re going to win. That’s why I don’t have any problem with us getting out of there.”
‘She was usually right’
At one point in his conversation with Woodward, Powell stopped the interview to tell his wife, Alma Powell, that he was on the phone.
“I’m on the phone, Alma!” Powell shouted out, before quickly whispering to Woodward: “She never liked me talking to you, but here we are.”
In the interview, Woodward asked Powell who was the greatest person he had ever known, in terms of having a moral compass and sense of the truth mattering.
“It’s Alma Powell,” Powell quickly responded. “She was with me the whole time. We’ve been married 58 years. And she put up with a lot. She took care of the kids when I was, you know, running around. And she was always there for me, and she’d tell me, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ She was usually right.”
Woodward wrote Monday in The Washington Post about his longtime relationship with Powell, which he said spanned roughly 50 interviews and dated back to 1989 and the US invasion of Panama.
Powell made a brief appearance in “Peril,” Woodward’s book on Trump co-authored with Washington Post journalist Robert Costa, which chronicled the chaotic final year of Trump’s presidency as he desperately sought ways to cling to power after the November election.
In the book, Woodward and Costa write that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley turned to Powell for advice amid sharp criticism over Milley’s appearance alongside Trump as he walked to a church outside the White House during the June 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd.
“Should I resign?” Milley asked Powell.
“F— no,” Powell responded, according to the book. “I told you never to take the job. You never should have taken the job. Trump’s a f—— maniac.”
This story has been updated with additional details from the interview.
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