August 5, 2021

“Landslide”: Michael Wolff on Trump’s Final Days in Office & Why He Still Rules the Republican Party

10 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: Former President Donald Trump met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Thursday as McCarthy has yet to appoint Republicans to the congressional committee investigating the deadly January 6th riot by Trump supporters. For months Republicans have downplayed the insurrection, which was timed to disrupt the counting of electoral votes. McCarthy’s meeting with Trump came after the select committee investigating the Capitol riot said it would hold its first hearing about the attack on July 27th. After the meeting, McCarthy returned to Washington, D.C., from the Bedminster Trump hotel to attend a dinner at the White House with President Biden and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
CNN reports McCarthy will likely appoint supporters and defenders of Trump to the January 6 committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can veto any of his picks.
This comes as a series of new books offering new details about what happened January 6th, when then-President Trump spoke to thousands of his supporters at a so-called Save America rally outside the White House and urged them to march on the Capitol building.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to walk down to the Capitol! And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about what happened January 6th, what led up to it, and particularly those last weeks of the Trump administration, we’re joined by Michael Wolff, author of the new book Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump White House, which completes his best-selling trilogy on the presidency of Donald Trump, following Fire and Fury and Siege.
Michael, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t we start off right there, when President Trump — I don’t know how many — tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands — of lies this was — but said that he will join the others in walking to the Capitol? Did he ever have a plan to do that?
MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, you know, it was at that moment — to just set the background here, this was a speech that he was largely reading off the teleprompter, which is unusual for Trump. Certainly, when he’s in the moment, enthusiastic, he’s departing from his speech. So he wasn’t really thinking about this. His mind was wholly on Mike Pence and what — and he believed that Mike Pence had the power and the willingness to throw out the electoral votes and install him as the president. That was on his mind. So he was sort of reading through this speech.
But at one point he did depart from the speech and said, “We will walk to the Capitol.” And that was the moment at which all of his aides kind of looked up and said, “What did he say? We’re going to walk to the Capitol?” And all of them had the same response: “What is he talking about? Donald Trump doesn’t walk anywhere.” So, that’s what they all thought at that point.
And then, when he came down after the speech, they said, “You know we can’t do that. You know, there’s no security for that.” And Trump responded, “What are you talking about?” And they said, “You said you’re going to walk.” And he said, “Oh, oh, I didn’t mean that literally.” So, again, we’re in the world of Donald Trump, which is mostly a world of what’s coming out of his mouth and of — and I would say that for a good part of the time, he’s not even aware of what’s coming out of his mouth.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, this is particularly significant right now for some who are thinking, “Why do we have to talk about Donald Trump? He’s not the president anymore, even if he thinks he is.” But the fact is, he, by far, is the leading contender, if he chooses to run for president again. By far. And, of course, just yesterday, the House minority leader went to the Bedminster golf course to meet with President Trump. And he, Kevin McCarthy, has yet to choose the five Republican members of the committee — they quashed the commission that would investigate the insurrection. Also, just interesting to note that you have the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Beatty, being arrested yesterday with nine others. They were arrested in less time than it took Capitol Police, who were, to say the least, taken off guard, to arrest that number that day in the time of extremely violent riot, insurrection.
MICHAEL WOLFF: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that there’s no question Donald Trump runs the Republican Party. He is — it’s entirely top down. Nearly everybody, or at least certainly everybody who is contemplating a future in the Republican Party, has to pay — has to constantly kiss the Trump ring, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, the significance of this right now with him being in Mar-a-Lago, where you did a last interview with him — in Bedminster, running the show from behind the scenes? The significance of what that means for politics in this country? For example, even this investigation. And when you spoke to him in Mar-a-Lago, what did he say about the insurrection? What did he say about the number of the police, that he supposedly so reveres, being devastated, traumatized, beaten? One died.
MICHAEL WOLFF: Yeah, he didn’t say anything about the January 6. That’s clearly a subject that he is steering clear of.
But, you know, I want to make another point, and I think it’s an interesting point, that even though Donald Trump has a kind of lockstep control over the Republican Party, one of the things that’s also always going on is every — while every Republican acknowledges that, every Republican is also trying to walk that back or mitigate that or slow walk whatever the president wants. So we have two realities here: the reality of Donald Trump in charge, and the other reality which is that everybody knows that there’s something wrong with Donald Trump. Donald Trump is crazy. Donald Trump, you know, I mean, essentially, can’t put two sequential thoughts together.
You know, so Kevin McCarthy is going down there, and he’s perfectly well aware this is an aberrant situation. And, in fact, Trump himself is always kind of saying bad things about McCarthy out of the side of his mouth. So, you know, it’s this incredibly unusual situation, of which — I mean, it’s essentially an emperor’s new clothes situation. Everybody recognizes the completely unusual nature of what’s going on here, but nobody can do anything about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Wolff, you detail election night and the significance of the relationship between Fox and President Trump. Can you talk about what happened that night when Fox, before the other networks, called Arizona for Biden?
MICHAEL WOLFF: Sure. And that’s another example of this. I mean, OK, so we have Fox, the Fox News network, in abject fealty to Donald Trump. You know, I mean, that’s their entire business and programming strategy: bow down to Donald Trump. At the same time, the Murdoch family, who owns Fox — could change Fox at a second’s notice if they wanted to — detests Rupert Murdoch, cannot stand him. And that night, in their own sort of guerrilla action against Murdoch, when the call — when the call came from the election desk, which was that, you know, “We can call Arizona now. We’re confident about that. However, you know, we can also wait on this” — so, this decision went to Rupert Murdoch. And Rupert Murdoch said — I noticed on your instructions that you advise against using obscenities here, so I’ll let you phrase this if you want to. But anyway, Murdoch delivered an obscenity directed at Donald Trump and said, “Yes, make the call now.” And it was a devastating call for Trump at that moment on election night.
AMY GOODMAN: He said, “Make the F—ing call.”
MICHAEL WOLFF: That’s what he said. No, no, he didn’t say that. He said, “F— him.” In other words, directed to Trump himself.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Fox letting the White House know that they’re going to make this call?
MICHAEL WOLFF: Yeah, and, I mean, that got some attention. And so, minutes before they made the call, Bill Hemmer, one of the Fox on-air people, called Jason Miller, who was one of the key campaign aides, and said, “Hey, this is what’s going down. We’re going to make this call. We can’t do anything about it.” And so, when this came out that I had reported this, then Fox immediately said, “That’s totally untrue, completely untrue.” You know, a lot of other publications immediately went to say, “OK, Michael Wolff is wrong.” And then Jason Miller said, “Oh, yeah, that was true. Everybody, many people around, many people heard that.”
AMY GOODMAN: Jason Miller, a surrogate for Donald Trump, who also —
MICHAEL WOLFF: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: — who appeared on Fox.
MICHAEL WOLFF: Yes, and who got the call. I mean, so the call went from Bill Hemmer to Jason Miller, who said then, “Yes, I got the call.”
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you’re a close observer of the right networks, of the right-wing networks, like Fox, OANN, Newsmax, maybe not as close as Trump himself, who you say spent hours every day — I mean, just hours — watching these networks.
MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, I am — just, I am pretty close. In addition to writing books about Trump, I’m Rupert Murdoch’s biographer. So, yes, I’m pretty familiar.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what about the role of Fox now, and particularly the role of Sean Hannity?
MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, you know, Hannity is in — you know, let’s — I’m trying to find the word. What would be the word? Cahoots, I suppose, with Donald Trump. As a matter of fact, there’s one point in Landslide where I — during the campaign, and which I outline, in which Sean Hannity calls the president and says, “You know, your campaign is terrible. You know, you really need some help here.” And he says, “And I’ve written an ad for you.” And then the president calls up the campaign and says, “Sean says the campaign is terrible.” You know, this goes on. And then the campaign, in trying to keep Hannity from calling the president and then having the president call the campaign, the campaign then produces the ad. They literally make Hannity’s ad. And then they only run the ad on Hannity’s show. So, in some weird thing going on on here, Hannity gets the campaign to essentially give the Fox network a couple of million dollars to run this ad, only on his show.
AMY GOODMAN: Which, of course, is always helpful, because there are all these boycotts against advertisers on his show.
MICHAEL WOLFF: So, again, you know, yes. I mean, this is a consuming relationship. You know, Hannity works for Donald Trump, or Donald Trump works for Sean Hannity. You can barely separate this. But I would say that Hannity is certainly, and has been for four years, one of Trump’s closest outside advisers.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I want to ask you about the man who did not desert President Trump, and he is Rudy Giuliani. He now has had his law license suspended by the state of New York, by Washington, D.C. Talk about his pivotal role as you talk —
MICHAEL WOLFF: And also, for his trouble, Trump no longer speaks to him. As a matter of fact, Rudy Giuliani cannot get a call through to the former president at this point. So, you know, it’s one of the — you know, a constant Trump theme. You know, whoever — the closer you get to Donald Trump, the more you’ll get burned by Donald Trump. But — which is not at all to excuse Rudy Giuliani, who has been a persistent part of the Trump toxicity and the Trump insanity, really. And, I mean, one of the things which I constantly point out in the book, because it certainly is — could not be more germane, is that Rudy is drunk all the time.
So, you know, stepping back from this, we see the Trump administration as, in part, terrifying and as, in part, engaged in all of this destructive behavior, but on another level, it’s also absurd. It’s the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. I mean, none of these people can do anything. I mean, they’re either drunk or they’re incompetent. And as we told the story, as this story unfolded about Donald Trump’s effort to undermine the election, what was seldom said, certainly by the established media, is that he had no ability to do this. He had no — he couldn’t work the levers of government. Everybody had deserted him. This was just weeks and weeks and weeks of utter ridiculousness. It was — as I said a couple of times, it isn’t really the big lie; it’s the big lunacy. And Donald Trump is the lunatic-in-chief.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Michael Wolff, author of the new book, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump White House, which completes his best-selling trilogy on the Trump presidency.
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