Donald Trump told supporters he would march on the Capitol with them on 6 January – then abandoned them after a tense exchange with his chief of staff, according to the first excerpt from Landslide, Michael Wolff’s third Trump White House exposé.
The extract was published by New York magazine. Wolff’s first Trump book, Fire and Fury, blew up a news cycle and created a whole new genre of salacious political books in January 2018, when the Guardian revealed news of its contents.
On 6 January, Congress met to confirm results of an election Trump lost conclusively to Joe Biden. Trump spoke to supporters outside the White House, telling them: “We’re going to walk down [to the Capitol to protest] – and I’ll be there with you.”
According to Wolff, the chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was reportedly approached by concerned Secret Service agents, who he told: “No. There’s no way we are going to the Capitol.”
Wolff, one of a number of authors to have interviewed Trump since he left power, writes that the chief of staff then approached Trump, who seemed unsure what Meadows was talking about.
“You said you were going to march with them to the Capitol,” Meadows reportedly said. “How would we do that? We can’t organize that. We can’t.”
“I didn’t mean it literally,” Trump reportedly replied.
Trump is also reported to have expressed “puzzlement” about the supporters who broke into the Capitol in a riot which led to five deaths and Trump’s second impeachment, for inciting an insurrection.
Wolff says Trump was confused by “who these people were with their low-rent ‘trailer camp’ bearing and their ‘get-ups’, once joking that he should have invested in a chain of tattoo parlors and shaking his head about ‘the great unwashed’.”
Trump and his family watched the attack on television at the White House.
As reported by Wolff, the exchange between Trump and Meadows sheds light on how the would-be insurrectionists were abandoned.
The White House, Wolff writes, soon realised Mike Pence had “concluded that he was not able to reject votes unilaterally or, in effect, to do anything else, beyond playing his ceremonial role, that the president might want him to do”.
Trump aide Jason Miller is portrayed as saying “Oh, shit” and alerting the president’s lawyer and chief cheerleader for his lie about electoral fraud, Rudy Giuliani.
Wolff writes that the former New York mayor was “drinking heavily and in a constant state of excitation, often almost incoherent in his agitation and mania”.
As the riot escalated – soon after Trump issued a tweet attacking the vice-president – aides reportedly pressed the president to command his followers to stand down.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, reportedly saw the assault on the Capitol as “an optics issue”. After an hour or so, Wolff writes, Trump “seemed to begin the transition from seeing the mob as people protesting the election – defending him so he would defend them – to seeing them as ‘not our people’”.
In a further exchange, Trump reportedly asked Meadows: “How bad is this? This looks terrible. This is really bad. Who are these people? These aren’t our people, these idiots with these outfits. They look like Democrats.”
Trump reportedly added: “We didn’t tell people to do something like this. We told people to be peaceful. I even said ‘peaceful’ and ‘patriotic’ in my speech!”