Between the lines

‘Scum and treachery’: four things we know about Michael Wolff’s third Donald Trump expose

Former president spoke to journalist while ‘seething with resentment’ at White House exit

Donald Trump abandoned plans to march on the Capitol with his supporters after a stand-off with his chief of staff, according to a new book on the dying days of his administration.

Michael Wolff, the journalist who revealed the chaos in Trump’s administration in his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, is back with a third expose of the former president’s election loss and departure from the Oval Office.

In the spring Wolff was invited to Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, where “he found the former president still smarting from his election loss” and “increasingly alienated from the political establishment, including his own Republican party”, The Times reports.

Here’s four things we know about the book’s revelations so far.

1

Trump called supporters ‘the great unwashed’

In mid-December 2020, “a little more than three weeks before rioters and revelers stormed the Capitol”, a group of “several thousand Trump fans and fanatics gathered in Washington, D.C”, an extract of the book published by New York magazine says.

The crowd included “Proud Boys in elaborate dress, ZZ Top beards, and tie-dyed kilts”, as well as “Trump impersonators and a wide variety of other made-for-the-cameras MAGA costumes” and “veterans – or people in military gear trying to suggest patriotism and firepower”, Wolff says. 

They had assembled for an event on 12 December, featuring speakers including Michael Flynn, the former general who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser before being caught lying to the FBI, and Sebastian Gorka, who also held a role in the White House during the early days of the Trump administration. 

But by the time the event ended, violent scenes that were “in hindsight, a run-through” of what was to come resulted in four people being stabbed and 33 arrested, Wolff adds.

According to the excerpt, Trump would often express his confusion at who made up the assembled crowds of his supporters, describing them as “trailer camp” people and joking that he should invest in a chain of tattoo parlours while calling them “the great unwashed”. 

“Like any megastar, Trump saw his fans from a far distance out”, Wolff writes. “Certainly, there was no personal connection. A star could not assume responsibility for his fans, could he?”

2

‘Democrats’, ‘Big Tech’ and ‘the media’ rigged the election

During his interview with Wolff at Mar-a-Lago, Trump again espoused the view – without providing any evidence – that the election that saw him lose the White House to Joe Biden was rigged.

According to excerpts published in The Times, Trump told Wolff “the primary interference was the fact that they didn’t go to legislatures having to do with all of these changes they made prior to the election”.

While he does not expand on what changes, he has previously railed against early voting rules introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“They wouldn’t let our watchers, our poll watchers in, in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, in Detroit – and I mean kept them out viciously and violently,” he continued, echoing another claim that has been disproved multiple times since the vote. 

Asked by Wolff who he believes the “bad guys” who rigged the election are, he added: “Well, it wasn’t Biden because – but they just wanted him in the basement. They didn’t expect he was going to win; neither did almost anybody.

“A group of people within the Democrat Party working along with Big Tech and the media. I can’t give you names now. Names are going to be revealed.”

He also alleged that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, was responsible for “lockboxes” of ballots showing up after election day – a process caused by a backlog of early voting slips that had to be counted after polling day, adding: “It’s a coordinated effort, and it’s also cancel culture.”

3

He was warned against marching on the Capitol

According to the New York magazine extract, Trump had a tense stand-off with his chief of staff Mark Meadows after telling the crowd that would go on to storm the Capitol: “We’re going to walk down [to the Capitol to protest] – and I’ll be there with you.”

Wolff writes that Meadows was immediately approached by concerned Secret Service agents who he told: “No. There’s no way we are going to the Capitol.” Meadows then reportedly told Trump: “You said you were going to march with them to the Capitol. How would we do that? We can’t organize that. We can’t.” 

Trump then replied: “I didn’t mean it literally.”

Wolff also reports that Trump and his family watched the rioting unfold on television, while the “exchange between Trump and Meadows sheds light on how the would-be insurrectionists were abandoned”, The Guardian says.

The White House, Wolff reports, quickly realised that Mike Pence, the vice-president, had decided “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 reportedly alerted the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to Trump’s claims about election fraud. However, Giuliani, the former New York mayor, was “drinking heavily and in a constant state of excitation, often almost incoherent in his agitation and mania”, Wolff claims.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a key member of his circle of advisers, set in motion “the transition” from Trump “seeing the mob as people protesting the election – defending him so he would defend them – to seeing them as ‘not our people’”, he adds, after she described the rioting as “an optics issue”.

At that point, he asked Meadows “how bad is this?”, adding: “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.

“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!”

4

Being president meant dealing with ‘absolute scum and treachery’

Asked by Wolff if he held any “regrets” about his time as president, Trump told the journalist “I gave up this life”, apparently referring to his life at Mar-a-Lago, “for a life dealing with fine people but also absolute scum and treachery and fake witch-hunts”.

“People said, ‘The greatest life; look what you’ve given up.’ But I’ve also done a thousand things that nobody has done. Nobody’s done what I’ve done.”

Wolff writes that as they headed for dinner at Mar-a-Lago with his wife, Melania Trump, people were “rising and offering a round of deep and heartfelt applause”, adding: “He was home. But would he stay there?”

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