Former President Donald Trump has given a new interview to journalist Michael Wolff in which he continues to push vague conspiracy theories about his 2020 election defeat to Joe Biden and lashes out at many of his foes from the Washington “swamp”.
In an exclusive extract from Mr Wolff’s forthcoming new book Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency published in The Times, Mr Trump laments his decision to give up his affluent lifestyle for politics, which he characterises as: “A life dealing with fine people but also absolute scum and treachery and fake witch-hunts”.
But the former commander-in-chief does qualify his resentment somewhat, adding: “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.”
Landslide completes Mr Wolff’s trilogy of books about Mr Trump, following the bestselling Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (published in January 2018) and Siege: Trump Under Fire (July 2019), the first of which caused a sensation when it came out by exposing rampant dysfunction within the West Wing and sparking a heated rift between the president and his then-chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
“I don’t blame you. I blame my people,” Mr Trump tells the author at the outset of their latest encounter, which was conducted at his palatial resort home of Mar-a-Lago in Florida in mid-March this year, two weeks after the populist had given his headline address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, at which a gold statue of him was wheeled around the city’s Hyatt Regency.
The conservation took place in Mar-a-Lago’s lobby, “a vaulted-ceiling rococo grand entrance, part hunting lodge, part Renaissance palazzo”, Mr Wolff writes. “It is really the throne room. Court life swirls around: blonde mothers and blonde daughters, infinitely buxom, and men in unnaturally coloured jackets and pants.”
Before its commencement, the journalist says he was warned off mentioning either the 6 January Capitol riot or the late paedophile billionaire and one-time Trump friend Jeffrey Epstein by the ex-president’s adviser Jason Miller, who has since left his post.
Instead, Mr Wolff says, Mr Trump, cutting an alienated and embittered figure, wastes little time in rattling off a rambling list of his pet grievances and favourite conspiracy theories regarding his defeat, which he denounces as “a crooked, rigged election”.
“The courts didn’t have any guts, and that includes the Supreme Court, which is a terrible thing,” he says of his legal team’s innumerable failed challenges to the election result, which saw him lose the electoral vote by 306 to 232 and the popular vote by 81 million votes to 74 million.
“We were ruled always on process or standing. You didn’t have standing. Nobody ruled on – they didn’t rule on the facts. The facts were great for us. But before you even get to the facts, whether it’s the illegals, whether it’s the ballots, whether it’s all of the things that happened, you know, they used Covid in order to rig the election. The ballot dumps. Maybe more importantly than the ballot dumps was when you looked at the machines being turned off.”
Barely stopping for breath, Mr Trump reportedly steams on, the unsubstantiated claims stacking up in his characteristic blustering style and not always especially coherently: “In the swing states where you had more votes than you had voters, if you look at Pennsylvania, you look at Philadelphia, you had more votes than you had voters.
“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 alleges.
Before Mr Wolff can establish who “they” are, Mr Trump motors on.
“Covid changed the whole ball game, but I still got 75 million votes [sic]. Remember, I got 63 [in 2016]. I was supposed to get 66, and I couldn’t lose. I got 75 – I got almost 75 million votes and probably a lot more than that. But I got almost 75 million votes. We were aiming at 66 million votes. And we had a tremendous turnout, far bigger than the other side thought possible. That’s why they closed votes. That’s why they had hours of something – something went on. Because when they came back, all of sudden: what happened? Where did all of these votes come from? It was a crooked, rigged election.”
When the writer does get a chance to push the ex-president on who he believes weaved the ingenious, intricate, nationwide web of corruption he insists he fell foul of, Mr Trump instead pivots to dwelling on the difference a timely endorsement can make, alluding to influential South Carolina congressman and House majority whip Jim Clyburn delivering the state’s African American vote to Mr Biden and gloating that he himself recently rebuffed appeals from Republicans Pat Toomey and “Little” Bob Corker for support.
Pulled back to the whodunit question by Mr Wolff, Mr Trump answers vaguely: “A group of people within the Democrat Party working along with Big Tech and the media.”
“I can’t give you names now,” he adds, before promising. “Names are going to be revealed. How about where the lockboxes show up days later? In other words, they’re supposed to be picked up. They shouldn’t even be there ... But it was picked up, and it comes days later, and most of the votes in the boxes were for Biden, you know, in areas that were good areas.”
Pushed once more, he reportedly launches into a Fox News-approved diatribe against left-wing “cancel culture” before making further loose promises about an “evidence” dossier his team intends to publish to conclusively prove the fraud at some unspecified point in the future.
“If we find – I mean we have so much evidence of voter fraud, they don’t want to put it in. But it’s coming out, bigger than anyone would imagine. The names will be coming out. I just can’t say it now. But it’s a group of people representing powerful entities. It’s a disgrace.”
Throughout the interview, several Mar-a-Lago guests stop by to say hello as well as two Trump administration ghosts in the shape of ex-commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the latter visibly shocked to see Mr Wolff, he says, having had to firefight the political chaos wrought by his first book on the Trump presidency three years ago.
“The Mar-a-Lago attention and deference is, to him, a proxy for the Republican Party and its Trump base - no matter that these are all multimillionaire-class retirees,” Mr Wolff observes.
From there, Mr Trump reportedly switches tack to air his grievances against a number of influential Republicans he believes let him down, from his own vice president Mike Pence (“He wasn’t Thomas Jefferson, what can I tell you?”) to George W Bush’s deputy chief of staff Karl Rove (“If you win, he kisses your ass”) and ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell gets the worst of it, described by Mr Trump as both the “most unpopular politician in the country” and “the most overrated politician in Washington”, while there are also digs at under-fire New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts and some surprise praise for Mr Bannon, a reward for his more recent support for the “Big Steal” narrative.
Interestingly, Mr Trump twice sidesteps opportunities to praise his disastrous personal attorney and enabler Rudy Giuliani, so richly humiliated in the election’s aftermath by Borat, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping farce and his own hair dye.
The last word should go to Mr Wolff, who suggests Donald J Trump is insulating himself from the uncomfortable reality of his crushing defeat by “stepping into a fully built alternate world”.
“He isn’t really arguing issues; you don’t have to parse the facts. You can walk through the door of an entirely realised, albeit parallel universe.”
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