In these excerpts from Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency by Michael Wolff, the author gives a detailed account of the inertia in the White House the day the Capitol was stormed
Lunch was waiting.
Don Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Eric and Lara Trump left the White House, and Ivanka hung around.
Trump was back on the phone trying to get new information on Pence. The Joint Session had convened at 1 p.m. Arizona was the first objection. He was looking for coverage of the breakout, but only C-SPAN seemed to be on it. To the extent that aides had now come to rationalize all this as an exercise to force the voter fraud issue down the throat of the mainstream media, this, too, seemed to be failing.
Rudy, calling from the Willard, where he had watched the remainder of the president’s speech and was just seeing the first mentions of disorder in the streets, gave him a breathless report on Pence, but without any new information. That said, he was also promising that as many as six states would be contested, hence a volatile situation—we just didn’t know what’s going to happen (his breathlessness was only increasing). Meadows was in close touch with Jim Jordan. But the details Jordan was offering were unsatisfying.
Indeed, the various congressional supporters seemed increasingly less excited now that their revolt would be covered only by C-SPAN.
There were initial reports about the crowds amassing at the Capitol, but the television news was mostly not yet registering a threatening sense of disorder. The president was still marveling to people about the size of the crowd, sure that the VP would understand that the base was firmly behind the president.
His focus was very much on what was happening inside the Capitol Building and on what he still believed would, or certainly could, be a radical turn in his fortunes in the coming hours.
Marc Short was standing on the House floor in the back as his boss presided. He had been taking if not congratulations at least sure signs of affirmation from both Republican House and Senate members. These were small gestures over something so large you could not make big gestures-just sighs of relief. What would have been the singular constitutional crisis in the republic’s almost 250 years, averted. Even Mo Brooks, who was leading the ritual objections on the House side, indicated his thumbs up.
When the House and Senate broke to consider the Arizona objection, each in their respective chambers for the obligatory two-hour debate, Short decided to go downstairs to the Capitol grill and get a cheeseburger.
The parliamentary process just commencing represented another anomaly in this highly irregular day. The president was, in theory, waging an extraordinary legislative fight, one with hardly any precedent—the culmination of a two-month battle in which he had considered little else, on which both his immediate future
and his place in history depended. But other than via his own tweets and fulminations, and his meeting the day before with the vice president, nobody in the White House was much participating or even present in this fight.
In addition to overseeing the complex and far-flung operations of the executive branch, the White House also manages a political operation whose function is
to exert its influence and leverage over the legislative branch. Arguably, the Trump White House performed neither of these functions very well. But at this moment, there was no political function being performed at all.
There was nobody on the White House side whipping votes. There was nobody on the White House side who was even particularly up-to-date on who might be with them or against them other than from public reports.
True, hardly anybody was left in the White House. Still, even in the waning days of a presidency, such were the theoretical stakes that the greater Trump alumni and allies might reasonably have been brought back into action. This had not happened-rather, the opposite: even the longtime loyalists had all fled and were unreachable.
Kushner—among the key Hill contacts in the White House for the congressional leadership and the person most consistently able to efficiently mobilize White House resources, at least to the extent that anyone could—was almost entirely out of pocket on his flight back from the Middle East.
There was Rudy, of course. But the remaining insiders, most trying to keep as much distance as possible from the White House, understood that Rudy had few relationships with congressional members, and the ones he had were bad. The White House, while hanging everything on what would happen in Congress, was as remote from Capitol Hill and as disengaged with the process there as it had ever been.
To the extent, as the media darkly warned, that there was an extraordinary plot to hold on to power—an incipient coup, even—there really were only two plotters and no one to back them up. Trump had no functioning political staff, the White House Counsel’s Office had been all but shut down (to the degree the office was functioning, it was almost entirely focused on vetting pardon pleas), and the leadership of the Justice Department was in disarray.
All the same, the president and Rudy, in their bubble world, remained confident that success was there for them to grab.
At 1:49 p.m. the president retweeted a video of his Ellipse speech. At just about this time, rioters were breaching the Capitol door.
At two o’clock, the president and Giuliani—the president in the White House and Giuliani at the Willard—tried to find Tommy Tuberville, the recently seated senator from Alabama, but they instead mistakenly called Mike Lee, the Utah senator, on his cell phone. Lee, in the increasing confusion as reports started to come in of mobs breaching the Capitol fences, found Tuberville and put him on the phone. The president and Giuliani seemed to have no idea what was occurring at the Capitol, and Tuberville was either unsuccessful in telling them or thought better of trying.
At 2:11 p.m., the New York Times reported that rioters had entered the Capitol.
At 2:13 p.m., the vice president was pulled from the Senate Floor.
Marc Short had just gotten his cheeseburger when he became aware of the crowds and Capitol Police. Against people pushing downstairs to exit the building, he made his way upstairs, in touch with the VP’s Secret Service detail, reaching Pence and his family-his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte and brother Greg—in the ceremonial office that the vice president, as president of the Senate, maintains just off the Senate Chamber. The Secret Service pressed for an evacuation but the vice president resisted. The Secret Service then tried to move the vice president and his family to the protected motorcade where they could wait. The vice president understood that the car could then depart at will and that would be the lasting impression: a fleeing vice president. They settled for a retreat to a “secure location”—a secret fortified shelter—within the Capitol.
At about 2:15 p.m., Boris Epshteyn, watching television in Giuliani’s suite at the Willard, was one of the first people in the greater Trump circle to start, with some sense of panic, to flag what was occurring. Epshteyn spoke to Miller, who called Meadows.
“I’m sure you’re tracking this,”
“Yeah, I know. Some things are moving here that I can’t get into at the moment . . .” Meadows said.
Miller assumed the White House was mobilizing the National Guard. At 2:20 p.m., both the House and Senate adjourned.
At 2:24 p.m., the president, having been informed that Mike Pence had not rejected the Arizona Biden electors, tweeted:
Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!
Reading the tweet in the Capitol bunker, the siege now in progress, Pence and Short, hardly for the first time, noted how far off the president could be from the page that everyone else was on. That was the generous interpretation.
In part, the president seemed just not to be grasping the facts as they were coming through-mounting crowds, breached barricades, protestors entering the Capitol. Or maybe he was simply disagreeing with them: These people were protesting the election, he was still repeating as late as 2:30. The protestors wanted Pence to do the right thing. These were good protestors, his protestors.
Indeed, one of the novel aspects of the breach of the Capitol was that it was filmed by so many of the protestors. This would become a subtheme to later Republican revisionism that these were just tourists, people participating in the democratic process, run amok.
“We’re in! We’re in!” one man with a camera shouts, as the barriers fall.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, are suddenly swarming the Capitol, with a voice on the video shouting: “Let’s go, let’s go.”
Excerpted with permission from Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency by Michael Wolff published by The Bridge Street Press.
Copyright © 2021 by Burnrate LLC
Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency
The Bridge Street Press