Trump grew increasingly confused as Capitol riot escalated, new book claims: ‘I don’t know what to do here’

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According to a new book by journalist Michael Wolff, Mr Trump was uncharacteristically unsure of himself after rioters stormed the US Capitol (EPA)
According to a new book by journalist Michael Wolff, Mr Trump was uncharacteristically unsure of himself after rioters stormed the US Capitol (EPA)

On the day of the 6 January Capitol attack, Donald Trump was uncharacteristically at a loss for words, a new book claims.

“I don’t know what to do here,” the former president allegedly told an aide at around 7pm, long after a crowd of his supporters had breached the Capitol.

According to the journalist Michael Wolff’s new tell-all book, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, Mr Trump was baffled and unsure of himself as the violence spiralled out of control. Excerpts of the book, published in New York Magazine, chronicle how Mr Trump veered from ignoring the rioters, to defending them as his loyal supporters, to casting them off as “not our people”, and finally to simply not knowing what to do about them.

The day started, Mr Wolff writes, with Mr Trump fixated on the one thing that had obsessed him since early November: his election loss to Joe Biden – which he viewed, falsely, as illegitimate – and how he could overturn it.

According to Mr Wolff’s book, the outgoing president could think of nothing else – it was as if he had “blinders” on.

For Mr Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, 6 January was a crucial date, when Congress was set to certify Mr Biden’s victory – unless, as they hoped, then-vice president Mike Pence defied his own constitutional responsibility and put a stop to it.

“There had been hardly a waking hour in the past 48 during which he and Giuliani had not been on the phone in pent-up nervousness and excitement over the coming battle in Congress on January 6,” Mr Wolff writes.

Early that afternoon, Mr Trump gave his infamous “Stop the Steal” rally speech at the Ellipse, in which he encouraged his audience to “walk down” to the Capitol with him to “take back our country”. Afterwards, he explained to an aide that he had no intention of really walking with them.

“I didn’t mean it literally,” he reportedly told his chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

By about 2pm, rioters were forcing their way into the Capitol. But instead of urging the intruders to go home, the former president complained on Twitter that Mr Pence hadn’t rejected Arizona’s electoral votes.

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Mr Trump tweeted. Mr Pence was at this point sequestered in a bunker.

Fourteen minutes later, Mr Wolff writes, frantic aides managed to pressure Mr Trump into posting a tweet that one of them, Dan Scavino, had written for him.

“Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement,” the tweet said. “They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”

After 35 more minutes of rioting, Mr Trump posted a second tweet with roughly the same message, also written by Mr Scavino. Later he tweeted a video in which he again told the marauders to go home, but added, “We love you. You’re very special.”

By about 7pm, the rioters had been pushed out of the Capitol, but the aftermath was just beginning. Mr Scavino told the former president he’d been suspended from Twitter. It was at this point that Mr Trump said he didn’t know what to do.

Some time after 9pm, longtime Trump aide Jason Miller called to supply the answer. The outgoing president should put out a statement, Mr Miller said, doing what he hadn’t done in the 64 days since the election – commit to an orderly transition of power. After some quibbling over the wording, Mr Trump approved the statement.

In the same phone call, Mr Wolff writes, the defeated president also shifted to his new narrative: the rioters weren’t his supporters.

“Who are these people?” Mr Trump reportedly said. “These aren’t our people, these idiots with these outfits. They look like Democrats.”

Aides put out the statement at 3:49am that night, using their own personal Twitter accounts as Mr Trump’s remained suspended. Thirteen days later, Mr Trump left the White House.

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