With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
THE PLAYBOOK INTERVIEW: ALEX HOLDER — In September 2020, U.K. documentarian ALEX HOLDER started working on a film about DONALD TRUMP. Through a connection to JARED KUSHNER, Holder secured access to Trump, former VP MIKE PENCE, Trump’s adult children and other members of the former president’s inner circle. He flew on Air Force One. He interviewed Trump and Pence at the White House. After they left office, Holder continued recording at Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago. On Jan. 6, 2021, he and his cameraman were in Washington filming as the mob sacked the Capitol. The final product is a three-part series called “Unprecedented” that will appear on Discovery+ this summer. Very few people in Trumpworld knew about the project.
On Tuesday, we broke the story about the details of Holder’s film, that he had been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee, turned over all of his footage and was coming to Washington this week for a closed-door deposition before the committee.
On Thursday, shortly after he finished talking to Jan. 6 investigators, we met up with him for an hour-plus interview for this week’s “Playbook Deep Dive” podcast.
It was immediately apparent how his life had changed. When he arrived in the lobby, he had a private security guard with him. He marveled at how his Twitter account had blown up. “On Monday, I didn’t exist, and had 115 Twitter followers,” he said. “And today, I think I have close to 20,000.” When we sat down, he said that a video clip of Trump from his film that he had just posted already had 800,000 views. When we finished, it had over 1.2 million. (This morning, it’s at 2.7 million.) Every time he looked at his phone, there was another surprise. “I just got a text from DON LEMON,” he said at one point. A friend from London messaged, “You got papped!” — meaning paparazzi were snapping shots of him when he was on the Hill.
You can listen to the full podcast here (and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify), but we want to zoom in on one intriguing portion of our conversation with Holder.
AN UNKNOWN TRUMP-PUTIN PHONE CALL? — On Thursday, we noted that during a trip aboard Air Force One, a scheduled interview between Holder and Trump was abruptly canceled. Holder told us a bit more about that trip, and it turns out to be much more interesting than we knew.
Holder traveled with then-President Trump on Sunday, Oct. 25, three days after the second presidential debate and nine days before Election Day. That day, Trump flew from Washington to New Hampshire, then on to Maine, and then back to Washington. But WH COS MARK MEADOWS told Holder that something had come up and the planned interview was nixed.
“My memory is,” Holder told us, “that the chief of staff sort of came over and said that the interview couldn’t happen today because the president was on the phone. And I believe, if I remember correctly, that he said that he was on the phone to the president of Russia, VLADIMIR PUTIN, which is why the interview had to be postponed.”
Well that certainly piqued our curiosity. Why would Trump be having an apparently unscheduled Sunday chat with Putin during a packed day of campaigning in New England nine days before the election?
One explanation could be that Trump and Putin were reportedly trying to negotiate an arms control agreement, as Axios’ Dave Lawler and Alayna Treene reported on Oct. 11, 2020. And indeed, on Oct. 26, the Kremlin released a statement about its views on several security issues in Europe.
But one top Trump official involved in those talks told POLITICO that he had no recollection of a Trump-Putin call during that period.
However, there was some other news breaking that Sunday related to Putin that certainly would have caught Trump’s attention.
At the debate in Nashville days earlier, Trump had accused JOE BIDEN of receiving millions of dollars through some kind of corrupt scheme involving HUNTER BIDEN’s alleged business dealings in Ukraine and Moscow — accusations that were the cornerstone of Trump’s case against Biden in the final days of the 2020 campaign.
But that Sunday, Putin undercut Trump and said that as far as he knew, the allegations were nonsense. Sputnik, a Russian state-controlled media outlet, tweeted the news at 8:40 a.m. But it wasn’t until later in the day, when Trump was wrapping up a rally in New Hampshire, that the news broke through in the American press. Reuters reported at 2:20 p.m., “Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that he saw nothing criminal in Hunter Biden’s past business ties with Ukraine or Russia, marking out his disagreement with one of Donald Trump’s attack lines in the U.S. presidential election.” (Newsmax ran the same Reuters wire copy at 2:17 p.m.)
Huh. That seems like interesting context on a day when Holder says he was informed that Trump and Putin were on a call together. We asked Holder when his conversation with Meadows happened. “I *think* it was between NH and Maine,” he texted us.
We checked the pool reports that day, and Air Force One taxied for takeoff from Londonderry, N.H., at 2:32 p.m. The plane landed in Maine at 3:05 p.m. If Holder’s memory is accurate, Trump was on the phone with Putin just minutes after the news broke that the Russian president had dismissed Trump’s Hunter Biden allegations.
We would love to know what they discussed. Listen to “Playbook Deep Dive” here … Subscribe here on Apple Podcasts and Spotify
FROM THURSDAY’S JAN. 6 HEARING, via our colleagues Kyle Cheney and Nicholas Wu:
- The banner headline: In total, five GOP House members — SCOTT PERRY (Pa.), MATT GAETZ (Fla.), ANDY BIGGS (Ariz.), LOUIE GOHMERT (Texas) and MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (Ga.) — inquired with Trump officials about pardons, according to sworn testimony from former White House aides.
- “Additionally, according to … former Trump aides’ testimony, Rep. MO BROOKS (R-Ala.) sent an email on Jan. 11, 2021, asking for ‘all purpose’ pardons for every lawmaker who objected to electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
- Some of those named deny that they sought pardons. Gohmert, Perry and Biggs issued statements of denial. Greene and Gaetz, meanwhile, simply attacked the committee but didn’t outright deny the alleged requests.
- The overall takeaway, from Kyle and Nicholas: “The hearing highlighted how Trump’s West Wing became a haven for conspiracy theories about election fraud that he then tasked DOJ and other cabinet agencies to investigate. When the theories were debunked, Trump would fall back on new ones, often plucked from far-flung corners of the internet and laundered through pro-Trump channels until they reached the Oval Office. ‘You guys may not be following the internet the way I do,’ Trump told the officials, according to Thursday’s testimony.”
Happy Friday. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
SENATE CLEARS GUN BILL — On Thursday night, the Senate passed a bipartisan gun safety bill in a 65-33 vote that saw 15 Republicans join all 50 Democrats to support the bill.
— Republicans voting “yes”: Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL (Ky.), JOHN CORNYN (Texas), ROY BLUNT (Mo.), RICHARD BURR (N.C.), SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (W.Va.), BILL CASSIDY (La.), SUSAN COLLINS (Maine), JONI ERNST (Iowa), LINDSEY GRAHAM (S.C.), LISA MURKOWSKI (Alaska), ROB PORTMAN (Ohio), MITT ROMNEY (Utah), THOM TILLIS (N.C.), PAT TOOMEY (Pa.) and TODD YOUNG (Ind.).
— How it happened: “In a Washington run by Baby Boomers and octogenarians, it took two 40-something Democrats with a yin-and-yang approach to get a gun safety deal done,” Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine write in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the compromise.
“CHRIS MURPHY had developed self-described ‘pessimism’ in his decadelong quest to rein in gun violence. That’s where KYRSTEN SINEMA came in, pushing her more liberal friend along. Their partnership proved exactly what Democrats needed to break through on gun safety after nearly 30 years of attempts. They’re close enough for the triathlete Sinema to give Murphy fitness advice. But the Connecticut progressive also credited the Arizona centrist with maintaining ‘optimism’ that he sometimes struggled to muster.”
— Up next: The measure — the most significant legislative response to mass shootings in nearly three decades — is expected to pass in the House as soon as Friday.
ONLY IN PLAYBOOK: OVERHEARD AT CAFÉ MILANO — Though a POLITICO story in April called him “Washington’s least popular man” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Ambassador ANATOLY ANTONOV had a big-name dining companion for lunch Thursday at Café Milano in Georgetown: former U.S. envoy for Afghanistan ZALMAY KHALILZAD. The two were hosted by DIMITRI SIMES, president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest. Our colleague Daniel Lippman was at a neighboring table, overheard the conversation, and took notes on what was said.
— On the war in Ukraine: The Russian ambassador agreed when Khalilzad said “we need an agreement” to end the war between Ukraine and Russia. On the prospect of a peace deal, Antonov asked Khalilzad, “What would [the U.S.] like us to give up?” Khalilzad suggested that Antonov have dinner with the Ukrainian ambassador. In an apparent reference to Russia’s false claims that neo-Nazis are running Ukraine, Antonov asked Khalilzad: “You have a lot of Jewish guys in the United States. Why are they so tolerant of what’s happening in Kyiv?”
— On Zelenskyy: Antonov expressed befuddlement over Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, and said he doesn’t “understand [Zelenskyy’s] vision for the future of Ukraine.”
— On U.S.-Russia relations: “We don’t get any respect” from Washington, Antonov complained, adding that Russia “need[s] respect” and “would like [the U.S.] to respect” it. Asked what might lead to the normalization of relations with the U.S., Antonov told Khalilzad, “I cannot answer your question,” but later said that Russia needed “security guarantees.”
— On diplomacy: Antonov bemoaned the lack of dialogue and communication between the U.S. and Russia, comparing it unfavorably to the Cuban missile crisis, during which the U.S. and Soviet Union continued to talk. Near the end of the lunch, Antonov said: “Zal, I would like to use your contacts and your contacts in this administration,” and Khalilzad discussed the need for a “track two” in communications between the U.S and Russia.
— On a new media outlet: Simes discussed a business idea of his: starting a new TV channel in Moscow, which Khalilzad said could be “very lucrative.” “Don’t forget my request to be junior partner,” Antonov joked. (It is not clear how serious Simes is about his idea.)
The Russian Embassy did not respond to a request for comment, Khalilzad declined to comment and Simes disputed elements of the reporting but did not give specifics when asked repeatedly. “It is clear to me that you did not even understand what the conversation was all about. Indeed, you were not close enough to hear the conversation sufficiently well to be able to report it objectively,” Simes said in a text message.
BIDEN’S FRIDAY: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m.
VP KAMALA HARRIS’ FRIDAY (all times Eastern):
— 9:45 a.m.: The vice president will depart D.C. en route to Plainfield, Ill.
— 12:55 p.m.: Harris will meet with maternal health care providers, and will deliver remarks at 1:40 p.m.
— 3:40 p.m.: Harris will deliver remarks at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials 39th Annual Conference in Chicago.
— 6:25 p.m.: Harris will depart Chicago to return to D.C.
Press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE will brief at 2 p.m.
THE HOUSE will meet at 9 a.m., with last votes at 3 p.m. Speaker NANCY PELOSI will hold her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m.
THE SENATE is in.
THE SUPREME COURT will release another batch of opinions at 10 a.m.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
CHENEY ASKS DEMS TO SAVE HER — In a sign of the perilous political position that Rep. LIZ CHENEY finds herself in, the Wyoming Republican is trying to reach Democrats who could help bail her out in a contentious primary against her Trump-backed opponent, HARRIET HAGEMAN. “In the last week, Wyoming Democrats have received mail from Ms. Cheney’s campaign with specific instructions on how to change their party affiliation to vote for her. Ms. Cheney’s campaign website now has a link to a form for changing parties,” NYT’s Reid Epstein reports.
RUDY ON THE ROAD — In recent weeks, RUDY GIULIANI has criss-crossed upstate New York in a bid to propel his 36-year-old son to an upset victory in Tuesday’s GOP gubernatorial primary, Bill Mahoney reports. Rudy’s pitch: “Give ANDREW GIULIANI a chance. … When we do that, we almost always succeed. We gave RONALD REAGAN a chance — wow. We gave DONALD TRUMP a chance — made America better than it’s been in 50 years. We gave me a chance.”
COMING SOON TO DEM ATTACK ADS — At a FreedomWorks-hosted forum for Arizona Senate candidates on Thursday, the Trump-endorsed BLAKE MASTERS called for privatizing Social Security. Video, via CNN’s Kyung Lah
GUMMING UP GREITENS — Republicans’ efforts to slow former Gov. ERIC GREITENS’ Senate campaign in Missouri are growing: A GOP-led group called Show Me Values, “is set to start running TV advertisements targeting Greitens, beginning Friday,” Alex Isenstadt reports. “The outfit is set to air more than $1-million worth of commercials through the end of June, and a person involved with the organization said it planned to remain involved in the race up until the Aug. 2 primary.”
Related read: “Sheena Greitens documented abuse allegations against ex-husband in 2018,” by the Missouri Independent’s Rudi Keller
INSIDE THE ROOM —“‘Anything could happen’: Dems make their pitches for the first primary of 2024,” by Elena Schneider
WON AND DONE — PAUL CLEMENT, the lawyer who won the NRA’s signature victory at the Supreme Court on Thursday, has left Kirkland & Ellis after the law firm announced following Thursday’s ruling that it will “no longer represent clients with respect to matters involving the interpretation of the Second Amendment,” CNN’s Ariane de Vogue writes. Clement and ERIN MURPHY have announced that they’ll start a new firm.
DEMS SEE TICKING TIME BOMB ON OBAMACARE SUBSIDIES — Democrats are plotting a last-ditch plan to avert a spike in health care costs that could further damage their midterm prospects — but first, they’ll have to get Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) on board. “A proposal being weighed by congressional Democrats and party advisers in recent weeks aims to temporarily extend the enhanced Obamacare subsidies that were part of the financial aid package President Joe Biden signed into law last March,” Adam Cancryn reports. “Democratic leaders had long hoped to renew the subsidies as part of their sweeping climate, tax reform and prescription drugs package. But Manchin has demanded a smaller bill that funnels half its savings toward deficit reduction.”
JAN. 6 AND ITS AFTERMATH
NOT SO FAST — Rep. RODNEY DAVIS (R-Ill.) wants to lead a probe into the Jan. 6 committee if, as expected, Republicans win control of the House. There’s just one problem: Trump wants him gone. “Before he can grab the ‘investigate the investigators’ baton, he has to beat a Trump-backed primary opponent as he runs in a district significantly more conservative than his current one, an intraparty race already flooded with nearly $11.5 million in outside spending,” Jordain Carney reports this morning.
RON JOHN TWEAKS HIS TUNE — “After initially claiming to be ‘basically unaware’ of an effort by his staff to get fake presidential elector documents to Vice President MIKE PENCE, U.S. Sen. RON JOHNSON said Thursday he coordinated with a Wisconsin attorney [JIM TROUPIS] to pass along such information, and alleged a Pennsylvania congressman [Rep. MIKE KELLY] brought slates of fake electors to his office — a claim that was immediately disputed,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Molly Beck and Lawrence Andrea report.
PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION
TALK OF #THISTOWN — Jessica Goldstein has a juicy read up for POLITICO Magazine this morning on the state of the D.C. dating scene. What she found is that “an old-timey way of finding love has made something of a comeback: D.C.’s single power players are enlisting matchmakers in their dating searches.” Read on for stories of women seeking dates with CORY BOOKER and a pre-resignation, early-pandemic ANDREW CUOMO, of one VIP male client seeking a date with ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (who is very much in a committed and, by all accounts, happy long-term relationship) and others seeking “celebrities who don’t live here (CHELSEA HANDLER) or who not only don’t live here but are also married and definitely out of their league (MARGOT ROBBIE).”
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week”: Jacqueline Alemany, Lisa Desjardins, Nia-Malika Henderson and Zolan Kanno-Youngs.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
ABC “This Week”: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). Panel: Donna Brazile, Sarah Isgur, Susan Page and Leigh Ann Caldwell.
CBS “Face the Nation”: Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) … David Malpass.
CNN “Inside Politics”: Panel: Manu Raju, Asma Khalid, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Joan Biskupic.
FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Panel: Doug Heye, Jonathan Swan, Charlie Hurt and Juan Williams.
NBC “Meet the Press”: Panel: Garrett Haake, Peggy Noonan, Marianna Sotomayor and Kimberly Atkins Stohr.
MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona … George Hahn … Jonathan Metzl … Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) … Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) … Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).
Dr. Phil was on the Hill on Thursday.
Amy Klobuchar’s hotdish recipe is part of Minnesota’s pitch to be an early-voting Democratic presidential state.
Paul Pelosiwas charged with DUI with injury for his May 28 crash.
IN MEMORIAM — via the News & Observer’s Danielle Battaglia: “Lisa Price, the wife of U.S. Rep. David Price, died Thursday morning in Chapel Hill, the congressman announced. ‘Lisa was my life partner, supporter of everything I undertook, political and otherwise,’ Price said in a news release. ‘I was immensely proud of her leadership roles, from alderman of New Haven to being at the right hand of two Chapel Hill mayors, co-founding and leading North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and campaigning energetically for civil rights, environmental protections, animal welfare and the Kidzu Children’s Museum.’”
SPOTTED at a Washington Women Technology Network breakfast on Thursday morning co-hosted by Jessica Nigro and Tammy Haddad at the Jefferson Hotel with special guest Katy Tur, who spoke about her new book, “Rough Draft” ($23.49): Peggy Collins, Liz Hart, Alexa Verveer, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Amira Aly, Kris Coratti, Veronica Deleon, Susan Fox, Kimberley Fritts, Juleanna Glover, Anne Marie Lewis, Nat Lingo, Julissa Marenco, Kelley McCormick, Susan Page, Rachel Pearson and Heather Podesta. Pic
TRANSITIONS —Amanda Leese is now a partner in the business law practice group at Quarles & Brady. She previously was at Greenberg Traurig and is a Jeanne Shaheen and Clinton Foundation alum. … Ben Chao is now legislative director for Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). He most recently was special assistant to the deputy comptroller for budget and appropriations affairs at DoD. … Vanessa (Morrone) Ambrosini is now director of regional media and rapid response at Stand Together. She most recently was senior comms adviser for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and is a Trump White House and Commerce Department alum.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) … U.S. Chamber’s Suzanne Clark … MSNBC’s Omnika Thompson … Ralph Reed … Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jeff Prescott … Matt Continetti of AEI and The Washington Free Beacon … Robert Reich … Ben Tomchik … Anna Massoglia … POLITICO’s Megan Messerly, Nana Yeboah, Nirmal Mulaikal and Ping Sun … Jonathan Yuan of Rational 360 … Roger Fisk of New Day Strategy … USTR’s Heather Hurlburt … Alejandra Soto … Jennifer Millerwise Dyck … Stephanie Craig … Amelia Makin … Gretchen Reiter … Edelman’s Kevin Goldman … Morgan Smith … Locust Street Group’s Quincy Foster … Jason Johnson of Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) office … NYT’s Adrienne Hurst … former New York Gov. George Pataki … Quartz’s Zach Seward
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Corrections: Thursday’s Playbook misspelled Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s name and misstated GOP Sen. Jim Risch’s state affiliation. He represents Idaho.