“He Knew He F–ked Up”: Facing Legal and Political Peril, Trump Is Turning On Even His Most Devoted Allies
Twenty-four hours after inciting a deadly riot on Capitol Hill, Donald Trump appeared to finally grasp the political peril and legal jeopardy sure to consume the waning days of his presidency and perhaps beyond. According to Republicans close to the White House, Trump posted the two-and-a-half-minute video Thursday night––during which he grudgingly acknowledged Joe Biden’s win for the first time––as an attempt to stave off prosecution or being removed from office via impeachment or the 25th Amendment. “He knows how bad things got. He knew he fucked up,” a 2020 campaign adviser told me. “This was the political Charlottesville,” a former West Wing official said.
According to one Republican briefed on internal conversations, Trump was swayed in part by Senator Lindsey Graham. The source said Graham called Trump yesterday and explained that there were enough Republican votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office unless he conceded the election and diffused tensions. “He told Trump that he had to say there would be a ‘peaceful transition.’ Those were the key words,” the Republican said. (In the video Trump said: “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power.”)
Graham did not respond to requests for comment. The White House did not respond for comment.
Trump’s fear of legal exposure is also being driven by his conversations with White House counsel Pat Cipollone. A source close to the West Wing told me Cipollone warned staff on Wednesday that they could be at risk if they helped Trump fuel the riot. “The warning he gave triggered resignations,” the source said. On Friday morning CNN reported that Cipollone is considering resigning.
With Republicans threatening to break completely from the president, Trump is at the most isolated, and potentially dangerous, point of his presidency. He’s even turned on his closest media ally. According to two Republicans, Trump lashed out at Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy during confrontations at Mar-a-Lago over the Christmas holiday. The Republican sources said Trump was furious with Ruddy because Newsmax started referring to Biden as president-elect on December 14, even as the network continued to amplify Trump’s election-fraud conspiracies. “Trump went up to Ruddy at the golf club and said, ‘You’re weak-kneed!’” one of the sources said. Trump threatened that he could take away Newsmax’s audience with a tweet. “I could move your audience in a heartbeat,” Trump told Ruddy, according to the source.
In private Ruddy has been trying to talk Trump off the ledge. According to a source, the Newsmax chief told Trump around Thanksgiving that he could concede the election while still maintaining there were voting irregularities. Ruddy compared it to a court case where a person can disagree with a judge’s ruling while still accepting the outcome. Trump dismissed the idea. “If you concede then you’re admitting you didn’t believe they stole the election!” Trump said, according to the source. Ruddy declined to comment on private discussions, but told me that while Trump “isn’t always happy with my take on things, he knows I am acting out of goodwill towards him.”
“I was a friend of Donald Trump before he was president, while he was president, and I hope to be a friend for many years to come,” Ruddy said, adding that he’s proud of Trump’s “amazing accomplishments” in office. “The truth is he has promoted Newsmax very little during his term in office,” Ruddy continued. “My view is the president has had a right to contest the election, but I’ve also urged him several times to accept the constitutional process and at some point concede.”
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