Trump’s NBC Interview: Rage, Rants, and Lies
Kristen Welker reminds us who he is.
THROUGHOUT HIS 78-MINUTE interview with Kristen Welker, Donald Trump spewed lies and delusions. The NBC News journalist, like others who have interviewed the former president, tried to parry his propaganda but let some of it pass so she could get on with her questions. For this reason, many of Trump’s critics judge Welker’s performance a failure.
I take a different view. I’m less interested in what Welker failed to do than in what she did. She exposed, up close and at length, Trump’s psychopathologies.
Let me take you through a few examples.
1. The “rigged” election
Seven minutes into the conversation, Trump brings up—on his own—his well-worn lie that “the election was rigged.” He recites his litany of allegations, including “all of the ballot stuffing that’s on tape,” and he refers to Dinesh D’Souza’s conspiracy-theorizing film 2000 Mules. Welker rebuts him, noting that all these claims have “been debunked.” (Here are two examples of such debunking. There are many, many more.)
Trump, unfazed, repeats his allegations. So Welker points out that lifelong Republicans, including Trump appointees, have told him that his allegations are false. “They’re not stuffing the ballot boxes. And you’ve been told that by your top law enforcement officials,” she tells him.
This is significant. Welker is showing the audience that it isn’t just her word against Trump’s. Nor is it a matter of partisanship or hating Trump. And she isn’t just noting where these refutations came from. She’s pointing out to whom they were addressed: Trump himself. He has been told by people he appointed and trusted that his allegations weren’t true. So his persistence in repeating those allegations is knowingly reckless, and his attribution of bias to anyone who rebuts him is dishonest. Several times in the interview, Welker tells Trump that he “know[s]” his statements are false. “You know there’s no evidence of that,” she says.
During this segment, Welker introduces another source of authority: the courts. “You took your case to court in sixty different cases all across the country. You lost them,” she reminds him. Trump tries to bat this fact away. “We lost because the judges didn’t want to hear them,” he insists. “If this were ever before a court, we would win so easy.” This statement, too, is manifestly false: While some judges rejected Trump’s claims on procedural grounds, others cited a lack of evidence.
Trump doesn’t just get refuted in this portion of the interview. He also displays an undiminished obsession with relitigating the 2020 election. And Welker, as though addressing a toddler, again and again asks him to “stay on track” so she can move on to other questions. It takes her nearly three minutes to pry Trump away from rehashing his grievances. “I want to talk about policy because that’s what voters want to hear about,” she tells him.
This emotional aspect of the interview is as important as the substance of the exchange. Many voters who sympathize with some of Trump’s grievances, or who don’t want to take sides against him, are put off by his preoccupation with 2020. To some of them, he might come across as what he is: a narcissist who cares more about vindicating himself than about helping the country.
2. Trump’s indictments
When Welker brings up the four indictments, Trump asserts that President Joe Biden ordered them. Immediately, she corrects Trump. Three times, she tells him, “There’s no proof of that.” The fourth time, she adds his guilty knowledge: “You know there’s no proof of that.”
Contrary to Trump’s accusations of partisanship in the Justice Department, Welker points out that Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsels “to investigate you, President Biden, and President Biden’s son, Hunter, who was also indicted today.” Trump responds by launching into a rant about the Presidential Records Act. Welker patiently reminds him that in all but one case, “the charges you’re facing don’t have anything to do with the Presidential Records Act.”
Welker asks Trump to let go of his rant so she can move on to policy questions. Instead, he digs in. “Wait a minute,” he insists. “This comes within the Presidential Records Act.” Again, he shows an unquenchable obsession with his own grievances.
3. The Georgia phone call
Welker asks Trump about the Jan. 2, 2021 phone call in which he pressed Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to “recalculate” the vote count so Trump would win the state. Trump defends what he said in the call: that Georgia’s election was rigged. Five times, Welker reminds him that Raffensperger and other Georgia officials explained to Trump, during the call, that his claims weren’t true.
Welker points out that these refutations were based on investigations by Georgia authorities. She notes that the state conducted multiple checks, and she undercuts any suggestion that Raffensperger might have been biased against Trump. “The Republican secretary of state said there was no evidence” of fraud, she observes. “He said he looked into it. The election had been certified three times when you made the call.”
Again, Welker cites Trump’s court cases, which he lost “sixty times.” She also notes that he reneged on an Aug. 15 announcement that he would unveil a damning report on fraud in Georgia. “You were going to hold that press conference, but you never did,” she reminds him. Trump responds lamely, “No, because I’m using it in my court case instead.”
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Welker doesn’t rebut every lie in this exchange. But she does put Trump on record making statements that are easy to check and discredit, underscoring his dishonesty. She mentions that in the phone call, “it sounded like you were asking for him [Raffensperger] to come up with 11,000 votes.” Trump erupts at this suggestion: “No, and you know that. You’re terrible when you say this.” But audio of the call shows Trump saying exactly that. “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” he told the Georgia officials. He went on to ask them: “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”
In the exchange with Welker, Trump adds another obvious lie. Four times, he tells her that a week before their interview, Raffensperger “said I didn’t do anything wrong.” Apparently, Trump is referring to a Wall Street Journal op-ed from earlier this month in which Raffensperger said no such thing.
This segment is striking because Trump shows complete unwillingness to accept judgments from anyone but himself. “I have all the facts,” he insists twice, dismissing what the Georgia officials told him. When Welker mentions what Raffensperger explained in the call, about Georgia’s investigations and what they found, Trump retorts: “He said that, but we have to go and see.” Welker reminds Trump that Raffensperger “said they looked into it.” To this, Trump defiantly replies: “I don’t want them. I want to look into it. . . . If we look in, you will find numbers that you wouldn’t believe.”
4. Ignoring his lawyers
In his defense against the two election-related indictments, Trump is expected to rely in part on the argument that he was just following advice from John Eastman and other attorneys. But Welker gets Trump to tell the truth: He chose his own course and rejected any advice that didn’t support his criminal schemes.
“The most senior lawyers in your own administration and on your campaign told you that after you lost more than sixty legal challenges, that it was over,” she tells Trump. “Why did you ignore them and decide to listen to a new outside group of attorneys?”
Trump explains how he decided whom to trust: He went with his inner certainty. “We have many people, and it’s my choice,” he tells Welker. “I happen to know that the election was rigged.”
Welker points to evidence that Trump knew he was following unsound advice. “You called some of your outside lawyers—you said they had crazy theories,” she reminds him. “Why were you listening to them?” To this, Trump replies: “You know who I listen to? Myself. I saw what happened. I watched that election, and I thought the election was over at ten o’clock in the evening.”
This is a highly incriminating statement. Trump doesn’t just affirm that he was the source of all his decisions, thereby undercutting the advice-of-counsel defense. He also says he reached his conclusions by 10 p.m. on election night. That’s just an hour after polls closed in Arizona and Nevada, and it’s before any subsequent allegations of fraud emerged. Trump wasn’t responding to new information. He had already decided on his story.
Prosecutors might be able to show that this decision was corrupt. In testimony to the House January 6th Committee, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager indicated that Trump was privately briefed before the election on the “red mirage”—i.e., that early returns would overstate his position in many states, because mail ballots, which tend to favor Democrats, would be counted later that night. By publicly exploiting the mirage, Trump deliberately deceived the public.
5. The 187 minutes
Toward the end of the interview, Welker presses Trump about “what happened when you got back to the White House” on Jan. 6. She asks him: “Tell me how you watched this all unfold. Were you in the dining room watching TV?”
The former president issues a shocking response: “I’m not going to tell you. I’ll tell people later at an appropriate time.”
Welker persists: “What did you do when the Capitol was under attack?” In reply, Trump mentions the video in which he grudgingly told his followers on the afternoon of Jan. 6 that although the election “was stolen from us,” “you have to go home now.”
Welker is unimpressed. “That was at four o’clock in the afternoon, more than three hours after the attack started,” she points out. She presses him again: “I want to know who you called on that day.” And again, Trump refuses to answer her. “Why would I tell you that?” he asks.
Welker gets more specific. She asks Trump: “Did you call military or law enforcement?” Again, he stonewalls her. “I’m not going to tell you anything,” he says.
What a remarkable exchange. As Trump’s aides have testified, he sat in front of a TV in the White House on Jan. 6, watching the attack on the Capitol. Despite numerous entreaties from friends and staff, he resisted intervening. And now, when he’s asked to tell Americans what he did to protect the country that day, he refuses to answer.
IF YOU CAME TO THIS INTERVIEW hoping that Welker or NBC News would refute every lie Trump told, you’ll be disappointed. But I don’t think exhaustive refutation is what we need. In polls, Trump is running even with Biden because many Americans are unhappy with the economy, and most see Biden as old and tired.
These people need to be reacquainted with the reality of Trump. They need to be reminded how recklessly he makes decisions, how poorly he controls his impulses, how ruthlessly he lies, and how impervious he is to correction. They need to be reminded how callously he disregards his oath of office and how little he cares about anyone but himself. They need to be reminded what a psychopath he is.
That’s what Welker accomplished. She has done her job.