Donald Trump had a mysterious phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin just nine days before the 2020 election, a documentary filmmaker with unprecedented access during the final months of the Trump administration has revealed.
During a trip on Air Force One on Sunday 25 October 2020, filmmaker Alex Holder, a January 6 committee witness, was told by Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that a previously scheduled interview with the then-president wouldn’t be able to go ahead.
“My memory is 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,” Mr Holder told Politico.
The UK filmmaker began working on the film about Mr Trump in September of that year. Via a connection to the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Mr Holder gained access to Mr Trump, then-Vice President Mike Pence, some of Mr Trump’s adult children – Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr, and Eric Trump – as well as other close associates of Mr Trump.
Before the end of the Trump administration, Mr Holder interviewed Mr Trump and Mr Pence at the White House and accompanied the president on trips on Air Force One. After Mr Trump left office, he continued to speak to him at his golf clubs in Bedminster, New Jersey, and at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
Only a small number of Mr Trump’s close allies were aware that the documentary film project was taking place.
Politico reported earlier in the week that Mr Holder had been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee. He handed over all of his footage and arrived in Washington, DC this week to appear in front of the panel for a deposition behind closed doors.
Politico reported on Friday that Mr Holder had private security with him when he appeared for an interview.
“On Monday, I didn’t exist, and had 115 Twitter followers. And today, I think I have close to 20,000,” he said.
“I just got a text from [CNN host] Don Lemon,” he said in surprise during the interview.
He received a message from a London friend saying “You got papped!” – he was photographed by paparazzis while he was on Capitol Hill.
When Mr Holder travelled with Mr Trump on Air Force One on Sunday 25 October 2020 – three days after the second debate with then-candidate Joe Biden – Mr Trump went from Washington, DC to New Hampshire, then moved on to Maine before flying back to the nation’s capital.
Politico noted that the reason for the Putin call that put a stop to Mr Holder’s interview that day could have been negotiations for an arms agreement with the Russian president.
Axios reported on 11 October 2020 that Mr Trump wanted a nuclear agreement with Mr Putin before the election.
On 26 October, the day following the reported phone call, the Russian government issued a statement on European security. But a Trump official who took part in those negotiations told Politico that he doesn’t remember a call between the world leaders during that time.
But there was another story breaking on the 25th that might have prompted the call. During the debate with Mr Biden in Nashville, Tennessee days before, Mr Trump accused the former vice president of receiving millions in a nefarious plot connected to Mr Biden’s son Hunter and his alleged business connections in Ukraine and Moscow.
On the Sunday that the call is reported to have occurred, Mr Putin pushed back on that claim, saying that Mr Trump’s allegations were untrue.
The Russian state-controlled media outlet Sputnik tweeted that story at 8.40am, with the story breaking in the US media later that afternoon. Reuters reported at 2.20pm that “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 US presidential election”.
Mr Holder texted Politico concerning the timing of the call between Mr Trump and Mr Putin: “I *think* it was between NH and Maine”.
According to pool reports, Air Force One was set for takeoff from New Hampshire at 2.32pm, landing in Maine at 3.05pm – with the call possibly taking place shortly after the story of Mr Putin’s pushback hit the headlines.