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.
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.
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