Trump had mystery call with Putin- POLITICO

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: