Fact Check: Did Trump Jr Reference The Godfather in Texts to Mark Meadows?

As the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack prepares to take the investigation into at least the coming September, the hearings have at times presented accounts and testimonies that seemed stranger than fiction.

Whether it was allegations that former president Donald Trump sat and watched TV of the riots unfold, or his lunging at a secret service agent, it has often felt as much or more engrossing than traditional entertainment.

The lines between fantasy and reality seemed to blur even further this week as tapes of Donald Trump Jr unexpectedly invoked rich, mafioso culture into proceedings...well, sort of.

Donald Trump
Texts between Donald Trump Jr and Mark Meadows, revealed to the Jan 6 House Select Committee, shows the former president's son use an uncommon mafia idiom. Trump Jr contacted Meadows, urging he ask Donald Trump to call off the US Capitol riots. From L-R Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The Claim

A number of tweets, published in July 2022, claim Donald Trump Jr used the phrase "go to the mattresses" in messages sent to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the January 6 riots.

The tweets mention how Trump Jr thought it meant to "go all in" and that it was a "Godfather reference," provoking laughter from the July 6 committee that examined the messages.

The Facts

Scenes of the carnage caused during the Capitol riots have been examined in forensic detail by the January 6 Select Committee. In turn, some of its members have lined extraordinary accusations against Donald Trump, including how he allegedly "inflamed and expressed support for the desire of some to literally kill Vice President Mike Pence."

Such descriptions arguably paint Trump in the same brush strokes as a crime boss, without stating so explicitly.

Until now, there have been no referrals to mafia culture or organized crime during the hearings (although, arguably, the indictment of several members of the Proud Boys in connection with January 6 amounted to a criminal conspiracy).

That changed when the committee heard how Donald Trump Jr, eager to see that his father call off the protests at the Capitol, used a peculiar phrase in texts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

The committee read out the following exchange of texts between the pair:

Donald Trump Jr: "He's got to condemn this s***. Asap. The Capitol police tweet is not enough,"

Mark Meadows: "I am pushing it hard. I agree."

Donald Trump Jr: "This (is) one you go to the mattresses on. They will try to f*** his entire legacy on this if it gets worse."

The panel then heard from a taped interview with Trump Jr where he explained "go to the mattresses" was "just a reference for going all in. I think it's a Godfather reference."

The explanation caused audible laughter within the committee chamber.

The full exchange can be viewed below at around 1:26:04.

Trump Jr's description is correct on one count—to "go to the mattresses" is a phrase used in both the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo and the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola film.

However, it appears that Trump Jr may have misunderstood or twisted the meaning of the phrase in his own mind.

Mario Puzo's novel explains that to "go to the mattresses" refers to when a war between crime families elevates to such an extent that its participants would sleep on mattresses in "secret" apartments, provided both to protect themselves from—and to prepare for—an attack.

"Whenever a war between the Families became bitterly intense, the opponents would set up headquarters in secret apartments where the 'soldiers' could sleep on mattresses scattered through the rooms," it reads.

"This was not so much to keep their families out of danger, their wives and little children, since any attack on noncombatants was undreamed of.

"All parties were too vulnerable to similar retaliation. But it was always smarter to live in some secret place where your everyday movements could not be charted either by your opponents or by some police who might arbitrarily decide to meddle.

"And so usually a trusted caporegime would be sent out to rent a secret apartment and fill it with mattresses. That apartment would be used as a sally port into the city when an offensive was mounted."

The phrase is used several times during the film, including one pivotal scene where James Caan's character, Sonny Corleone, decries a suggestion made by Robert Duvall's Tom Hagen that the Corleone crime family meet with rival gangster, Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo.

Caan's Sonny Corleone says: "No, no, no, no more Consigliere. Not this time. No more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. Give them one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it's all out war. We go to the mattresses."

The phrase may in fact have its roots in 16th century Italian folklore, which describes that, during a siege of Florence, mattresses were used to defend the bell tower of San Miniato al Monte. The tower was used defensively during the attack to protect the city.

Other crowd-sourced, modern interpretations of the phrase do not appear to reflect Donald Trump Jr's understanding of to "go all in" either.

The phrase has been used in some other contexts, such as sports coverage, but is still built around the idea of taking a warlike stance.

While Trump Jr's ancestors on his father's side are German and Scottish, not Italian, it has been noted that the Trump family and Trump's senior's presidential administration has often been targeted with comparisons to the wider mafioso culture, including the particular language associated with it.

Donald Trump has on more than occasion reported to have asked for strongly-caveated favors from powerful individuals, seen by some as a haunting evocation of one of The Godfather's most famous lines.

In a phone call shared by the Washington Post after the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump was recorded making menacing remarks to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, urging him to "find the votes" and overturn the election results, at one point suggesting failure to do so would be "a big risk."

Moreover, his request for a "favor" from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on the Bidens, appearing to threaten to withhold aid as a consequence of failure, was similarly evocative and ultimately led to Trump's first impeachment.

Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen also said Trump made "mafia-style" threats to Mike Pence, while Trump himself called Cohen "a rat," criminal lingo synonymous with "snitches" or informants.

In 2020, actor Jim Carrey compared Donald Trump to Al Pacino's Michael Corleone, who shifts slowly from civilian to head of his family's criminal empire.

Referring to a harrowing scene in which Michael orders the murder of several enemies while he attends his nephew's baptism, Carrey said: "Watching Trump accept the nomination of the Republican Party in the people's house during a pandemic he exacerbated was like watching Michael Corleone swear a sacred oath while his underlings settled scores across the city."

However, others have made more withering comparisons; both Donald Trump and Don Jr have also been compared to the weak and deceitful Fredo Corleone, too.

Robert De Niro, who played a young Don Corleone in 1974's The Godfather Part II, said in an interview on the BBC's The Graham Norton Show that the former president lacked the "honor" of an authentic gangster.

Of course, Donald Trump Jr is not the first public figure to misconstrue or mess up pop culture references to embarrassing effect.

Famously Ronald Raegan used the Bruce Springsteen song "Born In The USA" throughout a 1984 campaign seemingly without acknowledging the song's rhetoric, a clear rally against American exceptionalism and the country's collective attitude to war.

The Ruling

Fact Check - True


Donald Trump Jr's request to Mark Meadows to "go to the mattresses" was a phrase used in The Godfather. However, his application of this phrase seems to be somewhat misjudged. To "go to the mattresses" means to take extremely strident and protective steps in a gang war. There also doesn't appear to be any context surrounding the texts that would make the use of the phrase any more relevant. The content of the exchange implies that Trump Jr was requesting Meadows make greater efforts to convince his father to stop the riots.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team