The Road to Jan 6 Final

'You Play Golf, Right?' Donald Trump Rambled On as Commanders Tried to Interrupt

In this daily series, Newsweek explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.

"The foundations are ready for one of the best years we've ever had," Donald Trump said in a 45-minute video teleconference on Thanksgiving, November 26, speaking to service members around the world, hinting at a second term. It would be a startling performance, even for him.

"Our nation is doing very well. It's the highest honor of my life to serve as your Commander-in-Chief," he said. The president then called out specific units and commanders in Kuwait, in the Red Sea, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and with his new Space Force, as he repeated a number of times.

"You keep watch around the world to detect missile launches, space launches, and nuclear detonations while providing critical intelligence," he said to the commander of the 11th Space Warning Squadron in Colorado. "All of you are pioneers in the newest branch of our armed forces."

donald trump thanksgiving 2020 election fraud
Donald Trump rambled on about election fraud as military commanders tried to interrupt. Trump's Thanksgiving teleconference with members of the United States Military, at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 26, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

"We've been building up our military," he bragged. "We spent $2.5 trillion in the last three and a half years. And we've never had anything like it. ... All new tanks and missiles and rockets," all of it to be delivered in the next six to 12 months, "all of it made in the USA."

Speaking to the commander and crew of the destroyer USS Winston Churchill, Trump said: "We're building a lot of ships right now, as you know, and you'll have them very soon."

Speaking to a Coast Guard unit in Cuba, he said: "You have brand new Coast Guard ships, and it's my honor to have gotten them for you."

"You know, when we took over, our military was very depleted," Trump said. "You know that very well."

"When I came in four years ago—hard to believe, almost four years ago—we were in sad shape. And now we're in phenomenal shape."

"We went from old planes to brand new planes," he told an Air Force commander in the Middle East, "from planes that were very visible to stealth, where you can't see them."

"A president—four years, no wars," he went on. "We stopped wars. And we won, as you know, 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. We've done a job."

A half-dozen commanders around the world delivered solemn prepared remarks, thanking their men and women, describing their missions. Donald Trump hardly paid attention to the members of the armed forces, blustering instead about his own greatness and his claimed accomplishments. Nothing, other than the Space Force, could fairly be credited to the president. The United States was still "at war" all over the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. No ships or tanks or airplanes were being produced at a rate any greater than during the previous three administrations. Trump was not responsible in any way for stealth planes. And though President Barack Obama might have pledged disarmament and reductions in defense spending, there had been no real reduction, and America's troops were pretty much in the same state as they had been for a decade.

At one point the president appeared to wander off into a conversation with himself. "Thank you very much," he said. "That's great. That's really great. Are you a golfer? Do you play golf? You love it, right? That's good. It's pretty good. Thank you very much. The only form of exercise. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And really, everybody, just congratulations."

When a soldier asked if the president had plans for Thanksgiving, Trump proceeded to talk about the elections. "They're finding tremendous discrepancies in the votes. Nobody believes those numbers. Those numbers are incorrect numbers." He talked about false ballots and recounts and fake signatures; the more he talked, the more he got lost in his own head, rambling on and on as incredulous members of the armed forces tried to interrupt.

"But..," they said.

"Mr. President...," they tried to say, asking more than once if the president would concede the election.

Trump talked over them. "We're like a third-world country. We have machines that nobody knows what the hell they're looking at. I mean, you take a look at all the mistakes they made."

Michigan. Pennsylvania. Georgia. Wisconsin. Arizona. Texas. He mentioned them all. "We'll see what happens. Nobody wants to see the kind of fraud that this election has ... has really come to represent."

"They want to get rid of 'America First,' he told the soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, Marines, Coast Guards, and Space Force guardians on the call, "I mean, they want to get rid of 'America First.' They don't want 'America First.' You know why? Because China doesn't want it. China expressed their wish: 'Please get rid of "America First.'" And the Biden administration said, 'Oh, that's okay. We'll get rid of 'America First.'

"So I don't know what is going to happen," he continued. "I know one thing: Joe Biden did not get 80 million votes. It was a rigged election—100 percent—and people know it.... People say the votes are counted in foreign countries."

Referring to the upcoming Senate runoff vote in Georgia, he spoke of the Democratic candidate, not remembering his name. "But he's either a communist or a socialist. Probably a communist. This is not for Georgia."

At one point, the soliloquy was interrupted by an unidentified reporter in the Oval Office, watching the show.

"You won't concede?" he asked.

"It's a possibility they're trying to—look, between you people..."

"Just answer the question about concession," the reporter pressed.

"Don't talk to me that way," Trump said.

"I'm sorry, sir, I'm just asking you to ..."

"You're just a—you're just a lightweight," Trump sputtered.

"Answer the question about concession," the reporter repeated.

"Don't talk to me that—don't talk to—I'm the President of the United States. Don't ever talk to the president that way," Trump said.

"Sir, I'm just asking you to answer the question about concession," the reporter said.

"All right," Trump responded. "I'm going to go with another question. Go ahead."

But Trump didn't take another question. He went on talking for another 10 minutes, talking about fraud and a stolen election as the reporter continued to press his questions, asking numerous times about conceding, about why the president wasn't producing the actual fraudulent votes, about him leaving the White House. Donald Trump talked on. At one point he called the Republican Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, an "enemy of the people".

"If the media was honest in this country—which, you know, for the most part, they're not—this would never have happened, he said.

"What they did is they use COVID in order to defraud the people of this country. And the whole world is watching and the whole world is laughing at our electoral process. The whole world is watching. And it's a very sad thing. A very sad thing."

"You know that it's tradition for previous presidents to go to the next president's inauguration. So will you attend Joe Biden's?" the reporter asked.

"I don't want to say that yet," the president answered.