This is a bonus episode of "Off the rails," our fly-on-the-wall series by Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, taking you inside the end of Donald Trump's presidency.
- Here's one of the most detailed accounts you'll ever read of a White House meeting, short of having a camera in the room. It was one long, unhinged night a week before Christmas. An epic, profanity-soaked standoff played out, with profound implications for the nation:
Four conspiracy theorists marched into the Oval Office. It was early evening on Friday, Dec. 18 — a month after the election had been declared for Joe Biden, and four days after the Electoral College met in every state to make it official.
- "How the hell did Sidney get in the building?" White House senior adviser Eric Herschmann grumbled from the outer Oval Office as Sidney Powell and her entourage strutted by to visit the president.
President Trump's private schedule hadn't included appointments for Powell or the others, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne.
- The hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers.
- The arguments became so heated that even Rudy Giuliani, on the phone, told everyone to calm down. One participant later recalled: "When Rudy's the voice of reason, you know the meeting's not going well."
Trump was no longer focused on any semblance of a governing agenda, instead spending his days taking phone calls and meetings from anyone armed with conspiracy theories about the election.
- For the White House staff, it was an unending sea of garbage churned up by the bottom feeders.
Trump expressed skepticism at various points about Powell's theories, but he said: "At least she’s out there fighting."
- At its essence, the Powell crew's argument to the president was this: We have the real information. These people — your White House staff — don't believe in the truth. They're liars and quitters. Put us in charge.
On some level, this argument was music to Trump's ears. He was desperate.
- The Oval Office portion of the meeting had dragged on for nearly three hours, creeping beyond 9 p.m.
- Giuliani told Trump he was going to come over to the White House. The president, having forgotten about the others on the line, hung up and cut multiple people off the call.
The entourage went upstairs to the Yellow Oval Room, Trump's living room. Staff set pigs in a blanket and little meatballs on toothpicks on the coffee table.
- It didn't take long for the yelling to start up again.
- 🎧 Listen to Jonathan Swan on Axios' new investigative podcast series, called "How it happened: Trump's last stand."
- Read the rest of the "Off the Rails" episodes here.