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He took Trump's Jan. 6 close-up

Episode Summary

Documentary filmmaker Alex Holder's movie “Unprecedented" offers a behind-the-scenes view of former President Donald Trump, from his reaction to the 2020 election to his thoughts on the events that unfolded on Jan. 6.

Episode Notes

The Jan. 6 House subcommittee investigating the events of that day have poured through thousands of hours of videos. But during the hearings, the public also got a sneak preview of even more moments caught on tape — from a documentary that tells the events of the U.S. Capitol insurrection through a behind-the-scenes view of Donald Trump.

Today, we’re talking with documentary filmmaker Alex Holder about his movie “Unprecedented,” which aired this month on Discovery Plus. The documentary offers an inside view into the Trump organization right as Jan. 6 was happening. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: Filmmaker Alex Holder

More reading:

Jan. 6 panel to receive Trump family footage from 2020 election and Capitol insurrection

Five takeaways from the Trump Jan. 6 documentary ‘Unprecedented’

A new Trump doc was subpoenaed by Jan. 6 committee. It’s not as revelatory as it sounds

Episode Transcription

Gustavo: When we think about the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021…we mostly think of clips:


The president said something to the effect of I'm the fing president. Take me up to the capital. Now this could have been the spark that started a new civil war. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood. 

Gustavo: The House subcommittee investigating the events of that day have poured through thousands of hours of these videos. But during the hearings, the public also got a sneak preview of even more moments caught on tape. 

Film clip: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald J. Trump.


Gustavo: But this time, from a documentary that tells the events of January 6…from the side of Donald Trump. 

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I’m Gustavo Arellano. You’re listening to THE TIMES, daily news from the LA Times. 

It’s Wednesday, July 27, 2022. 

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Gustavo: Today, we’re talking with documentary filmmaker Alex Holder. His movie “Unprecedented” aired this month on Discovery Plus and gave us an inside view into the Trump Organization right when Jan. 6 was happening.  Alex, welcome to the Times

Alex Holder: Lovely to be with you.

Gustavo: So the whole country has watched these hearings for weeks, but how does it feel to have your film and your testimony be part of this historic investigation?

Alex Holder: Well, it is // absolutely fascinating. And I think that at the end of the day, what we did is we recorded history, right? We were in the room of the most significant moments in American history. And so for me, that was always the premise, right? That we are there to capture what is going on in the President of the United States’ mind at this particular incredible moment. The fact that it's now enshrined in American history is also something that's pretty fascinating. Although, the fact that I'm also, you know, sort of in that world as well is quite something. But yeah, it's been a whirlwind for sure. 

Gustavo:  What was it like in the room with investigators? Like, how do you even prepare for something like that?  

Alex Holder: In some ways it's not that difficult to prepare because at the end of the day, the, the premise is you need to tell the truth, right?  So, they ask you questions and I would then give answers to the best of my ability. /// And, // you know, it’s not a difficult thing to do, right. As in answer their questions. // /And, and I think it was pretty straightforward on that front…

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Alex Holder: The scale of this was not lost on me. I mean, this is definitely the most significant, political investigation since Watergate. 

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Tape:  Mr chairman. That is my deep belief that not only is Richard Nixon, guilty of bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors, but he must be impeached and convicted by the Senate. If we are to remain a free, courageous and independent people.

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Tape: People have gotta know whether or not they're president as a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I earned everythingI've got.

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Gustavo: The January 6th hearings are making the case that Trump knew that he had lost the election as a way to establish motive for what many alleged was his criminal actions and provoking the insurrection. Did you ever get a sense when you talked to him that he really believed that he beat Joe Biden? //

Alex Holder: Absolutely. Prior to me interviewing him, I was convinced that there was no way he could possibly believe in the madness that he was spewing. And, I think, arguing against the sanctity of the vote for a very long time.

Trump tape: I would like to promise and pledge…. 

Alex Holder:  Back in 2016

Trump tape: …to all of my voters and supporters. And to all of the people of the United States 

Alex Holder: There’s a famous rally after the debate with Hillary Clinton, where he says….

Trump tape: that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election. If I win. [applause]

Alex Holder:  Then he pauses…

Trump tape: ..If I win. [applause]

Alex Holder: So this idea of, you know, playing with the sanctity of the election has been something that he had been doing for a very long time.

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Sound of clap. Trump Behind the scenes: alright, take care

Alex Holder: When I finished my interview with him, I was utterly shocked that he became a man that now believed in his own lie and was uncaring as to what the effects of that would do.

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Alex Holder: So essentially, despite the fact that his own attorney general had come to the conclusion that the election was totally fair. And there was no evidence whatsoever to support his claims. He ignored that and still maintained the position to me in the White House, as the incumbent president of the United States with all the apparatus, with all the power that means. He's looking me in the eye and telling me that the Georgia election was completely flawed. 

Trump tape:You can't have elections that are meaningless. You can't have elections that…if somebody controls the state of Georgia, cuz you know, we have a governor that the poor guy doesn't know what the hell's happening, and a secretary of state, this guy's like a hardheaded rock…

Alex Holder: And he was coming up with remedies as to what needed to happen to allow him to prove that he actually had won.

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Trump tape: all I wanna do is signature verification. So we know that signature verification and it's a total win. They don't want to do it. And they're Republicans now. What's their problem. They're stupid. Okay. They're stupid people.


Alex Holder: And that’s obviously completely insane that the sitting president of the United States is saying that the election was a fraud and that 75 million people that voted for him, didn't actually have their vote counted correctly. So it was incredibly dangerous. And for a person in that role to believe //  in a conspiracy theory is terrifying. And I felt after that interview that this was gonna get very bad.

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Gustavo: Coming up after the break, more from those interviews with President Trump and his family.


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Gustavo: Alex…it’s pretty unusual for a film crew to get so much access to a sitting president of the United States, especially right after such a high stakes election. What were some of the surreal moments for you during that whole process?

Alex Holder: Oh, I mean, there've been lots of surreal moments across this. I mean, from traveling on air force one,, to interviewing Trump after January six in Maro Lago, to witnessing the immense adoration that people have towards Trump at these rallies was fascinating. And in the series, we try to show what it's like to be in those rallies. 

Tape: USA USA, USA, USA. People were just absolutely hypnotized by him.
And Mike Pence, I hope you're gonna stand up for the good of our constitution.

Alex Holder: We were like in the crowd, very close upstage and we show the immense power essentially that Trump has over his supporters.

CLIP: we're praying for you're praying for protection..we know about the….. {duck underl]

Alex Holder: I mean, one of the most remarkable moments was how Trump uses the apparatus of the presidency to showcase his power.

Film tape: They're trying to destroy this nation. I say, stop the, you say steal..stop the..steal..stop the steal.. 

Alex Holder: So for instance, he would make sure that Air Force One takes off at the exact crescendo of the song nest and dormer. His entire audience would see air force one roaring into the sky at that moment when the rally's finished. So he used his sort of stagecraft to continue this idea that he was all powerful, which was fascinating to watch. 

Gustavo: Yeah….you could say he’s definitely a master at that….

Alex Holder: Oh, absolutely. I mean, for example, the famous armored car that the president sits in. So at rallies, two of them would be present and he would walk in between two of these vehicles and the vehicles would drive like sort of parallel to him towards the stage. And then you would have sort of 25 Secret Service all around him. So, you know, he really used all the symbols that show what the president of the United States is. He would use that as part of his rallies. 

Gustavo: As you said he obviously cared about reputation showing off his power, but when you interviewed Trump twice after the attack on the capital, did he seem shaken at all about what had happened in the insurrection?

Alex Holder: What was very interesting was that there had been already quite a lot of conspiracy theories as to who the people were that went into the capital. And a lot of people that supported Trump were arguing that in fact, they weren't Trump supporters, they were Antifa and other sort of organizations. He didn't make those claims at all.

Film clip: Can we talk for a minute about January? 

Alex Holder: He actually said that the reason why those people went into the capital was because they thought that their election had been stolen and they were angry.// 

Film clip: Well, it was a sad day, but it was a day where there was great anger in our country that people, uh, went to Washington primarily because they were angry with an election that they think was rigged a very small portion as you know, went down to the capital and then a very small portion of them went in. But I will tell you, they were. Angry from the standpoint of what happened in the election, because they're smart and they see, and they saw what happened. And I believe that that was a big part of what happened on January 6th.

Alex Holder: He draws a clear line to why they were there and essentially condones the event that took place on January the sixth, which is astonishing.

Gustavo: But it was Trump himself who had been telling his supporters for months that the election had been stolen….

Alex Holder: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, he'd been saying that the election was stolen from essentially, even before the election had even been done in a sense. I mean, he was talking about how mail-in ballots were problematic.

Film tape: Use the pandemic and the phony mail-in ballots to sabotage your country. We're not gonna let it happen….. 

Alex Holder: And then obviously he makes the case ultimately all the way through from election day, all the way up until January 6th. And in fact, he still maintains the position now that the election was stolen. So the idea that he is the reason why people came to the Capital is clear. I mean, he tweeted about the event. He said it was gonna be a, a very important event. I think he may have even used the word wild in one of his tweets. And then he had this crazy idea that the last potential chance of him remaining in office was to intervene in this ceremonial process on January 6, and to put pressure on the vice president to not certify the results of the electoral college. And so it was very clear that the people that came there were there because to quote, I mean, he said that we need to fight like hell and take back our country.

Film clip: So let's walk down Pennsylvania avenue to the capital. We're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here. This is incredible. Thank you very much.

Alex Holder: So the idea that he was the reason why people believed the election was stolen; he absolutely, you know, was saying that all the way through the entire period. And therefore he's ultimately utterly responsible for the, uh, the events that took place on January 6th, regardless of whether or not he believes that he's right or not.

Film clip: You said before, you didn't want talk about capital. Yeah. Let's, let's skip the six.

Gustavo: Trump's eldest children didn't seem to offer much in your documentary of a defense for his actions leading up to and after January 6th. And we know that Trump said that his daughter had already been quote/unquote checked out during the 2020 campaign. Do you think Trump's children really had no influence on him during this time?

Alex Holder: So I don't really understand how he can say that his daughter had checked out because when I'd interviewed her around about early December of 2020, she absolutely knew exactly how her father had done in the election. I mean, she was quoting statistics and numbers about how he had performed better in various groups than he had in 2016. So she was definitely with it in terms of the results of the uh 2020 election.

Film tape: With this warrior, my father, the people's president…. 

Alex Holder: What was interesting though is that my interactions with the three elders kids, they had never departed from their father's position. They always echoed what he said. They may articulate things slightly differently, but they always echoed what their father did and wanted because ultimately the only thing that's important is the brand.

Film tape: As the president has said, every single vote needs to be counted and needs to be heard. And he campaigned for the voiceless

Alex Holder: That's ultimately their end goal. 

Film tape: Please vote. Thank you. God bless you. God bless Georgia. And God bless America. And God bless our president. 

Alex Holder: When they didn't want to speak about the events of January 6, that was actually quite interesting because their father did. So that was sort of a departure from the normal narrative.

Gustavo: What about Mike Pence? It seems like he's been the quietest about this whole situation, even though people were actually actively calling for him to be hanged.

Alex Holder: Yeah. The interview with Mike Pence was also pretty fascinating as well because we capture the moment where he is looking at his phone and reviewing the draft resolution that the house was soon to pass asking him to invoke the 25th amendment, which was obviously a historic and remarkable moment.

Film tape: If the vice president and cabinet do not act, the Congress may be prepared to move forward with impeachment.

Alex Holder: Mike Pence….he had a few things to say on that day.

Film tape: 7:48. That's what I received, but the house members got it a while back……Yeah, excellent.

Alex Holder: But ultimately the most historic moment that we capture is him reviewing his, his phone when he sees that and, and his reaction of looking at it as well, which was pretty astonishing.

Film tape: Um, it tells Zach to print me off a hard copy for the trip home. Sure, sure. Great. I’m always hopeful about America. 

Gustavo: More after the break. 

Film Tape: I always believe that America’s best days are yet to come, and I still believe that.


Gustavo: Alex, uh, we have your documentary. We have your evidence tying Trump to the insurrection. We have the witness testimony to the January 6th committee. It's all public. it's all out there, will any of this matter to Trump supporters?

Alex Holder: I mean, I would hope so, because I think that at the end of the day, when you are calling an election fraudulent and the evidence clearly shows that was not the case. And it's not just one piece of evidence. We're talking about copious amounts of evidence that clearly show that the election was totally free and fair. The idea that this is turned into sort of a political debate is concerning because at the end of the day, democracy relies ultimately on the vote. And we can see the effects of what this has done already in America. And various states now there are restrictions being put on on people being able to vote is obviously very damaging for democracy.

clip: With your help. We will finally pass powerful requirements for voter ID. 

Alex Holder:  I hope that people will understand that the 2020 election was absolutely fair. And that the evidence that president Trump has been talking about and still talks about holds no water whatsoever.

Gustavo: When you were talking to Trump, did you get a sense of how he views democracy?

Alex Holder: I don't think he understands what democracy is frankly. 

Gustavo: How so?

Alex Holder: Well, I mean, when you're the president of the United States and you're talking about needing to find brave judges who agree with him and essentially undermining one of the most important arms of a functioning democratic society, which is a separation between, effectively the legislature and the politics and the judicial system, then that's very, very serious. And I don't think you could say that a person fully understands democracy if they're advocating for judges to agree with their position and undermining those that don't. And // in fact, what's unique is that of all the cases that were heard by judges across America, during the period after the election was done, um, they were all thrown out and, and a lot of those judges were Republican judges and some of those Republican judges were even appointed by president Trump.

Film clip: There was a Trump appointed judge in Pennsylvania who just lit into the president saying, just because you want an election to turn out this way, doesn't mean that that's what actually happened. 

Alex Holder: So he just said, they were all wrong. They didn't have the courage to agree with his position. And that's very serious. And I remember thinking how I couldn't believe I was hearing what he was saying at that time.//

Film clip: And that's why they don't like to see it terminated with a fake election.

Alex Holder: It was absolutely remarkable.// 

Gustavo: The last time  there was so much attention paid for a sit down between a former American president and a British interviewer was back in 1977 when David Frost talked to Richard Nixon. And that's when Nixon famously said this quote:  

Archival tape: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal by definition. Exactly.

Gustavo: This was all after the Watergate scandal. But later o, Frost did get Nixon to apologize for letting the American people down in your time with president Trump. Did you ever experience a similar moment or do you even imagine something like that happening?

Alex Holder: No, I don't think so, I think that one of the things that the series shows and one of the things I really felt was the case with Donald Trump is that there is no room for defeat and for apology, there's only room for winning and for the brand. And ultimately it's all about Trump. You know, democracy is secondary and elections are secondary and at the end of the day. The only thing that matters is Trump. And obviously in his mind, the idea of an apology is a pseudonym for defeat. And so //  I don't see that being something that would ever happen, but I hope I'm wrong. 

Gustavo: Finally Alex, in the last scene of your documentary, Trump indicated that he's going to stay in politics. For that final scene that you did, why did you choose to end on that?

Alex Holder: Well, I think that the cliff hanger is an interesting way of ending a film. It's also very important for people to know that Donald Trump isn't going anywhere. And his legacy is incredibly important for people to learn and to understand and to appreciate and not to think that this was an aberration and it'll never happen again. 

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Alex Holder: Will he actually end up running is interesting. Because generally Donald Trump doesn't do the same thing a second time once he's lost. So that would be a departure from his normal approach if he does end up actually running in two years.

Film clip: I’ll be making the decision in the not so distant future stay tuned. Thank you very, very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. It's a great honor. Thank you. Okay. I mean, I can ask you 20 more questions. I know you can, but I've had enough. This is the interview.

Gustavo: Alex Holder. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Alex Holder: It was an absolute pleasure. Lovely chatting with you. 


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Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of the times daily news from the LA times. Denise Guerra and Kasia were the hefas on this episode and Mark Nito mixed and mastered it. Our show produced by Shannon Lynn, Denise Guerra, Kacha bra David Doto, nationally brown. Our editorial assistant is Madeline AMA. Our intern is Syria Henry.

Our engineers are Mario Diaz, mark Nito, and Mike Kelin. Our editor is Kinzie Morlin. Our executive producers are GUI and sh Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew EIN. 

And hey…. Got monkeypox questions and concerns?…we want ‘em. Call The Times, our news podcast, and leave a voicemail. Call 619-800-0717 and tell us who you are, where you live and what you want to know and maybe your voice and question will end up on the show. 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back tomorrow with all the news and Des Madre.

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