Aired on January 20, 2021
Today, today was Donald Trump’s last full day as president of the United States and he spent it stewing in private, mulling pardons for well-connected allies and releasing a meaningless, lie-filled farewell message. For more on this, it’s time for “A Closer Look.”
Today, Trump released a pretaped farewell message filled, as usual, with the soaring oratory he’s known for.
[President Trump] My fellow Am–
[Bleep] off. You don’t get to do that. You don’t want to do any of the hard parts of leaving, like gracefully admitting you lost and attending your successor’s inauguration, but you want us to watch your lie-filled 20-minute farewell speech, which, I am certain, you’re reading for the first time, like a tourist reading a menu in a foreign language.
[As Trump] I’ll — I’ll have the — Oh, boy. Oh, how do you say this? Oh, man! Oh. Hamburger? [Laughter]
Although, I will briefly touch on the overarching message because of how absurd it is.
[President Trump] Four years ago, we launched a great national effort to rebuild our country, to renew its spirit, and to restore the allegiance of this government to its citizens. We did what we came here to do, and so much more.
[As Trump] And, yet, sadly, my presidency ends one week before Infrastructure Week.
Are you insane? You left the nation in ruins. What did you come here to do, wreck the economy; spread disease; and take selfies with cans of beans, where you smile like you just ate ice cream with a cavity? This time, four years ago, virtually the entire federal government was being mobilized in service of an incredibly stupid lie — Trump’s insistence that his inauguration crowd was the largest ever, even though we could all see that it had more white space than the back of a Hallmark card. Sean Spicer was screaming from the podium in a giant suit cut from the sail of a mighty clipper ship. Trump was whining in front of the CIA Memorial Wall. Kellyanne Conway was trying to Jedi mind trick Chuck Todd into accepting alternate facts. And that episode ended up being a telling preamble to the rest of Trump’s four years. It’s not just that Trump inhabits an unhinged fantasy world, which he does, or that he and his aides lie as easily as they breathe, which they do. It’s that the entire federal bureaucracy was dragged into defending a narcissistic president’s delusion and anyone who refused to support the lie was punished.
[CNN Live] Newly released documents obtained by The Guardian reveal a government photographer intentionally cropped the images to remove spaces and, in turn, make the crowd look larger. The unnamed photographer says that he tampered with the photos from the president’s inauguration in 2017 after receiving multiple calls from the White House, including one from the president on his first full day in office.
[CNN Live] The president, here, reportedly asking for additional pictures of the inauguration. He was obviously concerned about the crowd size of the inauguration. The request appeared to have trickled down to other members, other staffers at the Park Service, one unnamed official telling investigators with the Inspector General’s Office that she got the impression that the president wanted to see pictures that appeared to depict more spectators in the crowd.
[Seth] That’s right. Trump bullied the National Park Service. First of all, if you’re going to make the National Park Service edit photographs, at least make it something fun, like Old Faithful spewing lava or a moose with Angelina Jolie’s eyes. Good-looking moose! And, as we’ve learned over the last four years, if you’re willing to lie about inconsequential things, like crowd size or a weather map, you’re also willing to lie about far more important things, like the coronavirus pandemic, which has now passed a grim new death toll of 400,000 on Trump’s final day in office. Trump insisted that COVID would magically disappear, that it could be easily cured, and, much like the inauguration lie, everyone around him, from his closest aides to government scientists, was ordered to fall in line or face consequences. And, while some stood up to him, his closest sycophants decided to take part in the lie and deny reality.
[As Trump] You have 15 people and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero. It’s going to disappear one day. It’s like a miracle. It will disappear.
We’ve actually contained the spread of this virus.
It is being contained. And — Do you not think it’s being contained?
So far, it looks relatively contained and we don’t think most people — I mean, the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus.
People don’t die of this disease anymore.
I went through the CDC data because I kept hearing about new infections, but I was like, “Well, why aren’t they talking about this? Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing.”
[Seth] Oh, you went through the CDC data? I have a hard time imagining Don Jr. staying up all night, sifting through graphs and charts, although he does have the manic energy of a guy with a head mic selling time-shares in Boca Raton. [As Don Jr.] I went through all the data and you can vacation, anytime you want, for a fraction of the price, and, plus, you’ll be long dead before global warming sinks your condo like a castle in an aquarium. Whoo!
And then, of course, there were Trump’s poisonous lies about the election, indulged and echoed by the vast majority of the Republican Party and right-wing media apparatus, which led to the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. Anyone who has watched Trump for the last four years should not have been shocked and, today, Mitch McConnell, in his last day as Senate majority leader, finally laid the blame at Trump’s feet.
[Mitch McConnell] The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.
[Seth] First of all, some of those powerful people are in your caucus. If you really mean what you’re saying, then you can start by expelling them. Hawley can go back to starring in his Patrick Bateman miniseries and Cruz can be remembered as Bigfoot Danny Zuko. Second, I’m glad you’re finally coming around, but it’s four years too late. You made your bargain with the devil, to get your judges and tax cuts, and, now, much like a Stephen King character who hits a drifter with your car and buries him in the wood, you will be cursed forever with a frog’s voice. Well, for you, you know, obviously, it will have to be a different curse, but, you know, you get the idea.
[As McConnell] Oh, tough break, drifter. I already got that.
So this is the legacy Trump will leave behind, one of insurrection, corruption, cruelty, and chaos, and, as a result, he’ll leave as the most unpopular president in modern American history. Now, when Trump entered office four years ago, he was already the most disliked incoming president in the history of polling. He lost the popular vote by three million; he never cracked 50% approval; and, in a bit of foreshadowing, the stands at his inauguration were emptier than the D Train at 3:00 am during a pandemic. And, yet, as he’s preparing to leave office four years later, he’s somehow even more unpopular than when he first started. The last Gallup poll of his presidency put his approval at 34%, and the last Pew poll put it at 29%, both the lowest numbers he’s ever recorded in either one of those polls. Usually, presidents’ approval ratings tick up when they leave, and, yet, Trump is leaving with the lowest ratings of his presidency and the lowest ratings to end any first term in the history of polling, but I found this number to be the most damning…
“… [68 percent of Americans] say Trump should not continue to be a major national political figure for many years to come”
Not only do people hate him and want him out, but a full two-thirds of Americans want him gone forever. Basically, the entire country has turned into Trump’s guidance counselor. “Now, it says here you want a future in politics, but, have you considered yelling at birds in the park?
So Trump won’t get a stately retirement filled with events and honors. He won’t even get a quiet retirement. He’ll have to deal with an impeachment trial in the Senate that could disqualify him from holding office ever again. His neighbors don’t want him to move to Mar-a-Lago. New York City canceled all of its contracts with Trump. The D.A. in Atlanta is considering investigating Trump for his phone call to Georgia election officials. The Manhattan district attorney just subpoenaed more records in his investigation of Trump, and his advisors and warned him that he could face potential civil liability for his role in the insurrection.
Trump is also spending the last few hours of his disastrous presidency weighing pardons for well-connected criminals, which has created a lucrative market for access to Trump and lined the pockets of his allies.
[MSNBC Live] The New York Times reports that some of Trump’s friends and advisors are collecting tens of thousands of dollars from people seeking pardons.
Those who have access to the president, his longtime aides, as well as some former attorneys who have worked for him, have essentially been peddling their access to the president to try to bring in money from convicted felons who want a pardon.
Associates of the president, allies as well as attorneys who have worked for him in the past, have been collecting these lucrative fees from people trying to seek these pardons, involving, at least in one case, a report to the FBI about allegations that Rudy Giuliani might have been trying to essentially sell a pardon for what The New York Times reports was a $2 million fee.
[Seth] That’s right, Rudy Giuliani reportedly tried to sell a pardon for $2 million. Even worse, he did it via bus stop ad. Honestly, though, that’s the only thing that makes me even slightly suspicious of this story — Rudy didn’t advertise. You think he’d be going door to door, asking people if they committed a crime or he’d be on Fox News, selling pardons like it was QVC.
Of course, this is how the Trump era ends, with the faux populist president mulling pardons for wealthy, well-connected allies. He’s already used his pardon and clemency powers to help out accomplices and close friends, like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Jared Kushner’s dad. In one of his most heinous acts, he pardoned four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of murdering innocent Iraqis.
And, yet, even with Trump considering up to 100 pardons, there’s one guy in his inner circle who reportedly can’t get a pardon, and he sounds a little peeved about it.
“I do not need a pardon.
I don’t commit crimes.
I do have a risk.
I have a risk these crooks will try to frame me. The might try to frame Donald Trump.
Try to frame me.
Let’s see what happens.
I know you do it.
And I know you’ve been trying to. I have not committed a crime.
I am not getting a pardon. So stop reporting it you bunch of liars.
Is that clear? I just want to make sure it’s clear. Okay?”
—Rudy Giuliani on TalkRadio 77 WABC – January 18, 2021
That was Rudy’s radio show. Or, at least, I think it was. It could just as easily have been at the drive-through at McDonald’s.
[Giuliani] I am not getting a pardon. So stop reporting it you bunch of liars.
[McDonald’s Employee] Um okay… But I still need to know how many McNuggets.
[Giuliani] 1.5 billion.
So Rudy spent five years debasing himself in service of Trump, a man with no proven loyalty, who is reportedly considering a pardon of Lil Wayne, which I’m assuming cost a milli, and, yet, Rudy can’t get a pardon. Rudy, I hate to even ask, but have you considered rapping?
[As Giuliani] ♪ My name is Rudy and I’m here to say ♪ ♪ I totally forgot what I’m here to say ♪
[Seth] Honestly, there’s a better chance, at this point, that Trump turns him in.
[As Trump] Hello, FBI? Yeah, I want to report a guy who incited a riot. Yeah, he’s also one of those dead voters I’ve been hearing about. Just stay over there, Rudy. Have some tea.
[Seth] In fact, Rudy, a loyal Trump ally who has stood by him through everything, can’t get a pardon and, yet, Trump is reportedly considering a pardon for a former ally who left his administration in disgrace and got arrested for trying to con Trump’s own supporters.
[CNN Live] CNN has learned the president was back in touch with his former strategist Steve Bannon, discussing Trump’s election conspiracy theories. Sources say Bannon, who’s facing federal fraud charges, is seeking a pardon from Trump.
[Seth] That’s right, Bannon wants a pardon, for, I’m guessing, bursting out of that dude’s chest. And, if you think Kuato’s too fringe a reference, take it up with Andy Samberg, who fully played him in a sketch. Chill, Quaid. You’ll get your Smint.
So Bannon wants a pardon for scamming Trump’s own supporters by raising money for a private border wall that allegedly skimmed about a million bucks for his own personal expenses. In fact, if you’ll recall, Bannon, the self-proclaimed populist…
“… was arrested… on a $35 million, 150-foot yacht belonging to one of his business associates, the fugitive Chinese billionaire…”
Was he on the yacht or did they find him getting dragged behind it? I mean, look at him. He looks like a waterlogged baked potato. He looks like Jimmy Buffett two weeks after he drowned. “We found the body wasting away in Margaritaville.”
But we have to remember that, even as disgraced and unpopular as Trump is today, there are still powerful forces in the Republican Party and the right-wing media ecosystem who will try to memory-hole what happened these last four years, and they’ll go to absurd, humiliating lengths to do it. Lindsey Graham said this weekend he wants Trump to keep his movement alive and remain the leader of the Republican Party. And then there’s the Fox & Friends, who insisted today that, despite Trump spending more time and taxpayer money at his private properties than any president in history, actually worked super hard.
[Fox News] They’ll criticize President Trump, but no one can argue he is a worker. You know, he doesn’t drink alcohol. He stays up late at night. He watches every show. He’s working. He got to work immediately.
[Seth] Your evidence that he’s a hard worker is that he watches every show? Is he the president or the editor of TV Guide? You sound like a spouse defending her deadbeat husband who refuses to look for work. “Just because he’s not updating his résumé doesn’t mean he’s not working hard. He watches every show! ‘Price Is Right,’ ‘Maury.’ All the soap operas, which counts as research because he’s applying to be an evil twin. He just got the eyepatch.”
The toxic right-wing media apparatus and most of the institutional Republican Party spent the last four years colluding with a monstrous and irredeemable man who has been thoroughly repudiated by the American electorate, over and over and over again. He lost the popular vote in 2016; lost the House by a record margin in 2018; got impeached; lost the presidency by 7 million votes in 2020; lost the Senate in 2021, including two seats in a longtime red state; and then got impeached again. You know what? I take it back. Maybe he is a worker, because you have to work pretty hard to be this unpopular. If Trump had spent four years golfing, ranting about low-flush toilets, and letting the experts do their job, there’d be a good chance he’d be setting off for a retirement of paid speeches and toilet endorsement deals.
[As Trump] Introducing the super flusher. This baby roars like a jet engine and it sucks down anything you put in it — number one, number two, subpoenas, tax returns, you name it. Here, let’s give it a whirl. [Creak, toilet flushes, jet engine whines] Oh, God! Oh, God. Mel?! [Laughter] Mel! Did you get flu– Oh! Oh, there you are, Mel.
[As Melania] I’m right here, Donald.
[As Trump] Oh, I was so worried, Mel. Worried sick. After all we’ve been through, if I lost you like that, Mel, oh, I couldn’t have beared it. I mean, I would’ve married pretty quickly. Have my eye on a couple of candidates, but I would’ve been sad, Mel. So sad. No crying sad. But I wouldn’t have smiled, even though, “sucked down a toilet,” it’s a pretty funny way to go, you have to admit that, Mel. Now, show me that million-dollar smile I’ve never seen once.
Instead, Trump will go down in history as a disgraced, sadistic con artist who left the nation in ruins. He’s less popular than Bush, he’s broken more laws than Nixon, he’s got a worse jobs record than Hoover, and he leans like a house blown over in a storm that Jimmy Carter would have to fix. [As Carter] We’re going to do our best, but the problems in the foundation. See? We’re going to be fine. I got Carter.
And, as he leaves, he’ll be remembered, not for standing by the people he pretended he would help. Our economy is in tatters, hospitals are overrun, and the vaccine rollout is a disaster. He’ll be remembered for standing by people like Charles Kushner, Paul Manafort; Steve Bannon; murderous Blackwater mercenaries; and the MyPillow guy, who, it should be noted, is now facing a possible lawsuit for his election lies and whose products are being dropped by major retailers.
[CNN Live] Lindell has repeatedly claimed the 2020 election was a fraud. Last week, he was seen leaving the White House with some notes and documents, with all kinds of conspiracies along those lines. Dominion Voting Systems has also sent a cease and desist letter to Lindell over his spread of lies related to the election.
[Fox5] MyPillow products will no longer be sold by some big-name retailers. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell says that several companies are dropping his products because he is a supporter of President Trump. Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and Wayfair are among the companies that have cut ties with Lindell.
[Seth] He was too beyond on for Bed Bath & Beyond. That’s like when Rudy found out he was too nuts for Chock full o’ Nuts. Hey-o! [Laughter] You get it. Shoemaker likes it.
And, yet, the president repeatedly invited him into the White House, anyway, to share his deranged election lies and scam coronavirus cures. And, by the way, even in the face of a lawsuit and lost business, Lindell still can’t offer any proof for his conspiracy theories. For example, in an email to NBC News, Lindell said:
“All the evidence against Dominion is before the Supreme Court. … China and others used the machines to corrupt our election! Here is one page of the proof. The email did not include an attachment. When asked if he had mistakenly omitted it, Lindell sent another email with an empty attachment and a third with screenshots of illegible text.”
We’ve all pulled that move, when you’re behind on a work project and your boss wants to see a draft, so you pretend your email isn’t working. Here it is. “Hm, that’s weird. The attachment didn’t go through. Can you try again?” Sure! Look at this! “That’s just a picture of your thumb.” Oh, no, my laptop. I must’ve flushed it down the toilet. [Creak, toilet flushes, jet engine whines]
[As Trump] Mel! Oh, there you are.
The Trump presidency may be drawing to a close, but the dysfunction, the corruption, the authoritarianism, an the moral rot Trump exposed within the GOP and in our system will remain, and we can’t just let it go. We’ve got to fix it. We have to hold accountable the people responsible for it, from the top all the way down. Otherwise, this four-year-long nightmare we’ve all lived through could very well happen again. And, as for Trump, when historians count his accomplishments, they’ll find that…
[Donald Trump Jr] The number is almost nothing.
This has been “A Closer Look.”