Leaked audio: Trump attacks “weak” governors for not calling in "military" after he hid in a bunker

"You're going to look like a bunch of jerks," Trump ranted. “You have to use the military”

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 1, 2020 4:11PM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists as he departs the White House May 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists as he departs the White House May 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump demanded that governors adopt more aggressive tactics in response to protests over the killing of George Floyd and police brutality in a call leaked on Monday.

Trump accused the executives of being "weak" after he himself hunkered down in the White House bunker amid protests in Washington.

"You've got to arrest these people. You've got arrest these people – and you've got to charge them," the president told the governors, according to CBS News, which first reported the call. "And you can't do this deal where they get one week in jail. These are terrorists. These are terrorists. They're looking to do bad things to our country. They're Antifa, and they're radical left."

At least one governor told the outlet that Trump's comments on the call were "unhinged."

"You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you," the president ranted in the leaked call. "You're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate."

Portions of the call were also aired by CNN.

Trump blamed violence seen at various protests on "the radical left," demanding governors get "tougher" on suspects. Some governors have pointed to white supremacists who tried to stoke violence at the protests, but Trump has demanded they not "lay blame" on anyone who is not a part of the "Radical Left."

"You know it — everybody knows it, but it's also looters and it's people that figure they can get free stuff by running into stores and running out with television sets," Trump said. "I saw it — a kid has a lot of stuff, he puts it in the back of a brand new car and drives off. You have every one of these guys on tape. Why aren't you prosecuting them? Now, the harder you are, the tougher you are, the less likely you're going to be hit."

The president went on to accuse the governors of being "weak."

"It's happened numerous times, and the only time it's successful is when you're weak. And most of you are weak. I will say this, what's going on in Los Angeles — I have a friend lives in Los Angeles — they say all the storefronts are gone," he said. "They're all broken and gone. The merchandise is gone. It's a shame. It didn't look as bad to me — maybe it was the sunshine, I don't know. But in Los Angeles, the storefronts are gone. Philadelphia's a mess. What happened there is horrible."

Trump criticized cities like New York and Philadelphia for not activating the National Guard, as Minnesota has done.

"If you're weak and don't dominate your streets, they're going to stay with you until you finally do it," he said. "And you don't want it. Philadelphia, you'd better toughen up. Because what's going on in Philadelphia, like New York, is terrible. It's terrible. You'd better toughen — they'll never leave. I know you want to say, 'Oh, let's not call up the Guard. Let's call up 200 people.' You've got a big National Guard out there that's ready to come in and fight like hell. I tell ya, the best. What they did in Minneapolis was incredible."

Some governors on the call pushed back on Trump's remarks.

"There are bad actors in this, but there's also legitimate anger and fear," Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said.

The complaints came as some Republicans urged the administration to do more to quell the protests. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., recommended that Trump use the Insurrection Act in order to deploy the military to stop the protests.

"If local law enforcement is overwhelmed — if local politicians will not do their most basic job to protect our citizens, let's see how these anarchists respond when the 101st Airborne is on the other side of the street," he told Fox News. "What the president can do is say that justice will be done in accordance with law for George Floyd, and we will always respect the right of peaceful protest as many of these cities saw in the daytime. But the rioting, the anarchy and the looting ends tonight."

Cotton doubled down on his call on Twitter, adding, "And, if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry — whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters."

Trita Parsi, the co-founder of the anti-war Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, called Cotton's remarks a "threat to American security and to the world."

"To warmongers like Tom Cotton, every problem has a military solution, every opponent is an enemy combatant," Parsi tweeted. "This is how he has treated the rest of the world. Now he's doing the same to the American people."

Trump himself suggested using military police in Minneapolis.

"We have our military ready, willing and able, if they ever want to call our military," Trump said Saturday. "We can have troops on the ground very quickly."

The warning drew a severe rebuke from the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

"These are the words of an authoritarian. Threatening the use of military force against one's own citizens is the last resort of despots and tyrants," the board said. "Such language has no place in a free and open society."

Trump reiterated his threat to send in the military on Monday's call with governors.

"You have to use the military," and "we have a wonderful military," Trump said. However, the president appeared to be referring to the National Guard.

"It's like a war . . . It is a war in a certain sense, and we will end it fast. Be tough," Trump, who dodged military service with a doctor's note claiming bone spurs, said. "You're allowed to fight back. Now maybe my attorney general will stop me from saying that . . . but you are all big, tough, strong people. And you are allowed to fight back."

Trump's remarks were met with pushback from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who has repeatedly criticized Trump's coronavirus response.

"We have to call for calm, we have to have police reform called for," he said. "The rhetoric coming out of the White House is making it worse."

"I don't like your rhetoric much, either," Trump snapped back. "But that's OK. We don't agree with each other."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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