It Was A Normal Morning Until We Got The Notification. 45 Minutes Later, We Were Sitting In Front Of Trump Himself
Could we, Saagar Enjeti and Benny Johnson, be at the White House in 45 minutes?
“We’ll be there.” Cue an instant flurry of newsroom activity.
I sounded the alarm to Johnson, who ditched his jeans to wedge himself into a spare suit I keep in the office. Another colleague coughed up some dress shoes in Benny’s size. Meanwhile, the five o’clock shadow on my face suddenly felt like a full beard.
We tore out of the office.
Headed for the White House, my mind teemed and calculated what the news of the day was and what I could realistically ask Trump about.
Benny and I quickly thought up a few must-ask questions and decided the order of who would ask what.
I noted to Benny that given my experience interviewing Trump two months earlier, it was best to ask shorter, big-picture questions. The most interesting things the president says are often embedded within monologues, though some probing is necessary to narrow specific bits of news. (RELATED: Full Transcript Of Trump’s Oval Office Interview With The Daily Caller)
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As we ventured over to the White House and scrambled to get Benny cleared through the Secret Service, the Caller’s most senior editors convened in a conference room back at the office. They began to also brainstorm newsworthy questions important to our audience and rank them in order of importance. As they decided on questions, they began to email them to me in a list.
Nearly to the White House, just blocks from our office, I had a docket of questions on my phone, both those given to me by my editors and those I had crafted myself. I called our editorial director — Vince Coglianese, who accompanied me on our last interview of Trump — to again go over the best strategies. For any president, wording must be precise to yield maximum result. They tend to be masters of filibuster, and Trump loves veering off topic to a side story or anecdote.
Moments later, my phone rang again. It was time.
Armed only with my notes and recording app, we ventured into the famous office and placed our phones on the Resolute Desk.
Trump was only slated to speak with us for 15 minutes, but we pushed 30. Several senior White House officials were in the room with us as the interview progressed, and the president rattled off on subjects ranging from the professional fates of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and CNN reporter Jim Acosta, to the Florida recounts, Amazon and Antifa violence. (RELATED: Here’s A Snapshot Of Everything Trump Discussed In Our Sit-Down Interview)
The president is a singular force in these interviews veering off into any subject he wants, drawing connections you would never think, and talking over you if he feels that he hasn’t been able to fully make his point. This time, he was in a lighthearted mood, joking around with Benny and me, answering parts of questions he felt like expounding on.
Throughout the interview, the buzz of the U.S. government’s center-most element could be felt around us. The door to the Oval Office remained open and aides stalked the outer office waiting for us to depart.
Trump’s aide came to inform him after only 20 minutes that he had his intelligence briefing to attend. The president nodded, seemed unbothered and continued to speak. I hardly registered at the time as I was so focused on getting as many questions in as possible.
Trump answered one last question on his takeaways from the 2018 election, and we were hurriedly ushered out of the Oval Office by his senior staff. The hallway by the Oval Office that guests wait in to be received was packed full of harried national security officials waiting to deliver a briefing, including CIA Director Gina Haspel herself.
I thanked the president’s senior aides for the opportunity and racked my brain for all of the newsworthy headlines we had accumulated. It’s only after you’ve left the Oval Office do you really appreciate the historic place where you were just standing, the significance of the things you have just heard and the exhilarating task you have just completed.
“What were you guys doing in there?” a fellow correspondent asked as we left the White House. I gave a mischievous smile and said “oh you know, just the usual” and hurried away to write to my stories.