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“Piers, we have a problem.”
I was standing inside the gilded confines of President Donald Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago private members’ resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and one of my production team was brandishing a document with a concerned look on his face.
“What’s that?” I asked, bemused.
“This is a collection of quotes you’ve apparently said about President Trump in the past two years. Someone sent it to him in the last hour, and the quotes are not good. In fact, they’re really bad.”
I was due to start an interview with Trump in precisely eight minutes, and it was intended to be a blockbuster exclusive to rocket-launch my new global TV show, “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” on Monday, April 25.
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My four-camera crew were all set up in a palatial bar, I was suited, booted, made up and had been exchanging cordial small talk with Secret Service agents designated to ensure we behaved ourselves.
But as I hurriedly scanned the three-page white paper document, my heart sank.
There were several dozen comments from me, taken from columns I’d written and interviews I’d given, in which I was savagely critical of Trump’s conduct in the last year of his presidency, from his woeful handling of the coronavirus pandemic to his refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election, and the appalling January 6 riot at the Capitol that followed.
Whoever sent it knew exactly what they were doing.
These were by far the worst things I’d ever said about a man with whom I’d been friends for 15 years, but I felt they were justified when I said them, and I still do now.
In the suddenly very chilly light of a sun-kissed Florida afternoon, however, they made distinctly unhelpful reading.
“Is he going to cancel the interview?” I asked, trying not to panic.
“I don’t know,” came the reply. “But he is VERY upset.”
“See if I can go and talk to him about it,” I suggested.
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in Trump’s office.
Normally, he’d greet me with a cheery smile and the words, “How’s my champ?,” because I was his first “Celebrity Apprentice” on the series that made him a TV superstar.
But this time, there were no such welcoming niceties.
He was staring at me across his desk with undisguised fury, clutching the document titled “Piers Morgan Comments About President Trump.”
“What the f–k IS this?” he snarled.
Then he began slowly reading out some of the quotes.
“Trump’s a supreme narcissist …”
“His pathetic antics in the past few weeks since losing the election in November have been utterly contemptible.”
“Trump’s now too dangerous, he’s morphed into a monster that I no longer recognize as someone I considered to be a friend and thought I knew.”
“He’s now acting like a Mafia mob boss.”
“And all because Donald’s stupendous ego couldn’t accept losing and sent him nuts.”
Each time he paused, he peered over the document at me, with mounting rage in his eyes.
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When I won Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” show in 2008, his final words to me as he announced the result were: “Piers, you’re a vicious guy. I’ve seen it. You’re tough. You’re smart. You’re probably brilliant. I’m not sure. You’re certainly not diplomatic. But you did an amazing job. And you beat the hell out of everybody … you’re the Celebrity Apprentice.”
When he won the 2016 election, I returned the favor by sending him a card saying: “Well, Donald, you’re a vicious guy. I’ve seen it. You’re tough. You’re smart. You’re probably brilliant. I’m not sure. You’re certainly not diplomatic. But you did an amazing job. And you beat the hell out of everybody … you’re the President of the United States.”
So we had a reasonable understanding of each other’s personalities, good and bad.
And it wasn’t like we’d never had a spat.
He unfollowed me on Twitter (he only followed around 50 accounts at the time, so this didn’t go unnoticed!) in April 2020 after he’d proposed using household disinfectant to fight COVID, and I’d hammered him in a column for spreading “bats–t crazy coronavirus cure theories.”
But a few months later, he called me for a lengthy chat before the election and chuckled about how “mean and nasty” I’d been about him, so I mistakenly assumed he didn’t really mind me verbally whacking him from time to time.
I’d never seen him so livid or felt so uncomfortable in his presence as I did right now in his office.
He was almost foaming at the mouth and kept shaking his head slowly and menacingly at me, like Don Corleone when he felt he’d been disrespected.
There was no point in trying to deny the quotes.
I’d said them, and I’d meant them.
“I’ve always been critical of you when I’ve felt you deserved it,” I eventually said, “but as you know, I’ve also written and said many supportive things about you too. This is a one-sided hatchet job designed to stop you doing our interview.”
“It’s definitely a hatchet job,” he retorted, “ON ME!”
Then he read another line: “January 7, 2021 – President Trump needs to be removed from office. As soon as possible … through new emergency articles of impeachment, which would have the additional benefit of barring him from ever running for the presidency again.”
“REMOVED FROM OFFICE?!” he spat. “BARRED FROM EVER RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN?!”
Then he threw down the document and threw me a look of withering contempt.
“I thought we were friends?” he shouted. “This is so disloyal! After all I’ve done for you? Why would you say all this about me?”
“I thought what you did was wrong,” I replied, feeling myself beginning to sweat.
This wasn’t going well.
It looked for sure like Trump was about to can the interview, which would have been a massive waste of time and money for me and our team and leave me an even more massive hole for the first show.
I was desperately thinking of some way to salvage things.
“I don’t intend our interview to be confrontational,” I said. “A lot of time has passed since I said those things, and a lot has happened in the meantime.”
“Why should I do it at all?” he scoffed. “You’re not real. You’re a fake.”
“No, I’m just brutally honest.”
“You didn’t make me your Celebrity Apprentice because I’m a shrinking violet who sits on the fence or doesn’t say what he really thinks.”
We stared at each other for a few seconds, his eyes boring into mine with all the warmth of an Arctic glacier.
It was time to change the mood music.
“I’d love to talk about your recent golf hole-in-one,” I stammered. “Your playing partner Ernie Els was raving about it.”
Trump sat bolt upright.
“He was? Where?”
“In a newspaper interview I read. He said it was a brilliant shot and you played really well.”
“I did, I did.”
“Was that your first hole-in-one?”
“No! I’ve had seven!”
This claim seemed highly implausible. (I’m a keen golfer and only had one. Most amateurs haven’t even had that.) But this wasn’t a good moment to fact-check him about his sporting prowess.
“Amazing,” I replied. “Congrats!”
Suddenly, Trump clapped his hands.
“OK, I guess I’ll still do the interview. I don’t know why, honestly, but I’ll see you down there.”
My extremely fractious audience was over, and I felt a huge wave of relief as I headed back to my team.
“How was he?” asked my executive producer, Winnie Dunbar-Nelson, who’d flown from London to oversee the interview.
“He’s very annoyed,” I said, “more annoyed than I’ve ever seen him. Spitting blood, in fact. But he’s going to do it.”
Ten minutes later, President Trump arrived in the interview room, and acted like nothing had happened as we posed for smiling photos together. He was even charm personified to Winnie, whom he remembered from three previous presidential interviews we’d taped for my old show, “Good Morning Britain,” in Davos, onboard Air Force One and inside the Churchill War Rooms.
But I could sense he was still very wound up, and there was none of the usual bonhomie between us that I was used to in our many previous encounters.
I’d been promised 20 minutes and feared he would cut that down to punish me.
But in the end, I got 75 minutes, by far the longest time I’d ever had with him on camera, and it was a fascinating, often riveting, sometimes hilarious series of exchanges with arguably the world’s most famous person as we talked about everything from Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and nuclear weapons, to the royals, transgender athletes, Twitter and Joe Biden.
For the first hour or so, it was a perfectly normal interview, and we even shared a few laughs.
Trump displayed the extremely forthright style and brash humor that first propelled him into the White House, and certainly showed no sign of losing any of his fabled energy.
I also agreed with him about a number of issues, as I have done in the past.
I’ve never been tribal or partisan about Trump — of the 100 or so columns I wrote about him during his presidency, around half were positive, half negative.
But things took a dramatic downward turn when I finally brought up his refusal to accept defeat in 2020 and the appalling scenes on January 6.
I told him I believe he lost the supposedly “rigged, stolen” election, I repeatedly pointed out his failure to produce any evidence of the widespread voter fraud he insists occurred to rob him of his presidency, and I blamed his refusal to admit defeat for the deadly riots at the Capitol.
The moment the interview started to take a turn.
“Then you’re a FOOL!” he sneered. “And you haven’t studied!”
He was back to the furious Trump he’d been in his office and branded me a fool six more times, in between calling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “stupid,” and his former vice president, Mike Pence, “foolish and weak.”
Our collective crime was that none of us agree he had the election stolen.
Now abandoning any pretense at cordiality, Trump ranted that he was far more honest than I, and again sneered that I wasn’t “real” before haranguing me for exceeding our 20 minutes, which was particularly disingenuous given that during all our previous interviews, he’d invariably decided exactly how long he wanted to keep talking.
As he bellowed insults at me for disbelieving his rigged-election bulls–t, it reminded me of the scene in “A Few Good Men” where Jack Nicholson’s arrogant, deluded Colonel Jessup calls Tom Cruise’s military lawyer, Lt. Kaffee, a “snotty little bastard” for grilling him about ordering a deadly Code Red punishment on a Marine.
“I want the truth,” demands Kaffee.
“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” roars a contemptuous Jessup, before losing his rag, lecturing Kaffee about loyalty and honor, and then finally admitting his culpability.
I don’t expect Trump to ever admit he lost the election fairly or confess to being responsible for the January 6 carnage.
We’ll never hear him say, “You’re goddamn right I did!” like Col. Jessup because, ironically, he can’t handle the truth.
Incensed Trump tried to end things by declaring, “That’s it!” before I reminded him that we hadn’t discussed his hole-in-one, which he then sat down again and did — briefly — before abruptly jumping to his feet, looking hateful, and barking at the shocked crew: “TURN THE CAMERAS OFF!”
Then he turned on his heel, and sloped angrily off through a side door, loudly muttering, “SO dishonest …”
It wasn’t a rhetorical observation.
Apparently, he was later heard denouncing me as a “scumbag” and saying he wished he’d never done the interview.
But I thought it was the best one we’ve ever done together, and all the tension created by the damning document he was given gave it a crackle and energy that makes for compelling television.
As for who sent him the document in the first place, Trump told me it came from London and gave it to me to “keep as souvenir of your treachery.”
Mysteriously, it contains two random, very positive comparative quotes from British politician Nigel Farage, who now works as a presenter for my rival UK network GB News.
Oh, and by an extraordinary coincidence, Farage happened to have dinner with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on April 8, just three days before I was there.
You don’t need to be a rigged-election conspiracy theorist to work out who probably sent it.
The next day, I sent Trump an email thanking him for his time and included these words: “You had every right to get annoyed and call me a fool for not believing the election was stolen from you, but I also have every right to my opinion, and I wasn’t going to lie to your face just to avoid annoying you. The best friends are the most honest/critical ones, not the sycophants.”
As I write this, 10 days later, I haven’t had any reply.
Perhaps we’ll never speak again, and our friendship is over?
I hope not. Donald Trump remains one of the world’s most interesting people, he is still the most popular Republican choice for 2024 nominee, and if Biden’s presidency continues to self-implode as badly as it currently is, he could end up back in the White House in two years.
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In which eventuality, I can only imagine his fury if we all say that election was rigged, and Biden had the presidency stolen from him.
The heated discussion will air on Morgan’s new show “Piers Morgan Uncensored” available from April 25. The program will air every weeknight on networks across the globe, including Fox Nation, Talk TV in the UK, and Sky News Australia.