Alex Holder said that during the interviews he conducted for his Discovery+ docuseries Unprecedented, Donald Trump never wavered from his contention that the election was stolen from him, while his children, including Ivanka, supported their father’s post-election challenge.
Yet Holder’s access to the First Family isn’t the only reason that the January 6th Committee was interested in his footage, something that put him in the spotlight this week after news broke that his materials had been subpoenaed and he appeared for a private deposition.
The committee, Holder said in an interview with Deadline, also is examining footage from January 6th, when he was shooting not just at Trump’s rally that morning at the Ellipse but also when he went with his director of photography, to the chaos unfolding at the Capitol. The DP was attacked and part of his camera was broken.
Holder declined to go into specifics, but said the footage from that day is “definitely unique.” He said that it is probably “the clearest version of that day that has been seen,” capturing the scene that has been described as akin to a war zone.
Ever since reports surfaced of the existence of the documentary, the nature of the project has been the subject of intrigue, curiosity and some misconceptions and assumption of what Holder was doing. His attorney, Russell Smith, put out a statement insisting Trump and his family did not request nor were they given editorial control over the project, which Discovery+ plans to air over three parts this summer.
“It’s been completely insane. I think at the beginning of the week, I started with 112 followers on Twitter, which the majority of them were my family, and by the end of the week, I think I have 35,000, 3 million views on the video that little clip that we put out,” Holder said. “So completely bonkers.”
Holder, a native of Britain now living in the U.S., said he had been working on a documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he was introduced to Jason Greenblatt, who had served as Middle East envoy for Trump. “I interviewed him for my project about the Middle East and we were talking about the idea of a documentary about the Trump family and this was toward the beginning of 2020.” He said that they continued to have discussions about such a project, with the condition that the Trumps would have no editorial control, and that he was introduced to them “and that was sort of it.” He confirmed that Greenblatt put him in touch with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
He has some speculation as to why the family agreed to participate. “One was obviously that I was introduced. The second was that I didn’t really have any sort of political skin in the game. And the third, which is probably the most important, is that they were very confident in winning the 2020 election,” he said. “So here was an opportunity to have somebody document them winning the election.”
They started filming in September 2020, when the campaign was in full swing. While some of the clips that have been released have been of the interviews he did with Trump and Ivanka, he said that they also got fly-on-the-wall access to the president and his children. The access he received to the president and his family, including on Air Force One and at rallies, was “pretty extraordinary,” he said. He cited one instance with Trump when his DP was “sort of closer to him than from his Secret Service.”
Although they were not given access to Trump’s private quarters on Election Night — moments that have been a focus on the January 6th Committee — Holder said that there “are some intimate, interesting moments behind the scenes on the campaign.”
After Holder testified on Thursday, Holder’s attorney Smith told reporters that one of the committee’s focuses was on potential “inconsistencies” between what Ivanka Trump told them and what she said in the documentary footage. In her deposition, she told the committee that after Attorney General William Barr told Trump that there was no merit to his claims of widespread election fraud, she “accepted” Barr’s findings. Yet in the documentary footage, shot in December 2020, she said that her father “has to take on this fight.”
“I don’t know what she said to her father, but I do know what she said to me, which is that she sort of echoed very similar thoughts and positions to what her father was echoing at the time,” Holder said. “To me, I imagined that she was telling me what she believed and a truthful answer to what I had asked. And to me it wasn’t surprising. Generally, at least in my interactions with the three Trump children, they have always echoed their father’s positions and do everything they can to support him.”
Holder said that the documentary also will explore the lives and interactions of the three Trump children. He spoke with Trump’s two sons, including Don Jr., the latter of whom was interviewed days before the election and has been seen as the one sibling interested in pursuing his own political career.
A focus of the committee’s hearings has been the parade of administration and campaign officials who, in depositions and live testimony, described how they weren’t buying into Trump’s claims of election fraud, and told him so. Holder said that in the post-election period, he spoke to “many people while working on the projects that had their opinions” about the reality of the election, even though he did not interview them for the documentary.
He interviewed Trump before January 6 and twice afterward.
Even though he listened to Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him, Holder said that he himself doesn’t believe it. He also has said that his role was to capture history, “what the president of the United States was saying in the White House,” not to act in a more prosecutorial role of challenging his election claims.
“I think I saw one tweet where somebody said I had Stockholm syndrome because of a comment I made,” Holder said. “I said that ‘Donald Trump believes that he won the election,’ and therefore people think that I have been conned by Donald Trump. That’s not at all what I mean. What I mean is that it is actually far more dangerous to deal with somebody who believes in something that is so absurd, that he is effectively delusional. But that was my approach. That is what I got from having interviewed Donald Trump.
“I thought beforehand that he knew it was absurd and that therefore, there would eventually be a time where he couldn’t maintain the absurdity, because eventually the proof would be out there,” he said. “The point is that the proof is out there, and he still maintains the position categorically. The point is that he is fervent in this belief, without recognizing all the evidence against what he is saying, which sort of means to me that he is sort of living in a reality that isn’t where most people are.”
Holder said that about a month after the election, they began to believe that they could start putting together a sizzle reel to shop the documentary project to distributors, “and then, obviously, everything changed.”
The night before January 6, Holder said, he sent his DP a text, sort of half jokingly, that “I think the president is going to tell everyone to march on the Capitol tomorrow. And so he sort of made a plan for how to deal with the practicalities of that.”
They showed up the next day to shoot the rally, as by then “it was sort of clear that something very likely could happen to interrupt [the electoral vote count] or to put pressure on the vice president that day.”
He said that after taking the project to different distributors, a deal was reached with Discovery+ last year. They plan to release it this summer, but have kept their plans under wraps until now. Holder declined to say why Discovery did so, saying it was a question for them.
He said that he wasn’t surprised that the January 6th Committee got wind of the project, and even anticipated their interest. He said that they were “very visible during the course of the project” so there were a number of ways they could have found out. “As for what they are interested in, it is really their call. I don’t know what that is,” he said.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a committee member, said that he received a letter tipping him to the project but would not identify who informed them of it. But Holder said that there was “a multitude of reasons and ways that the committee would have been able to discover what we were doing.”
“There was an inevitability in my mind, but I really honestly, I don’t know. I have lots of theories,” he said.
Two Danish filmmakers, who have been working on a project about Roger Stone, have reportedly declined a committee and Justice Department request for footage, citing journalistic independence. But Holder, along with filmmaker Nick Quested, who was working on a documentary about the far right group the Proud Boys, received subpoenas, and each decided to cooperate.
“I think that both positions are valid,” Holder said. “For me, after having seen the sort of the public hearings and seeing the materials that had been presented, and me sort of having known the material we had, re: the events of January 6th … it didn’t sort of make sense to make a stand to not give it to them. We had just finished the film. It was going to be coming out in a few months, and it sort of coincided with the subpoena coming in. Trying to fight that didn’t seem to make much sense, especially in light of the material we had captured.” He declined to go in much detail about what that material because “of the fact that they are going through that right now.”
He also said that he would testify publicly before the committee if asked. “Of course,” he said.
He said that they have not heard from Trump or his team since the news of the subpoena surfaced. And although he is not disclosing further details of the project, like his interview with Vice President Mike Pence, he indicated that there would be no footage where Trump doubts his election claims.
“He has a position which is not founded in reality,” Holder said. “He believes that the election was rigged and stolen, which is an irrational and dangerous and delusional view, and we have seen what the view ended up doing and causing.”