On Friday, the remnants of Donald Trump’s failed re-election campaign informed staff that they were putting an end to “voter fraud” hotline duty. It meant the death of a bare, depressing communal office space tucked away on a floor of the Team Trump headquarters in Arlington, Virginia; a workspace that one senior Trump campaign official described to The Daily Beast simply as “the room from hell.”
For the past few days, as the president’s political lieutenants and attorneys have hunted for nonexistent evidence of a massive voter-fraud conspiracy that—they would then argue—tilted the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden, campaign brass have assigned mid-level and junior staffers to man the in-house phone and email hotline recently set up to field tips. The “room from hell” had some TVs, on which staffers could pass the time by watching sports or cable news. The office space was lined with phones and swivel desk-chairs, where a dozen or more aides could field calls at the same time.
When the room first opened for business, staffers worked in rotating shifts, from 7 a.m. ET to 1 a.m. the following day, a source with knowledge of the matter said. No complimentary food was regularly provided. And the phones were constantly ringing in the dreary, dull hell-space, like a scene out of the movie Boiler Room.
But unlike Boiler Room, the day there was filled with a far greater number of death threats and infinitely more farting sounds on the telephone lines.
According to three people familiar with the situation, the hotline was inundated for nearly a week by crank callers impersonating public figures such as Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, anti-Trump callers launching into vulgarity-laden tirades, pranksters making sounds of flatulence, and others issuing threats of physical violence at the lower- and mid-level Trump 2020 staffers.
For every three or four hours of threats and pranking endured, staff estimated that they’d get roughly one caller with an earnest, maybe-promising tip. This was done against the backdrop of a re-election campaign that virtually all of them knew was over and defeated. The search for “FRAUD,” they knew, would not actually stop Biden’s presidency from commencing.
After hours stuck on tip-line duty, staff would often leave looking visibly upset, worn out, and feeling undervalued. One staffer told The Daily Beast they had to go to the bathroom at least twice over the last few days just to cry because of the sheer volume of abusive phone calls.
“It’s misery. It’s one of the worst ways to end a campaign that you could think of,” this person said. Some staff had started getting aggressive with the prank callers, giving fake names and arguing or yelling back into the landline.
Though these Trump campaign hands exhaled a heavy sigh of relief on Friday as news trickled out that the telephone tip-line would cease operations, the emotional damage had already been done, the insult layered thickly on top of injury.
The fiasco of Team Trump’s hotline was a perfect microcosm of the ongoing flailing of the president and his senior officials’ efforts to play make-believe that Trump had actually won the election. An effort to obstruct and delay the presidential transition process following a decisive Biden victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College count has been plagued from the start by an utter lack of seriousness.
The hotline, and what came with it, also represented a fitting coda to President Trump’s unsuccessful bid for a second term, during which a candidate famous for refusing to return the loyalty that he demands from his underlings left numerous staffers who’ve devoted years of their lives to his cause to fend for themselves, as he works to construct an alternate reality.
Some Team Trump staff have talked amongst themselves about filing for unemployment next week, as many contracts were set to expire on Nov. 15 and the campaign undergoes downsizing. Senior officials offered scant guidance about what was coming next, though the human resources department did tell them that many of their campaign emails would soon be shut off. And in keeping with Trump’s delusion of an imminent second term, the situation froze several more senior officials from even offering themselves up as listed references to junior staff scrambling to find another job for fear that they’d get in trouble for aiding with some informal transition.
Earlier this week, CNN reported that an assistant to Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien had yelled at a staff member for printing a résumé at the campaign HQ.
“Instead of throwing staff a life line they’re tying anchors to their feet as they begin to navigate the murky waters associated with massive job turnover throughout Washington, D.C.” one of the sources said.
However, on Friday night, Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser on the campaign, told The Daily Beast, “We also asked for everyone’s résumés for potential future endeavors.” And Tim Murtaugh, the Trump 2020 communications director, told The Daily Beast that the campaign, while downsizing because it had shifted into “a legal and recount fight” was “retaining appropriate staff to see the post-election process through to the president’s victory.”
As for the hotline, Murtaugh confirmed that there was “verbal abuse” that often included “very sexually graphic language… including physical threats and death threats.”
“That our staffers were able to withstand this in order to hear from voters who had real concerns about the security of the election is a testament to their dedication to the president and his re-election,” he added.
On Friday morning, an email did go out from top staff to others on the team thanking them for their “sacrifices” and calling everyone aboard Team Trump a “family.” The email, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, was signed by senior officials Bill Stepien, Justin Clark, Miller, and Stephanie Alexander.
“[W]e want each of you to know how much we have appreciated your hard work and dedication to President Trump,” the note read. “Each member of this team has made sacrifices in order to participate in this re-election effort, and that will not be forgotten. We also realize today is the last day in the office for many of you, and we want to make sure you are aware that we are here to help you chart out the next phase of your career. We get it. We too have been there before and know how it feels.”
In addition to the email, two senior staffers said that they personally made themselves available to underlings as professional references and offered help in future endeavors.
But one of the three sources described the email and the outreach as “too little too late.”
In recent days, Trump officials had also asked campaign subordinates if they’d be interested in being uprooted to key states such as Nevada and Pennsylvania to assist with the legal challenges and public-relations blitzes that prominent Trump advisers and lawyers have been waging to attack the legitimacy of the election. Several aides have immediately declined the offer of such a transfer, assuming the work would be short-lived, pointless, and yet another obstacle to staffers getting on with their lives.
Through all of this, their candidate has seemed unaware of, or uninterested in, the plight of his foot soldiers. So far, according to knowledgeable sources, there has been no conference call or memo from President Trump thanking staffers for their service and for committing themselves to the fight.