With the former president banned by the tech giants, the first new social network to sign him up can make a fortune – and give Trump a platform to rally his supporters. Enter Jason Miller, a White House insider with an even more colourful past than his controversial old boss.
The first thing you notice about Jason Miller is that there's a lot of him. I'm sitting in a rather small restaurant booth when he arrives and from this low perspective he seems a colossus, tall and heavily built, dressed in a dark suit, his blue tie swinging out from his tremendous chest as he whirls around, looking for me. For a moment I wonder if he'll actually be able to get into the booth, but he removes his jacket, lowers himself and slides in, hot from a hurried walk across midtown Manhattan. He has a broad, slightly flat face, small dark eyes and a trimmed beard. He looks like Henry VIII, minus the ginger hair and the rubies, and he has been living a large and eventful life these past five years.
Since 2016 he's been an adviser to Donald Trump, which must take it out of you, and a PR man and CNN pundit. He's had two extramarital affairs, the second of which resulted in a son whose mother regularly assails him on Twitter. He was involved in a bitter custody dispute with her and in a splashy defamation lawsuit, in which he had to give a deposition acknowledging having sex with escorts and visiting massage parlours for more than a back rub.
Rehired by President Trump last year, he became one of the last of the president's men still standing in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. It was Miller in fact who got Trump to agree to a statement acknowledging that there would be an "orderly transition". You might even say that he saved the republic. He stayed on as Trump's man until June; then, not three weeks ago, he emerged as the chief executive of a new social media platform that is supposed to liberate humanity from cancel culture and the death grip of the "social media monopolies" that banished his former boss.
It's taken its toll, all this activity. "I saw a picture of me from four years ago. I'm like, 'Oh man, I got old quick.' " He smiles broadly. He seems a rather sunny fellow; not the sort to waste time in melancholy remembrances of things past.
His new project is called Gettr, a platform that looks a lot like Twitter except that instead of a blue bird, there's a red torch flame. Its launch was marred, initially, by a hacking attack and by reports that the platform was full of anime porn, but Miller remains bullish. "We're at 1.4 million users right now," he says. "Fastest platform ever to [get to] one million and we did it in three days."
When I first saw it, I assumed that this was the platform Trump himself had been threatening to launch, but its origins appear to be more complicated, connected to a flamboyant property magnate named Guo Wengui, who fled China and launched an online media network called GTV with Trump's old strategist Steve Bannon, attacking the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and trafficking in wild conspiracy theories.
Gettr was part of this: a Chinese-language social media network, created about a year ago according to Politico. In late June, Guo, who sometimes goes by the name Miles, posted a video on GTV informing his followers that the "Gettr platform is adjusting" and everyone would need to re-register their accounts on the site.
Miller says Guo is "not directly involved. He doesn't have any financial stake in the operation. His family foundation, which is actually based in the UK, is one part of a group of investors that put the money in early on. He's very much anti-CCP, bring democracy and freedom around the world. So we're kind of kindred spirits in that aspect."
This does explain the bewildering mixture of commentary on Gettr. "TRUMP WON. THERE IS NO 2020 OR 2024. FIX 2020," someone called Juddy TrumpBabe said beneath a post by the conservative website Newsmax, when I went poking around on there. Beneath it was a lengthier post (you get up to 777 characters) that seemed to have been written through an online translation programme. It began: "Dear American people, the current government of Biden has planning compromise with America's enemy, that's CCP. It'll danger for America."
According to Miller, "People were being de-platformed and realising that the tech giants, so to speak, had [decided] to ally themselves with the more left-of-centre folks, who want to silence people all over."
People are being silenced for their political beliefs, he says. "Not because they made a threat online, not because they hurled some sort of epithet, but their political position did not align with the owners of that company, say Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, that type of thing. That is where I think this has gone entirely too far."
Are there any examples of that?
"Oh, there are thousands."
It's a rallying cry among American conservatives, though there doesn't appear to be any evidence for it. A study in February, by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, found that the platforms tended to amplify rather than silence right-wing voices. But Miller says he recently did his own survey. "I believe it was 20 per cent of Trump voters knew someone who had been de-platformed because of their beliefs."
I suppose they might all know Trump, who was banned from Twitter after the company concluded that his tweets around January 6 and in the days after had the potential to incite violence. If Trump had been on Gettr, would he have faced any penalties?
"I do not believe that President Trump was inciting any aspect of violence on that day," he says. "I don't think he did anything that was wrong or sanctionable… and certainly not [something] that would be a permanent lifetime ban. I'll give you an example. Look, I wrote the statement for President Trump. The one that formally said that Biden now has the electoral votes; he's the president. We're going to have an orderly transition and move on. I wrote that with the president and the first lady. And Dan Scavino [Trump's social media man] ended up putting that out at something like 4am on the morning of the 7th. Dan had to do it from his personal Twitter account, broken into two parts, because the president of the United States couldn't even put out a statement. So think about that… In my opinion that was a critical statement. It was saying, 'Hey, a new guy is coming in here in two weeks, and we're going to co-operate.' And he couldn't even put that type of statement out because he'd been kicked off all the platforms."
Of course, he still had the White House press office. And the platforms would presumably argue that Trump showed no sign of making such a statement for hours after his supporters had staged a violent insurrection. (He actually denounced Vice-President Mike Pence on Twitter, even as rioters were hunting for him in the Capitol building.) He didn't acknowledge his defeat, I say. He still doesn't.
"But I guess..." Miller begins, and then stops. He wants to go back to the principles of the thing, rather than arguing about one troublesome case. "Look, now that I'm in this, I realise that you can't give sometimes the general broad answer," he says. "My job isn't to try to play nanny… But I do not believe President Trump should have been suspended on that day. It was a real travesty."
Before January 6, Trump's family and aides had apparently been suggesting that he join the conservative social media network Parler, co-founded by the right-wing political donor Rebekah Mercer. In his new book, Landslide, Michael Wolff writes that they had "floated a proposition that Trump, after he left office, would become an active member of Parler, moving much of his social media activity there from Twitter. In return Trump would receive 40 per cent of Parler's gross revenues and the service would ban anyone who spoke negatively about him. Parler was balking only at this last condition." Wolff says the deal was "offered by the family as a carrot to entice the president out of the White House… Trump could do what he loved to do most and potentially make a fortune off it."
I ask Miller if he'd consider a similar deal to get Trump on Gettr. "He's going to have some offers that are in front of him, on different things. I'll keep our negotiations between me and him, so I don't get myself in any trouble here. But I've made a very strong effort to try to get him on the platform."
Miller went to the golf club in New Jersey that serves as Trump's summer residence bearing a smartphone loaded with Trump's old tweets as they would appear on the Gettr app. "Just as an example we put them on there, just to show him," he says. The sight appears to have transported Trump back to the time when he would send out his morning blasts. "He loved it," Miller says. "He was kind of holding the phone in his hand and he was like, 'I haven't done this in a while.' "
He thinks Trump is waiting to see how Gettr does. "I know he also has several offers that are in front of him, as far as different platforms and some different deals," he says.
"I told him that I have his handle, @real DonaldTrump, in a big, beautiful safe in the corner of my office… Just waiting. 'As soon as you sign up and open the safe, I can give it to you, sir.' "
Why, I ask, is it in a safe? Exactly what is in the safe? The phone?
Miller says this is a metaphor. "I don't have a safe in my office. What would I need a safe for?"
It sounds like an episode of The Apprentice. "Yeah, no, it's just to relate to him that no one's going to touch @realDonaldTrump. It's there. It's put aside. It's just waiting for you."
Miller grew up in the liberal city of Seattle, where his father was a welder and his mother worked as a bookkeeper and a receptionist. It's "a beautiful place, not my cup of tea politically", he says. "I always wanted to zig when everyone else was zagging."
He recalls going off to a George Bush Sr rally in 1991, around the age of 15, walking through town bearing a Bush sign. "A man grabbed my Bush sign and he ripped it in half and handed it back," Miller says. "He goes, 'Hey kid, you might not be so lucky with the next guy that comes up to you.' "
He found some fellow Republicans via his high school football team, he says. Talking politics with a team-mate, "His dad said, 'Oh, my brother is the county Republican chairman… You've met him at a couple of the barbecues." The chairman introduced Miller to someone who worked for the Republican senator Slade Gorton. Miller subsequently interned for the senator and then got hired. He met his wife, Kelly, on a California congressional campaign in 2000. They now have a daughter who is 12 and another aged 4 and his wife has abandoned politics for online marketing. "She's like, 'You people are crazy, who do this.' " But Miller was drawn to the campaigns, doing crisis communications and making adverts. He was good in a crisis. "It's always easier when it's someone else's crisis," he says, cautiously.
I was thinking actually of Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who had an affair with a woman in Buenos Aires while telling his staff that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Miller pulls out his phone and shows me the advert he composed for Sanford's comeback campaign for Congress in 2013. "I've experienced how none of us go though life without mistakes," Sanford says, staring into the camera. "But in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it."
Sanford was resurrected. In 2016, Miller went to work for Ted Cruz as his communications adviser, where he engaged in gleeful Twitter attacks on "#SleazyDonald" Trump. Then he was asked to join team Trump. Arriving at Trump Tower and ascending to the 26th floor, he found Trump in his office, the doors flung open, all of his adult children and aides and advisers and various businesspeople in the room. "He's like, 'Hey, pull up a seat,' " Miller says. "And he says, 'OK, tell me something negative about Ted Cruz.' I'm like, 'Well, you know… I usually, as a matter of policy, don't say anything negative about someone I used to work for.' "
Miller recalls Trump said, "Come on, just pretend like no one else is here." He refused again. Trump "kind of puts down his hands. He goes, 'All right, quit "blanking" around. If you want this job you need to tell me something negative about Ted Cruz.' I said, 'Mr Trump, I'm here to help you win the election, not to say something negative about a former boss.' Immediately my armpits are soaked. I'm wondering, is a trapdoor going to open up?"
But Trump laughed and said this was actually the right answer and he was hired. "We just got along well after that," Miller says.
He would call Trump every morning at 6.30am after Trump had inhaled the newspapers and the television news, and they would talk, not with a bullet point list of plans, more, "What's your sense, where do you think things are trending?" he says.
Miller's oldest daughter has a birthday in October and had become used to asking, "Hey, do I get a real birthday this year, or is this like where we do part of it before the election and then part of it after?" he says. But after her eighth birthday, he took her on Trump's plane. He shows me a photograph of her with Trump, wearing red trainers that match her red Maga cap. "She asked him, 'It's your own plane and it's got everything you could ever possibly want. Why don't you put a hot tub in here?' And he goes, 'Because the take-offs and landings, you'd spill a lot of the water. And that'd be too messy to clean up. Otherwise it would probably be a great idea.' "
On December 22, 2016, as Trump prepared for the White House, Miller was named as his communications director. The announcement prompted an initially puzzling tweet from AJ Delgado, a fellow staffer on the Trump transition team. "Congratulations to the baby-daddy on being named WH Comms Director!" she wrote. He was "the 2016 version of John Edwards", she added, referring to the former presidential candidate who had an affair while his wife was dying of cancer.
Two days later Miller resigned, saying that after "spending this week with my family... it is clear they need to be my top priority now".
Delgado revealed that she began dating Miller, aware he was married but believing that he was separated from his wife. Discovering she was pregnant, she told him one night when she could not sleep.
"Well, this is going to be extra awkward for me to handle," he replied, she said. "Because my wife is expecting."
Their relationship soured after that. Miller was reconciled with his wife and went to work for a consultancy and then as a pundit for CNN; Delgado moved back in with her mother and, "Every time I would peek at Twitter, there would be comments calling me a homewrecker," she said.
Miller gave his own account of it after suing a website called Splinter, which published claims Delgado made in court papers during their custody dispute. In the papers, Delgado said she had heard that Miller had impregnated a stripper and slipped the woman an abortion pill in her smoothie. Miller's legal team filed a declaration from the woman in question, who said it was not true and she had never met him.
Miller was questioned at length by a droll lawyer named Katherine Bolger. She made him talk about the strip clubs he had visited. She asked if he had any other affairs. He told her he'd had sex with an escort in 2015 and again in 2017, paying about US$300, and that he'd been to "Asian-themed" massage parlours.
At the time of his affair with Delgado, he did not think his marriage was going to last, Miller said. He had been away so long on the campaign trail. The affair was punctuated by rallies, by a presidential debate, by Trump's election victory. Then they were in New York on the transition team and Delgado was pregnant and threatening to tell his pregnant wife. He discovered that Delgado had emailed his wife while riding in Trump's motorcade. "I'm not sure if I was in the same car with the president, but I think on the inside I was freaking out, but I was trying to play calm because I was still, like, on the clock, staffing the next president of the United States."
You can imagine this would be stressful. Then of course the whole thing became public knowledge. If it was me, I would have spent a while hiding under the bed covers.
"Nobody goes through life without making mistakes," Miller tells me. "I just seem to have made mine in the most public way possible. I think my friends and my family know who I am… I've got a lot of people that rely on me." He shrugs. "Just got to keep charging ahead."
I ask if he regrets bringing the lawsuit – a court eventually found that the website had the right to report on court documents and he was forced to pay $42,000 (£30,000) in costs.
"You can beat yourself up all day long," he says. "It took a toll, and if I spend too much time thinking about it, I'll probably start getting a little cranky. But I know that even though I didn't win, I proved that I was right, that this whole thing was made up."
Miller got back involved with Trump last year. The president called him. "He was asking a lot of things about my life and how my family's doing," he says. "Usually he doesn't ask quite that much stuff." Miller knew what was coming. The pandemic was wreaking havoc, soon protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd. "That was a tough stretch for the president," Miller says. In June, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, called saying, "We need you to saddle up again," he says. "I usually run to the sound of the guns."
The weekend before I meet Miller, Trump gave an interview praising the people who turned up to his rally on January 6, calling them "great people" and suggesting that there ought to be repercussions for the Capitol police officer who shot one of them as they stormed the building.
"I think he's reframing the debate, making the whole fight around January 6 more of a partisan battle, trying to call out some of the inconsistencies from the Democrat side or expose the fact that they're pursuing a partisan agenda," Miller says.
After January 6, did it feel like the end of days? The end of the road?
"I mean, for a couple of hours. And then again you got to pick yourself up and start going." Miller says he went to work, getting a poll together showing that "the base was overwhelmingly with the president" which "basically held most of the Republicans tight" during his impeachment trial. He wanted to ensure that "there would still be viability for him to come back in the future", he says.
Flying with Trump out of Washington DC on Air Force One, the plane was empty. "Usually you have all kinds of allies or hangers-on," he says. "CEOs or members of Congress." This time it was just Melania and Barron and a few of his adult children, he says. "It was a little bit surreal… And then we land down in Florida and literally from the airport all the way to Mar-a-Lago, there's tens of thousands of people on the side of the street. There wasn't an open space for the entire drive… People with signs, people with banners, people with trucks, waving flags with families out there, strollers, people of all backgrounds, supportive handmade signs, waving and cheering. And you're like, 'OK. His political career is not over yet.' "
What happened to Team Trump? Life after The Donald
They were indispensable. Until they weren't. Stuart Heritage picks up the trail
• Chief strategist; lasted 210 days
Although initially seen as the man behind Trump's curtain – he co-wrote the "American carnage" inauguration speech and invented the Muslim travel ban – Bannon has seen his stock fall precipitously in recent years. Disavowed by Trump after calling his daughter Ivanka "dumb as a brick" in a book, since leaving the White House Bannon rejoined then left Breitbart News, and was arrested for fraud (after conducting a crowdfunding campaign ostensibly to raise money for a US-Mexico border wall). He is currently free, thanks to Trump's last-minute pardon, and now hosts a podcast. After calling on it for the decapitation of Dr Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray, Bannon was permanently suspended from Twitter.
• Lawyer; lasted 1,035 days
Remember the desperation, so tangible that it caused rivulets of hair dye to trickle down his head, when he tried to overturn the election? Well, Rudy Giuliani is now paying for his warped loyalty. His reputation is in shreds since the Borat movie caught him in a compromising position with a young woman in a hotel room, his licence to practise law has been suspended in New York and Washington and, according to quotes in Michael Wolff's latest book, he's demonstrated focus issues, memory problems and simple logic failures – Trump aides alleged the issues could be attributed to drunkenness or senility.
• Senior counsellor; lasted 1,319 days
One of Trump's most ferocious defenders – it was Conway who coined the phrase "alternative facts" – she could always be counted on to rationalise any claim, no matter how potty, whenever the time came. However, her time with Trump ended not because of a political scandal, but because her own family turned against her. Her husband, George, was so appalled by Trump that he co-founded an organisation that campaigned against his re-election, and her daughter, Claudia, earned fame on TikTok by posting videos claiming that her mother had been physically, mentally and emotionally abusive towards her. Things have improved since; Kellyanne is now campaigning for a would-be senator in Ohio, and Claudia was recently in American Idol.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders
• Press secretary; lasted 705 days
Whisper it, but Sarah Huckabee Sanders might just be the only figure to escape Trump's orbit with any kind of career. As press secretary, she was seen as a comparatively safe pair of hands following the departure of the flailing inanity of Sean Spicer, although this might be down to her tendency to go more than a month without conducting any press briefings. Since leaving the post in 2019, Sanders has started to actively pursue a run for governor of Arkansas in next year's election, a role her father fulfilled for a decade. The family connection makes her the hot favourite, but her ambitions do not end there. This month New York magazine noted her willingness to wade into issues outside her gubernatorial purview, and posited that it's only a matter of time before she runs for higher office. Do not be surprised to see her picked as Trump's vice-president when he inevitably campaigns for re-election 18 months from now.
• Press secretary; lasted 182 days
Spicer never had an easy ride with the press. His college's student newspaper once referred to him as "Sean Sphincter" and, as Trump's first press secretary, he was forced to lie angrily about a number of issues to a band of increasingly outraged reporters. As such, the last thing you'd expect Spicer to do post-Trump is to join the media. However, along with writing a book and making a widely derided appearance on Dancing with the Stars (he came sixth), that's exactly what he did. Spicer & Co airs every weekday on the tinpot conservative news channel Newsmax. In January, the channel withdrew Spicer's application to join the White House Correspondents' Association.
• Communications director; lasted 11 days
A perfectly functioning microcosm of everyone who crosses Trump's path, Scaramucci burnt brightly and then faded away in less than a fortnight. Scaramucci came in hot after calling congressmen "f***ing jackasses" in an interview a few months earlier. His appointment caused Sean Spicer and chief of staff Reince Priebus to resign, and his own pregnant wife to file for divorce. Just 11 days later he was sacked, and has since built his career around stinging anti-Trump sentiment. Scaramucci has called Trump "racist" and "nonsensical" and launched a Super PAC – political action committee – to help prevent Trump's re-election. In 2019 he appearedon America's Celebrity Big Brother, along with Joey Lawrence from Blossom and Lindsay Lohan's mother.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner
• Advisers; lasted 1,393 and 1,461 days respectively
Of all the figures discussed here, Jared and Ivanka are likely to find it hardest to move on. Through the Trump presidency they were blighted by scandals about nepotism, conflict of interest and their level of security clearance, and there had been whispers that one or both of them would eventually run for office themselves. However, it now seems like they are both going hell for leather to distance themselves from Trump. They rarely visit Mar-a-Lago, it has been reported, and they recently jetted off to Aspen rather than join everyone at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Additionally, Trump's niece Mary has gone on record as saying that, if the time comes, Ivanka might sell her father out to the police if it kept her out of prison. Watch this space..
• Attorney; lasted 12 years
If you were ever to make a film about Donald Trump, Michael Cohen would be the obvious lead character. As Trump's attorney he was effectively a fixer, claiming, "If somebody does something Mr Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr Trump's benefit. If you do something wrong, I'm going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I'm not going to let you go until I'm finished." Although his tasks were myriad, the most well-known ones involved paying off Playboy models and porn stars who had slept with Trump. In 2018, Cohen surrendered to the FBI and pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including five charges of tax evasion. Sentenced to three years in prison, he claimed that Trump was the man who "led me to choose a path of darkness over light". Last year he published a memoir, Disloyal, in which he calls Trump "a cheat, a mobster, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man". Cohen also has a podcast, naturally.
• Director of strategic communication; lasted 235 days
Dubbed "Untouchable" by Politico due to the relative safety of her job in a tumultuous administration, Hicks has been in the Trump orbit since 2012, when she did PR for Ivanka's fashion line. After resigning in 2018 following a brief stint as communications director, she re-entered the White House as Trump's counsellor in 2020, and was apparently responsible for his catastrophic decision to break up a peaceful protest in the wake of the George Floyd murder and hold up a Bible outside a church. In the interim, she served as Fox Corporation's chief communications officer.
• Secretary of state; lasted 1,000 days
Roundly described as the most loyal of Trump loyalists – following the attack on the Capitol, he claimed that Trump should win the Nobel peace prize – Pompeo was first made director of the CIA, then was rewarded with one of the biggest jobs in the cabinet in 2018. Three international relations scholars have all called Pompeo the worst secretary of state in the history of America. Since leaving his post, Pompeo has done his best to remain in the public eye, wading into culture war arguments with such relentless frequency that a run for office in 2024 seems almost certain. In his free time, he likes to tweet excitedly whenever his name is an answer in quiz shows.
• National security adviser; lasted 22 days
Remember when I said you'd make a film about Michael Cohen? Forget that, because Michael Flynn's story is so much weirder. Having previously registered with the US government as a foreign agent, due to his work with the Turkish government, he was forced out of his White House job after less than a month due to revelations that he had meddled with the 2016 election result by conducting under-the-table conversations with Russia. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, then withdrew the plea, before being pardoned by Trump. Last year he posted a video where he quoted slogans popularised by conspiracy theorists QAnon and was this month pictured grinning in front of an enormous and genuinely bizarre whiteboard flowchart entitled "Path to Trump", which links hundreds of names, from Bobby Kennedy Sr and the actor Kevin Sorbo to Jesus Christ, to the former president.
Written by: Will Pavia
© The Times of London