Then-President Donald Trump told a number of his advisers in 2020 that whoever leaked information about his stay in the White House bunker in May of that year had committed treason and should be executed for sharing details about the episode with members of the press, according to excerpts of a new book, obtained by CNN, from Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender.
Trump, along with then-first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, were all taken to the underground bunker for a period of time during the protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd as protesters gathered outside the building. Bender writes in the book, titled “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” that Trump, in the days following his time in the bunker, held a tense meeting with top military, law enforcement and West Wing advisers, in which he aired grievances over the leak.
“Trump boiled over about the bunker story as soon as they arrived and shouted at them to smoke out whoever had leaked it. It was the most upset some aides had ever seen the president,” Bender writes.
“‘Whoever did that, they should be charged with treason!’ Trump yelled. ‘They should be executed!’” the book reads.
Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows “repeatedly tried to calm the president as startled aides avoided eye contact,” Bender writes, adding that Trump’s top aide told his boss: “I’m on it. We’re going to find out who did it.”
Trump, angry over the leak for days, “repeatedly asked Meadows if he’d found the leaker,” with his top aide becoming “obsessed” with finding the source, according to the book, which noted that “those who said they’d heard the president issue that warning had interpreted the outburst as a sign of a president in panic.”
Liz Harrington, Trump’s chief spokeswoman, rejected the account in Bender’s book to CNN on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the former President “never said this or suggested it to anyone.”
CNN reported at the time that Trump had been taken to the bunker and was there for a little under an hour before being brought upstairs. A source familiar with the matter had also told CNN that “if the condition at the White House is elevated to RED and the President is moved” to the Emergency Operations Center “Melania Trump, Barron Trump and any other first family members would be moved as well.”
At the time, the White House had also cautioned staffers who had to go to work the Monday after the bunker was used to hide their passes until they reach a Secret Service entry point and to hide them as they left, according to an email which was viewed by CNN.
Trump had attempted to publicly downplay the trip in the days that followed, seeking in a radio interview at the time to explain his presence in the bunker as an “inspection” – rather than a retreat for his own safety.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct when then-President Trump was taken to the White House bunker.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Noah Gray contributed to this report