WASHINGTON— At the U.S. Capitol, most Republicans don’t like being asked questions about former President Donald Trump.
Music, however, brings people together, right? And it turns out that if you play federal lawmakers the new song performed by Trump and the “J6 Prison Choir” — the one that’s soared to the top of the iTunes charts — lawmakers suddenly have a lot of questions of their own. Or things get really awkward. Or both.
Upon first listen, the song leaves many Republicans doubting their senses that the former president, who stands indicted in Manhattan and credibly accused in D.C. of fomenting an insurrection, is collaborating with many defendants accused of assaulting police officers.
A most awkward ‘Senators Only’ elevator ride
Last week at the Capitol, bells beckon senators to their storied chamber. During votes, most every U. S. senator scurries through the drab, dry passageways that tunnel through the Capitol’s remarkably unremarkable basement. In particular, three tram tracks — and the two walkways running alongside them — narrow into one hallway leading into the Capitol.
At the end, a bank of six elevators greets senators, though only one is permanently reserved for them.
As she waits for the “Senators Only” elevator, Raw Story asks Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) about Trump’s music track. She’s flanked by “There’s a choir?” Murkowski blurts out as Sen. John Barrasso, a fellow Republican who represents Wyoming, stands nearby.
“Is Matt making things up?” Barrasso quips from a distance.
“Right?” I reply through a wink and smile.
Barrasso is now legitimately interested.
“Is Matt Laslo making things up?” Barrasso asks again in an unusually giddy fashion.
“I think he is,” Murkowski replies, her eyes transfixed on my iPhone 12 screen.
The iTunes listing for "Justice for All," the single musical track featuring Donald Trump and the J6 Prison Choir. Screenshot
“‘Donald Trump’ artist,” I say, turning towards Barrasso, the third most powerful Senate Republican and one of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants. “Have you heard of this?”
“I don’t know anything,” Barrasso says, turning his back and greeting the perpetually sauntering Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).
“I think it’s just …” Murkowski says. “It can’t be.”
Her eyes now wide with confusion, Murkowski demands I play the song. She waves me into their exclusive, if cramped, elevator.
“Listen to it,” commands Murkowski — now touching my screen, almost as if she’s checking if it’s real — to no one and everyone.
“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light …” the choir starts.
Murkowski seems mesmerized by the patriotic drone — monotone, expertly unproduced — coming from my phone’s tiny speaker. Her fellow Republican senator’s voices drop. They continue pleasantries while craning to listen, even as they’re deliberately avoiding eye contact.
As the elevator arrives on the Capitol’s second floor, Murkowski’s no longer laughing as she heads to the Senate floor.
“I’m gonna wanna …”
Murkowski can’t quite find the words.
“I’m gonna want to fact check.”
Disbelief from a Trump ally
It’s not just senators.
After leading Trump’s Office of Budget and Management, Mick Mulvaney knows Trump.
“He’s going to win the Republican nomination, probably,” Mulvaney says as we walk across the Capitol grounds. “He can be beaten in a one-on-one race. I don’t think he can be beaten in a five-on-one race, and I think that’s what [the GOP primary] is going to end up being.”
Then I ask about Trump’s song.
“It’s leading iTunes,” I say.
“Is it really?” Mulvaney smiles.
Besides running OMB, Mulvaney also served as Trump’s acting-White House chief of staff for a time. But something doesn’t quite compute.
“There’s such a thing as the J6 choir?” Mulvaney asks, as the smile ran away from his face. “Is it real or is it something that somebody made up, that’s fabricated?”
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“What do you think about that — flirting with the people who stormed the Capitol?”
“I don't have any…” Mulvaney says, before stopping himself.
He pauses, then tries again.
“That sounds like — that looks like something that somebody just clipped together from a bunch of other stuff.”
“One nation,” Trump then says on the sparse track. “Under God…”
Still, Mulvaney tells Raw Story he’s dubious, in part, because he doesn’t trust Trump’s team.
“I think he's got a bunch of grifters looking to get wealthy off of him,” Mulvaney says. “And why he permits it? I have no idea."
'You do so at your own peril'
Other Trump allies aren’t shocked by Trump’s foray into music. They know Trump, the businessman and marketer, who’s peddled Trump-branded clothing, bedding, water, wine, vodka, steaks, perfume, hotel rooms, golf courses and 101 other products and experiences.
And they know of Trump’s new song, even if it takes a moment to remember.
“Have you heard about this Donald Trump January 6 choir track?” I ask Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
“What track?” Graham replies.
I click play.
“Oh — yeah,” Graham chuckles. “Yeah. Yeah.”
“He believes some of these people were treated unfairly,” says Graham — a JAG lawyer, in a past life. “Everybody deserves due process, including those being held for January 6.”
While familiar with the song, Graham maintains he’s not changing his personal tune when it comes to the attack on the Capitol, nor the alleged attackers.
“Here's my view on January 6, those who defiled the Capitol need to pay a price. There was nothing legitimate about what they did. They tried to basically interfere with a peaceful transfer of power,” Graham says. “And those who decided to do that need to face the full consequences of the law — as a deterrence.”
Graham is, seemingly, amused by the track.
“I think what he's going to be doing, you know, he feels — and some people on the right feel — these people have been denied due process. And if that's true, I'd like to correct it,” the senator says “But the average American is not going to be sympathetic to the idea that somehow January 6 wasn't a big deal. I’ll tell you this: You try to whitewash January 6, you do so at your own peril.”
Over on the House side, Democrats — after impeaching him twice — say they expect the worst from Trump.
“Every time you think there’s a bottom, there is no bottom,” Rep. Pete Aguilar — a former select J6 committee member and now the No. 3 House Democrat — tells Raw Story of Trump and the J6 Choir. “That’s just the Donald Trump enterprise.”
Other Democrats agreed. Until we played Trump’s song.
“You gotta be kidding me,” says Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), grabbing my phone out of my hand.
Kildee had been rushing up the Capitol steps leading to the House floor, agreeing only to a quick interview, so he didn’t miss votes.
But now, he finds himself in no hurry at all as the song plays — and it sinks in.
“Oh my god,” Kildee says. “Sick. Sick. Sick. Wow.”
After Raw Story asks about the former president’s purported “dog whistling,” the six-term congressman changes his tune.
“The ‘dogs’ are barking now,” Kildee says.
They’re also buying.
Since teaming up with prisoners accused of storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Trump has reveled in legally hacking iTunes.
“It's No. 1 in every single category. No. 2 was Taylor Swift, No. 3 was Miley Cyrus,” Trump told supporters at a campaign rally March 25, in Waco, Texas. “So we have our moment, and that tells you that our people love those people. They love those people."
Trump later told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he feels "like Elvis."