Axios reporter Jonathan Swan was planning to spend the transition period getting ready to cover the Biden administration. But as President Trump refused to accept defeat, and took desperate and cataclysmic steps to hold onto power, Swan realized he wasn’t done with Trump yet.
So instead he created a podcast on Trump’s final two months in office, “How It Happened,” which launches on Monday.
“This period has been so insane, and the leaking has been so prolific,” Swan tells Variety in an interview. “I started to think that I really ought to be capturing this history while people’s memories were still fresh and they were willing to talk. I wanted to reconstruct Trump’s final days in real time in really fine detail.”
“How It Happened” will run for five episodes, with new episodes coming out every Monday.
The podcast is a departure for Axios, which is known for churning out scoops in bullet-point format. It is the outlet’s first narrative podcast, with each episode running about 20 minutes, and it will be accompanied by print stories topping 1,500 words.
“The philosophy of (founders) Mike (Allen) and Jim (VandeHei) and our editors is that when the content is worthy of spending the time, and we think this is, we will go longer,” Swan says. “This feels like the culmination of all my work covering President Trump.”
Swan scored some major scoops during the Trump years, and conducted a memorable interview with the president last July, in which he challenged him on the government’s pandemic response. For the podcast, Swan aims to deliver scoops about unreported meetings and the breakdown of Trump’s relationships within his own government, while also delivering a propulsive narrative.
The arc begins on election night, when Trump delivered what Swan calls a “premeditated, cynical victory speech that he planned out privately since at least early October,” and traces “the direct line that goes from that speech to the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Swan’s sources all spoke on deep background, and would not agree to go on tape, creating a challenge for a podcast. As the narrator, Swan will be channeling his sources, offering precise detail about White House meetings, including where people were sitting and what food was served.
The podcast promises to deliver fresh details on Trump’s break with Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Bill Barr, his last-minute effort to stock the administration with loyalists, and the staffing of his legal team with conspiracy theorists.
“This period of time, which is supposed to be peaceful and sleepy — the transition of power — could end up being a turning point in American history,” Swan says. “It’s either going to be we’re going to see a corrective to some of these poisonous trends, or it’s going to be just a demarcation point on the way to something much darker.”