Skip to main content

FRONTLINE: Trump’s Showdown

Airs Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Saturday, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. on KPBS 2

In

Credit: Courtesy of REUTERS/ Jonathan Ernst

Above: In "Trump's Showdown," FRONTLINE examines President Trump's (pictured) fight against the investigation of his campaign and whether he obstructed justice. With the threat of impeachment growing, the film chronicles Trump as he wages an unprecedented war against the Special Counsel, the FBI and even his own Attorney General.

FRONTLINE Investigates President Trump’s Unprecedented Confrontation With Federal Investigators

For months, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — and President Donald Trump’s fury about it — have dominated the headlines.

Now, in the weeks before the midterm elections, as the investigation ensnares powerful members of Trump’s inner circle and threatens the President himself, FRONTLINE will air "Trump’s Showdown."

The two-hour documentary traces the dramatic events that have led the White House and the nation to the brink of what could become a Constitutional crisis.

Premiering Tuesday, October 2, “Trump’s Showdown” methodically reveals how an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has grown to threaten Donald Trump’s presidency.

"Trump's Showdown" - Trailer

Inside President Trump’s fight against the investigation of his campaign and whether he obstructed justice. "Trump's Showdown," a two-hour documentary from filmmaker Michael Kirk and his team, traces Trump's unprecedented war against the Special Counsel, the FBI, and even his own Attorney General. Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 on PBS and online at pbs.org/frontline.

The film draws on more than 60 in-depth interviews with former heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump insiders, attorneys, authors and journalists.

Thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of archival footage help pull together the entire story – from the days just before Trump’s inauguration to increasingly chaotic recent events including the President’s summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and his furious response to revelations about Oval Office intrigue.

“The Special Counsel, the Washington establishment and the media are joined in a political struggle of historic proportions with the President and his supporters,” says filmmaker Michael Kirk ("Putin’s Revenge," "The Choice 2016" and "Divided States of America"). “We have been documenting the details of that battle step by step, as it reaches a critical stage for the President and the nation.”

Looking back over the nearly two-year trajectory of the story, FRONTLINE underscores several key moments.

The program begins with the president-elect’s meeting with the leaders of the intelligence community just before his inauguration. In the meeting, senior officials warned Trump that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

“It was several hours long. There was no equivocation in our language. And we were very direct, and very, very clear in terms of what it is that we knew and assessed,” former CIA Director John Brennan tells FRONTLINE.

At the end of the meeting, FBI Director James Comey privately shared with the president-elect details of a secret “dossier” of unverified and potentially compromising material – an encounter Trump would come to see as a “shakedown,” according to J.D. Gordon, one of Trump’s closest campaign advisors.

“We’re talking about politically appointed individuals using intelligence potentially as a weapon against people who they politically disagree with,” said former Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka.

Starting during those early days of the transition, the battle lines were drawn for a confrontation between the new president and the Department of Justice and the FBI.

Rosenstein’s Role in Comey’s Firing

James Comey's firing as head of the FBI prompted shock, anger and chaos in Washington. In an excerpt from “Trump’s Showdown,” FRONTLINE’s season premiere, go inside Rod Rosenstein's role in that critical event, which began with a meeting between Trump, Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Trump’s Showdown” comes to PBS and pbs.org/frontline Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST.

As the investigation into Russian interference seemed to threaten the President and his family, Trump grew increasingly frustrated by what he viewed as a lack of loyalty from both FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

He would ultimately lash out publicly at Sessions and fire Comey, leading to questions about whether he was trying to quash the probe into Russian interference.

The Fallout from Comey’s Firing

James Comey's firing as head of the FBI prompted shock, anger and chaos in Washington. In an excerpt from “Trump’s Showdown,” FRONTLINE’s season premiere, go inside Rod Rosenstein's role in that critical event—and see why the fallout almost prompted him to quit. “Trump’s Showdown” comes to PBS and pbs.org/frontline Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018 at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST.

The documentary traces the President’s combative approach to his adversaries to the mentorship of notorious attorney Roy Cohn, infamous for his role in the McCarthy hearings.

Cohn was a key player in Trump’s first battle with the Department of Justice back in the 1970s, when Trump and his father were sued by the government for discriminating against black renters looking for apartments. Trump and Cohn hit back — accusing the DOJ of discrimination and comparing it to the Gestapo.

“In a pattern we can recognize from Trump to this day, attacking the accusers, attacking, indeed, the Justice Department, as a way to sort of throw a smokescreen around the original crime,” says Frank Rich of New York Magazine.

As Mueller’s investigation heated up, Trump returned to Cohn’s attack strategy. The President publicly attacked the Special Counsel, the FBI, and the Department of Justice.

“One thing we know about this President, he doesn’t care about collateral damage. And he doesn’t care about collateral damage on associates. And he doesn’t care about collateral damage on American institutions. And so the stakes could not be higher,” Jack Goldsmith, who served as Assistant Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration, tells FRONTLINE.

Now as the midterm elections approach and talk of impeachment grows, Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have doubled down on a concerted campaign to undermine confidence in the authorities, the Justice Department and Special Counsel investigation – and to use the country’s political divide to protect the president.

“Rudy Giuliani changed the strategy. He said, ‘Let’s really make this into a political confrontation. Let’s make it into a blue-red debate and conflict,’” says Alan Dershowitz, Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School.

In tandem with the premiere of “Trump’s Showdown,” and as part of the FRONTLINE Transparency Project, FRONTLINE will also publish an interactive version of the film that allows users to explore quotes from interview subjects in their original context.

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

Episodes of FRONTLINE become available for streaming on demand at pbs.org/frontline during each broadcast.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

FRONTLINE is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter. #frontlinePBS

CREDITS:

A FRONTLINE production with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd. The director is Michael Kirk. The producers are Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, Jim Gilmore, Gabrielle Schonder, and Philip Bennett. The writers are Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The reporters are Jim Gilmore and Gabrielle Schonder. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.