Trump in '60 Minutes' interview: 'I never said lock up the governor of Michigan'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

In a contentious "60 Minutes" interview that has yet to air, President Donald Trump denied saying he would lock up Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Trump made the denial when asked about the "lock her up" chants at his rallies, usually directed at the Democratic former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton but more recently aimed at Whitmer during Saturday's rally in Muskegon.

Trump has butted heads throughout the pandemic with the Democratic governor, who was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot that was revealed this month by Michigan's U.S. attorneys and the state's attorney general. 

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Muskegon County Airport in Muskegon on Oct. 17, 2020.

At the Muskegon rally, the crowd of thousands of people started chanting "lock her up" after Trump insisted Whitmer needed to relax more COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan. 

Trump didn't join the chant, but responded by saying, "Lock 'em all up."

The chants came days after state and federal officials arrested 14 individuals they said had plans to kidnap the governor and try her for treason. The suspects allegedly also had plans to storm the state Capitol and try to incite civil war.

Trump, in footage from an interview he leaked Thursday, denied claims he had ever advocated to have Whitmer locked up. 

"I never said lock up the governor of Michigan," he said, arguing it was a "vicious thing" to suggest. "I would never say that. Why would I say that?"

Whitmer's office responded by calling on the White House to denounce domestic terrorist groups.

“Instead of bringing this country together to fight COVID-19, the president has doubled down on violent, dangerous rhetoric that has put leaders like Governor Whitmer in danger," said Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Whitmer. "Now is not the time for division. We need a leader in the White House who will denounce domestic terrorists groups and bring Americans together to fight COVID-19 and protect our families, frontline workers, and small businesses.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is “helping her,” Trump said, referring to the FBI's efforts and U.S. Attorney offices’ charges against six of the 14 people arrested in the alleged kidnapping plot.

Trump also denied “going after” Whitmer but said he did criticize her because “she’s got everybody locked down.”

The president argued she made an exception to the lockdown for her husband Marc Mallory, who “went sailing and things that he wasn’t supposed to be doing." The owner of a Northern Michigan dock company told The Detroit News in late May that Whitmer's husband wanted his boat placed in the water before the Memorial Day weekend as Whitmer urged residents not to rush to the region.

Whitmer said the comment was a "failed attempt at humor" by her husband that he regretted.​​​​​​​

"She’s doing a tremendous disservice,” Trump said. 

“I think the way she locked down Michigan was a disgrace,” he said. “The way she closed churches in Michigan is a disgrace.”

Whitmer eased her strictest executive orders, a stay-home directive, in the late spring. The remainder of her orders were overturned by the Michigan Supreme Court Oct. 2.

Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services has since imposed epidemic orders that replaced the governor’s mask mandate, gathering limits and restaurant capacity. 

Contrary to Trump’s interview comments, Whitmer has had an exemption for churches under her executive order from nearly the beginning of the pandemic. People attending church services and the churches themselves continue to be exempt from enforcement or penalties. 

“That’s other governors also,” Trump continued. “They happen to be Democrats and they’ve closed up their states and they’re causing a lot of problems with these lockdowns – suicide, drugs alcohol. A lot of bad things are happening and they should open up their states. Carefully, but they should open up their states.”