For years, Mike Lindell, the chief executive of the bedding company MyPillow, has been a fringe character in Trumpworld. A major Republican donor who made his millions inventing a pillow made from shredded foam, Mr. Lindell would regularly pop up as a V.I.P. at Trump rallies. And he was seemingly ever-present on television in the West Wing as the star of MyPillow commercials, which aired constantly on Fox News.
In July, he met with President Trump at the White House to push an unproven treatment in which he had a financial stake, oleandrin, as a therapeutic for the coronavirus. He is close with Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but he has long been dismissed by most of the advisers around the president as a “nutso.”
And yet, there he was on Friday afternoon, again, standing outside the West Wing, set to have face time with the commander in chief during his final hours in power. Mr. Lindell arrived with a concerning agenda: A photograph of his partially visible notes showed that he wanted to speak to the president about invoking the Insurrection Act and appeared to recommend “martial law if necessary.” He also appeared to suggest moving Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist serving as chief of staff at the Defense Department, to the position of “C.I.A. Acting.”
It has been easy to treat Mr. Lindell as a comedic bit player in the story of the Trump presidency. He was a man the president thought was extremely famous because of his advertisements on cable news. He was a man the president would not dismiss, the way his advisers did, because he did not dismiss anyone who was rich and constantly on television.
“That guy is on television more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Trump marveled during the 2016 campaign. “Including me.”
Mr. Lindell, however, was never really just interested in bedding. “The pillow is just a platform for a much bigger thing,” Mr. Lindell told students in 2019 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. “My calling is to speak out the word of Jesus.”
In reality, Mr. Lindell is a conspiracy theorist who has been spreading inaccurate information about election fraud since November, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the presidential race. Even after the violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol last week, Mr. Lindell went on television to promote the lie that “Donald Trump will be our president for the next four years.” On Friday, he said he was the emissary of a lawyer working to prove that Mr. Trump won the 2020 election, but would not say who the lawyer was.
Mr. Lindell is a former crack cocaine and gambling addict, who created his company while battling his addictions. He tells his own story in a memoir, “What Are the Odds? From Crack Addict to CEO.”
Friday’s meeting was a disappointment for Mr. Lindell, who spent less than 10 minutes in the Oval Office with the president before being shunted off to the White House Counsel’s Office, where he found no hearing for his proposals.
But it’s not clear whether the meeting was totally useless for Mr. Trump. In his memoir, John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, wrote that the president had once encouraged him to stir up trouble by flashing a yellow legal pad in the White House briefing room, on which Mr. Bolton had scrawled notes about sending 5,000 more U.S. troops to Colombia.
“Go have fun with the press,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Bolton, who claimed he purposefully made visible what appeared to be “confidential” notes.
Even if he did not intend to act on any of Mr. Lindell’s suggestions on Friday night, Mr. Trump, through the antics (intended or not) of his loyal pillowmaking friend, managed to stir another round of shock on his way out.
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