Inside the Medal of Freedom Ceremony President Trump Held 1 Day After Capitol Attack
Newly aired footage from the Jan. 7 ceremony shows retired golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam receiving their medals from the president
A new episode of In Depth with Graham Bensinger reveals never-before-seen footage of a Jan. 7 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony held by Donald Trump less than 24 hours after the deadly insurrection by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol.
At the time the White House ceremony was publicly known but not open to the press and was something of an outlier, as Trump was then facing widespread condemnation for his behavior before and after the rioting.
Video from the honors, as aired on Bensinger's show, includes retired golfers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player receiving their medals from the president.
"It's my privilege to present our nations highest civilian honor to, some just incredible people," Trump says in the video, filmed the morning after the Capitol riots that left five people dead.
The footage also shows Trump placing the medal on retired LPGA golfer Sorenstam, telling her she "made all of us proud."
"Thank you, Mr. President," Sorenstam says during the ceremony. "I want to say thank you for all you have done in the service for our country ... Particularly during the coronavirus crisis. I know it's been very tough and challenging but many congratulations on rollout of the vaccine in Warped Speed."
Sorenstam's remarks elicited applause and a standing ovation for the then-president.
The video also shows clips from South African golfer Player's speech after receiving his medal.
"Mr. President I stand in this room with you, sir ... in this wonderful White House which has helped change the world for the better," Player says.
Though the ceremony featured a calm and jovial crowd, it was filmed in the shadow of the mob violence that threatened the lives of lawmakers on either side of the aisle, including then-Vice President Mike Pence.
As host Bensinger notes in the narration of the video, his was the only press allowed into the ceremony. He spoke to Sorenstam and Player in one-on-one interviews after.
Sorenstam told Bensinger, "Nobody wants to see violence. Nobody wants to see chaos. And, it's just, I think it's a tragedy, but I'm hoping for a better day. We woke up this morning and it was quiet. It was — the streets were empty, and this was planned, and here we are."
Sorenstam's husband and brand director, Mike McGee, expanded on why she accepted the award, telling Bensinger in his own interview: "We respect the office of the president no matter who's in office. She was going to accept the award always, no matter who it was from and things happened the way they did."
"Were were en route here. We had no idea what was going on," McGee said. "We started corresponding, seeing some stuff on social media and it was crazy, but, I mean, our guests were already here. We were already en route ... and it happened. It was a shame and an awful day in our history."
He continued: "I actually feel a little bit badly for her and Gary ... with the timing because it's not what they asked for. It's not like they said, 'Hey, let's do it this morning.' This was planned nine months ago."
Player also defended his own acceptance of the award, saying it was "an honor bestowed upon me by the No. 1 person in the world, the president of the United States."
(His estranged son criticized his father for accepting the award, writing on Twitter, "I wish my father would simply & politely decline this "award" at this time. Tone deaf. In denial. Wrong!!")
While Player declined to update his comments from the interview, Sorenstam gave a follow-up interview In Depth, in which she said she had not been on social media since the ceremony and had therefore not seen all the criticism.
She added that what happened at the Capitol was "awful."
"I do not agree with violence," she said. "I do not think that type of behavior is acceptable."
That being said, Sorenstam said "second guessing ... is not part of my nature."
In an earlier interview with Golfweek, the retired LPGA golfer stopped short of apologizing for accepting the honor in the wake of the attempted coup, instead saying she hoped to "move forward."
"I've always been somebody to move forward," she told the publication. "I'm going to spend energy and continue to give back to the game of golf."
Telling Golfweek she had first learned she would be given the award in 2019, Sorenstam said she viewed the honor "in the context of the people through history who have received it."
She continued: "Listen, I share the sadness and the fear with everyone, what happened at the Capitol. But I'm not one to look back. I focus on young girls, as you know ... That's what I'm going to continue to do is open doors, create opportunities for young girls around the world."
Days after the rioting, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced he would not be accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He cited "the tragic events" of the week prior as reason for his decision.
The Jan. 6 attack unfolded after Trump rallied his supporters for about an hour outside the White House as lawmakers prepared to ratify the electoral results showing he lost to Joe Biden and Pence released a statement saying he did not have the authority or intent to reverse the election as Trump wanted.
Trump told his supporters that the country was being stolen from them and that they had to make their voices heard.
The president later shared a video message on Twitter repeating his baseless claims about his election loss and calling the rioters "very special."
A week after the riot, Trump was charged by the House of Representatives with inciting an insurrection. His unprecedented second impeachment trial ended in an acquittal, though seven Republican senators voted against him.