AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: It’s not been easy for me. It has not been easy for me. And, you know, I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan. And I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him with interest. But I came into Manhattan. I started buying up properties, and I did great. And then I built the Grand Hyatt, and I got involved with the convention—so, I did a good job. But I was always told that that would never work. Even my father, he said, “You don’t want to go to Manhattan. That’s not our territory,” because he was from Brooklyn and Queens, where we did, you know, smaller things. And he said, “Don’t go to Manhattan. That’s not our territory.” But he was very proud of me. But all my life, I was told no.
AMY GOODMAN: Those were the words of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a town hall event last year in New Hampshire. Well, today we look back at Trump’s rise to power and how he profited from his father’s deep pocketbook and political connections. Decades before Donald Trump became a household name, his father Fred Trump emerged as one of New York’s most prolific real estate developers, building more than 27,000 homes in Brooklyn and Queens. In 1927, Fred Trump made news when he was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan riot in Queens.
Earlier this week, [27 Jun 2016 – 30 Jun 2016] Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I spoke with Wayne Barrett, considered the preeminent journalist on Donald Trump. As a reporter at The Village Voice, Barrett began reporting on Donald Trump in the late ‘70s. Barrett’s 1991 biography of Donald Trump was just republished as an ebook with the title Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. We spoke to Wayne Barrett at his home in Brooklyn, where he has largely been confined due to his battle with lung cancer. I began by asking Wayne Barrett why he’s tracked Donald Trump for so long.
WAYNE BARRETT: When I started, in the ‘70s, he was this golden boy, you know, and he had not had much press, but it had all been very supportive, because he was doing the Grand Hyatt, which was his first big project in Manhattan. And the city was down in the dumps, you know, near broke during the ‘70s, and he looked like the embodiment of a rising city. And he was getting that kind of press, though not much of it. And I was at The Village Voice, and so I took on—I was a rookie, he was a rookie. We’re about the same age; I’m a little older. And so, I took on this whole notion of, well, let’s take a look at this guy who appears to be the answer to the city’s very grave financial problems at the time. And I started working on him in the maybe ‘77 period. I worked on him intensely in ‘78 while the Hyatt was under construction, had not completed yet. And that’s when I first got to know him. And I did about 10 hours of taped interviews with him as a young guy and wrote a two-part series that led to the impaneling of a federal grand jury, actually, because he was engaged in all kinds of machinations, even as a rookie. I mean, he started out playing games. So, there was a federal grand jury here in the Eastern District in Brooklyn, that did not lead to an indictment, but may have been the toughest ride he’s ever had, really, with a prosecutor.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the points that you made in the original book was the amount of—he has always projected himself as a self-made millionaire and then billionaire, but the amount of support he got from his father, also a real estate developer, and that his father was really crucial to his rise.
WAYNE BARRETT: Unbelievably crucial. When he opened his first office in Manhattan, the rent was paid by his father’s company out here on Avenue Z in Brooklyn. And everything that he did, whether it be the Grand Hyatt—the Grand Hyatt, for example, to get the financing, he got the financing from two banks that his father had used, used his father’s relationship banker. And the father had to sign the financing agreements. I mean, they’re not going to give a 30-year-old kid $35 million in 1978 to build a hotel. It has to be done with Fred’s resources. And Fred Trump was a great outer borough builder and really built good housing, 20,000 units totally, all over Queens, all over Brooklyn, some of them towers, like Trump Village, many of them single-family homes, that he had a great reputation as a builder. He was politically wired, as his son was. I mean, they played the political game, both of them, expertly, but Fred Trump was indispensable. I mean, even Trump Tower, which comes along later in Donald’s career, could not have been done without Fred coming in and supporting the financing of it. When he opened his first casino in Atlantic City, when he bought the first properties, the lease holds for the first properties for Trump Plaza, his casino in Atlantic City, Fred rode down in the limo with him and signed all the lease hold documents. Nobody was going to be financing this kid developer, kid casino operator. It was Fred who was the key to all of it.
It’s so ridiculous for him to call himself a self-made guy, when Fred was critical at the political end, too. I mean, everything that came to Donald came through political connections. And they were political connections forged by his father over decades with Brooklyn politicians. He came from the same political club as the then-mayor of New York, Abe Beame. And when they—he had to get an option for the Grand Hyatt and for the West Side Yards from a bankrupt railroad in Philadelphia, Penn Central, and the people who were selling the assets of the bankrupt railroad wanted to make sure that the option that they gave, they were giving it to a developer who would actually develop, because that’s when the real payment comes to the railroad. And so, they came up from Philadelphia, and Fred Trump greets them. And Fred and Donald get them in a limo and take them down to City Hall, and there’s Abe Beame standing on the steps of City Hall. “Anything you want, we’ll give you.” So this totally a byproduct of Fred’s relationship.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—in the book, you refer to both of them, both Fred and Donald, as state capitalists.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—in the book, you refer to both of them, both Fred and Donald, as state capitalists.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you talk about the political connections and the degree to which they depended on government officials or politically connected leaders, to build their empire.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah. Well, that’s the irony of his current run. I interviewed a guy named Joe Sharkey for the book. And this is not actually in the book, because I’m not in the book, but—so I don’t tell this tale. But Sharkey was the county leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party years ago. And I interviewed him. He was in his eighties and a little hard of hearing. And I said to him, “When did you first see Fred Trump at the FHA?” The FHA, the Federal Housing Administration, had financed virtually everything that Fred Trump ever built in the early phase of his career. He later latched onto Mitchell-Lama, which, you know well, is a state subsidy program similar to FHA. And so I said to—I said to him, “When did you first see Fred at the FHA?” And he said, “I went down to Roosevelt’s inaugural. And then, after the inaugural, I went over to the FHA, and Fred was already there.” And so, these guys were living at the trough, you know? They’d been living at the trough their whole lives.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by that.
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, you know, everything that they’ve done was based on political connections and associations. Fred had them unbelievably. Bunny Lindenbaum was his lawyer. Bunny Lindenbaum was the most wired lawyer in New York. He actually had a locker in the basement of City Hall, where he would keep a bottle. And if it was an overnight Board of Estimate meeting, which was then the governing body of the City of New York where they made all the big zoning decisions and dispositions of city property and all that, he kept a bottle in the locker.
AMY GOODMAN: And the FHA and the Mitchell-Lama were subsidies of the housing?
WAYNE BARRETT: Subsidy programs, yeah. So these were the things that—you know, that Donald learned at the foot of the master. Fred was a master at this. You know, there were two different investigations—one by the State Investigations Commission of New York and one by Congress—of the FHA program, and Fred figured prominently in national scandals of the misuse of FHA funding. And he figured—he was the number one target of the State Investigations Commission for ripping off the Mitchell-Lama program here in New York. And so, they had a long history of this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You also talk about the political leaders Donald Manes and Stanley Friedman and their role in the rise of Trump, as well.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, Stanley Friedman became the boss of the Bronx. He was the first deputy mayor under Abe Beame. He was the one who did the legwork. Abe Beame said, “Anything you want, you got.” Stanley Friedman, as the deputy mayor, shepherded, right to the last day—on the last day of the Beame administration, Stanley Friedman personally approved the award of the Garden Room, which hangs over 42nd Street, which was unprecedented at the time, that they would allow a major hotel to build something literally hanging over a street as prominent as 42nd Street—very controversial decision done on the final day of the administration. He walks out of the office that day, and the next week he starts at Roy Cohn’s law firm. And Roy was Donald’s attorney on the Grand Hyatt. And he goes right as a partner into Roy Cohn’s law firm. So, and Stanley Friedman ultimately is convicted by Rudy Giuliani, became the most powerful Democratic boss in the state of New York and did all kinds of things for Donald Trump.
Yeah, so, Donald Manes was the Queens county leader and borough president, whose brother-in-law had a lighting company. When you look at Trump Tower every day on the national news, he did all the lighting in the lobby. Bill Warren is his name. That was the brother-in-law. He used to—Trump would stir up all kinds of business for Donald Manes’s brother-in-law. Manes winds up putting a kitchen knife through his chest, when Rudy Giuliani and the feds are after him, and killing himself. And these are the guys who were absolute linchpins to Donald Trump’s early career. They supported him at the Board of Estimate, approving all these projects.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of that unfortunate term “linchpin,” what do you know of Fred Trump’s involvement with the Ku Klux Klan?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, you know, I didn’t know about that at the time of the book. It’s not in the book. I’ve read about it since. I can’t understand how Donald Trump denies that this is true. There’s, I think, Washington Post clips—
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times.
WAYNE BARRETT: —you know, which clearly say he was involved with the Ku Klux Klan. What I did write about in the book and what I actually wrote about at the Voice in the ‘70s was the race discrimination case that Richard Nixon’s Justice Department brought against Fred and Donald Trump for racially excluding blacks and Latinos in a systematic way, with a color-coded system where if a black came in seeking an apartment, they got a certain color folder, where if a Latino came in, they got a different color folder, of where the application was put—the easiest way to exclude people. And, you know, the federal government established that during the course of protracted hearings. And ultimately, Fred and Donald settled the case.
And Donald does an affidavit in the case in which he claimed that he didn’t have anything to do with the actual rentals personally, actual rentals of the apartment. But I found, and wrote it in the Voice and then examined it a little bit more in the book, that he was simultaneously seeking a real estate broker’s license in New York state and that he had to file sworn statements. And then, in his sworn statements, he claimed he was in charge of all the rentals of the apartments. So, there was a sworn statement saying, from him, “I don’t have anything to do with it,” and almost simultaneously a sworn statement saying, “I run it.” You know, so the racial discrimination pattern at Fred Trump developments was really quite extraordinary.
AMY GOODMAN: He was found guilty?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, it was—he signed a consent decree. This was a civil lawsuit, and he signed a consent decree. And he and Donald signed the consent decree. And then they violated it. They were not in compliance with it. And they had to go back, the feds did, in ‘78 and do it again a second time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you talk about Trump Towers, in the new introduction to the book, as basically housing for a rogues’ gallery of felons—
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that’s never been really touched upon. Could you expound on that?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, you know, in the book itself, I added to the list that’s in the book. I have a couple dozen felons who wind up getting apartments in Trump Tower. In fact, one of the remarkable things about Donald is how he has avoided being indicted in the course of his career. One of the tales that I tell there involves a guy named Robert Hopkins, who was then running the biggest illegal gambling operation in the Bronx—and a client of Roy Cohn’s. He’s one of the early buyers, this guy Robert Hopkins, of an apartment in Trump Tower, paid about $2 million for it. And so, at the closing, Ted Teah, who you must remember, Juan—he was the City Planning Commission member from the Bronx appointed by Stanley Friedman, an associate in Roy Cohn’s law firm with Stanley Friedman, and he’s representing this guy Hopkins at the closing. And Hopkins is sitting there, with Trump in the room, mind you, with a briefcase filled with cash.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Donald Trump?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes, counting the money out, hundreds of thousands of dollars, paying for the apartment in cash. And he had partial mortgages, which a guy named Robert Lamagra, a semi-wise guy kind of guy, who gets subsequently prosecuted in the Eastern District of New York—Hopkins was under indictment for murder of another mob guy, which that case wound up going nowhere, but he was convicted in other cases. And that’s just one of the many tenants that were drawn—it was like a magnet for bad guys, Trump Tower.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “Baby Doc” Duvalier?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes, “Baby Doc” Duvalier is there. Yes, you’ve got—
AMY GOODMAN: While he was still in office in Haiti, the dictator?
WAYNE BARRETT: No—well, yes, he started this. That’s absolutely right. Yes, he was looking at it as a place to dump some of his booty from Haiti. He gets an apartment in there. And it’s just a long list, an incredibly long list. Joe Weichselbaum, who is an extraordinary side of Donald, he not only has an apartment in Trump Tower, he has one in Trump Plaza. And he’s like a several times convicted felon as a cocaine trafficker, and he flew Donald’s high rollers down to his casinos in Atlantic City. He’s got an apartment there. It’s just a laundry list of bad guys drawn to this—this temple of greed.
AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Wayne Barrett wrote for The Village Voice for 37 years and continues to write as an independent reporter. His 1991 biography of Donald Trump was just republished as an ebook with the title Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. We’ll continue with Part 2, 3 and 4 of our conversation with Wayne Barrett, who’s now confined to his home as he battles lung cancer, in the coming days on Democracy Now!, so do stay tuned.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by Karenna Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. She was just arrested in Roxbury, Massachusetts, protesting against climate change. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Old Man Trump” by Ryan Harvey, with Ani DiFranco and Tom Morello. The song was written, but never recorded, by Woody Guthrie, about his landlord, Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
AMY GOODMAN: With the Republican National Convention opening in Cleveland in less than two weeks, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is facing a new round of controversies. On Saturday, his campaign tweeted an image showing Hillary Clinton, a pile of $100 bills and six-pointed stars shaped like the Star of David, along with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” The tweet immediately drew criticism for being anti-Semitic. Trump later deleted the tweet, then retweeted the same image, but with the star replaced by a circle. The original image shared by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate came from a Twitter user whose feed includes a number of violent and offensive images of African Americans, Muslims and immigrants. This comes as the Council on American-Islamic Relations is warning Donald Trump’s comments are putting Muslim women in danger after his comments last week at a town hall when he was questioned by a supporter about Muslims working for the TSA.
TRUMP SUPPORTER: Just to mix quickly homeland security and jobs. Why aren’t we putting our retiree—our military retirees on that border or in TSA? Get rid of all these “hibijabis” they wear at TSA.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I—
TRUMP SUPPORTER: I’ve seen them myself.
DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, I understand that. Yeah.
TRUMP SUPPORTER: We need the veterans back in there to take it. They’ve fought for this country and defended it. They’ll still do it.
DONALD TRUMP: OK.
TRUMP SUPPORTER: Thank you.
DONALD TRUMP: You know, and we are looking at that. And we are looking at that. We’re looking at a lot of things.
AMY GOODMAN: At that same town hall in New Hampshire, Donald Trump joked about Mexico attacking the United States.
DONALD TRUMP: Mexico—and I respect Mexico. I respect their leaders. What they’ve done to us is incredible. Their leaders are so much smarter, so much sharper. And it’s incredible. In fact, that could be a Mexican plane up there. They’re getting ready to attack.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Part 2 of our in-depth look at Donald Trump. Last week, [27 Jun 2016 – 30 Jun 2016] Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I visited Wayne Barrett, considered the preeminent journalist on Donald Trump. He has been tracking Trump for decades. His 1991 biography of Donald Trump was just republished as an ebook with the title Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. On Thursday, we aired Part 1 of the interview. Today we bring you Part 2 for the hour. We visited Wayne Barrett at his home. He talked about Trump’s longtime lawyer and mentor, Roy Cohn, who once served as a top aide to the red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy.
WAYNE BARRETT: I knew Roy Cohn. I knew him very well. And you just cannot understand how Donald could have been this close. I write in the book that they talked 15 times a day. One of the two stories here—I can’t remember which one—said it was five times a day. It’s probably somewhere in between. Roy himself told me they talked 15 times a day. But there’s no question that next to Fred Trump, Roy Cohn was the single greatest influence in Donald’s life. And Roy is incandescent evil. I mean, I would sit with him, and I—you know, it was enough to make you rush back to church, the Satanic feeling that he would give you. He would eat with his fingers. And we would be at 21. He would eat with his fingers. He would—he carried a little glass in his jacket that he would take out and drink in this little glass. He would pop a white pill when he didn’t think you were looking. And he—his house was filled with frogs. He was the weirdest guy. He was into the strangest stuff. He was a chicken hawk after little boys, and yet he was the most virulently anti-gay guy you could imagine. And so, that was Donald’s mentor and constant sidekick, who represented all five of the organized crime families in the City of New York.
AMY GOODMAN: For young people who don’t know Roy Cohn’s background, back to McCarthy—
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —can you explain who he is and what it meant for Donald Trump to learn at his knee?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, he starts out as—I think he was 23 years old when he was the chief counsel to Joe McCarthy doing all those hearings. He was extremely wired into the Reagan White House. He helped make Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne a federal judge in 1983. He was the ultimate fixer power player in New York for a whole period of time. He died of AIDS in 1986. But for a particular block of time, he was extremely influential with the Beame administration, because, even more so than Fred Trump, he was totally wired into Abe Beame, because he had knocked Mario Biaggi out of the race. Mario Biaggi was a very popular, charismatic congressman from the Bronx. And Roy leaked that he had been before a federal grand jury. And initially Biaggi denied it, and ultimately it was established that he had been. And that’s why he couldn’t run. And that was Roy getting Biaggi out of the race for Beame. So Beame was incredibly beholden to him. So he had enormous influence in the city underground.
I would write stories about his parking lots. Strangely enough, his cash cow was city-owned parking lots by the water, which were leased by the Bureau of Marine and Aviation, and he controlled the companies that had the parking lots that were city-owned. And it was just an enormous amount of money. He never paid any taxes. He pretended to have no income. He had an incredible cash empire. And the guy who actually leased those parking lots to him, Rick Mazzeo, wound up under federal investigation, and they found his body in the trunk of a car. And all he did was give parking lots to Roy Cohn. That’s what he did for a living.
And so, you just look at the—as I said, you know, he was the middle man between Donald and all these mob guys. You asked about the apartments at Trump Tower. John Cody gets an apartment at Trump Tower. John Cody is a Gambino crime family associate who I had lunch with while I was doing the book. I had lunch with him at Windows on the World. And—
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes. And it must have been under federal surveillance, because, two weeks after the lunch, they busted him for trying to kill the guy who—Bobby Sasso, who had taken over Local 282, which was his union. That was the concrete delivery men. They delivered all the concrete to all the sites in New York, totally mob-controlled. And so they busted him for trying to kill a guy. He had already been in jail. He goes back to jail. Well, he had a—he denied it was a mistress, but he certainly told me that they were very close, Verina Hixon. I talk about her in the book. She got not only an apartment in Trump Tower, it’s the only apartment with a pool. It’s right underneath Donald’s apartment, right? And all of it built for John Cody, because Trump Tower is a total concrete structure. It was the first concrete structure like that built in New York. So, John Cody had complete control over this. And so he gets this apartment. He actually invested in the apartment himself, as I established in the book. And Verina Hixon is there, who I met with a few times. She used to meet me in Central Park. She didn’t want to meet me in Trump Tower. But we talked many times. And, you know—and there’s John hanging out in Trump Tower all the time, right underneath Donald Trump’s apartment. And he’s a total wise guy. He’s a total wise guy. And, you know, he said to me—
AMY GOODMAN: You mean by that a mob guy.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah. He said to me, “Oh, I always used Roy as the go-between with Donald. Roy was the guy who—Roy Cohn was the guy who set us up.” You know, so this is the relationships that flowed through—you know, the FBI did an affidavit saying that the heads of—the commission, the heads of the five crime families, would meet in Roy Cohn’s office, because the government couldn’t eavesdrop. It was a lawyer-client relationship. That’s what they did.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’re talking here about the five families in New York, but, of course, Donald Trump’s signature developments occurred in Atlantic City, where, as I recall, the Philadelphia mob was in charge of whatever happened in Atlantic City. Can you talk about his relationship there in Atlantic City?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, no question. I mean, Nicky Scarfo—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Nicky Scarfo.
WAYNE BARRETT: Nick Scarfo, that’s the bloodiest crime family in the history of the United States. It’s undervalued because it wasn’t based in New York. It didn’t get the coverage, you know? But they controlled Local 54, which was the hotel workers’ union. This is not me talking, this is a finding in federal court, that Nicky Scarfo controlled the hotel workers’ union. And when they would strike all the casinos in Atlantic City, they wouldn’t strike Donald. You know, when he first goes down there into Atlantic City to acquire his first parcels, he buys them at a premium, overpays, from underbosses of the Nicky Scarfo crime family. He has a relationship with these guys throughout the early days of his time down there. And it’s—it was really a pretty remarkable set of deals that he did. Now, you had—Mike Matthews was the mayor of Atlantic City, who was totally—proven in court, went to jail—totally owned by the Nicky Scarfo crime family. And he was Donald’s number one ally. They were feeding him money, contributions, illegal contributions, but they were feeding Matthews money. And that’s just one part of this intricate relationship that gave birth to Donald’s casino empire in Atlantic City.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this casino empire and what it meant? You actually, unlike most people in this country, got to see Donald Trump’s tax records?
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, I did. I did.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get to? Because he’s refusing to reveal them.
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, they were—they were part of the record of the Casino Control Commission in the ‘70s. He would have to submit his tax returns for the first casino that he did down there, at least, Trump Plaza. I mean, one of the great ironies is that his second casino, Trump Castle, was actually built by the Hiltons. And the Hilton family, out of Chicago, was denied a license by the Casino Control Commission, which was all done to benefit Donald. Donald then gets Trump Castle. And the rationale for denying it, which is what they stated in their decision, was that he was—that the Hilton family was represented by a mob lawyer out of Chicago. Here he’s got Roy Cohn, and that’s no bar at all. That’s no bar at all. And so, the irony of it, that’s how he got his second casino.
And so, the casino empire there, what’s so interesting to me is, you know, when we had the Nevada primary, he was always at the Trump Hotel down in Las Vegas. But that’s only a hotel. You know, there’s no casino there. Right? Why is there no casino there? His partner in it, Phil Ruffin, already owns a different casino, so he can qualify for a license. But they build a hotel without a casino—in the heart of Las Vegas. Because—I mean, my only conclusion is that he couldn’t get a license in Nevada. The guy might be president of the United States, but here they have this hotel without a casino in the heart of Vegas. Right?
I mean, I had—when my book came out, I started getting visited by these state troopers from Missouri, because he had applied for a riverboat casino license in Missouri. And these guys were so thorough. They came, and they met me in my house in Ocean City, New Jersey—we call it the house Trump bought, with the book advance, you know. And then they would meet me in my house and at The Village—I mean, my office at The Village Voice. They’d go through all my—they were—they came back and forth. They denied him—they were about to deny him, I should say, a riverboat license in Missouri.
You realize he’s not gotten a casino license since he got one for the Taj. He had the DGE, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, and the Casino Control Commission in New Jersey fixed. He had a—it was rigged for Donald. I don’t think there’s any question in my mind about that. And what wouldn’t be? It’s a company town. The only thing in it is casinos. He owned four of them. He was only legally allowed to own three of them, so when he bought the fourth one, that just became a hotel, and, you know, they closed down the casino in it and just ran it as a hotel. But, to me, there’s no other explanation that I can find as to why he does not have a casino in his hotel in Las Vegas, other than he couldn’t go through the licensing procedure. He was given in 2004 some kind of a clearance by the casino regulators there of suitability. But that’s just a preliminary step. If you’re actually going to get a license, you’ve got to go through an intensive background. And he withdrew before he was going to be denied in Missouri. And he’s never applied for a license in Nevada, where he has a giant hotel. It’s kind of ironic to me that a guy who wants to be president of the United States is afraid to go through a gaming commission licensing procedure.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, Donald Trump offered you an apartment, the man who’s dogged him for decades?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, that was very early. I hadn’t started dogging him yet. That was to induce me not to dog him. When I started out on the trail of the Hyatt, I filed a Freedom of Information request with both the state and the city. And I was at the State Urban Development Corporation offices reading all the files, which was a table full of documents related to the Hyatt. And I was alone in a conference room, and the phone starts ringing in the conference room. I don’t know whether to pick up or not. I finally pick up.
“Wayne, this is Donald. I understand you’re going to write a story about me.” I never met the guy in my life at that point; it was like we were old friends. And so, I met with him early in the reporting process. I always use this with journalism students as an example of what not to do. If you’re circling—circling a subject, you don’t want to, you know, go face to face with him, because you never know whether you’re going to get a second shot. You don’t want to go face to face with him until you’ve got all of your ducks in a row. But because he interrupted, very early, the reporting process, I met with him before I really had many of the ducks in a row, and I could only ask softball questions. He loved me then.
You know, it was—Ivana was walking around the apartment. It was on a Saturday or a Sunday; I know it was a weekend. And Ivana’s walking around the apartment. It’s on Fifth Avenue, but it’s long before Trump Tower. And, you know, so in the midst of that, I had not told him that I lived in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, which was then the poorest community in the City of New York. It would be unfathomable to him that I lived there by choice, because I wanted to live there. So he said to me, “Wayne, you don’t have to live in Brownsville. I have plenty of apartments.” And so, then, at another time—it was not at that first interview, but sometime subsequent to that—he started talking to me about how he had broken this other journalist by suing him and driving him into bankruptcy. So it was the carrot and the stick, and they were both jokes.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, investigative reporter who worked with The Village Voice for 37 years. Wayne’s 1991 biography of Trump has just been republished as an ebook; the title, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our look at Donald Trump. About a thousand housekeepers, cooks, bellmen and others at Trump’s Taj Mahal Atlantic City casino went on strike Friday and through the weekend, demanding reinstatement of health, pension and other benefits eliminated during one of Trump’s bankruptcy proceedings. We return now to our conversation with Wayne Barrett, considered the preeminent journalist on Donald Trump. Wayne Barrett has been tracking Trump for decades, his 1991 biography just republished as an ebook—its title, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. Juan González and I spoke to Wayne Barrett at his home, where he’s largely been confined due to his battle with lung cancer. We asked Wayne Barrett about Donald Trump’s unkept promise to build affordable housing in Atlantic City in order to build larger projects.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, I mean, I think that’s one of the undercovered parts of the Atlantic City story. And I actually think that the Times and The Washington Post have done excellent stories on his—and Politico—on his Atlantic City debacle, really. But he made a commitment in Atlantic City. And you remember Tony Gliedman. Tony Gliedman was the city’s housing commissioner who went to work for Donald. Housing was his specialty, and Gliedman helped negotiate these agreements with Atlantic City. Four out of five of the mayors went to jail during the period that Donald was dominant there, and he had incredible relationships with most of them. But he signed these agreements, because he was getting city-owned property near the Taj. He was getting all kinds of agreements from the city regarding roadways and access to Trump Castle, which is out at the marina. It’s not on the boardwalk. And so, for these favors from the city government, he agreed to build low-income housing. And he had the guy to do it. He had the guy who’d done it in New York. And they made all kinds of commitments that were written right into agreements with the city of Atlantic City.
And then he failed on all of them. I mean, you know, people don’t realize it, but, you know, you drive into Atlantic City, you can go right into—Trump Plaza is right off of the highway. It’s really the best site in Atlantic City. You can drive right into the garage. You walk out of the garage, they have this moving platform that will carry you right into the casino. Now, it doesn’t exist anymore, but I’m talking about when it did. And then there’s no windows. So, you don’t even have to look out at this poverty that’s just cataclysmic. And it’s right outside the window. It’s like an alternative universe located right within a city that’s decimated, that’s desolate—right?—and with—so poverty-stricken. And he never built any of the units. And he leaves town. From being the king of Atlantic City, here’s a guy who now laughs about how he got out and, you know, with all of his cash flow, got out just in time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about a subject that’s been raised quite a bit during the campaign, even by some of the top Republican leaders—Mitt Romney, for one—Donald Trump’s tax returns. Why do you think he’s resisting so much being able to make his tax returns public?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, I don’t think we have to speculate about it. And the reason I say that is Tim O’Brien, who was my research assistant on my book and subsequently wrote his own TrumpNation, and he is now at Bloomberg. He’s the editor of the opinion section of Bloomberg Media. And he has seen the tax returns. Now, he hasn’t seen them for the most recent year, but he saw them for a number of years. Donald Trump sued him over his book. And, you know, it was sort of—when my book came out, he publicly threatened to sue me, but he never did. Now, I name 25 mob associates of Donald Trump or whatever, and that doesn’t motivate him to sue. But if you say he’s not worth what he claims to be worth, that’s what Tim—he sued Tim because Tim said he was only worth $200-$300 million. Now, Tim was a business editor at the Times. He was a young guy, just got an MBA from Columbia when he was my assistant, but he has an incredible business head. And so, he sued Tim over that. The litigation went on for six or seven years. And Tim prevailed. But during the course of the litigation, Tim’s lawyers demanded that Donald make the tax returns available. And they did for a number of years. And so, Tim signed a confidentiality agreement, so he can’t specifically reveal what is in the tax returns, but he wrote a piece for Bloomberg very recently that said Donald’s not releasing his tax returns because the income will be far less than he claims it is, the assets will be worth far less than what he says it is, and his charitable contributions are virtually nonexistent. So those are the three primary reasons why he won’t release these returns.
You know, he has made a career—when I say I don’t know why he’s never been prosecuted, maybe the prime time that he could have been prosecuted was at the time of his downfall in 1990 and ‘91. Well, you know, the banks kept him alive, as he was too big to fail. So they kept him alive. But I wrote in the book—he certainly didn’t sue when I said it—I didn’t say that he had made—submitted false financial statements to the bankers to get a billion dollars in personally guaranteed loans. I said he submitted fraudulent ones. Right? And I lay out a case for that in the book. He was engaged in completely defrauding the banks, and the banks knew it. OK? And they were giving him the loans anyway. So, they kept him alive. But even more so than that, the House Banking Committee wanted to do public hearings about it; the banks wouldn’t cooperate. The district attorney of Manhattan was a big friend of Donald’s. Donald was his second-biggest giver. Robert Morgenthau’s second-biggest giver was Donald Trump. Donald was the chairman of the Police Athletic League, which was Morgenthau’s biggest charity. So he was extremely close. He hired—Andy Maloney was the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District. He hired Maloney’s brother. Right? Rudy Giuliani was the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, and we know how close they got. I wrote a whole story about how their relationship developed. I was at Rudy Giuliani’s first fundraiser when he decided to run for mayor, and there’s Donald at the main table. He’s the co-chair of the first Rudy Giuliani fundraiser for the mayorality in 1989. So his relationships with prosecutors and the fact that the bankers—they were embarrassed by what they had done; they didn’t want any investigation of this. So the combination of the two gave—gave them a pass—gave him a pass.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about his relationship with prosecutors—Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, formerly a prosecutor. What about this close alliance? As so many Republicans are running away from Trump, Chris Christie has wrapped himself around Trump.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, I don’t think Chris Christie, you know, has had—Donald has had extraordinary relationships, when he was the power in Atlantic City, with a series of governors, and it didn’t matter which party. I mean, he had an incredibly close relationship with Tom Kean. But remember his—you know, his political adviser all these years has been Roger Stone, who ran Tom Kean’s campaign for governor the first time down in New Jersey. And so, he’s always had an in. Roger has always had a special relationship with Jersey politicians. I don’t know if he has one with Chris Christie. I frankly don’t know. But he has a long history of that. And so, Roger Stone, who is really the walking, living son of Roy Cohn—I mean, absolutely raised by Roy Cohn—lived in the town—or spent a great deal of time in the townhouse that Roy Cohn ran the law firm out of.
And so, but as to Christie and Donald, it sort of has surprised me. I can’t really quite figure out why this embrace. I mean, I think the ultimate thing, since he’s already said Christie will be his chief of staff, I’m predicting that Rudy will be his vice-presidential candidate. And so, then, between the three of them, you know, we’ll have this—you know, maybe Newt figures in there somewhere. I don’t know. But, you know, Newt, Rudy—Rudy has already said he’s going to be in charge of homeland security. This is a group I—the relationship with Rudy is deep and very disturbing.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me ask you—pull back a little bit for the big picture. I mean, this is a sordid story of somebody who had been buying politicians, been involved with the worst criminal elements in American society, at the same time, a crony capitalism of the worst sort. Why do you think he’s been able to gather so much support in the public imagination? You say at one point in your introduction, everyone—this is when Trump was announcing for president— “Everyone else in the movie that Donald is making with his life—that morning and beyond—is just an extra.”
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think it’s—the thing that maybe disturbs me the most about the media coverage of him, particularly television, is to call him a populist. You know, we’re now saying that what just happened in Britain was supposedly a populist expression. Well, the whole history of populism is against elites, you know, and what’s driving the Trump campaign, and what I think drove the Brexit vote, is not animosity towards elites. That may be a small part of it, but what’s really driving it is antagonism towards immigrants, mostly minorities. That’s what’s driving the Trump campaign. I thought it was pretty remarkable, when you will listen to the Dana Bashes and the other commentators on CNN, one election after another, when he carried all but Texas of the old Confederacy, and they would, one night after another, say, “Isn’t it remarkable that a kid from Queens is winning in Alabama?” instead of offering the logical explanation for it, which is that it’s naked racism that he is appealing to. They instead say, “It’s the thirst for an outsider. It’s—what’s driving this is the thirst for an outsider,” when on the same day they renominated Richard Shelby, who actually had a right-wing opponent and who was the chair of banking in the Senate and who was getting all of his money from Goldman Sachs and every other house, you know, contributing to him. He’s an embodiment of the insider, and they nominated him overwhelmingly, so he didn’t even face a runoff. There were two candidates running against him. And they—so, these people who were attracted by an outsider were all apparently simultaneously attracted by the ultimate insider.
Well, what explains that? I mean, I think it is so clear that race is the driving motive of this campaign, the driving cause for its success. The scapegoating of everybody who’s not a white male is what’s—is what’s driving this candidacy, and it’s led to its success so far. Whether or not there’s enough of that to elect him president, I mean, this still is the same country that elected Barack Obama twice and, after four years of experience with him, re-elected him in 2012. It’s not a dramatically different country than it was in 2012, so I got to believe that there are limits to this race card. But that’s the only explanation, to me, for going from one unbelievably manipulative, contrived, false statement after another, attacking a judge—I actually think that attacking the judge may have been not a mistake on his part, but something very consciously done to say, “Look, even a big guy like me, they’re screwing with even me, these Mexicans. You know, look, I know what you’ve got. I know you got a problem back there, but they can even take me on!” You know, and so I think that race is the absolute undercurrent of this. It shouldn’t be an undercurrent. For a brief period of time there, when the Mexican judge thing appeared, the television media seemed to be willing to talk about race. I think, you know, we’re seeing that change again. But they have to keep this—television people have to keep this thing alive. If she’s ahead by 13 points, how many millions do they lose?
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett is an investigative reporter. He worked with The Village Voice for 37 years. His biography of Donald Trump has just been republished as an ebook; it’s called Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. We’ll be back with Wayne Barrett in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Old Man Trump” by Ryan Harvey and Ani DiFranco and Tom Morello, the song written but never recorded by Woody Guthrie about his landlord, Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump. Our first break was another Woody Guthrie song. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.
AMY GOODMAN: We conclude our conversation with Trump biographer Wayne Barrett, who has tracked the Republican presumptive presidential nominee for decades. His biography of Trump has been republished as an ebook; it’s called Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. Juan González and I interviewed him last week at his home in Brooklyn. I asked Wayne about those harmed by Trump’s business practices, from the Polish workers who built Trump Tower to the investors in the casino he never built in Mexico.
WAYNE BARRETT: His pathway to success is littered with bodies. You know, I hear him talk about the thousands of Latinos he’s employed. You know, I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’m sure, Juan, you’re aware there are almost no Latinos in Atlantic City. You couldn’t employ Latinos in Atlantic—there’s a lot of black people there, but it has no significant Latino population. I was in and out of his casinos all the time. I never saw many Latino workers. I don’t know where these thousands of Latinos that have supposedly worked for him have worked for him, but it wouldn’t be Atlantic City, and I don’t know where else he ever employed thousands of people.
And certainly, the Taj, for example—just talk about the Taj, which was, at the time, you know, this is—he had this incredible downfall where his personal life—this is when he dumps his wife and children, and goes with Marla. At the same time, when he was on this fast track, ‘87, ‘88—’88 was the disaster year, you know, where he makes one bad judgment after another. So, he is trying to get the City of New York, Ed Koch, to support the building of the tallest skyscraper in the history of the country on the West Side Yards for NBC headquarters, and at the same time he takes on the Taj, which will be the largest casino in the history of the world. So he doesn’t get the approvals from Koch, so he doesn’t build the NBC tower on the West Side, but he goes ahead and tries to build the Taj. And he so overleverages everything—junk bonds, adding to cost all over the place, just one bobble after another. It was just—so it was doomed from the day it opened. It could never make the payments. It could never make the bond payments. And so they stiffed all the bondholders. But they also stiffed all the small contractors in Atlantic City, you know, guys—you know, mom-and-pop shops who did all the work there. I used to walk through it while it was under construction, and the place was just filled with contractors. I talked to many of them. And they didn’t know they were all going to get stiffed in the end, but they got 20 cents, 30 cents on the dollar or nothing. And he just stiffed so many of them. So, small businesses went out of business.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the Polish workers at Trump Tower?
WAYNE BARRETT: The Polish workers at Trump Tower became a kind of famous case. And the Bonwit Teller building was part of the site. And this—you know, when you look at that site, this is the genius of Donald Trump, how he managed to assemble that site. You know, I don’t think he can find a better site in America, maybe in the world, than the location that he had. So, that was part of his genius at the time, was assembling these kinds of sites and making these acquisitions. But he was completely unconcerned about the workers who worked in the demolition of the Bonwit Teller building, who literally slept there. And they were all immigrant Polish workers, hundreds of them, many of whom got very sick as a result of working on that site. He’s always tried to put some distance between, but his office was right across the street. His office was—you know, how he could claim that he didn’t know what was going on in that site, which has been his claim—and there’s no question but that these workers were abused to an enormous degree.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, we wanted to ask you about Donald Trump’s wives. He’s married three people: Ivana Trump, Marla Maples and Melania Trump. They factor in significantly in his campaign. Ivana Trump actually accused him of raping her. Can you talk about the significance, especially as he moves into attacking Bill Clinton, not because of Bill Clinton’s behavior with his wife per se, but with other women?
WAYNE BARRETT: It’s a real irony, you know, that he has the balls to do this. You know, I watch the children in these shows, and they’re given remarkable deference by television journalists. I mean, they treat them as if their Heidi Cruz’s kids. You know, they don’t ask them, “Oh, do you love your papa?” That seems to be the only question that they can ask them. And he appears to be a good father. But if you’re a good father—OK, you’re going to go through a divorce. A lot of good fathers and mothers have gone through divorces. They don’t leak “Best Sex I Ever Had” stories to be plastered all over the tabloids, while their 13-year-old son is going to school.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, I mean, that’s—you know, Donald milked the divorce, the break-up with—part of his schtick, one of the reasons white males love him so much in this campaign is they think he’s a stud. Right? I mean, Marla Maples was a beauty, classic American beauty. You know? So, the whole thing that he fed during that divorce, which was—
AMY GOODMAN: His divorce with Ivana.
WAYNE BARRETT: With Ivana, yes—was just so incredibly ugly, and it was damaging to the children. And then he got into a fight with Ivana over who gets what in the end. And, like, he wanted Eric’s computer. They fought over Eric’s computer.
AMY GOODMAN: His son.
WAYNE BARRETT: Yes. I mean, and so, his treatment of Ivana, the mother of his first three children, was just deplorable. And then Marla already has the child before they get married, right? And so, when he breaks up with her, she signs a confidentiality agreement. So, you know, the two of them, their lips are sealed. But when she thought he was running for president in 2011, she was doing an interview in Britain, in London, and she said, “If he runs for president, I’m going to have to tell the world what he’s really like.” And the lawyers, Trump’s lawyers, go immediately into court. And then they actually stood out, after they got some sort of an order from the court, and she’s completely silenced—and we’ll never hear from her again—you know, they actually stood in front of the courthouse and said she had proven that she was a bimbo. That’s what they said. So, I mean, the way in which he has treated his wives is just—it’s really deplorable.
I wrote in the book that Donald took the Fifth Amendment a hundred times during the course of the divorce proceedings in his deposition, questioned by Ivana’s lawyers about other women. And the Division of Gaming Enforcement down in New Jersey reviewed my book. And they actually got his deposition, which I didn’t have. I had an estimate that came from a very knowledgeable source. And so, I said a hundred, and they corrected me and said, “No, he only took the Fifth Amendment 97 times.” Keep that in mind when you hear from Donald Trump about the deposition that Bill Clinton did about Paula Jones, yeah, which was the basis of the impeachment. And so here’s Donald, apparently not committing perjury, but refusing to answer 97 questions about other women, which I think says an awful lot about his marital life.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Wayne, you’ve been doing this work for decades. And here you are, after following Donald Trump for almost half a century, publishing a book again, a revised and updated book, on Donald Trump. What keeps you going?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, Donald does, these days. I’ve been very sick. And so, I decided, when he started emerging, which was a total surprise to me, really, that he would be this big—so I’ve opened my door here. I’ve had 50, 60 reporters come through here. I kept all my old Trump files. Most of them are in this basement. Some of them are down in the house in Ocean City. And reporters have come through here. One team of two spent three days in my basement. And so, I’ve been an open door to every reporter. I haven’t written much myself—one little piece, but I intend to write some. And, you know, I think it’s a civic duty.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
WAYNE BARRETT: Well, he’s not—it’s more than that he’s something unlike anything—I mean, you know, I’m a Democrat. I’m a liberal Democrat. I have voted in my life for candidates on the Republican line—not often, but sometimes. But I think that this is a man who is—he’s really not qualified to run the Trump Organization. He’s not fit to run the Trump Organization. So he’s certainly not fit to run America. The Trump Organization is a fairly substantial real estate company—certainly not one of the biggest in Manhattan, as the Times demonstrated. But it’s—you know, it has some impact on some lives. And he’s so unconcerned about the impact that he has on some lives, whether there’s any positive element to it, that I don’t even think he’s fit for that. But I think he represents not just a danger to America, but because we are such an influence in the world, it’s really a shocking threat to the world. And so, you know, I’m in a sickbed a lot, but he gets me up out of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Barrett, investigative reporter who worked at The Village Voice for 37 years and continues to report. Juan González and I spoke to him last week at his home, where he’s largely been confined due to his battle with lung cancer. Wayne Barrett’s biography of Trump was just republished as an ebook; its title, Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. Visit our website at democracynow.org to watch, listen to or read Part 1 of our interview with Wayne Barrett that we ran last week.