Trump Biographer on Presumptive Nominee's Broken Promises, Tax Returns & Potential VP Pick Chris Christie
Democracy Now! spoke to Wayne Barrett last week at his home, where he has largely been confined due to his battle with lung cancer. We asked Barrett about Trump’s unkept promise to build affordable housing in Atlantic City in order to build a larger casino. "He was getting all kinds of agreements from the city regarding roadways and access to Trump Castle, which is out at the marina," Barrett said. "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."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
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 GonzÃ¡lez 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 GONZÃLEZ: 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 GONZÃLEZ: 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?