The FRONTLINE Interview: Omarosa Manigault
Omarosa Manigault became a reality television star during the first season of The Apprentice. After filming ended, she remained in contact with Trump, appearing later on Celebrity Apprentice and other spin offs from the series. In July 2016, Manigault joined the Trump campaign as director of African-American outreach.
“I believe the first reason that Donald Trump is running for president is because he truly believes that he can help turn the nation around,” Manigault says. “The second reason I believe is that this is the greatest position in the world, to be at the center of political power, of the universe. But more importantly, every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump.”
In the below interview, she discusses the Trump she knows, what she learned from him on The Apprentice and how he was able to take lessons from reality TV and use them to challenge the Republican establishment.
This is the transcript of a conversation held with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on June 23, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.
So tell us the first time you met Donald Trump.
My first time meeting Donald Trump was in September of 2003 during the first season of The Apprentice. In fact, we walked into the boardroom, we were seated, and about 20 minutes later, the cameras started rolling, and Donald Trump walked in.
So you didn’t meet him before the production?
We did not meet Donald Trump until principal shooting started.
So what did you think of him?
Well, prior to Donald Trump walking into the boardroom, I felt like I knew absolutely everything there was to know from books and interviews and watching him on television. I studied extensively to prepare for The Apprentice. So when he walked into the room, it was very surreal to be sitting in a boardroom with one of the most infamous billionaires in the world. It was quite surreal.
Did he seem like what you expected?
He seemed very, very serious and very intense. I remember very distinctively, because I was sitting next to someone who was tapping me underneath the table, because Donald would go — [breathes in] — right before he spoke. It was very Darth Vader-ish. It was one of those moments where you’re like, uh, do you laugh, or do you stay serious? But I did not meet him until the cameras started rolling and we were all in the boardroom at Trump Tower.
Did you guys have any understanding — this is the first season — how big a deal this show would be, how impressive the ratings would be, what it would do for Donald Trump and for all of you?
You know, it was the infancy of reality TV. We were just coming off of the big success of Survivor and Richard Hatch and all of that, so no one had an idea of how a business show would do on television. I mean, the big numbers came from a guy walking around naked in the jungle, or Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire or something like that. But the idea of a business show and competing to get a job just didn’t seem to most folks that it would be the big hit that it became.
Why do you think it was such a big hit?
Well, I’d like to believe that The Apprentice was a big hit because I was such a superstar in the first season. (Laughs.) That’s just my ego. The truth of the matter is, it was all Donald. It was his ability to kind of read what was happening and to play up the dramatic moments and to zero in on the personalities and to kind of amplify the conflicts. It was an incredible perfect storm, and that’s why we were the number one show on television.
So how much of it was reality? How much of it was television? Where was the boardroom? Where were you guys living? What was it like at Trump Tower?
So on the first season, we lived in Trump Tower. I always tell people I lived at one of the most famous addresses in the world, on 53rd and Fifth at Trump Tower. We lived in what would have been an empty kind of showroom. They built up and made bedrooms and bathrooms, and we even had a basketball court in our suite.
And the boardroom, where was it? How was it? Was it the real boardroom?
The boardroom was a set as well. It was surrounded with the — and the ability for them to capture 360 degrees of shots, our reactions, any facial expressions. They always zoomed in if you started to sweat. The sweat shots were pretty popular on the first season. But it was incredible, because the boardroom was always so hot. The rest of the set was freezing. But when you walked into the boardroom, it was so incredibly hot. Now I find out, years later, here we are a decade later, and I find out that they did that on purpose to make you feel the heat, as if it wasn’t hot enough under the scrutiny of Donald Trump.
How real was it? How television was it?
I get asked that question a lot. I get asked a lot whether or not The Apprentice was real, particularly the first season. I will say to you that it’s not very realistic that I would be organizing a concert for Jessica Simpson in just 48 hours. But what was real were the emotions and the pressure and the feeling like you didn’t want to fail in front of America. I mean, at this point, 30 million people are watching you, and the last thing you want to do is get fired in front of your friends, your colleagues and your family.
Did you get to see Donald Trump at work as well? I mean, you were there the first year. He’s working in that building. This is Trump Tower. Did you get to see a little bit of what it was really like to see Donald Trump?
Production completely centered around Donald Trump’s real job in his real business. So there were times that we had boardrooms at 10:00 at night. Sometimes we would have a boardroom at 9:00 a.m. We only saw him in the boardroom. And that was very important that he continue to run his empire while we were shooting this little production down on the fifth floor of his building.
Did he become involved in any other ways? Did he ever sit down with you guys and give you advice, or just have conversations?
Well, we got in a little trouble on the first season because of some of the girls getting drunk and smoking. As you know, Donald Trump, he does not like smoking. He does not like drinking. He despises people consuming a lot of alcohol, but particularly in Trump Tower. How dare you come to Trump Tower and get drunk and act wild during the shooting of this show. But we were under such a tremendous amount of pressure. Now, I didn’t get drunk, but there were some of my cast mates who kind of let it loose.
What did Donald tell them?
You never want to be on the receiving end of Donald Trump being disappointed in you. But instead of yelling, he kind of gave us that look, almost like a father disciplining his children. And he was very measured about what he said. But that was even worse. It would have been better if he was screaming. But he made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that drinking and smoking during this production was totally unacceptable.
What was it like to be at Trump Tower? I mean, it’s an amazing building. Describe walking in the first time.
… We didn’t enter Trump Tower until literally the first day of shooting, and our walk-ins were legitimate. I mean, we were experiencing all the gold and the big Trump sign and the marble in the lobby. All of that was natural; it was real. It was our honest reactions to this opulent lifestyle that Donald Trump lived.
Did he live up to the impressions that you had when you did all of this research about Donald Trump to begin with?
What does not come across on paper for Donald Trump is how incredibly charismatic he is, his ability to connect with people. Because he has this bigger-than-life personality, you don’t realize how personable he is. I think that that’s what didn’t come across in reading The Art of the Deal or The Art of the Comeback or any of the other great books that he wrote, or the articles that were written about him. When you’re in the room with him, he has a way of drawing you into his universe, and he controls that universe. I mean, it is the Trump world that you step into.
A lot of people talk about his idiosyncratic ways about him. I mean, he doesn’t like to shake people’s hands; he has a huge ego; he has sort of the feeling that the presentation is absolutely essential. Take us into a little bit of that. Is he quirky? Is he different than other businesspeople that you’ve met before?
I’d like to say that he is the most interesting person, one of the most interesting people that I’ve ever met. At the time that we were shooting — this was in ’03 — he was a bit of a germaphobe. But I’ve had an opportunity to see him evolve, where he realizes that you can’t be a public person and not shake people’s hands. And even when you go in to hug him, he has this shoulder thing he does. It’s like a block move, where it’s like, “Oh.” But now you see him, and it’s a big bear hug, and he’s shaking hands and so forth. So he’s evolved in the last 13 years.
… His relationship with family, Ivana, Ivanka, eventually later on, I guess. Talk a little bit about the importance of his family within the business, within the filming of The Apprentice and such.
You know, it’s great to be a part of the Apprentice franchise, because we all kind of grew up together. I was in my 20s when I was on The Apprentice. Man, those were the good days. But even watching the kids grow up in the last 13 years, and to come into themselves, and to see their role expand within the Trump universe has been great — you know, watching Don, Jr., grow into his role, watching Eric open his businesses and build his foundation, and then, of course, watching Ivanka, who is just wonderful and elegant. She has all of his qualities but a certain gentleness and elegance that really — you can see she’s come into that.
A chip off the old block, I guess.
I think she’s shrewd like him, but with softer edges.
So tell us a little bit about your role, I mean how it evolved. You got a lot of press.
A lot. Honey, I was the star. What are you talking about, a lot?
And you were painted as the big villain and stuff. How much of that was real? How much of that was TV?
Well, I have to admit that I had someone that was kind of helping me prepare for The Apprentice, and he was a producer on one of the earlier seasons of The Real World. The one bit of advice that he gave me that really helped me was that you have to be where the action is on a reality show. And I’m like, “Well, what does that mean, ‘where the action is’?” He says, “You’re either starting the fight, breaking up the fight, or in the middle of the fight. But whatever you do, be where the action is.” And I’m like, “Oh.” It was that bit of information, that tidbit of advice, that really helped me in the middle of The Apprentice.
So when someone was fighting, either of my cast mates were fighting, I was the one to break them up. If there was no action happening, and we’re just kind of sitting around, I might start a little bit of a debate with one of my cast mates. More often than not, you found me in the middle of the drama, which also led to his second tidbit of advice: “When you leave this show, please don’t let anyone forget your name.”
So I very often would say: “No one talks to Omarosa like that. Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am?” You know, it’s like, “I am Omarosa.” All of that branding came from Donald Trump. He put Trump on everything — Trump on water, Trump on towels, Trump on furniture, Trump on buildings, Trump on helicopters, planes. You name it, he slapped his name on everything. And I quickly learned the importance of branding during that first season.
So you learned a lot from Donald Trump.
Oh, that’s how I got to go by just one name, Omarosa.
Did Donald enjoy this? After the first season, did he ever talk about the fact that he’d go out in the streets, and all of a sudden people treated him differently? What did the show do for Donald Trump?
Well, let’s be clear: Donald Trump was already Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump. But then after The Apprentice, he was Donald Trump on steroids. It’s like this guy was bigger than life. He was everywhere. Our first season got nominated for an Emmy, and I remember talking to him, because we did a big shoot for a magazine. We were on the cover of TV Guide, which at that time was a big deal. And I remember talking to him, and he’s like: “We’re going to win the Emmy. We’re going to win everything. We’re just going to keep winning.”
You know, now I listen to his speeches, 2016, and he’s like, “We’re just going to keep winning as America.” It’s like for him, everything is about winning. Even back then, we needed to win the ratings award; we needed to win the Emmys; we needed to win the next coveted time slot, Thursdays, 8:00 p.m., The Apprentice. That’s the coveted time slot. Donald Trump wanted to win at every single thing, and The Apprentice was a big win for him.
Did you ever see him really angry?
No, just in general.
I’ve ticked Donald off a couple of times.
What did you tick him off about?
During the production. I mean, that was my role. I had to get a rise. But, you know, there were a couple of things that really would upset Donald. The main thing would be the press, the headlines, the speculation about whether or not he could do it again. I remember the second and third seasons of The Apprentice weren’t as big hits as the first season, and he was really upset about casting, and the time slot had moved. Just things weren’t coming together as they did that magical first season, and the press turned very quickly: “Oh, you know, The Apprentice is going down. It’s no longer a hit. It’s already losing its luster, its momentum.” And that bothered him. So he worked to keep the franchise going. Even toward the fifth and sixth seasons, when the numbers were in the toilet, he could have given up on the franchise, but that wouldn’t be consistent with who Donald Trump is.
Then they came out with The Celebrity Apprentice, and then we were back on top again. I was right there in the boardroom for that return, because America loved the first season. But boy, did they really love The Celebrity Apprentice.
What was it about The Celebrity Apprentice that captured sort of the interest of the public?
Donald Trump questioning and interrogating celebrities on making business blunders, and I mean, these were people from the NBA, Olympic athletes. I was on a season with Nadia Comaneci, perfect-10 Nadia Comaneci, and he’s sending them out to sell lemonade or hot dogs or whatever. It’s a way of humbling the celebrities. And then they had to answer for every decision they made. America couldn’t get enough of it, and we were back on top again.
Was America seeing the real Donald Trump?
Well, I mean, that’s subjective. I have seen the real Donald Trump, because I’ve been around him for a decade. He only allows you into that intimate space if you earn that place. You have to earn his trust enough for him to let down his guard and to truly show you his very human softer side.
But America, at the time, they didn’t want that. They wanted Donald Trump putting people in their place and firing them and kicking them out on the streets and sending them up the road in a taxicab. It was the Donald they couldn’t get enough of.
So who is the real Donald Trump that you know?
The Donald Trump that I know is complicated. He is a dynamic human being. He is tough. He’s very tough. He expects so much from the people around him and his inner circle. He expects perfection. He expects excellence. He expects that you will work as hard as he works. I mean, the man works 16-to-18-hour days without blinking. It’s hard to keep up with him. The real Donald Trump doesn’t sleep until the work is done. The real Donald Trump also is an incredible family man. When you see him with his children or with his grandchildren now, you see him in a whole different light. So there’s a very complicated person that’s there. But often, the press only portrays one side of Donald Trump, and that’s the in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, win-at-all-costs Donald Trump.
But that’s the front that he puts up, both in The Apprentice and also in politics.
I don’t know that it’s a front. He is tough. But he is also kind, and he is also considerate, and he is also generous. All of us have many facets to who we are in our personalities and our lives. But to only see one portrayed in the media, I think that that is the quandary that is Donald Trump.
Tell me a story about his seeking perfection from people around him.
We had to often shoot in Trump Properties in that first season, and we designed the label for Trump Ice [Spring] Water. In fact, I was in Vegas recently at his property, and they were still using that. But one of the teams did not present the Trump name in the way that he thought it should be presented, and he tore them apart. This never made air, but I remember thinking: “Oh, my gosh. Note to self: Never mess with the Trump brand. He will destroy you.” And he destroyed this kid who was — it was pretty brutal.
… All right, let’s talk about the campaign. When do you first learn that he’s interested in politics at all?
Well, I learned that he was interested in politics during the ’04 season. We shot in ’03, but going into ’04, there was speculation that Donald Trump would run. He got involved in — I think, what was it, the Libertarian Party or some random party. In ’08 there was this whole “Recruit Donald Trump to run for presidency.” There was speculation even then, at that point. We were in season seven. So even as I was in boardrooms and shoots and press conferences with him, he’s talking politics.
In 2012 there was a huge movement to recruit Donald Trump to run for presidency. I think it’s important to note that Donald didn’t just wake up and say, “I want to be president.” There was a whole group of people, this massive movement to recruit Donald Trump to run. Often that side of the story is left out.
Fast-forward to the whole back-and-forth between Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and Donald Trump picking up on the story that was originated with the Clintons about the birther movement. He picked up the ball from them and ran with it. And there was just this big discussion about: “Is he challenging him? Is he undermining Obama because he intends to run?” Then, June of 2015, our lives would change again. And when I say ours, it’s because when Donald does something, if you’re in that world, then it affects you as well.
There was speculation, because he announced that he was going to have a big press conference, and he was going to announce something. I made some calls to friends at Trump, and I quickly learned what the plan was going to be. And I’m like: “Man, is he going to do it? He’s really going to do it.” Most of the folks in the inner circle knew he was going to do it. I did several interviews prior to that, and everybody was like, “Is he really going to run this time?” It’s been five, six times that they’ve speculated, “Is he going to do it?” He did it. Donald Trump actually entered the arena to be president of the United States.
Early on in the campaign, everybody kind of laughed at him and said, “Oh, there’s no friggin’ way he’s going to run, he’s going to get very far.” But he seemed to have tied into something in the base. He seemed to tie into the public in a way that other establishment politicians didn’t understand. Explain that.
First of all, there’s never been a presidential candidate like Donald Trump. I don’t know that there will ever be a candidate like Donald Trump who brings to the table so many different qualities, so many different background interests. Donald Trump owns real estate. Donald Trump owns a modeling agency. Donald Trump owns golf clubs and talent production companies. And Donald Trump is the head of this Trump University.
And then he comes to the table to run for president. People are obsessed with Donald Trump. He taps also, in his announcement, to a lot of the fear that has been running through this country, that we are no longer safe, that we are no longer significant, that we are no longer the dominant power in the world. Donald taps into that in his announcement. And the press do exactly what he expected that they would do. They cover it globally, all the things that he said. Some of the things were misunderstood, misconstrued, and some of the things were very intentional.
Explain how he ties into the media, how the media loves Donald Trump, is constantly there, how he used that within his campaign. What is he doing? Why is he so successful at bringing those cameras into the lobby of Trump Tower whenever something new happens?
Donald Trump is the ultimate showman. He knows how to put on a show. He knows how to entertain. And more importantly, he always delivers. That announcement will go down as the greatest announcement for presidency in the history of political politics.
… Tell me a little bit about that moment as you were watching it, what you saw.
I knew the time that the announcement was going to happen, but I had some things to do at my church, and some of the press called to say, “Can you comment after his announcement?” And I said, “Well, let me just make sure that I listen to see exactly how he’s going to announce.” I knew he was going to announce, but what he would say.
And as I’m watching Donald, I go, “He’s at it again.” I mean, the moment he started talking about immigrants, when he started talking about the wall, when he started talking about the U.S. and how we’re getting just hammered, you know, I said: “He’s at it again. Donald’s being Donald.” And it worked.
What does that mean, “being Donald”?
Well, we have a saying, “Let Trump be Trump.” It just kind of encompasses what it’s like to be around him. You can advise him, you can brief him, you can make suggestions; but ultimately, Donald Trump is going to win or lose. He’s going to succeed or fail based on the decisions he makes, based on his gut feeling, based on his analysis of the information that’s available. He is going to win or lose based on him. He won’t point fingers at anyone else. He will own the win, and he’ll own the loss as well.
What about this, the critics that would all say the stuff about Mexican rapists and such? Even going back to what you were talking about before, the tying into the birther movement back in 2011, they read it as him being racist. What was your view about that?
My view about those assertions is that Donald taps into racial issues. They are certainly racial in the sense that they address issues of race. But the issues of race and division in this country did not start with Donald Trump. Donald Trump just points out issues and topics that cause people to have a debate, to sit up and to listen a little closer, to pay attention. The discussions and the debates about race in this country and the need for us to have better race relations did not begin when Donald Trump announced for presidency in June of 2015.
The relationship between the president, or the lack of relationship, the anger at its core — talk a little bit about that if you know anything about it. I mean, the fact that the birther thing certainly got under the skin of Obama — certainly it must have gotten under Donald’s skin when, at the Correspondents’ Dinner, the president kind of came after him.
Oh, I was in that room.
You were? Take me into that room, and what you were thinking, and the reaction of Donald Trump.
I got to talk to Donald as we were going to our seats. And he was in just such a great mood. And he was very jovial. And people were taking pictures. And you know, it was very exciting that Donald was there, and at that point, Celebrity Apprentice was a hit. Donald was seated probably eight tables away from me, so I could just see his profile, you know, the famous hair, just his profile.
But as Barack Obama started going in on him, the room got quiet. I mean, there were some chuckles, some laughs. But Donald’s face was so incredibly serious, it was so incredibly just — he just put on a poker face. But it just kept going and going, and he just kept hammering him. And I thought, oh, Barack Obama is starting something that I don’t know if he’ll be able to finish.
Some people say that it’s one of the reasons he’s running now, that Donald is running now.
I believe the first reason that Donald Trump is running for president is because he truly believes that he can help turn the nation around. The second reason I believe is that this is the greatest position in the world, to be at the center of political power, of the universe. But more importantly, every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.
… One of the things you said is that announcement that he makes, and then afterward, and the debates and else, he is very willing to be outrageous. He’s very willing to be Donald. What is going on? What does he understand about that? Why does he do that, and how does it work?
Well, most politicians are very controlled and limited, and they manipulate the press, and they’ll hold a press conference. Donald speaks to the press at every opportunity that he got. He would just dive in there and take questions. He made himself available. He was transparent about everything. This was very unique for a presidential candidate, to not be on script, to speak off the cuff, to call reporters by name, call them on the phone, ring up their cell phones, offer comments. The contrast to how controlled Hillary Clinton’s campaign was huge.
There was a feeding frenzy for all things Trump, and he kept feeding and feeding. He was throwing blood in the water, chum in the water to the sharks. He had no problem feeding it, because that was what he needed in order for people to pay attention to his announcement.
Talk to me a little bit about the debates and how he came across in the debates, and what you were thinking.
… The amount of pressure that was on Donald Trump to stand on a stage with 16 — It’s just like one by one they fell. One by one he took them out. It was incredible.
But to watch him stand on the stage with  other competitors who had vastly more experience, political knowledge, depth, domestic policy experience, international and foreign policy experience, serving in the Senate, in the House, as governors, and Donald Trump stood there tall, as if: “Hey, I could do this. I’m Trump. I could do anything.” It was just great.
You also watched because you thought, this next question is going to be the thing. That’s going to be the thing that makes the campaign crumble. This next statement, this next moment, that’s going to be it. Everybody watched because they wanted to see a train wreck. But instead, the Trump train just kept chugging along, chugging along. Every debate he was knocking folks out. And he used his wit, his humor and the timing. That one line that now, you know, people criticize, but that Megyn Kelly line where she says, “You’ve criticized women. You call…” He says, “Yeah, but only Rosie O’Donnell.” In hindsight, it’s been used in these attack ads and all that, but at the moment, it was remarkable. You knew everyone was going to be talking about it. So he used the debates as a platform to shine his personality, his charisma, but more importantly, to bring the audience in, people who had never been engaged in the political process were now either for or against Donald Trump. That’s all he needed.
The critics that will say: “All he’s showing is, talent in a reality television story. The reality is this is reality; this is politics; [politics] is the most important job.”
Yeah, but do you know how difficult it is to take out  primary competitors? … You can’t just dismiss that as a reality television personality just doing what they do. There is some art to that. There is some depth to that. There is substance to being able to knock out  competitors. Hillary only had to knock out two, and she still hasn’t even handled the one. That says something about Donald.
The fact that the establishment —
Talk about dismantling the establishment. You also have to give him credit. You have to give Donald Trump credit for dismantling, brick by brick, the establishment, the establishment that had the puppet strings that pulled this way and pulled that way and determined who would ultimately become the candidate. You have to give him credit, because it was very skillful how he completely dismantled their ability to control what was happening in this race.
Why does the establishment in Washington hate him so much?
It’s obvious why the establishment in Washington despised Donald Trump, because they can’t control him; they can’t manipulate him; and they can’t influence him. That’s why they dislike him.
So what were you doing in the Clinton administration? First off, what was your role? What was your relationship? You were with the vice president, but what was your relationship, or how much did you know the president?
No, no, no, I worked in both. I started out in the advance office as special assistant of logistics, in advance. I got to travel around and work with Secret Service to make sure the cars were there on time, the podium was there on time, the plane was there, and the manifest was done. So I was doing logistics out of [Vice President Al] Gore’s office.
Then I was promoted to the president side, to PPO, presidential personnel, where I was deputy associate director of presidential personnel. This was a very political office, because it handled all of the appointments. I had a portfolio called “Guns and Money” that was Commerce, Defense, Treasury, State Department. That was my portfolio. I had to oversee the Schedule C appointments, the SES [Senior Executive Service]. And then, very often, when there was a secretary vacancy, we had to go up to the Hill for confirmation hearings.
You were there during impeachment time.
… Give us the feeling of the White House during this point, during the impeachment period time.
One of the things that the Clintons do very well is to get people to come to their defense, and during the impeachment, they convinced all of us appointees that this was a right-wing conspiracy, that none of this was true. I remember Bill Clinton standing up at a press conference. I was watching from my office in the EEOB [Eisenhower Executive Office Building], and he stood there, and he said, “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” And that’s all we needed to hear. And I’m talking about the entire White House compound — when we heard those words, we believed him. So we went out, and we battled for him, and we stood up for him, and we said, “This is just a conspiracy. They’re just working against him. These are lies.”
Then they started giving us talking points, you know: “This is about a personal relationship.” So we all went to battle for them, because they have that ability to get you to want to defend the wrongs that they did. And then, when it came out that he indeed had relations with this woman, we all had egg on our face. We looked very, very silly and stupid. My family was like, “Why are you still working there with this man who took advantage of this young woman?” I got questioned about my loyalty and why I stood by them.
I’m going to tell you, going through the impeachment was one of the most difficult times in the White House, because you couldn’t walk out of the front of the White House without reporters and photographers and people asking you, “Why are you still there when it’s come out that he, in fact, took advantage of this young woman?”
And your overview of Hillary Clinton during this time? Did you work with her much?
With the First Lady’s Office, she had influence on all aspects of the administration. I think that’s pretty well known. She did impact who was appointed where. She would work not only with the Social Office but with Political Affairs or with the VP’s Office. So you would see the first lady moving around. Then she was on this mission about health care at that time, so no matter what office you were in, if it had anything to do with health care or improving the health of Americans, we had to send that information to the First Lady’s Office.
I got to interact with her because I also worked at the DNC [Democratic National Convention] in the evenings, getting information, calling, working with the Women’s Caucus, was very active in the Women’s Caucus. That’s really where my relationship with both Tipper Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton kind of blossomed.
Tell me about Hillary Clinton. What were your thoughts about her? What was she like to work with?
Hillary Clinton was really a different person back then. I mean, we’re talking about ’97, ’98. She made sure that we, as young staffers, got home to our families, for instance. She would say: “You guys don’t work so late. Go home. Go home.” Or, when I was traveling, when I was doing logistics and I would see her on the plane or at events, she was always caring. She would always interact. She was always very warm.
I think that a lot of these scandals kind of hardened her. A lot of the trials and tribulations that she went through changed her. But I knew her before the change, before impeachment, because after impeachment, I don’t really even know this Hillary.
… How did The Apprentice change the way the American public saw Donald Trump? He’s been known as a developer and been well known in New York. He’d also been known for the tabloid scandals and the divorce and Marla Maples. But some people have told us The Apprentice, here he is in the boardroom as an executive making decisions, sort of looks like president, too, in some ways. From this Donald Trump that you knew before the show to who he was after season one, how did it change the way the country saw Donald Trump?
The Apprentice was very important for Donald Trump’s brand. His brand had been being this New York kind of developer, this hardened guy who divorced wives, married wives and so forth. The Apprentice gave him substance. It allowed him to tell his story on his own terms: “I am a big, successful, huge developer. I’m a billionaire.” He got to sell that image to America, and they bought it. They loved it, and they couldn’t get enough of it.
Donald connected with the American public because they wanted to be like him. They aspired to be just like him. They wanted to see all of this affluence, and he let them see it. He let them into every aspect of what it meant to be successful in America.
Can you talk about the opening of the show and what does he say in the opening?
… I remember there was a line in there that says, “If you want to be like me, if you want to be a part of this, then you’ll compete to be the apprentice.” And then — this is the best part of the opening — the O’Jays singing, “Money, Money, Money, Money!” What do Americans love more than anything, but money and wealth and success? That opening completely captures it all. And then at the bottom, there is this ticker going across, and flashes of us walking out of the hangar, walking to the plane, boardroom. Then there’s a shot of him getting out of the limo, walking into Trump Tower. It sealed his deal that he was a success. Donald was selling success.
You said that he evolved in the three seasons that you were on. Was he learning lessons that he would take into politics?
Yeah, absolutely. Donald Trump learned many lessons during The Apprentice. The first lesson was about ratings. I associate ratings with poll numbers, you know. The same way every week the ratings would come out, how did we perform? How did we do against this show and that time slot? It’s the same with polls in the political race. How are you performing? What are your likability numbers? Are you up from last week? Are you down? Who is winning? Who is losing? There was a correlation between the two.
It’s amazing the similarities, when you think about it.
Oh, absolutely. All people care about are ratings in Hollywood, and all people care about are poll numbers in Washington.
What was in the show for him? Is he interested in celebrity, or is he interested in expanding the brand to make money?
Well, Donald had to be begged to do the show. Mark Burnett kept at it year after year, calling Donald, trying to pitch Donald. He was very, very aggressive, trying to get Donald and convince him that this would be good for him. And the thing that’s so Donald, and I don’t know if he would admit this, but you know, the bottom line — this will impact your bottom line in a positive way. …
The amazing thing was originally, it was going to be a different businessman every year. But lo and behold, they saw they had something that just could not be surpassed.
Well, they did try. They did try Martha [Stewart]. Oh, Martha, Martha, Martha. That season failed miserably. Instead of firing people, she wrote them little notes on pretty letterhead. America liked Donald because he was like out to the cab, on the street, “You’re fired,” in your face. That’s what made his success. He was unapologetically tough. And that’s why he’s doing so well in this race. He’s tough, and America needs somebody who’s going to fight for them.
But some people will say it’s not real.
What difference does it make if it brings in big ratings? Does it have to be real? I mean, come on. Americans tune in knowing that we’re producing a show on the streets of New York, running through subways and down the roads in between cabs. There is a level of being authentic, and then there is a big part of it that has to be produced. It has to be.
And politics is a lot like that.
Oh, my gosh. There is nothing more produced than politics. Remember, I’ve been a part of this. I was a logistics and advance person. I would go and find the proper people to stand behind the candidate as the backdrop. “Oh, we need construction workers.” “No, we need teachers.” “How about cute little kids?” That’s the most produced arena in the world. Every movement of a candidate in a race is scrutinized. It is manufactured, and it is packaged and presented to America to show the candidate in their best light.
So then to criticize Donald that he comes from a show that’s produced and may not be authentic I think is a little contradiction.
When he comes down the escalator to make the announcement and you’re watching, does it feel like he really believes that he’s going to go all the way to the White House, or that this is possible? Some people say he was on a sort of branding exercise that was more successful than he thought it would be. How serious was he?
Let me be very clear. Donald Trump doesn’t do anything if he doesn’t think he can win. And when he announced, he announced with the thought that, “I can win. I will be the 45th president of the United States.” …