President Trump

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Michael Kirk

Jim Gilmore

Mike Wiser

Philip Bennett


Jim Gilmore


Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser


Michael Kirk

NARRATOR: On election night 2016, Donald Trump watched as his world suddenly changed.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation: You see in these pictures Donald Trump sort of wearily and warily looking at the screen. And he looks like someone who can’t actually believe that he’s winning.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States.

NEWSCASTER: ─impossible political upset to become the president-elect─

NARRATOR: It was an historic upset for a political outsider.

DONALD TRUMP, President-Elect: I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.

NARRATOR: And it was a moment of vindication for a candidate who had climbed back from a bitter public humiliation.

NEWSCASTER: We’re talking about the White House correspondents dinner tonight. It’s an annual event right here─

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump has been invited─

NARRATOR: It happened in April 2011, at one of Washington, D.C.,’s most glamorous nights.

NEWSCASTER: ─annual White House correspondents dinner─

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, The Apprentice: 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─-

NARRATOR: Trump’s invitation to the exclusive gathering came after weeks of attacking President Barack Obama on television.

DONALD TRUMP: You are not allowed to be a president if you’re not born in this country. He may not have been born in this country. But there’s something on that birth-─ maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or he may not have one. But I will tell you this. If he wasn’t born in this country, it’s one of the great scams of all time.

INTERVIEWER: Absolutely.

NARRATOR: But that night, in front of Washington’s journalists, politicians and power brokers, Obama would hit back.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation: President Obama takes the microphone.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: All right, everybody. Please have a seat. Donald Trump is here tonight!

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: And proceeds to filet Donald publicly.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. [laughter] And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter ─ like, did we fake the moon landing? [laughter]

GRAYDON CARTER, Editor, Vanity Fair: I was sitting 20 feet from him, and just the look of discomfort on his face─

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: What really happened in Roswell? [laughter] And where are Biggie and Tupac? [laughter]

OMAROSA MANIGAULT: Donald’s face was so incredibly serious. It was so incredibly just─ he just put on a poker face.

DAVID REMNICK, Editor, The New Yorker: I was two tables away from Trump. The conventional way in Washington of absorbing a joke at the White House correspondents dinner is to keep your chin up and at least pretend to have a sense of humor about it, even if you go cry into your pillow that night. Trump was steaming. His face was all locked in. He was not having a good time.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: All kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. [laughter] For example─ no, seriously, just recently in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice [laughter] at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so, ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. [laughter] You fired Gary Busey. [laughter]

And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. [laughter and applause]


TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: And he’s being treated like a pinata by the president of the United States, and I think he felt humiliated.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: Well handled, sir! [laughter] Well handled.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT: 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.”

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: Say what you will about Mr. Trump, he certainly would bring some change to the White House. Let’s see what we’ve got up there [slide: “Trump White House Resort and Casino.”]  [laughter]

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump:   Donald dreads humiliation and he dreads shame. And this is why he often attempts to humiliate and shame other people. So in the case of the president ridiculing him, I think this was intolerable for Donald Trump.

ROGER STONE, Trump Political Adviser: I think that is the night that he resolves to run for president. I think that he is kind of motivated by it. “Maybe I’ll just run. Maybe I’ll show them all.”

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, Trump ‘16 Campaign: 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.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. [applause]

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: Donald Trump’s fantasy is to be the guy who takes the key to the Oval Office from Barack Obama’s hand in 2017. And it’s personal. This is─ this is a burning personal need that he has, to redeem himself from being humiliated by the first black president.

NEWSREEL: This is New York, a miracle city, a city of tall buildings, narrow dark streets, magnificent parks─

NARRATOR: Back in the 1940s─

NEWSREEL: ─the borough of Queens occupying part of Long Island─-

NARRATOR: ─just across the East River from Manhattan─

NEWSREEL: ─an electrical railway system spreads through four of the five boroughs─

NARRATOR: ─Donald Trump grew up in a posh suburb called Jamaica Estates.

NEWSREEL: ─is perhaps typical of New York’s residential areas.

MARIE BRENNER, Vanity Fair: The Trump family had a huge house in Queens that they used to refer to as “Tara.” It had nine bedrooms. It had columns. It was quite beautiful, but it was in Queens.

NARRATOR: The Trump family would spend 50 years building memories here. Fred Trump, a real estate developer, designed the house himself and raised Donald and his brothers and sisters in luxury.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: It’s not like he knew anything but comfort. When it rained and he had to deliver his papers, the chauffeur would take him around.

NARRATOR: But Donald’s father was tough and insisted everyone learn the family business.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps: He was a guy who worked seven days a week. It’s Sunday, why wouldn’t you be working?   And would─ even on the weekends, would pile the kids in the car and go to a building site, pick up old nails that weren’t used. Why would you waste a nail?

LOUISE SUNSHINE, Friend: Fred Trump was a machine. I mean, he was a human machine. He was driven beyond whatever the description of driven could ever mean. And when you look at the picture of Fred and you look at Donald, you see the great resemblance between the two. And when you think about Fred’s energy, you see how it is channeled through Donald.

NARRATOR: Fred was seen as passionate about the business but not warm with his children.

SANDY McINTOSH, Classmate: Cold. He was not a warm person. I’d see his father at the beach, even, with a suit and a tie and a hat, a clipped, very kind of military mustache, and simply being correct.

NARRATOR: Fred had theories. He shared them with his kids. Donald especially liked one of them.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump: This is a very deep part of the Trump story. The family subscribes to a race horse theory of human development, that they believe that there are superior people, and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get superior offspring.

NARRATOR: Fred’s other theory─ life was a competition. There were winners and there were losers. He called the winners “killers.”

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-Author, The Art of the Deal: The way the game got played in his household was, if you did not win, you lost. And losing was you got crushed. Losing was you didn’t matter. Losing was you were nothing.

NARRATOR: Donald took the lessons to heart, always tried to be the winner. But he was also a handful.

MARIE BRENNER: His brother, Robert, who’s very discreet, told me that Donald was always the kid in the family who would start throwing birthday cake at all the parties, that you would build up a tower of blocks, he would come knock your blocks down.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: This is the person he’s been, I think, since he was 5 years old. Donald told me that he is essentially the person he was in the 1st grade and that he hasn’t really changed.

TONY SCHWARTZ: His self-definition was built around the idea that he was one tough son of a bitch. That meant in classrooms, that meant with teachers, that meant with his father.

NARRATOR: By the 7th grade, even Fred had had it with Donald’s mischief. He sent him up the Hudson River just a few miles from West Point to the toughest boarding school he could find, the New York Military Academy.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: You have to think of this 13-year old kid who’s lived a very comfortable life, but then, all of a sudden, he’s the one child of five to be banished to this austere life. Goodbye luxury. Goodbye mom and dad, brothers and sisters. Hello, drill sergeant.

NARRATOR: The New York Military Academy was no-nonsense, heavy on the discipline, over the years home to the children of gangster John Gotti and Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

HARRY FALBER, Classmate: It was a very austere, very scary place. I was homesick. I was crying hysterically. They─ in fact, I was crying so much the first couple of nights, they put me in the infirmary.

SANDY McINTOSH: We were in a culture of hazing at the military school. Everyone─ I mean, that’s just the way it was.

HARRY FALBER: You got hit, you may have gotten slammed against the wall, you got put artificially into fights.

NARRATOR: But the rough and tumble didn’t seem to bother Donald. He thrived.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps: He liked it. Apparently, he really liked it. He liked the accountability. He liked the kind of clarity of it. And he liked that there was a medal and a prize for everything.

NARRATOR: He was a star athlete. He claimed he could have played pro baseball. But his classmates agree he was proudest of winning the ultimate accolade in an all-boys school─ he was named “Ladies’ Man” in the school yearbook.

Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, was a role model for many of the boys.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: Yeah, I─ you know, he had a very Hugh Hefner Playboy magazine view of success.

NARRATOR: The young cadets learned a lot from Playboy magazine and what they called “barracks talk.”

SANDY MCINTOSH: In fact, our biggest advice in, you know, our lives came from Playboy magazine. That’s how we learned about women. That was all of my adolescence. And that’s why getting out of military school was difficult. You had to realize that you couldn’t just follow the Playboy philosophy.

NARRATOR: They would graduate and grow up, but Donald’s classmates say, in some ways, he hasn’t changed at all.

SANDY McINTOSH: The things that we talked about at that time in 1964 really are very close to the kind of way he talks now. I hear these echoes of the barracks life that we had and that we grew out of.

NARRATOR: By the early 1970s, Trump had graduated from college. He headed out of Queens and into Manhattan.

TONY SCHWARTZ: From the very first time I met Trump, I thought of Saturday Night Fever and Travolta. He was the kid who grew up as a outsider to where the real action was. And he was acutely aware of it, always had his eye on what he thought was a glamorous, Hollywood-ish life, and that was the life of Manhattan.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: I think if you had to pick sort of three stereotypes that are probably constantly tap dancing in Donald’s mind and in his imagination of himself, it’s Clint Eastwood, James Bond and Hugh Hefner.

ROGER STONE: He’s really spreading his wings when he comes to Manhattan. Well, I think he’s having the time of his life. He is─ he’s a bachelor. He’s an eligible bachelor.

NARRATOR: He frequented the city’s hottest places. He met Nikki Haskell, the host of an underground cable show about the party scene.

NIKKI HASKELL, Friend: When I saw Donald, nobody knew who he was. He was just a young, very aggressive, smart boy, hotshot, so to speak, someone that had big dreams. And that’s what this town is built on.

NARRATOR: During the day, he worked hard to do something his father never did, break into Manhattan real estate.

TONY SCHWARTZ: He’s a kid who wants to figure out how to make deals, to figure out how to establish a presence for himself in Manhattan. And he’s right to believe that that’s not easy to do.

NARRATOR: He needed a mentor. He found one in Roy Cohn, the notorious New York lawyer.

BARBARA RES, VP Trump Organization, 1980-92: Well, he was savage. Cohn had a─ an incredible reputation for being a tough, tough guy.

NEWSCASTER: The scene is Washington and the Senate Investigating Sub-Committee. Mr. Cohn, his friend in aid, was present with Senator McCarthy to answer accusations─

NARRATOR: Cohn had become famous during the McCarthy hearing, a witch hunt that accused Americans of communist sympathies.

MARIE BRENNER: He delighted in the fact that he had ruined so many lives in the McCarthy era.

ROY COHN: ─detailed testimony in that, in the record, Mr. Chairman of Lobisky’s association, close personal association with Julius Rosenberg over a period of a year.

MARIE BRENNER: Roy Cohn humiliated people. He made up things. He had no morals. You couldn’t even say that he had the morals of a snake. He had no morals. He had no moral center.

NIKKI HASKELL: Everyone knows the most famous legal eagle, my pal and yours, Roy Cohn.

ROY COHN: Good evening, Nikki. How are you?

NIKKI HASKELL: Roy was like a street guy. You know, he was like, “Punch─ you punch me, I’ll punch you.” And I think he made Donald very confrontational, and I think you had that sort of tough guy, don’t take any kind of, you know, [expletive deleted] from anybody kind of an attitude. And I think a lot of that, you know, he instilled in Donald.

BARBARA RES: And in his drawer, he had a picture of Roy. And it was a grainy black and white picture, and Roy looked like the devil. And he would pull it out, and he would say, “This is my lawyer. If we can’t make an agreement, this is who’s going to─ who you’re going to be dealing with.”

NARRATOR: In 1973, Trump hired Cohn to defend him and his father. They had been sued by the federal government for discriminating against black renters looking for apartments in their buildings.

MICHAEL KRANISH: And the lawsuit revealed that Trump agents allegedly were writing down “C” for colored or Number 9 to indicate a black prospective tenant, and those people were often turned away.

MARC FISHER: And Trump asked him for advice. “What do I do? Do I settle?” And Roy Cohn said, “Never settle.” Roy Cohn said, “You need to fight back harder than they ever hit you.”

NARRATOR: At a press conference and in court filings, Trump and Cohn claimed they were the victims.

GWENDA BLAIR: He comes right back with a $100 million lawsuit, which was filed by Roy Cohn. And that was Roy Cohn’s signature kind of thing.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: Roy Cohn taught Donald how to come out punching, how to use lawsuits like machine gun bullets and take a no-prisoners approach to City Hall, to your business opponents, to anyone else who might get in your way. And I think Donald reveled in that.

NARRATOR: But with damning evidence of racial discrimination, the company was forced to settle. Nevertheless, Trump didn’t admit any wrongdoing and even declared the outcome a victory.

TONY SCHWARTZ: This is a classic example of where Trump begins to demonstrate something he talks about all the time today, which is he’s a counter-puncher. So somebody comes after him and says that he’s done something nefarious and horrible, and he just goes back at them with all guns blazing. You know, boom, boom, boom! And admits nothing. Never admit anything. Never say you made a mistake. Just keep coming. And if you lose, declare victory. And that’s exactly what happened there. He lost as clearly as you can lose, but he loudly proclaimed his victory.

NARRATOR: The controversy didn’t diminish Trump’s ambitions to leave his mark on Manhattan. He had been searching for the perfect location.

LOUISE SUNSHINE: And Donald came upon this site, which had the Bonwit Teller building on it. It was kind of a landmark building. It was next door to Tiffany’s. He loved it.

NARRATOR: It was to be called Trump Tower, 58 stories of high-end retail and high-priced condominiums, a chance for Donald to finally surpass his father. To oversee the project, Trump surprised the construction world. He put a woman in charge.

BARBARA RES, VP, Trump Organization, 1980-92: He said that I would be his representative and act sort of like a Donna Trump, he said, calling me a “killer.” I would be in charge of everything that would normally come to him.

NARRATOR: The men’s world of unions and sub-contractors in New York had never seen it before.

BARBARA RES: Donald told me that he thought that men were better than woman, especially in this field. But he said a good woman is better than 10 good men. I think he believed that women had to prove themselves more than men, so a good woman would work harder.

NARRATOR: Res kept the contractors in line, and executive vice president Louise Sunshine handled the sales.

LOUISE SUNSHINE, VP, Trump Organization, 1973-85: He hired the right people to help him, myself being one of them, and we got the job done.

NEWSCASTER: ─my next guest who’s a reporter on Wall Street, and this is what he has in mind.

NARRATOR: And Trump personally took care of the marketing.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump, as I say, is just 33 years old. He now has an apartment for sale in a new Trump building called the Trump Tower. One floor of it, $11 million altogether.

You’re worth all this money. You say you didn’t say that you want to be worth a billion dollars.

DONALD TRUMP: No, I really am not looking to make tremendous amounts of money. I’m looking to enjoy my life, and if that happens to go with it, that’s fabulous.

NARRATOR: And to help sell the apartments, Trump had a novel idea. He inflated the floor numbers. His 58-story building became a 68-story building.

BARBARA RES: How he got away with that, I’m not sure, but he did. And it made a lot of sense in his mind because if you’re renting a room, you’d rather be on the 14th floor than on the 6th floor. In his mind, having an apartment, the higher the apartment was, the better it would look.

NARRATOR: In his autobiography, written with author Tony Schwartz, Trump would call it “truthful hyperbole.”

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-author, The Art of the Deal: People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. I came up with the phrase “truthful hyperbole,” and of course, it’s a ridiculous term because there is no such thing as truthful hyperbole, but it’s kind of a winning phrase. It really does capture a way in which he sees the world. The truth doesn’t mean much to Donald Trump.


MARIE BRENNER: In the time that I was reporting on him, his lawyer said to me, “Donald is a believer that if you repeat something enough, people will start to believe it.”

NEWSCASTER: Its opening party was one to end them all. Guests, thousands of them, mingled with─

NARRATOR: And at its grand opening, the marketing, the publicity, paid off.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump: It’s Donald Trump constructed out of marble and brass. That’s what Trump Tower is. It’s him. You know, it’s bold. It’s big. It’s polished. And it’s highly marketed.

MARIE BRENNER: Trump Tower made him. It was a moment where glitz took over New York,, and Donald embodied that glitz.

NARRATOR: By his side, his wife, Ivana Zelnickova, a model.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation: And that was one of the first times he really got a taste of real celebrity. And Donald Trump is a man who thrives in the spotlight. Outside of the spotlight, I think he feels diminished.

NARRATOR: He had succeeded. Trump Tower was a reality. He had proof he was a winner, but not in everyone’s eyes.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: There is an old money elite in Manhattan that has never accepted Donald. He was considered, I think, loud and obnoxious and too self centered and ill-mannered and not someone who fit in. And so I think this is where Donald’s resentment of the elite comes from.

NARRATOR: As Donald and Ivana moved into a penthouse on the top three floors of Trump Tower, something was missing.

BARBARA RES: He doesn’t have a lot of friends, but how can somebody in his position have friends? How do you─ how do you trust anyone that, you know, isn’t working for you? What do they want out of you? It’s very difficult. It’s very lonely at the top. And he is the epitome of loneliness at the top.

NARRATOR: But Trump’s celebrity was rising.

ANNOUNCER: It’s another dazzling Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, your password to the last word in money-no-object adventure and excitement!

NARRATOR: On television, he was becoming a symbol of business success. He claimed he was a billionaire.

ROBIN LEACH, Host: Welcome to the world according to Trump, the billionaire builder with a big bang approach who dared to autograph the Manhattan skyline!

NARRATOR: He was now determined to make Trump a household name all over America. He began with a legendary buying spree.

BEN BERZIN, VP, Midlantic National Bank: Banks were lining up to give him money, and they would beat each other on terms to provide money to him. He was spending money like a─ like a drunken sailor.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: He buys a giant yacht that he doesn’t really enjoy at all.

NARRATOR: There was an airline.

BEN BERZIN: He bought the Trump Shuttle from bankrupt Eastern Airlines─ no idea how to run an airline.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump, the biggest casino owner─

NARRATOR: Then he built a gambling empire in Atlantic City, two casinos and a hotel. Then the iconic Plaza Hotel in New York City.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps: It did seem out of control and possibly even pathological, casino after casino after casino after casino, hotels, yacht. Everywhere he turned, another big piece of real estate here, another big piece of real estate there.

NARRATOR: By the late 1980’s, Donald Trump’s ambition pushed him into uncharted territory, presidential politics.

NEWSCASTER: The signs of power and opulence in place, Donald Trump’s personal helicopter descended onto this small airfield, greeted by a one man, “Trump for President” bandwagon.

ROGER STONE, Trump Political Adviser: I arranged for the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce to invite him for a luncheon speech. And a local Portsmouth city councilman named Mike Dunbar forms the first known Draft Trump for President committee.

NARRATOR: Trump’s political adviser, Roger Stone, was a long-time associate of Roy Cohn.

ROGER STONE: In truth, I don’t think he was ever serious about running in 1988. I think he liked the publicity. He liked the notoriety. It was- it was great media.

DONALD TRUMP: What I want is I want extreme competence. I want strength and extreme competence, and you need a combination of both, but I want strength and extreme competence at the helm of this country.

NARRATOR: In one speech after another, trump’s political message was simple and direct.

DONALD TRUMP: I’m personally tired of seeing this great country of ours being ripped off and really decimated and hurt badly by so many foreign nations that are supposedly our allies.

ROGER STONE: NATO is ripping us off. Why are we paying for this?  Why don’t the Japanese pay for themselves? Why don’t all our allies─ they’re rich now, why don’t they pay for themselves? Trade─ we’re getting taken to the cleaners in these trade deals. So he’s already formulating his─ his views as early as ‘88.

NARRATOR: he loved the attention and even began to insert himself into controversial issues in New York City.

NEWSCASTER: It is the ages of the accused, 14 to 17 years old, and the horror of their alleged crimes that has caused a furor, a woman jogging in New York’s Central Park last Wednesday night raped and nearly beaten to death.

MARC FISHER, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: What happened in Central Park was a violation to him, and he felt it keenly. And he felt- was─ had a deep emotional reaction to it. And so he lashed out.

GWENDA BLAIR: He took out a full page ad after the Central Park jogger case and said the kids who did this should be executed. This is terrible. They’re beasts, animals.

DONALD TRUMP: You better believe that I hate the people that took this girl and raped her brutally. You better believe it. And it’s more than anger, it’s hatred. And I want society to hate them.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO, Author, The Truth About Trump: The unstated text of this was, because there were five minority kids who brutalized a white woman in Central Park and everybody’s outraged about it. And they’re different from us, and so we need to treat them with the severest methods possible.

NARRATOR: The five young men spent years in prison, but were later exonerated when the actual rapist admitted his guilt.

MICHAEL KRANISH, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: But Donald Trump never apologized. He didn’t want to admit he was wrong, and to this day, he’s not apologized for the statements he made at the time.

NARRATOR: But for Trump, his television rage had made his celebrity bigger than ever, and talk of President Trump had begun.

TONY SCHWARTZ: I don’t believe that Trump himself felt that he was running for president. But once the notion got stirred up in him, it never went away.

NARRATOR: He had fame and success, but in the early 1990s, Donald Trump’s life was about to fall apart.

LIZ SMITH, NY Daily News, 1976-91: The rumors began that he had a girl, and so forth, and I was being bombarded with these stories.

NARRATOR: Liz Smith was a well-known gossip columnist in newspapers and on television. Smith kept a close eye on Donald and Ivana.

LIZ SMITH: Ivana was totally fixated on Donald. I heard all these things, that she had tried to please him and gone away and had her breasts augmented and a facelift.

NARRATOR: But now there was another woman, 26-year-old Marla Maples. Ivana and Donald had been married 12 years. They had three children.

LIZ SMITH: And she threw herself in my arms sobbing and crying and saying, “Donald doesn’t want me anymore. He has told me he can’t be sexually attracted to a woman who’s had children.”

NEWSCASTER: The Trumps are good copy, and the gossip columnists are in for a field day!

NEWSCASTER: The unfolding saga of Trump versus Trump─

NEWSCASTER: ─a high-octane mix of the stuff that sells newspapers.

NARRATOR: For months, the tabloids reported on every detail of the affair, the breakup and the divorce.

NEWSCASTER: ─the model from Georgia cast as the other woman─

BARBARA RES, VP Trump Organization, 1980-92: It was ugly. It was horribly ugly. The press was devastating, in my mind.

NEWSCASTER: ─linking Trump to a bevy of beauties, including actress─

BARBARA RES: But Donald didn’t seem to think it was so devastating at all. He just rode with it. And he had his camp, and Ivana had her camp.

NEWSCASTER: And in Manhattan, the story is Trump versus Trump.

MARC FISHER, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: And he was totally comfortable in that period under the tutelage of Roy Cohn and the idea that all publicity is good publicity. Donald Trump felt that his name, his image, his brand were enhanced by having this war go on in the tabloid newspapers of New York, complete with sexual details of relationships.

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-Author, The Art of the Deal: The worst publicity in the world can end up being good publicity, meaning, “Yeah, people said terrible things about me, but they sure know who I am.” And a month later or three months later, they don’t remember what it was they didn’t like about you, they just remember they know your name.

NARRATOR: Just then, Donald took on the biggest deal of his lifetime, the Taj Mahal Casino.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation: If Trump Tower is one bookend of Donald Trump’s career in business and represents everything that he did right, the Taj Mahal is the other bookend that represents everything he did wrong.

NARRATOR: It was huge, 1,250 rooms. The casino was the size of two football fields, $14 million worth of chandeliers. On Wall Street, some analysts were worried, and one of them spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

MARVIN ROFFMAN, Financial Analyst: I saw a real problem. I didn’t think that the company could cover its interest expenses on that debt. Plus, the payroll was enormous because of the scope of the property.

NARRATOR: Trump had spent more than a billion dollars on the Taj.

ROFFMAN QUOTE: “Once the cold winds blow from October to February, it won’t make it. The market just isn’t there.”

NARRATOR: Donald Trump sent Marvin Roffman’s boss this letter.

LETTER: “Mr. Roffman is considered by those in the industry to be a hair trigger, and in my opinion, somewhat unstable in his tone and manner of criticism.”

MARC FISHER: Donald Trump sees the people who have criticized him or have predicted that he would do poorly─ he sees them as traitors. And so his immediate instinct is to tear that person down.

LETTER: “I am now planning to institute a major lawsuit against your firm unless Mr. Roffman makes a major public apology or is dismissed.”

NARRATOR: Roffman had worked at his brokerage firm for 16 years. He says they told him to back down.

MARVIN ROFFMAN: Donald Trump was trying to send a message to other people on Wall Street, “You better not badmouth me, or your job may be in jeopardy.”

NARRATOR: Roffman stood his ground.

MARVIN ROFFMAN: My firm, I mean, fired me, like, on the spot, and not just in a nice way. They actually escorted me out the building. And when the elevator got down to the lobby to exit, my boss made a comment to me, “Marvin, you know, I─ I like you as a person, but a little friendly advice. Keep your mouth shut about this, or you’ll never work in the industry again.”

NARRATOR: Burdened by debt, the Taj would not turn a profit. By that winter, as Roffman predicted, the casino was in serious trouble.

ABRAHAM WALLACH, VP, Trump Organization, 1990-2001: His business condition was terrible, worse than terrible. We were in a deep recession, and people weren’t going to Atlantic City. So the revenue stream from Atlantic City, the Taj Mahal and the other casinos, was poor.

NARRATOR: Trump’s other investments had not fared much better─ the Plaza Hotel a financial disaster, the airline, Trump Shuttle, was bleeding money.

BARBARA RES: He sort of blamed the people around him for what went wrong instead of himself.

MICHAEL KRANISH, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: He started blaming people. He started firing people. He started yelling at people. He said, “I can be a screamer,” and he certainly was, according to various accounts.

NARRATOR: Trump had long cast himself as a winner. Now he was looking like a loser.

LOUISE SUNSHINE, VP, Trump Organization, 1973-85: I think that the down time for him was really a shock, and he was not prepared for it. It caught him totally off guard. It was probably the biggest challenge of his life.

NEWSCASTER: The Donald is facing an incredible cash crisis─

NEWSCASTER: Big troubles for Donald Trump─

NARRATOR: Trump and his companies owed more than $3 billion, much of it to the banks that had fueled his spending spree.

ABRAHAM WALLACH: As quickly as the banks loved him, that’s as quick as they saw him as a pariah. He was, like, “Oh, it’s Donald Trump!” They didn’t want to have anything to do with him. They wanted their money, and they wanted to be rid of Donald Trump.

NARRATOR: The bankers descended on Trump Tower.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps: Bankers held gigantic meetings at Trump Tower with, like, 40 banks all sitting around in a room, Donald very sober, looking like not quite penitent perhaps, but serious.

BEN BERZIN, VP, Midlantic National Bank: When you were talking to him in these meetings, he just didn’t seem that he had any idea how big the problem was or how it would be resolved. But he─ as far as being CEO and understanding numbers and understanding the ramifications, doesn’t seem like he took economics or accounting in college.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump’s assets are on the line.

NEWSCASTER: Citibank and Trump’s other lenders are working on a bailout.

NARRATOR: The bankers faced a fundamental decision.

NEWSCASTER: The Trump Organization confirmed today─

BEN BERZIN: It was at a time when we were all trying to figure out, is it better off this guy being alive financially, or is it better off having him dead financially?

NARRATOR: As they stared into the Trump Organization’s abyss, the banks came to believe that Trump’s assets ─ the buildings, the casinos ─ were worth more with his name on them than in foreclosure.

BARBARA RES: If they were to take Trump out of it, they would no longer have the name for the casinos, which was a tremendous part of their allure. Otherwise, basically, what could they do? Liquidate and take a tremendous hit.

GWENDA BLAIR: The brand was worth now so much that bankers were willing to take a haircut in order to hang onto the name.

NEWSCASTER: The Trump Princess is said to have a pricetag─

NARRATOR: They sold the yacht and the airline.

NEWSCASTER: Trump may have to unload the Trump Shuttle, worth about─

NARRATOR: And they put Trump on a $450,000-a-month allowance. In exchange, he would continue to promote the business.

BEN BERZIN: I think bankers look at Trump as a promoter, not as a CEO. At least, that’s the way I looked at him. And if you talk to other bankers, I think they share that opinion. He’s a wonderful promoter. He─ you know, he’s the P. T. Barnum of the 21st century.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump may have pulled off his biggest deal to date─

NARRATOR: Donald Trump had survived─

NEWSCASTER: ─are working on a bailout plan that would be─

NARRATOR: ─but his casinos were still deeply in debt.

NEWSCASTER: The bankers do not want Trump to file for bankruptcy.

NARRATOR: He was looking for a way out. He found one, Wall Street.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump is gambling investors want to bet on him─

DONALD TRUMP: This is a very exciting day. This is just the right time, and it’s the right time for this industry. So we’re really─ we’re really happy, and this is a very exciting day.

NARRATOR: He was selling shares in the casinos. With Trump as the pitchman, the stock DJT hit a high of $35 a share.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, TrumpNation: Of course, it left Donald Trump as the steward of a publicly traded company, which is kind of like leaving a kid locked in a candy store overnight.

NARRATOR: Trump paid himself $44 million for services, and he’d been reimbursed millions in expenses even as the stock price began to fall.

MARC FISHER, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: So he was making tens of millions of dollars a year personally while the stock price was sinking, almost collapsing.

NARRATOR: The company filed for bankruptcy three times. Investors lost billions.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He never earned a dime for his shareholders, for pensioners who had their retirement funds tied up in those casinos, never earned a dime until he just drove the whole thing off the cliff.

NEWSCASTER: With all your financial problems, you think you will survive?

DONALD TRUMP: Why do you say there are problems?

NARRATOR: Trump characteristically described his time in Atlantic City as a success.

NEWSCASTER: Everything financially OK?

DONALD TRUMP: Don’t believe everything you read, I’ll tell you.

MARC FISHER, Co-Author, Trump Revealed: Donald Trump believes that he came out ahead because, as he puts it, he was looking out for Donald Trump. And all of the other people who lost their shirts─ didn’t work out for them. That’s the way things go. They should have done a better job of vetting their investment.

NARRATOR: And Trump walked away with a key asset, his name.

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-Author, The Art of the Deal: It really dawned on Trump that he could make a huge business empire out of putting his name everywhere. “God, I don’t have to kill myself trying to buy up land and deal with zoning boards, and you know, go crazy. And half the time, it doesn’t work anyway. Why don’t I just sell my name?”

NARRATOR: For Trump, real estate was increasingly a side business, marketing his own name a full-time job.

DONALD TRUMP: Do you really think this is the right thing for us to be doing, Ivana?

IVANA TRUMP: But it feels so right!

DONALD TRUMP: Then it’s a deal?

IVANA TRUMP: Yes, we eat our pizza the wrong way.

DONALD TRUMP: Crust first.

NARRATOR: Along with his ex-wife, Trump turned his marital problems into a pizza commercial.

IVANA TRUMP: May I have the last slice?

DONALD TRUMP: Actually, you’re only entitled to half.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, The Trumps: He’s seen that it’s a consumer country. We’re all consumers. We’re trained to be consumers. We’re used to being sold to. He’s a really good salesman. He knows how to sell.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s amazing. A Big and Tasty for just a dollar? How do you do it? What’s your secret?

NARRATOR: He used his celebrity to sell everything from computers to hamburgers.

DONALD TRUMP: Got a buck? You’re in luck. Together, Grimace [sp?], we could own this town.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He realizes that if you’re on TV and you’re considered a celebrity and you’re considered a success, and that you can essentially trade on that for the rest of your life─

NARRATOR: He even took a turn as a professional wrestler.

WRESTLING ANNOUNCER: Hey, look at this! Donald Trump! Donald Trump! Donald Trump taking down─ oh, my God! The hostile takeover of Donald Trump!

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He was seen for quite a long time as a punchline to jokes about the excesses and the failures of the 1980s, and he’d become, you know, a human shingle and a punchline. The Apprentice turned all of that on its head.

DONALD TRUMP: [“The Apprentice”] New York, my city, where the wheels of the global economy never stop turning.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: He became seen as a credible businessperson with a real track record, even though that was at odds with reality. And the guy who became a reality TV star via The Apprentice learned that he could become a reality political star.

DONALD TRUMP: Who will succeed and who will fail and who will be the apprentice?

NARRATOR: For 14 seasons, millions of Americans watched a carefully crafted Donald Trump.

ROGER STONE, Trump Political Adviser: He’s perfectly made up. He’s perfectly coiffed. He’s perfectly lit. He’s in the high-backed chair, making tough decisions. What does he look like? He looks like a president.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, The Apprentice: 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 this affluence, and he let them see it. He let them into every aspect of what it meant to be successful in America.

DONALD TRUMP: Good morning. Everybody’s saying I should run for president. Let me ask you a question. Meatloaf, should I run for president?

MEATLOAF: Absolutely!

DONALD TRUMP: Now, you would definitely vote for me?

NARRATOR: As the show took off, Trump again began to discuss a run for the White House.

DONALD TRUMP: Who would not vote for me? Who would not vote for me? All right, good. I would say anybody that raised their hand─

JIM DOWD, PR director, The Apprentice: He was very serious. There’s no question about it. His popularity was─ was never higher than it was, you know, during this Apprentice time. And he was literally─ he could do no wrong at that stage. And I think that he realized, “Wow, if I’ve hit the high, let’s take it to the─ where can you go from there? I want to be president.”

NARRATOR: And for his political guru, Roger Stone, the TV audience could become Trump voters.

ROGER STONE: ─which is the greatest single asset to his presidential campaign because for 14 seasons, he is viewed by the voters, by the─ by the population, in a perfect light. Now, I understand the elites say, “Oh, that’s reality TV.” Voters don’t see it that way. Television news and television entertainment─ it’s all television!

NARRATOR: He was wealthy again. He had rehabilitated his image. The world knew him. Donald Trump believed he was ready.

CO-HOST, The View: Please welcome my friend, Donald Trump.

NARRATOR: Now he saw an issue that he could turn into headlines.

DONALD TRUMP: Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? I think he probably─

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, The View: Why should he have to?

DONALD TRUMP: Because I have to and everybody else has to, Whoopi. Why wouldn’t he show─ _ [crosstalk] Excuse me. Why─ no, excuse me. I really believe there’s a birth certificate. Why─ look, she’s smiling. Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN: The birther thing is interesting because it─ it hearkens back to Roy Cohn and Joe McCarthy. Donald gets insight into the fact that you can sensationalize someone’s personal history in a brutal and insensitive way.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: I’ve never heard any white president asked to be shown the birth certificate!

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: When he was becoming the leader of the birther movement, I think he understood who he was speaking to. It was the Archie Bunkers who were uncomfortable with an African- American president.

DONALD TRUMP: If you’re going to be the president of the United States, it says very profoundly that you have to be born in this country.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: Donald Trump is a billionaire. He’s famous, he’s on TV, and he’s saying he’s uncomfortable, too. And he’s practicing Roy Cohn/Roger Stone innuendo.

INTERVIEWER: Where’s that coming from?

ROGER STONE: Excellent question. I assume the internet. I am not the progenitor of that, meaning I don’t first bring it─ I don’t bring the phenomena to his attention, but Trump understands, among Republicans, there’s a very substantial majority who have questions about Obama’s origins and how he just pops up out of nowhere to become a national figure and whether he was, in fact, eligible to serve as president.

NEWSCASTER: Another political story making news this morning, Donald Trump’s growing poll numbers─

NARRATOR: As the birther issue raised his poll numbers, Trump arrived in New Hampshire for what looked like the beginning of a presidential campaign.

NEWSCASTER: As promised, Donald Trump speaking now in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Let’s listen.

DONALD TRUMP: You ready? You get ready. Whenever you’re ready, I’m OK.

NARRATOR: Trump’s speech was carried live on national television. But President Obama had a surprise for Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: If you put a tax on Chinese products─

NEWSCASTER: OK, we’re going to leave New Hampshire and go to Washington and the White House, where President Obama is speaking.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth. Now─

NARRATOR: Obama had released his birth certificate and upstaged Trump.

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: Yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4th, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital.

NARRATOR: With the birth certificate no longer an issue, Washington expected Donald Trump to recede into the background. They were certain he was finished. But he would spend the next four years laying the ground work for a comeback.

And at Trump Tower in 2015, he made it official. He would run for president, prove his critics wrong and get even with the establishment.

ROGER STONE: He’s got a great sense of theater. The orchestration of it recognizes his showmanship. He’s a showman above all.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: He enters as the royal presence.

ROGER STONE: He understood the drama of coming down the escalator.

NARRATOR: He was joined by his third wife, Melania, a supermodel from Slovenia.

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: He descended almost from heaven.

GWENDA BLAIR: He descends down the gold-plated escalator into the marble─ rosy marble lobby of Trump Tower.

DONALD TRUMP: That is some group of people, thousands!

GWENDA BLAIR: Got on the stage, said, “What a crowd, thousands.” It was hundreds.

MARC FISHER: It was like the next chapter of The Apprentice. And it was the moment that─ that he had actually been building toward for decades.

DONALD TRUMP: Great to be in our wonderful city, New York─

MICHAEL D’ANTONIO: Proceeded to launch into an announcement-slash-rant of the type no one’s seen in presidential politics before.

DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.

MARC FISHER: And so he─ in this moment, he says, I’m just going to be myself. Then he takes a seven-minute script and just goes off, and goes on and on. And it’s kind of stream of consciousness.

DONALD TRUMP: They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

ROGER STONE: It’s totally his gut. We didn’t know he was going to talk about crimes committed by illegal aliens and illegal immigrants and that─ you know, that people had been murdered and raped.

DONALD TRUMP: Sadly, the American dream is dead.

SUPPORTER: Bring it back!

DONALD TRUMP: But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again! Thank you. Thank you very much. [cheers]

ROGER STONE: It’s like a man working without a net. You’re going to tune in to see what he’s going to say because it could be anything. It’s got a daredevil quality to it. It’s genuine. It’s real. You’re, like, holding your breath, “What’s he going to say next?”

NARRATOR: At the time, some thought it was just another publicity stunt.

MICHAEL KRANISH: He made a lot of statements that immediately made people dismiss him, that this guy must be a joke. But Donald Trump was somehow finding a way to connect with the people who mattered at that moment for him.

NARRATOR: It would turn out to be the first day of what Trump would call a movement, the beginning of a campaign that would win him the ultimate prize.

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest political upsets─

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump is the 45th─

NEWSCASTER: President-elect─

NEWSCASTER: President-elect Trump meets with President Obama─

NARRATOR: Five years after being humiliated by President Obama─

DONALD TRUMP: Mr. President, it was a great honor being with you─

NARRATOR: ─Donald Trump came to the White House as his successor.

1h 48m
Global Spyware Scandal: Exposing Pegasus
In a two-part documentary, FRONTLINE and Forbidden Films explore how the powerful spyware Pegasus, sold to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group, was used on journalists, activists, the wife and fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and others.
January 3, 2023