Donald Trump: The Origin Story of an American Actor, Part 3/7
In the 1970s, Donald was about to experience a meteoric rise to fame and fortune. How exactly did this happen? How exactly did Donald come about his vast wealth, influence, and media ubiquity?
Of course, some of Donald’s success can accurately be attributed to his own determination and skill. But the truth of Donald’s rise is far more complicated than that. It was never Donald alone who was responsible for his success. There were always, from the very beginning, collaborators and enablers who opened doors for him, paved the way for him, looked the other way for him, lied for him, and lied about him.
Remember that Fred Trump had decided his oldest son Freddy would take over the family business. But Freddy simply wasn’t on board with his domineering father’s plan for his future. As a result of Freddy’s decision not to follow in his father’s professional footsteps, Freddy was mercilessly taunted, mocked and ridiculed by Fred from a young age. Even younger Donald was right there to observe and absorb every bit of this domestic toxicity. Freddy was a calm person. Freddy was a nice person. Freddy was an honest person. Young Donald observed all of this, and all of the abuse his father heaped upon his older brother, year after year. Unsurprisingly, Donald seems to have learned a simple lesson: to avoid his father’s rath, don’t act like Freddy.
It worked. As he grew older, Donald clearly inserted himself into the role of his father’s favorite son. We’ve spoken of collaborators and enablers, over time there would be many more than one might even be able to count. But from the very beginning, the single figure most willing and best equipped to help mold Donald into the media phenomenon he would eventually become, was his father Fred. By the time U Penn granted Donald a fraudulent degree in 1968, his father was right there, ready, willing, and able to ensure Donald’s career would start off with a bang.
In 1999, Fred Trump passed away. Three solid decades after it had enthusiastically gotten aboard the Trump train, another of Donald’s earliest and most vital enablers wrote the obituary for Fred, the New York Times. In this piece, the NYT published the following: “In the mid-70's, [Fred] lent support -- and a small amount of money -- to his son Donald's aspirations of becoming a developer.”(35)
This fictional version of how Donald originally became wealthy was presented to the American public for at least the first thirty years of Donald’s career. The main medium for spreading this misinformation was the New York Times.
Tragically late to the game, the modern NYT is finally setting the record straight. In 2018, they wrote, “In [Donald’s] version of how he got rich, he was the master dealmaker who broke free of his father’s ‘tiny’ outer-borough operation and parlayed a single $1 million loan from his father.”(36)
But Fred’s real estate empire was not “tiny,” it was gargantuan. Fred became an extraordinarily wealthy man, but in Donald’s own telling, he always plays this down. Why? Why lie about your own father’s success, even long after he died? It’s very simple. Donald lies about his father’s wealth because he wants us to imagine that he was some chimney-sweep of a kid who scraped and saved and used his own sheer cunning and superior intellect to transform himself from rags to riches.
The problem is that none of that is true. We already know that Donald grew up as a rich kid. But even today, when asked to speak to how he started his career, how he initially established the brand he’s created for himself today, Donald remains too proud to allow the truth to escape. Unhappily for Donald, the rest of us now have access to the internet. It’s quite a straightforward process to find out if what he tells us about his past is true or false.
For starters, here’s what we do know. Donald continues to tell us, publicly, on film, that he “only” got a $1 million loan from his father after college, in 1968.
To this day, Donald blatantly and extravagantly lies to the public about how he became so wealthy.
In 2015, he told a packed crowd, “My whole life, really, has been a no, and I fought through it…It’s not been easy for me, it has not been easy for me…My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars…and I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest.”(37)
This is a lie.
And before we get into the truth of Donald’s epic inheritance from his father, just notice how crude the lie he tells about this supposed loan from his father is in the first place. Donald tells this story to a crowd of mostly middle and lower economic status people, as if it’s generally relatable. It’s as if he’s saying, “Look Tulsa, we’ve all been there, right? Remember when your dad gave you $1 million dollars right after you secured a fraudulent degree from an Ivy League University?”
In truth, the waves upon waves of unearned cash that Donald received from his father were far more extensive than he wants anyone to know. In 2018, the NYT exposed the fact that Donald was actually given “at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire.”(36)
That’s right, Donald was given $413 million from his father. And that’s just during the years that Fred was still alive. When the remainder of Fred’s assets were sold off after he passed away, Donald inherited another $170 million.(5)
In 1968, Donald was fresh out of college and ready to enter the real world. Let’s pause to reflect back on some of our own experiences during this stage of life, around ages 18-22. Do you remember what it felt like when you were in this stage? Do you remember how it felt the first time you had to search for full-time employment? Do you remember how long it can take, and how stressful and discouraging it can sometimes be to find a job that pays well, has benefits, and that you hopefully don’t hate too much? Do you remember your first legitimate job interview as a young adult? Do you remember how nerve-wracking it may have been, and how much work you put into preparing for that high-stakes trial of your wit and general fitness for the role?
To this day, Donald can’t relate to any of that. Think about this. The man has never faced a job interview in his life. He never even had to look for work. Why? Because Donald had a rich and willing father.
In 1968, Donald was installed as an extremely generously compensated employee in his father’s real estate business. Donald never once had to demonstrate that he was qualified to take on the responsibilities of the job he was gifted. But Fred clearly didn’t mind. At age twenty-two, Donald was made Vice President of several Trump Management companies by his father. Two years later, at age twenty-four, Donald was appointed President of Trump Management by his father.(5)
So, what exactly is it that Donald did for the business? It’s hard to say. Much of the time, Donald spent his days being driven around Manhattan by a company chauffeur in a company Cadillac. Donald was said to be “scoping out properties.”(5)
In Donald’s early adult years, Fred built a new “high-rise for the elderly in New Jersey.”(5) Donald invested no money in the property and had nothing to do with its development. But Fred once again paid Donald “consulting fees” on the project. Fred also paid Donald to “manage” this property, although there were already multiple full-time managers hired on the site. This is just one of many examples of how Fred unethically transferred his enormous wealth to Donald and his other children. This New Jersey project alone resulted in “tens of thousands of dollars a year” in additional, unearned income for Donald.(5)
Back in 1934, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established. As America stepped closer and closer into entering WWII, an almost too-good-to-be-true business opportunity emerged for Fred. As the federal government ramped up money available to construct brand new housing units during the war and post-war years, Fred Trump found himself in the right place at the right time. Fred was already in the New York City real estate market. Soon enough, given his legitimate industry experience, but also his corrupt relationships with local politicians, Fred secured a large share of these highly lucrative, government-funded housing developments. Fred made tons of money off the federal government in these years.(5) Much of this money was paid out by the federal government for the express purpose of ensuring affordable housing for WWII veterans and their families after the war.
But remember, Fred was a sociopath who was deeply inflamed by the prospect of paying legitimate, legal taxes on the fortune he made for himself. Much of that fortune came to Fred directly via the US federal government itself. By the mid-1950s, when Donald was still a boy, Fred Trump earned himself his first federal investigation into his unlawful business practices. This would go on to become a father-son tradition, initiated by Fred in the 1950s, and later dramatically compounded by Donald over many decades, until this very day.
In 1954, Fred’s corrupt exploitation of the FHA housing contracts on an array of different levels attracted the attention of the President of the United States himself, Dwight Eisenhower. “Eisenhower truly loved the fighting men he’d led to victory in World War II. When he learned of the manipulations practiced by developers to increase their profits, he called them ‘sons of bitches.’” Fred Trump was one of the “sons of bitches” President Eisenhower was talking about. When the White House learned about the corrupt profiteering that developers in NYC like Fred were engaged in, they called for an official US Senate investigation into the matter.(38)
Through this investigation, it was revealed that Fred “ranked near the top among builders who shared in excess payments approved by the FHA officials who were almost certainly on the take.” The lead Senator at the helm of the Congressional investigation, upon learning what Fred had done, commented that it “made him ‘nauseous’ and that builders had taken advantage of both the federal government and countless World War II vets.”(38) Fred personally had to travel down to Washington, DC to testify on Capitol Hill. But in the end, nothing happened.
Fred’s guilt was blatantly established, yet he wiggled himself out of prosecution just the same. This practice will also go on to become a father-son tradition. You commit crimes to enrich yourself, you get caught, but you never end up facing any real consequences for your actions. You just use your vast wealth, the most unscrupulous personal lawyers your money can buy, your corrupt relationships with politicians you’ve paid to be your friend, and also one of your number one talents as a sociopath: pathological lying.
So, in 1954, Fred skated out of a federal investigation in which his culpability in ripping off the federal government, and also the American veterans of WWII was clearly proven. Do we think Fred was a changed man as a result of this close brush with the law? Please. He got away with it, and he went right back to doing it again. He continued making a ton of money for himself over the next twelve years before attracting the eye of American law enforcement once again.
In 1966, New York State went after Fred for new evidence of crimes very similar to those which he had been proven guilty of in 1954. Fred was “brought before the New York State Investigations Commission for a public hearing into his use of [one of his large properties] to steal millions from the state. One of the many issues discussed in the investigation is that Fred…used state government funding intended for middle-income housing to build a shopping center instead.”(39)
At this public hearing, Fred “was grilled about an equipment-rental company he incorporated for this job and the outlandish charges he was billing the state for secondhand trucks and back hoes. He charged $21,000 to lease a dump truck valued at $3,600. He billed $8,280 for two tile scrappers valued at $500 apiece.”(39) Furthermore, Fred was documented as having committed other crimes as well. The New York State investigation demonstrated that Fred “had overestimated his construction costs by $6.6 million [equivalent to over $48 million in 2015 dollars]. Since his builder’s fee was based on a percentage of the estimated, not actual costs, he took what the commission called a $600,000 [equivalent to over $4.4 million in 2015 dollars] ‘windfall,’ based on the patently hyped cost predictions.”(39)
We cannot fully understand Donald, and more importantly, Donald’s eventual rise to fame in American culture, unless we understand the dynamics between this particular father and son. The number one thing Donald got from his father is easy to see: a lifelong, endless tap of unearned and often ill-gotten cash.
Donald is wealthy today not because he was successful at business, but simply because he accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts from his father.
Fred’s money was Donald’s permanent lifeboat throughout his entire adult life. It ensured that even when Donald failed spectacularly as a full-blown adult in the business world, he would never at any point be in real danger of losing his Saudi-Arabian-royalty-level, ostentatious lifestyle.
Now, how exactly did Fred transfer these enormous sums of money to Donald? It’s not pretty. And it’s mostly not legal. Recall that for a good thirty years, through the entire 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the New York Times was one of Donald’s most loyal allies. They published flattering story after flattering story about him. Much of what they told us about this man was a lie.
In more recent history, the NYT has now decided to change course, and begin covering Donald more honestly. They’ve produced some phenomenal reporting on Donald in recent years. One of the most impactful pieces they’ve released provides us with clearer insight than we’ve ever had before with respect to Fred’s vast fortune, and the way he transferred his war chest to his adult children. The NYT reports, “Fred…was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel…wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds.”(36)
Donald’s parents had five children. Donald’s older brother Freddy tragically passed away in his early 40s. By the time Donald’s parents themselves passed away, they had successfully “transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their [four living] children.” Instead of transferring this generational wealth the honest way, the legal way, Fred simply figured out some work arounds. Legally, Fred should have paid a 55% tax rate as he transferred his wealth to his children. But when all was said and done, in reality he only paid about 5%.(36)
There were many different fraudulent strategies that Fred used to cheat the I.R.S. We’re going to look at just two of the largest and most successful tactics he employed. Much of Fred’s wealth sat in the large swath of residential properties he owned in Queens and Brooklyn. The first way Fred cheated on his taxes was by deliberately undervaluing (lying about) what these properties were truly worth. It’s very simple. The higher the reported value of the property, the more Fred would have to pay in legal gift taxes. But the lower the reported value of the property, the less Fred would have to pay in legal gift taxes. To accomplish this, Fred would simply “get what is widely known as a ‘friendly’ appraisal of the empire’s worth, then drive that number even lower by changing the ownership structure to make the empire look less valuable to the I.R.S.”(36)
For the entirety of his career, Fred was the sole owner of almost all of his properties. But in the final years of his life, Donald and the family’s gaggle of lawyers conducted some creative restructuring. “Fred and Mary…each ended up with 49.8 percent of the corporate entities that owned his buildings. Splitting ownership into minority interests is a widely used method of tax avoidance.”(36) The unethical and fraudulent legal gymnastics that Fred and Mary went through to cheat the US government out of legitimate tax revenue was wildly successful. In the end, the family “dodged hundreds of millions in gift taxes by submitting tax returns that grossly undervalued the properties, claiming they were worth just $41.4 million. The same set of buildings would be sold off over the next decade for more than 16 times that amount.” Tax experts that the NYT interviewed after they’d reviewed all of Fred’s relevant tax documents concluded that “the conduct described here represented a pattern of deception and obfuscation.”(36) And it worked.
To be fair, it’s actually quite a bit of work to pull off a “pattern of deception and obfuscation” which successfully rips off the US federal government. But Fred Trump was exactly the kind of man who was up to the job. In the earliest years of his career, young Donald was learning the ropes of corruption from his father one step at a time. But the two of them weren’t capable of cheating the US government on their own. For that, they would have to rely on one of the most essential services that their vast wealth could buy: unethical lawyers.
Fred was Donald’s first and most important enabler. Without Fred, Donald’s career would never have been permanently kept afloat by the constant stream of cash that would save Donald from his own failures decade after decade moving forward. Fred also gave Donald a veneer of credibility by giving Donald impressive sounding job titles in the family business, even though Donald never had to earn these roles, and even though he never produced any meaningful accomplishments in these positions. Fred also hooked Donald up with corrupt political connections which would prove crucial in securing future business contracts.
As his career was beginning, Donald learned quickly that having powerful and grossly unethical lawyers on his side would provide an essential additional layer of protection for him, given the scope of illegal activity Donald would soon become enmeshed in.
The escalating tensions and dynamics of the Cold War were at play during this time as well.
In 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage. For the offense of having acquired sensitive military secrets, and having shared them with the Soviet Union, the couple was sentenced to death. They were executed in 1953.(40) Over three decades later, the lawyer who led the case against the Rosenbergs confessed something to a friend. With the people he helped to convict long dead, the lawyer admitted that, he “framed guilty people.”(41) That is to say, the lawyer did believe the Rosenbergs to be guilty. But he couldn’t legitimately prove their guilt in an American court of law. So, what’s an unscrupulous, ambitious young lawyer to do? He fabricated evidence. He lied in court to secure the conviction of this couple in a way he would not have been able to had he done it fair and square.
This young lawyer’s name was Roy Cohn. The Rosenbergs were executed, Cohn was promoted.
At age 24, Roy Cohn was perceived by many on the political right as a rising star. He caught the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding Director of the FBI. Hoover was also deeply paranoid, racist, criminal and dictatorial in the manner in which he used and abused the extraordinary power of the FBI in its early decades. To take just one example, in the 1960s, Hoover orchestrated the baseless wiretapping and surveillance of someone he personally believed to be one of the most dangerous men in America: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hoover was personally involved in a covert operation which tried to blackmail Dr. King into committing suicide.(42)
In any case, Hoover was impressed by young Roy Cohn, and he recommended him for his next big job. This time, Cohn would be working for one of the most powerful Senators in Congress: Joseph McCarthy. Senator McCarthy is now rightly considered to be one of the most embarrassing human beings to come out of the Great State of Wisconsin in the past 100 years.
In the early 1950s, with Hoover’s blessing, Roy Cohn became Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man. With Cohn’s help, McCarthy initiated and presided over one of the most shameful episodes in our recent national history. These two men were so successful and influential in the crusade they would go on to lead, that a new vocabulary word was added to the American-English language: McCarthyism.
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word McCarthyism in part as follows: “A byname for defamation of character or reputation by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations, especially on the basis of unsubstantiated charges.”(43) Cohn and McCarthy made national names for themselves in the 1950s by alleging that there was a vast Communist conspiracy in America to undermine and dismantle the US government from within. They alleged that enormous numbers of professionals already working in the US government were in fact covert agents of the Soviet Union. Now remember, Cohn has already proven himself willing to fabricate evidence and to lie in court in order to steer a case in the specific direction he wanted it to go. Cohn’s winning attitude was a major asset to McCarthy. The two of them went on to make a great evil team.
During these tense years for our country, Roy Cohn once went on TV and declared that the ultimate goal of the Communists was to violently overthrow the American government.(41) Providing reasons for why he made this claim, or producing evidence that supported it was not much of a concern for Cohn, or for McCarthy. It sure made for good TV though, and they wouldn’t stop there. At Cohn’s urging, Senator McCarthy grew more and more outlandish, more and more threatening, and less and less burdened by ethics, less and less burdened by the truth. The two decided to leverage already existing, deep-seated prejudices in the American general population for their own political ends. They first turned to the Jews, alleging that many American Jews were part of some elaborate Communist conspiracy.
Roy Cohn and Joseph McCarthy then moved on to another group that was even easier to demonize in 1950s America: homosexuals.
"The pervert is easy prey to the black-mailer." Senator McCarthy declared. Cohn and McCarthy argued that homosexuals were more likely to be Communist (citing no evidence), and furthermore, that homosexuals were at higher risk to be coerced into becoming Soviet spies if the Communists threatened to publicly out them.(41) From his powerful platform in the US Senate in the 1950s, Roy Cohn helped solidify homophobia into federal law.
Remember President Eisenhower, who upon learning about Fred Trump’s criminal behavior, called the man and men like him “sons of bitches?” Well, even though Eisenhower could see through Fred, he was apparently quite taken with this sterling new conservative up and comer, Roy Cohn. President Eisenhower bought Cohn’s arguments concerning the danger of the American homosexual. Inspired by Roy Cohn’s arguments, Eisenhower made it illegal for homosexuals to work in the federal government.(41)
In the US State Department alone, hundreds of “suspected homosexuals” were quickly fired. All told, 5,000 Americans working in public service to their country were purged from their jobs and publicly outed against their consent.(44) This completely unfounded paranoia about homosexuals supercharged homophobia in America for decades to come. The legally enshrined discrimination against homosexuals that Cohn and McCarthy lit the fuse for would not be challenged for over twenty years. In the 1970s, the McCarthy era prejudice of homosexuals was partially rescinded in federal law. But it would not be fully laid to rest until the 1990s, when President Clinton finally ended the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.(41)
After a few years of shining brightly in the national spotlight, Senator Joseph McCarthy eventually crashed and burned. He was soon after seen by the public for what he actually was, a fraud, a liar, and an unconscionable hypocrite. Roy Cohn, still in his twenties, moved home to NYC. The young legal prodigy had made a national name for himself in Washington, DC. Now, he looked towards a new future. Roy Cohn's father was lifelong judge and high-profile Democrat in NYC. After McCarthy’s fall from grace, Cohn used his father’s connections to build a new legal career for himself.(41)
Roy Cohn began his career by framing the Rosenbergs. In large part due to Cohn, they got the death penalty. This first job impressed the Director of the FBI, who then helped Cohn acquire a new job in which he would spread misinformation about Communist conspiracy theories to the American public, from the megaphone of the US Senate.
But back home, Cohn would loosen up a bit. He’d soon be making obscene gobs of money by defending some of the worst people in America.
During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Roy Cohn’s client list was extremely eclectic. Cohn chose to defend some of the most notorious criminals of his time. For starters, he was the personal legal counsel of not one, not two, but three of the top Italian Mafia bosses in NYC. Cohn defended Tony Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family. When Cohn was representing the Salerno, Fortune Magazine named him “America's top gangster in power, wealth and influence.”(45)
Cohn also defended John Gotti, boss of the Gambino crime family. Under Gotti’s criminal leadership, his branch of the Italian Mafia made over “$500 million in revenue from illegal activities such as gambling, drug trafficking, extortion, and stock fraud.” In spite of Cohn’s work on this man’s behalf, Gotti was eventually apprehended by the FBI and was convicted on charges of racketeering and murder.(46)
The third notorious, violent, criminal mastermind that Roy Cohn made money defending was Carmine Galante. The scale of the damage that Galante inflicted on the people of New York City, and the people of America more broadly, was absolutely breathtaking. Galante was the boss of the Bonanno crime family, for many years he focused on managing and expanding his organization’s involvement in getting Americans addicted to heroin. Galante was a top-tier heroin trafficker. He profited greatly off of addicting and ultimately killing an untold number of Americans.(47) Roy Cohn was right there by Galante’s side, helping him evade legal consequence at every turn.
But Galante wasn’t just a drug-trafficker. He was a killer. Back in the 1930s, Galante “was arrested for the murder of [police officer] Walter De Castilla” in Brooklyn.(48) However, Galante was never indicted due to a lack of evidence. That same year, the NYPD caught Galante and some of his associates trying to hijack a truck. In the middle of a public street, a shootout ensued. In the chaos of the gunfight, two children were shot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in prison soon after the second known time he murdered or attempted to murder a police officer, Galante was diagnosed as a psychopath.(47)(48)
Years later, amidst the pinnacle of WWII, a prominent, internationally renown Italian man, Carlo Tresca, was murdered in NYC. It happened in 1943. At that time, Tresca served at the helm of a major Anti-Fascist newspaper. He had previously survived numerous assassination attempts over the course of his many years as a leader in the ideological battle against Nazism and Fascism.(49)
Tresca’s ultimate demise was believed to have been brought about by yet another prominent NYC Italian Mafia boss, Vito Genovese. Genovese had likely spotted an opportunity to curry some political favor and influence back home in Italy. By assassinating a political dissident like Tresca in America, Genovese would surely impress the big man whose attention and sympathies this American Mafia boss wanted to garner back in Europe.
That man was Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, that is, the raging, dictatorial Fascist and close personal ally of Adolf Hitler.
The man believed to have pulled the trigger on Tresca was Carmine Galante.(47)(48) Galante was arrested for the assassination of Carlo Tresca, his car was found abandoned two blocks away from the scene of the crime. But once again, the police never assembled enough evidence to secure a conviction.(47)
Galante is but one of the violent criminals who Roy Cohn decided to attach himself to. Because Cohn was not a man of integrity, he was an extremely effective lawyer for the darkest-place-in-hell type of men he chose to lend his professional services to. Galante “consider[ed] himself a good Catholic, he [had] never divorced his wife although he [had] been living with [another woman] for over 20 years.”(47) Nevertheless, when Carmine Galante himself was assassinated in 1979, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to host his funeral mass.(50)
That’s right, Carmine Galante was so verifiably evil, that the even Catholic Church didn’t want to be associated with him after his death.
Should it surprise us to learn who else was a major client of Roy Cohn? Why, it’s none other than the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York!(51)
Now, whatsoever might it be that the Archdiocese of New York might need the legal defense services of someone like Roy Cohn for?
Here, common sense morality compels us to speak honestly about one of the most impactful footprints the Catholic Church is responsible for having imprinted upon seemingly every part of the world its tentacles have reached. It’s a deeply uncomfortable subject, but uncomfortable as it may feel, responsible adults simply have to acknowledge what an overwhelming cascade of historical evidence and living personal testimonies unambiguously reveal.
The fact is this: the Catholic Church has a centuries long history of sexually abusing young children.(52)
In fact, sexually abusing children has been a tradition in the Catholic Church dating back at least 1,000 years.(53)
As far back as the Middle Ages, in the year 1049 AD, the first known whistleblower emerged from within the Church’s ranks. An Italian man named Peter Damian, a Benedictine Monk, in fact, wrote the world’s first book documenting the culture of child sex-abuse that had emerged in the Catholic Church all those many hundreds of years ago.(53)
The Catholic Church has been fully aware of the culture of pedophilia within their organization for 1,000 years. By now, they’ve settled on a strategy which has generally worked well for them. They use their extraordinary wealth, their army of unethical lawyers like Roy Cohn, and also the general public’s inaccurate perception of their organization as fundamentally benevolent to evade legal accountability for the crimes against humanity they’ve grown to become so profoundly successful both committing and also concealing.
Roy Cohn was drawn to powerful and wealthy people who took advantage of the more vulnerable for their own personal gain. It’s a small wonder then, that Cohn was attracted to helping both the Italian Mafia crime families of New York, and also the funders and architects of the largest and most successful network of active pedophiles in recorded human history.
That’s the kind of man that Roy Cohn was. And that’s precisely the kind of man who a young Donald Trump would become highly attracted to.
At the same exact time that Donald entered his father’s enormous real-estate business in the late 1960s and early 1970s, racism was widely and deeply encoded into the fabric of housing policy in America.
During this time period, a young Black couple decided to move from Washington, DC up to New Jersey. The couple, Cary and Carolyn, were executives at IBM. They found a community that they liked called Harrington Park. It was an overwhelmingly White community.(54)
Although they had professional jobs in the tech industry, and although they were newly minted parents of young children, Cary and Carolyn struggled to find a home in Harrington Park. They struggled because whenever they found a home they were interested in, they were simply turned away. Cary and Carolyn were responsible, financially successful, family-oriented people. Nevertheless, being Black in Harrington Park at the time was simply a non-starter for many of the White people controlling the local real-estate market.
The couple would do some research, and find a home for sale in the area that they were interested in. But as soon as they would show up to meet the realtors, as soon as the realtors realized that Cary and Carolyn were Black, suddenly the house in question was no longer available. It had already been sold, they were told. Cary and Carolyn ended up having to seek legal assistance. They reached out to the Fair Housing Council (FHC), and things started to shift from there. The FHC then orchestrated a sort of covert operation to expose the racism deeply embedded among the White landlords and property owners of Harrington Park.(54)
When Cary and Carolyn found another new home they were interested in, this time, the FHC sent a fake White couple to scope it out first. The White couple presented the landlords with the same education and professional credentials, and the same financial records that Cary and Carolyn had. Magically, the home was available for sale to the fake White couple. But then, on closing day, Cary himself would show up to sign the final paperwork with a White civil rights attorney at his side. The White seller of the home was so infuriated that he physically assaulted the lawyer, punching him square in the face.(54)
Cary and Carolyn ended up getting the home. They were the first Black family in the community. They went on to raise their two boys in Harrington Park, one of them grew up to be United States Senator Cory Booker.
Remember that racism in housing at this moment in time was still firmly entrenched within the culture of many White landlords and real estate agents, even in the North. By the 1970s, racial discrimination was firmly illegal, but was still widely practiced, and was rarely seriously investigated, much less prosecuted.
We’re now going to focus in on the year 1973. At this point, Donald Trump had been a full-time employee in his father’s immense real estate empire in NYC for a good five years. And remember, although he was free of any qualifications to take on such a role, Donald had been quickly thrust into the top leadership position in his father’s company. In 1973, Donald was the public face of the family business. But Fred remained the mastermind, the real decision maker, and the money-man behind the scenes.
One of their former employees, a rental agent for Trump apartment buildings, related the following. One afternoon in the early 1970s, Fred and Donald came into the agent’s office. The man asked Fred what he should do with the application of a Black woman who’d just applied to live in one of the Trump properties. Fred, using the n-word, told his real estate agent to make it disappear. Donald is said to have silently nodded his head in agreement with his father.(55)
In 1973, Fred and Donald Trump were sued by the United States Federal Government for their explicitly racist housing policies.(56)
The Trumps were sued by the Department of Justice, specifically under the Civil Rights Division, for rampant violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Justice Department is part of the Executive Branch, which at that time was led by President Richard Nixon.
The tricky part for the Trumps upon learning about the lawsuit, was that the Justice Department had an extraordinarily deep trove of evidence, accumulated over years, providing extensive documentation supporting their case. Non-profit civil rights groups had been running undercover operations in Trump properties for a decade. And year after year, they found ample evidence that proved a long-term pattern of racist admission policies and practices which deliberately prevented Black families from renting in Fred and Donald’s properties. The racist scam that the Trump’s used to illegally prevent Black families from living in their apartments was very similar to the racist scam used against Senator Booker’s parents next door in New Jersey around the exact same time period.
Generally, if a Black person inquired about vacancies in a Trump property, they were simply told there were no apartments available, even when that was a lie. For the few Black applicants who did succeed in filling out the initial paperwork, after they’d left, the managers would do as Fred and Donald instructed them. They’d mark a large letter “C” for “Colored” on the applications, which was meant as a subtle code for preventing that specific application from further consideration.(57)
For the very few Black applicants who somehow made it to the contract stage of the process within Trump properties, Fred and Donald had a final strategy in place to ensure that these family’s interests would soon fade. The Trumps kept two types of contracts for their renters. One for White people, one for Black people. The Trumps presented Black people with contracts that were far more expensive, and with far less desirable terms than what White applicants were being offered.(56)
The 1973 federal lawsuit put forth against the Trumps over their well-documented racist policies was rock solid. The United States Justice Department, as you might imagine, has quite a bit of work on its plate. They don’t investigate and sue petty criminals. They investigate and sue powerful people who criminally use their vast wealth and position of privilege to abuse and take advantage of people far more vulnerable than themselves. The Trumps were caught red-handed. But remember, Fred and Donald Trump, both in their own special way, are sociopaths. The sociopath lies skillfully to get what he wants. The sociopath is amoral, completely indifferent to the harm or suffering he inflicts upon others. So, what’s a pair of filthy-rich, demonstrably racist sociopaths to do?
Donald stepped up. He said, “Get me Roy Cohn.”
Donald had found a way to introduce himself to Roy Cohn for the first time at an elite Manhattan night club. Donald explained to Cohn the predicament he and his father were in. They’d been documented for behaving so criminally for so many years, they’d now caught the attention of the Nixon administration. Cohn confidently told Donald he could help him right then and there. Cohn had a game plan that had worked well for him as a champion of sadistic Mafia bosses and religiously-protected pedophiles.
Psychology Today has deeply analyzed the terrifyingly sinister brain of Roy Cohn. They noticed a pattern in how Cohn tended to operate in his defense of indefensible criminals. The foundation of Cohn’s strategy was simple, “1) Never admit you’re wrong. 2) If they attack you, counterattack viciously. 3) When you’re in trouble, distract and divert attention.”(58) Young Donald sure liked the sound of that. Cohn essentially told Donald to go on offense. At Cohn’s urging, the Trumps decided to flatly deny the mountain of evidence collected against them, and to punch back hard.
Roy Cohn taught young Donald a skill he’d hone over the rest of his adult life: how to get your own self-created and self-serving disinformation into the credulous American media.
In his moment of need, dealing with a very public lawsuit over his family’s racist crimes, Donald turned to an ally to print his own spin. From the platform of the New York Times, Donald loudly lied about the basic facts of the case.
In 1973, the NYT printed that the Justice Department allegations made against the Trumps “are absolutely ridiculous,” as Donald had bloviated, continuing, “We never have discriminated…and we never would.” Furthermore, the NYT informed us that “Mr. Trump accused the Justice Department of singling out his corporation…because the government was trying to force it to rent to welfare recipients.”(59) Charming.
Fred and Donald had the money and the malignant dishonesty to pull the trigger on Roy Cohn’s boldest idea yet: filing a counter-lawsuit against the US Justice Department.
That’s right, at Cohn’s urging, Donald Trump accused the United States’ premier organization responsible for prosecuting crimes of systemic racism of making “irresponsible and baseless” claims about his family business. With Cohn’s help, the Trumps would sue the US government for $100 million ($500 million in today’s money.)(59)
The audacity of this action remains stunning to this day. The Trumps were guilty as charged, and they knew it. But a small group of extremely rich sociopaths can certainly put up a formidable fight, if not a fair one, of course. The court battle between the Trumps and the US Justice Department would go on for over two years. In 1975, both parties arrived at a settlement. The Trumps agreed to drop their frivolous lawsuit against the Justice Department, in exchange for not having to pay any fines and not having to admit to having done anything wrong at all. In a minor slap on the wrist, the Trumps agreed to regularly submit documentation of their rental availability, so that local civil rights groups could attempt to monitor any potential future illegal, racist violations.(59)
In the 1960s and 1970s, Roy Cohn was indicted three separate times on a wide range of crimes he’d committed in the process of working on behalf of people like the Donald Trump. Cohn was charged with “bribery, perjury, obstructing justice, mail fraud and extortion.”(60) But, rich, smart, and unburdened by a conscious, Cohn escaped conviction every time. Three years after Donald settled his case with the Justice Department, the same illegal, racist policies he and his father had always used in their real estate empire continued unabated. “The Village Voice reported in 1978 that the Trumps had continued to discriminate against minorities.” Even though this violation was published and publicly known, this time around, there wasn’t even a follow up investigation.(61)
In 1976, the NYT ran another piece on young Donald. “He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford. He rides around town in a chauffeured silver Cadillac with his initials, DJT, on the plates. He dates slinky fashion models, belongs to the most elegant clubs and, at only 30 years of age, estimates that he is worth ‘more than $200 million.’”(62)
This NYT piece, apparently written by an 8th grade girl from the Upper East Side, offers us a lot to unpack. But let’s just focus in on one thing for now, the money. Today, the NYT regrets this article. They now point out that in Donald’s 1976 tax returns, the year he claimed to be worth $200 million, he reported that his taxable income was only $24,594.(62) This article misleads the reader into being impressed by Donald when they shouldn’t be. For starters, the amount of money he claims he is worth at the time, as has been proven, was simply a lie. He literally was not worth $200 million in 1976. But further, even if he was far wealthier than most of us, the article leads us to imagine that his wealth had been come by honestly through his own hard work. But we know that nothing could be further from the truth.
Every penny that Donald owned was given to him directly by his father.
In the most literal sense, the New York Times was in fact publishing “fake news” stories about Donald Trump, starting way back in the 1970s.
But as you might imagine, Donald didn’t seem to be especially offended by this at the time. In the formative years of his adult life, Donald himself was not the only one lying to the public about Donald. The budding sociopath was legitimized and celebrated by some of our nation’s most powerful journalists as well.
In 2016, Trump said the following, “I have nothing against Mexicans, but if they [come] here – like this 19-year-old, she’s pregnant, she crossed over a wall…She gives the birth in American hospital, which is for free. The child becomes American automatically. She brings the whole family, she doesn’t pay the taxes, she doesn’t have a job, she gets the housing, she gets the food stamps. Who’s paying? You and me…As long as you come here legally and get a proper job…we need immigrants. Who’s going to vacuum our living rooms and clean up after us? Americans don’t like to do that.”(63)
To clarify, this statement was not made by Donald. It was made by Ivana Trump, Donald’s first of several wives.
When Donald first met her in 1976, her name was Ivana Zelníčková. Ivana was born in Communist Czechoslovakia, but she eventually made her way to North America. She worked as a model, and on her first ever trip to NYC, she met Donald. Ivana recalls that when they first met, “[Donald] secured her and friends a table at a hot Manhattan restaurant, paid the check and chauffeured her back to her hotel in a giant Cadillac.”(64)
“My instincts told me that Donald was smart and funny — an all-America good guy." She nostalgically mused.(64) After a short courtship, Donald proposed to Ivana. What words, what language, did Donald summon in this life-changing moment of personal happiness and romantic commitment?
Ivana herself reports that Donald told her, “If you don’t marry me, you’ll ruin your life.”(65)
Child of Eastern European Communist austerity, Ivana accepted the rich American man’s offer. But the terms of Donald’s proposal would require quite a bit of paperwork, and quite a bit of time with the lawyers. Donald enlisted Roy Cohn to arrange a prenuptial for himself and his starry-eyed bride. In this agreement, the “terms set for Ivana’s compensation were based on Fred’s wealth because at the time Donald’s father was his only source of income.”(37)
Yes, remember, now nearly ten long years after he was gifted unmerited management positions in his father’s real estate empire, the single and the only source of income Donald Trump still had, came directly out of his own father’s pocket.(37)
Then, in 1977, the big day had come. Ivana “was barely involved in the planning for her extravagant Manhattan wedding and knew just six of the 600 people who attended.”(65)
Later that year, the newlywed couple gave birth to their first child, Donald Trump Jr.(66)
There is one more major story that we must explore if we seek to understand the life of Donald in the 1970s. Again, we must ground ourselves in the reality of the situation. Donald appeared to the public to be “successful,” but his perceived individual successes were always grounded in and underwritten by the endless wealth and the bottomless pit of corrupt political relationships Donald acquired merely through the fact of being his father’s son. One of their own family members acknowledges that Fred was “intimately involved in all aspects of Donald’s early forays into the Manhattan market, getting things done behind the scenes while Donald played to the crowd up front.”(37)
By 1976, NYC was experiencing accelerating White flight, widespread economic turmoil, and rapidly increasing rates of violent crime.(36)(67) The real estate market, even in Manhattan, was struggling. In 1919, the Commodore Hotel opened for business in Manhattan. It was an iconic building that had been successful for decades. But by the mid 1970s, the hotel was bleeding money and was on the verge of closure.(68) NYC’s historic economic calamity presented a perfect opportunity for 30-year-old Donald, who had long been hungering for a Manhattan project outside of his father’s existing rental units.
The Mayor of NYC at the time was Abraham Beame. Fred Trump had been a personal country-club friend, and a lavish financial donor to Mayor Beame for 30 years. Shrewdly and diligently, over the course of decades, Fred had bought himself the ear of the most powerful man in America’s most powerful city.
The long-term financial investment Fred made in Abraham Beame’s career would not go unrewarded. Donald was soon issued an unprecedented sweetheart deal on the Commodore project, approved by his corrupt father’s corrupt friend, Mayor Abraham Beame himself. In exchange for the right to renovate the hotel, Donald was granted a 40-year tax abatement. Over the decades to come, this would save Donald hundreds of millions of dollars.(69)
The caliber of corruption which would go on to characterize Donald’s decades long career had started off with an incredible bang. In the late 1970s, Donald’s father had bought him not only his first pseudo-independent real estate project, but also “the most generous package of tax abatements in [New York] state history.”(69) Donald started telling everyone that the Commodore Hotel was his first big, independent project. But as you may have caught onto by now, many of the things Donald says about himself, perhaps even most of the things that Donald says about himself, are pure fiction.
Young Donald’s approach to renovating the Commodore stands as a near perfect metaphor for Donald himself, the man. Donald had the outside of the building entirely redone. He installed a massive, glass facade. Some people thought the facade was beautiful, other people thought it was tacky. But of course, what matters is on the inside. Trying to get the renovation project done as quickly and as cheaply as possible, Donald cut corners left and right. By the time the building reopened to the public in 1980, renamed the Grand Hyatt, the interior of the building was largely the same, just redecorated. The elevators were still old and slow. The rooms were still very small. The antique plumbing system was unreliable. The entire building operated on centrally controlled heating.(70)
We already know that Donald only got the Commodore job because of his father’s patently corrupt relationship with Mayor Beame. We also already know that even once Fred secured the job for his son, Donald would never have been anywhere near able to finance the project without drawing upon his father’s endless pit of largely ill-gotten money. Now, on top of all that, how did Donald get the actual construction and renovation work done on the Commodore? Was Donald out there himself, sweating it out with the boys, deftly wielding a sledge-hammer? What a delightful image! Donald hired someone else to do the construction work, of course. No shame in that, civilization is built on the separation of labor. But who exactly did Donald hire to do the labor? On the Commodore Hotel, Donald’s first pseudo-independent development project, he hired people he could trust.
Donald hired the Italian Mafia.
To be fair, “as a developer of major projects in New York, it was hard back then to avoid the mob. From the 1970s through the 90s, the Five Families had a chokehold on both major construction firms and most of the unions that represented workers on job sites.”(71) Nevertheless, Donald’s choice to hire multiple Mafia-run construction firms on his Commodore project did not go unnoticed by federal law enforcement. In the late 1970s, Donald conducted his business with such a profound lack of integrity, that he caught the attention of the FBI.(71)
Well, for starters, the people Donald hired to do the demolition work on the Commodore? Mafia.(71)
The people Donald hired to pour the concrete for the Commodore? Mafia.(71)
The people Donald hired to do the carpentry work on the Commodore? Mafia.(71)
When the project was complete, Donald walked away. He’d just committed an impressive new litany of criminal offenses in his effort to secure and complete the Commodore project. But in the end, he simply walks away.
For young Donald, the future was looking bright.
However, in the late 1970s, lurking in shadows he himself could not yet see, watchful eyes were upon Donald.
It was no longer only American law enforcement tracking Donald’s very public career. By the late 1970s, Donald had attracted the attention of hostile foreign entities who sought to use him for their own political purposes.
Remember that at the exact same time Donald was bursting onto the New York real estate scene in the late 1970s, the Cold War was still burning hot.
America sent hordes of cash, military advisors, and weapons of war to prop up a Capitalist, Catholic Dictatorship in South Vietnam from 1945-1965, basically the first two decades of Donald’s life. From 1965-1973, Donald’s college and early adult years in his father’s business, US troops flooded in to fight the Communist, Secular Dictatorship of North Vietnam.
As the American’s finally fled Vietnam in defeat in 1973, the same year Donald was sued by the US Justice Department for racist housing practices, the Cold War shifted into a new chapter.
From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, large, traditional, physical wars like those fought in Korea and Vietnam faded out of fashion between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The world’s two major superpower competitors instead shifted focus towards a more subtle, and in many ways more effective strategy: espionage.
US secret services such as the CIA ramped up the scale of covert operatives they already had in play across the greater Soviet Union. And the Soviets returned the favor, escalating their presence of spies and assets in America and the broader Western world.
Recall that in 1977, Donald Trump married a woman named Ivana Zelníčková. Ivana was born and raised behind the Iron Curtain, in Communist Czechoslovakia.
As soon as word that Zelníčková had married an extremely wealthy American businessman reached her homeland, Communist intelligence services acted on the opportunity. The agency at hand was Czechoslovakia’s Státní bezpečnost (StB) intelligence service.(72)
There is no evidence that Ivana herself knowingly collaborated in the Communist espionage program against her husband. However, the StB had other methods of gaining access to the new couple’s most private information.
As reported upon extensively by The Guardian, “Ivana’s father, Miloš, regularly gave the StB information on his daughter’s visits from the US and his son-in-law’s burgeoning career…We know this because of a two-page write-up of the encounter based on details supplied by the agent known as Jarda. Jarda was one of four StB collaborators who spied on the Trumps during the cold war.”(72)
Turns out, Ivana’s father had little choice in the matter. Tomáš Vilímek, a Czech historian, explains that “the fact that Ivana’s father was registered as an ‘StB confidant’ did not mean he worked as an agent for them. ‘Rather the…authorities forced him to talk to them because of his journeys to the US to see his daughter. If he hadn’t spoken to them he would not have been given permission to fly [outside of Czechoslovakia.]”(73)
The Guardian continues, “Details of how the Trumps were to be spied on are also held in the StB’s archives. One order dated 1979 states that the phone calls between Ivana and her father are to be tapped…and their mail is to be constantly monitored.”(73)
Beginning in 1977, Donald was “the target of an extensive spying operation.”(71)
A former StB official, Vlastimil Daněk explains, “Trump was of course a very interesting person for us. He was a businessman, he had a lot of contacts, even in US politics. ‘We were focusing on him [because] we knew he was influential.’”(74)
The Czechoslovakian StB wasn’t the only espionage operation focusing their sights on Donald in the late 1970s. The StB after all ultimately reported back to the Soviet Union’s central leadership in Moscow.
Specifically, this meant that the KGB was getting involved.
The KGB had a clear-cut strategy. As it happens, Donald was exactly the type of man the Soviets were hoping to exploit. Their approach was to target Americans who were “upwardly mobile in business and politics.”(74)
But they weren’t looking for just anybody in that upwardly mobile business and politics category. They were looking for people who fit a certain type of strategic profile.
The Guardian reports, “KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov…circulated a confidential personality questionnaire to KGB heads of station abroad, setting out the qualities wanted from a potential asset.” This personality questionnaire was shared with the Czechoslovakian StB who first flagged Donald for surveillance in 1977.(74)
So, whatever lead the KGB to Donald?
“According to instructions leaked…by the KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky, they [were looking for men with the following personality traits]…corruption, vanity, narcissism, marital infidelity and poor analytical skills.”(74)
35. NYT Obituary of Fred Trump in 1999
36. Illegal Generational Wealth Transfer of Trump Family
37. Donald Lies about the Enormous Inheritance he Received from his Father
5. Too Much and Never Enough. Mary Trump. (190, 84, 88, 90, 91, 32, 107, 103)
38. President Eisenhower calls for Senate Investigation of Fred’s Crimes in 1954
39. Fred’s Crimes Investigated by NY State in 1966
40. Roy Cohn and the Rosenberg Execution
41. Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn. HBO Documentary. 2019.
42. Hoover and FBI Attempt to Blackmail MLK into Committing Suicide
43. Definition of McCarthyism
44. Cohn, McCarthy, Eisenhower Persecute Federal Government Employees Suspected of being Homosexuals
45. Roy Cohn Defends Mafia Boss Tony Salerno
46. Roy Cohn Defends Mafia Boss John Gotti
47. Roy Cohn Defends Mafia Boss Carmine Galante
48. Galante: Cop Killer, Diagnosed Psychopath
49. Galante: Likely Assassin of Anti-Fascist Newspaperman Carlos Tresca
50. Archdiocese of NY Refuses to Host Galante’s Funeral
51. Roy Cohn and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York
52. Centuries Long History of the Catholic Church Sexually Abusing Children, then Covering up the Evidence and Shielding their Legions of Child Sex-Abusers from Law Enforcement
53. World’s First Book Documenting the Culture of Child-Rape in the Catholic Church, Written in 1049 AD
54. Racist Housing Policies in New Jersey around 1970
55. Fred Trump uses N-word at Work, Donald said to Nod in Agreement
56. US Justice Department Sues Trumps for Racial Discrimination in 1973
57. Trump Properties Mark Paperwork of Applicants of Color with “C” for Rejection
58. The Broken Psyche of Roy Cohn
59. NYT gives Donald a Platform to Slander the US Justice Department because they Exposed Racial Discrimination in his Family Business
60. Roy Cohn Indicted Three Times
61. Timeline of Trump Business Crimes and Investigations
62. New York Times Fan-Girling over Donald Trump in 1976
63. Ivana Trump’s Thoughts on Mexican Immigrants in 2016
64. Ivana on Meeting Donald in 1976
65. Ivana and Donald’s Proposal and Wedding
66. 1977, Donald Trump Jr. is born
67. NYC Problems in 1970s
68. The Commodore Hotel
69. The Trump Family Swamp in NYC
70. Donald’s Cheap Commodore/Grand Hyatt Hotel Renovations
71. Donald Trump’s Decades Long Business Relationships with the Italian Mafia
72. Czechoslovakia’s Státní Bezpečnost (StB) Begins Espionage Program on Donald Trump in 1977
73. StB Threatens Ivana’s Father into Collaborating. Ivana’s Father Collects Information on Donald’s Life and Career, Shares it with the Communist Intelligence Service
74. KGB, Looking for American Businessmen and Politicians who Exhibit “Corruption, Vanity, Narcissism, Marital Infidelity and Poor Analytical Skills,” Begin to Spy on Donald Trump