Donald Trump: The Origin Story of an American Actor, Part 4/7

The 1970s were good years for Donald Trump. In many respects, the 1980s would be even better. In the early 1980s, Roy Cohn would continue to be one of the best assets that Donald could hope to have working on his behalf. Through Cohn, Donald would be introduced to all sorts of new friends.


One of those friends was Roger Stone.


In 1979, Roy Cohn and Roger Stone successfully conspired to help rig the upcoming Presidential election in favor of the candidate of their personal liking.


In 1980, the race was between President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan. Cohn and Stone wanted Reagan to prevail, so they did what people like them do. They lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want. Like Fred and Donald, these are people wholly unbothered by the concept of “right and wrong.”


They were focused on their largely politically liberal home state of New York. In 1979, Roger Stone made a bold suggestion to Roy Cohn. According to Stone himself, “If they could figure out a way to make John Anderson the Liberal party nominee in New York, with Jimmy Carter picking up the Democratic nod, Reagan might win the state in a three-way race.”(73) The idea was to artificially split the liberal vote. By drawing many to vote for Anderson, they could likely chip away at Carter’s aggregate vote totals in New York, paving the way for Reagan to win.


But for this to actually work, they’d have to convince the Liberal Party to go along with it. So how might they go about accomplishing this? Cohn told Stone, “You need to go visit this lawyer…the guy wanted $125,000 in cash to grease the skids.”(73) Recalling this today, Stone seems almost giddy recounting how successfully he and Cohn fraudulently interfered with an American Presidential election and got away with it.


Stone is now speaking openly in public about the crimes he committed on behalf of Ronald Reagan’s campaign because the statute of limitations has passed. He recounts, "I take the suitcase [full of cash] to the law office…two days later…Liberals decide they're endorsing John Anderson for president.”(73)


It worked. Roy Cohn and Roger Stone helped rig the American Presidential election of 1980 in favor of Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter.


Today, Roger Stone not only fails to display any remote modicum of remorse over this shocking act of political corruption, he’s still simply tickled by it. He’s proud of himself. As he tells it, "We saved the country."(73)


It would be during the 1980s that Roy Cohn would reach the pinnacle of his infamy, influence, and prodigious political power. The man owned no credit cards in his name. He held no personal bank accounts either. Normal, legal credit cards and bank accounts are tracked, monitored, and sometimes scrutinized by law enforcement. So, why expose himself to the risk?(39) Part of how Cohn got away with the extensive criminal activity he was enmeshed in was simply by staying off of the legal financial grid as much as possible.


Cohn was a perpetual elbow-rubber with the rich, famous and connected elites of Manhattan. But even among friends, even among the people who he smiled at and shook hands with, he was still an astoundingly crass scum-bag. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cohn frequented some of Manhattan’s most opulent, most extravagant night clubs and hotels. He was well known, and perhaps even feared by the owners of some of these establishments. And for good reason.


Roy Cohn made many new friends and business clients in Manhattan’s most exclusive clubs and restaurants. But Cohn didn’t pay for anything if he could get away with it. And most of the time, he could get away with it. He racked up huge bar tabs and bills at luxury hotels. When the bills arrived, Cohn simply ignored them. He refused to pay.(39)


What’s the worst they can do to me? He apparently mused. Are they going to sue me? He presumably laughed at the thought of it. He was Roy Cohn after all, close personal business partner to the top leaders of multiple branches of the largest and most powerful organized crime syndicates in America. So, what are they gonna do to me? The man was so entitled, so devoid of basic human decency and fairness, so drunk on his own power, that he stole even from many of the businesses that he frequented and socialized in, just because he could.


Remember that in 1980, Roy Cohn, along with Roger Stone, helped interfere with New York state’s election. The favor that Cohn and Stone did for Reagan did not go unnoticed or unrewarded by the new President’s administration.


In 1981, Donald Trump wanted a favor from the new Reagan administration. It was a very personal kind of favor. Donald’s older sister, Maryanne, had served as an assistant district attorney in New Jersey for some number of years. She decided she was ready for a promotion. But she couldn’t achieve a promotion on her own merit. So, this is where having friends like Roy Cohn come into the equation.


Donald asked Cohn to put in a call to the new Reagan administration. Specifically, Cohn called the United States Attorney General, Ed Messe.


Fun fact, the office of the United States Attorney General, also known as the Justice Department, is the very same institution which had just sued Donald and his father for the deeply entrenched racist business practices proven to have been imbedded within their family business in the 1970s. But the tables had turned dramatically in the early 1980s. There was a new sheriff in town, Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood actor by trade who deftly pivoted his great skill as a pretender into playing the biggest role in the land, a tough-guy, ultra-conservative President.


Maryanne Trump wanted to be promoted to take a seat on the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. When she brought the idea to Donald, he “thought it might be useful to have a close relative on the bench in a state in which he planned to do a lot of business.”(4)


And just like that, Roy Cohn called in a favor to the Reagan administration. Donald’s sister got the promotion. A promotion which she did not earn. When Donald got word the deal was done, he accurately exclaimed, “Roy can do the impossible!”(74)


Maryanne was delighted. Even she herself admits to the corrupt nature by which she leveraged her brother’s criminal lawyer to land herself a federal government job she could not have gotten on her own. Maryanne said, “There’s no question Donald helped me get on the bench. I was good, but not that good.”(74)


Imagine how intoxicating this successful act of corruption must have felt for Donald. In the early 1980s, he realized just how far his personal power might grow. He’d just called in a personal favor to the President of the United States, and it worked. Donald got his sister a federal job, just because he had the right connections with people like Roy Cohn who were willing to commit crimes on his behalf, as long as the money was right.


To be clear, Donald did this favor for his sister not because he loved her and wanted what was best for her. He did it because it was in his own financial interest to do so.


Remember that Donald and his siblings were the products of a broken home. The toxicity these siblings endured as young children would shape significant aspects of their quality of life well into adulthood.


Fred and Mary Trump’s first child, Freddy, became the primary target of their father’s ire. Unlike his sociopathic father, Freddy was kind, creative, and cooperative. His father hated this about him. Fred wanted a carbon copy of himself, someone to take over the family business and continue his own perceived legacy. But by the time Freddy was a young adult, it was clear that he was simply not cut from the same cloth as his ruthless father. As a boy, Donald observed the torrent of aggression and hostility his father rained down upon his older brother. To avoid abuse of this nature being directed towards himself, young Donald learned to essentially behave in a manner that was opposite to how Freddy might behave. Donald learned what his father did in fact like to see: audacity, callous indifference to the feelings of others, and shameless dishonesty and manipulation of the rules in order to put yourself ahead.


To his father’s horror, Freddy ultimately decided to walk away from the easy money that would have come with working in the family business. Freddy instead decided to become a pilot, something he grew to love. By the time Donald was 18-years-old, he felt completely entitled to speak with his 26-year-old brother in the same tone as his father would. On a visit with Freddy in the early 1960s, Donald told his older brother, “You know, Dad’s really sick of you wasting your life…he’s embarrassed by you…Freddy, Dad’s right about you: you’re nothing but a glorified bus driver.”(4) To be clear, “glorified bus driver” is the term Fred and Donald used to insult Freddy’s new career choice, becoming a professional airplane pilot.


Given the multilayered degree of childhood trauma that Freddy experienced growing up, it is unsurprising that the damage inflicted upon him by his father would proceed to haunt him into adulthood. By the time he was a young adult, Freddy had developed a serious chemical addiction to alcohol. This is an extremely common result of being raised in a traumatic environment. In fact, a full two-thirds of all addicts suffered from traumatic childhoods.(75) Tragically, with an immediate family that was completely indifferent to his wellbeing, Freddy died young. His parents considered him an embarrassment and a burden.


By late September, 1981, Freddy had been “critically ill for three weeks.” At this point, his parents had allowed him to move into an open room in their home, but neither of them could be bothered to care for him in his moment of gravest need. Finally, when it was already far too late, Fred called his eldest son an ambulance. As Freddy was taken to the hospital, his parents called their other children to inform them that their older brother was about to die.(4)


Freddy spent the final hours of his life alone in a hospital bed. At this precise moment, after already having been informed of what was happening to his older brother, Donald decided to go see a movie.(4)


Instead of heading to the hospital to be with their dying son, Fred and Mary opted to stay home and wait for the phone call; the phone call confirming that their 42-year-old son was dead.(4)


If Donald couldn’t be bothered to be there with his own brother while he was dying alone and in pain, how likely does it seem he’s capable of the emotional intelligence required to empathize with people he’s never even met?


In the 1980s, Donald Trump’s personal ambitions skyrocketed dramatically. He kicked off the new decade with a project even bigger, better and more impressive than the Commodore Hotel renovation he’d done in the 1970s.


In 1979, Donald’s father bought him the iconic Bonwit Teller building on 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan.(76) Donald intended to tear the historic building down, and rebuild a brand-new tower of his own. Modest, restrained, tasteful as ever, Donald picked the name for the building. Presumably, the list of potential names he brainstormed was short. He settled on an idea, surely the only one that felt right to him.


It would be called: Trump Tower.


Right from the beginning, local community leaders were concerned about Donald’s new project. The building Donald intended to demolish, the Bonwit Teller, was known for its exterior Art Deco sculptures. Initially willing to appease the artistic community, Donald publicly promised to donate the sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art before the rest of the building was demolished.(77) This act of goodwill was well received. But then Donald learned how long the process of carefully removing and transporting the sculptures would actually take.


Donald became impatient, and decided to have the building demolished immediately, including the historic artifacts he’d already promised to one of the most well-respected museums on Earth. The art community was shocked and horrified. In response, Donald claimed the sculptures were “without artistic merit.”(77)


Recall that in the 1970s, Donald was sued by the United States Justice Department for racist crimes in his family business. Furthermore, during the Commodore project, Donald caught the attention of the FBI for his business dealings with the Italian Mafia.


In 1980, Donald would face significant federal legal scrutiny for the third time in his then short career. This time, the FBI was on him once again over further evidence of financial transactions with the Italian Mafia on his new Trump Tower project. “FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family.”(78)


By 1982, construction on Trump Tower was in full-swing. That same year, John Cody called a massive, citywide strike for union construction workers. As construction projects stalled all across New York City, one major construction site, perplexingly, kept right on working. The only worksite in the entirety of NYC that was “exempt” from Cody’s strike just so happened to be the work being done on Trump Tower. Interesting. For Cody’s helpfulness, Donald lined up three beautiful new apartments for Cody’s girlfriend in Trump Tower. Cody was now the subject of a federal indictment.(79) But the FBI investigation into Donald himself magically disappeared.


In 1983, Trump Tower, an elite luxury apartment complex for the super-rich, opened for business. But the project was immediately embroiled in scandal.


During construction, Donald wanted the building created as quickly and as cheaply as possible. For help in this area, Donald once again got a lot of mileage out of his closest criminal mastermind, Roy Cohn. Already personally defending some of the biggest Italian Mafia bosses in NYC at the time, Cohn saw that Donald himself could greatly profit from developing deeper relationships with some of the enormously powerful crime families that Cohn was intimately connected with.


According to a federal investigation after Trump Tower was completed, Donald hired construction companies owned by Anthony Salerno and Paul Castellano. “Most skyscrapers are steel girder construction, and that was especially true in the 1980s, says John Cross of the American Iron & Steel Institute. Some use pre-cast concrete. Trump chose a costlier and in many ways riskier method: ready-mix concrete.”(78)


As Politico has reported, this was simply because “Salerno and Castellano and other mob families controlled both the concrete business and the unions involved in delivering and pouring it.” Donald was documented having paid the Mafia inflated prices for their ready-mix concrete. Why? “What Trump appeared to receive in return was union peace. That meant the project would never face costly construction or delivery delays.”(78)


By hiring the Italian Mafia to oversee his first original construction project, Trump also benefited from their willingness to illegally violate environmental safety laws. Construction sites produce an enormous amount of waste materials, some of them hazardous. For the Trump Tower project, “the asbestos and concrete were dumped near abandoned docks in Brooklyn and other discrete places instead of prescribed sites farther away, saving time and money.”(80)


Furthermore, it turns out that the Italian Mafia-run construction outfit that Donald hired to build Trump Tower, was also found to have relied heavily on the labor of undocumented immigrants.(78)


Over 200 Polish men built Donald’s new building. They were paid $4-5 an hour for their 12-hour shifts. Many worked without safety gear such as construction helmets. Many of these men slept on the construction site. These are all massive violations of worker rights and safety standards as established by legitimate construction unions. The Polish workers ended up filing a class-action lawsuit against Donald over the matter.(78)


To no one’s surprise, Donald claimed he had no idea about the massive number of illegal workers who built the building with his name on it. Yet, Politico’s reporting demonstrates that, “testimony showed that Trump panicked when the nonunion Polish men threatened a work stoppage because they had not been paid. Trump turned to Daniel Sullivan, a labor fixer and FBI informant, who told him to fire the Polish workers.”(78)


The lawsuit between the undocumented Polish immigrant laborers and Donald Trump would go on for over a decade and a half. This dispute, whose genesis was in the early 1980s, was delayed, stalled, and dragged out by Donald’s lawyers for year after year after year in an attempt to gain leverage over the exploited laborers. In 1998, Donald finally paid the workers $1.4 million to settle.(81)


Let’s step back a moment to hone in on another aspect of Donald’s approach to life that we just glossed over. As we just learned, Donald was guilty of having paid the Italian Mafia to round up some of the most vulnerable people in America: undocumented immigrants. Poor people in America who don’t speak English proficiently, and who often live in constant fear of law enforcement due to their immigration status, are extremely easy to take advantage of.


But Donald needed someone to help him with the paperwork part of getting away with exploiting undocumented immigrants. Turns out that Roy Cohn settled about 75% of his cases outside of the courtroom.(73) It’s much easier to muscle the people you’re trying to take advantage of this way, and Cohn did this masterfully time and again.


If it helped them get what they wanted, Donald and Cohn weren’t afraid to rip up the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution either.


Over the course of many, many years to come, Donald threatened and intimidated American journalists who’d learned about the depth of his criminal record, and who dared to write about it publicly.


In 2016, David Cay Johnston wrote a piece already referenced here multiple times. Johnston’s work illuminates the details of Donald’s illegal financial entanglements with the Italian Mafia in the 1970s and 1980s. Johnston also dug into the illegal, abusive, and exploitative power dynamic Donald maintained over the undocumented immigrants he exploited to build Trump Tower.


When Donald learned of the piece, in 2016, he called Johnston directly to threaten him for doing his job. Donald straight up told the American journalist, “If I don’t like what you write, I’ll sue you.”(78)


This was not a one-off act. Back in the early 1980s, with Roy Cohn by his side, Donald was clearly thrilled by the power he had to stifle the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of the Press in America.


Another occasion, Donald threatened a different respected American journalist. This time, Donald declared, “I really value my reputation and I don’t hesitate to sue. I’ve sued twice for libel…It cost me $100,000, but it’s worth it. I’ve broken one writer. You and I’ve been friends and all, but if your story damages my reputation, I want you to know I’ll sue.”(82)


As we can now clearly see, from the time he was a young adult, Donald was not at all shy about directly threatening American journalists if it helped him improve or protect his “reputation.” And as Donald’s wealth and fame continued to grow in the early 1980s, he’d often rely on his staff to help run interference with the media on his behalf.


In 1980, the New York Times ran an article discussing Donald’s decision to renege on his public promise to donate the historical art fixtures on the Bonwit Teller building to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Donald decided not to give a personal statement for the article at the time. But Donald had an assistant of his speak on his behalf. The man’s name was John Baron, vice-president of the Trump Organization. Baron spoke to the NYT about the issue, firmly defending Donald’s decision to break with his earlier commitment to the local art community.(83)


Also in 1980, John Baron helped combat that pesky lawsuit that Donald was facing over his decision to hire the Italian Mafia as his construction contractors. When those Polish workers decided to sue Donald over a litany of labor offenses, John Szabo was the immigration lawyer who represented them in court.(84)


As Szabo was preparing for the case, he got a phone call from John Baron. On behalf of Donald Trump, Baron directly threatened to sue Szabo, unless Szabo agreed to abandon the undocumented worker’s case.(84)


In 1982, Donald spotted what looked like an enormous new opportunity to enhance his public image. For the very first time that year, Forbes magazine announced it would be publishing a high-profile new feature which would be updated annually. It was the Forbes 400 list, the public ranking and glorification of the supposed 400 richest individuals in America.


Qualified or not, Donald Trump was going to get himself on that list.


He started with his heavy hitter: Roy Cohn. Cohn directly called up Jonathan Greenberg, the journalist at Forbes who’d be writing the story, and he lied to him. Cohn learned that Forbes was currently reporting Donald’s net wealth at $200 million. Cohn fired back, “That’s way too low, way too low! Listen, I’m Donny’s personal lawyer…I am sitting here looking at his current bank statement. It shows he’s got more than $500 million in liquid assets, just cash.”(85)


Wow, ok. Well, that was a lot more than Forbes had Donald down for. But Forbes is an honest publication, they need actual evidence to corroborate information of his nature. So Greenberg “offered to have a messenger pick up the bank statement at [Cohn’s] office. Cohn protested that the document was confidential. ‘Just trust me,’” he pressed.(85)


Donald also dispatched John Baron to try to convince Forbes he deserved a spot on the list. Greenberg obviously knew about Donald’s family business, and that the bulk of the assets belonged to Fred Trump, not to Donald. But Baron told Forbes they had it wrong. He said that Donald now owned the family business himself, which was news to them. According to John Baron, Donald himself now owned “in excess of 90 percent” of the Trump Organization.(85)


With the help of Roy Cohn and John Baron, Donald Trump got himself published in Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest individuals in America. Donald’s presence on this elite, coveted register of obscene wealth would do wonders for his “reputation,” and resultingly, for his future career and ability to secure new projects.


But it was all a lie. It was an extraordinarily bizarre, factually baseless fiction.


John Baron does not exist. John Baron is not a real person on Earth. He has no birth certificate, no home, no career, no heartbeat.


How can this be? This can be, because Donald Trump is a sociopath. And sociopaths will do or say whatever it takes to get what they want.


Jonathan Greenberg, the Forbes journalist who was hoodwinked by Donald in the early 1980s, has since written an updated account of what happened. The piece is titled, “Donald Trump lied to me about his wealth to get on the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes.”(85)


The tapes? Yes. Remarkably, Greenberg actually recorded multiple phone conversations he had with Donald, Cohn, and Baron back in the early 1980s. You can listen to them yourself in the link provided in the Sources Cited below.(85)


“John Baron” is simply a made-up character. A character made-up by Donald Trump. Yes, this really happened. In the 1980s, Donald often used a false name while calling influential people he wanted to look favorably upon him, or influential people he wanted to fear him. Donald would make a call and introduce himself as John Baron. He would then speak about himself in the 3rd person.


Donald’s decision to con journalists into thinking they were speaking with someone who didn’t exist continues to boggle the mind of anyone seeking to understand the man. Obvious questions, and obvious concerns come to mind upon learning about “John Baron.” These questions are both uncomfortable, and also extremely important to grapple with.


What sort of a man does this? What the absolute hell was he thinking? What is wrong with him?


Considering what we’ve learned about Donald’s childhood, the sort of psychological distortion that would lead a grown adult to create a fictitious character to glorify themselves to strangers becomes slightly easier to understand.


Remember that Donald grew up in a neglectful and at times emotionally abusive home. Donald’s parents themselves suffered from mental illness. And as Donald has shown the world in thousands of different examples over the course of his many decades in the public eye, Donald Trump is not well.


As the National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains, “Children with complex trauma histories may have problems thinking clearly, reasoning, or problem solving. They may be unable to plan ahead, anticipate the future, and act accordingly.”(86)


Anyone who listens to the recordings Greenberg made of “John Baron” on the phone in the 1980s can see through the pathetic façade in a heartbeat. Donald didn’t even seem to attempt to change his voice or put on an accent while pretending to be John Baron. In the recordings, it is starkly clear who is speaking: Donald Trump.


Year by year, Donald was becoming wealthier and more famous. And year by year, as his grandiose perception of his own self-worth expanded, Donald’s behavior and decision-making grew evermore unpredictable, inappropriate, and often so irrational as to ultimately prove self-defeating towards his own interests.


In the early 1980s, against the advice of his own father, Donald Trump decided he wanted to own a casino.


Donald had no experience in this industry, and was warned how financially risky casinos typically are. Then, there’s the matter of acquiring the proper licensing. “Part of the licensing process was supposed to be a deep investigation into [the applicant’s] background, taking more than a year for would-be casino owners, but Trump managed to cut that short…in 1981 he threatened to not build in Atlantic City unless New Jersey’s attorney general, John Degnan, limited the investigation to six months. Degnan was worried that Trump might someday get approval for a casino at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, which could have crushed Atlantic City’s lucrative gaming industry, so Degnan agreed to Trump’s terms.”(87) Here, Donald successfully muscled a high level US government official into letting him off the hook for following laws that Donald didn’t feel like having to deal with.


When it came time to break ground on the casino, Donald stuck with a good thing while he could still get away with it. Roy Cohn had connected Donald with Italian Mafia boss Anthony Salerno. Donald used Salerno’s concrete business to build Trump Tower. Soon afterwards, even though Donald was still actively being sued for the illegal labor violations that the Italian Mafia oversaw on that project, Donald hired them again for his New Jersey casino. Anthony Salerno was finally indicted and convicted in 1988 and sent to prison. As part of the evidence used in Salerno’s conviction, the government exposed an “$8 million contract for concrete” he had signed with Donald for Trump Plaza.(87) “The FBI had uncovered the concrete bid-rigging scheme at Trump Plaza by secretly bugging Mafia homes and hangouts.”(88)


But there are even more documented examples of how Donald Trump was consciously collaborating with the Italian Mafia in order to build his first casino. Part of the land he purchased to build the casino on was owned by members of the Italian Mafia in Philadelphia. Salvatore and Phillip Testa were best known in Philly for their role in a “Mafia hit-squad.” But Salvatore and Philip had also purchased some land in Atlantic City in the late 1970s. By the early 1980s, Donald Trump bought the Testa’s Atlantic City real estate. Donald paid the Mafia hit-men well over twice the amount the land was valued at.(89)


And there was another piece of land Donald wanted for his casino. This too was owned by yet another subset of the Italian Mafia in Philadelphia. Nicodemo Scarfo was a notoriously violent Philly Mob Boss. One of his agents was Kenneth Shapiro. Along with Shapiro, a man named Daniel Sullivan owned the property that Donald wanted in Atlantic City. Sullivan was a corrupt Teamster who worked with the Italian Mafia. In order to close the deal on the land for his casino, “Trump negotiated with [Shapiro and Sullivan] directly to lease the land.” Soon after, this transaction caught the attention of a New Jersey regulatory agency. Asked about his relationship with known Mafia men Shapiro and Sullivan, Donald commented, “They are not bad people from what I see.”(89)


As Donald Trump sought to establish himself as a power player in Atlantic City, he followed one of his father’s long successful business tactics: bribing elected government officials.


In order to accomplish this, Donald relied on one of his new Mafia connections, Kenneth Shapiro. Shapiro later confessed to “a grand jury that he funneled thousands of dollars in contributions from Trump to Atlantic City Mayor Michael J. Matthews, who Trump was barred from contributing to on his own because of his casino ownership.”(90)


In 1984, Trump Plaza, which Donald would not have been able to build without multilayered support from organized crime syndicates, opened for business.


One of Trump Plaza’s first and most valued high-roller gamblers was Robert LiButti. In 1991, LiButti was legally banned from all Atlantic City casinos, when it was finally legally proven that he was a powerful member of the Gambino Mafia.(91)


But throughout the 1980’s, before the ban, LiButti spent a lot of time and a lot of money, millions in fact, in Donald Trump’s casinos. For his loyal and lavish patronage, Donald made sure LiButti was gifted “luxury cars, including Rolls Royces and Ferraris, as well as trips to Europe and the Super Bowl.”(91) This successfully kept him coming back.


Yet, LiButti’s presence in Trump casinos came with some strings attached. Like Donald Trump, Robert LiButti didn’t respect women, and he couldn’t stand Black people. So, Trump casinos made sure LiButti was comfortable. When LiButti sat down to play, there better not be a woman or a Black man at the table.(91)


For years, Donald Trump made sure LiButti’s preferences were accommodated. When LiButti was finally banned in 1991, some of the evidence used against him came from conversations of his that were captured on wiretap. In some of these tapes, LiButti, “talked about flying with Trump…and offering [him] advice on running the casinos.”(91)


For openly engaging in racist and sexist business practices per LiButti’s request, Trump Plaza was fined $200,000 in 1991. Later that same year, the casino would be fined once more for the nine separate illegal, luxury sports car gifts that Donald Trump had rewarded LiButti with for his loyalty.(91)


Over the years, it became clear that all the illegal money in the world would still not be capable saving Donald’s casino from its greatest vulnerability of all: the man who was running it: Donald Trump.


By the end of its first year, it was clear that Donald’s new project would be a financial failure.


After circling the drain for years, Trump Plaza declared bankruptcy in 1992.(92)


By the early 2010s, the crumbling building had become a public eyesore. Donald’s first casino grew to become so pathetic looking that even Donald himself sued to have his own name removed from the building.(93) Trump Plaza officially failed as a business and permanently closed in 2014. Over 1,000 employees lost their jobs.(92) The building itself is now fully decrepit, it’s recognized by the city government as a literal threat to public safety.


Trump Plaza is currently slated for full demolition in early 2021.(94)


In 1985, one year after he opened his first failing casino, Donald Trump opened his second failing casino.


Construction on the site was started by another company whose progress was halted after they were denied a gambling license. They were denied a gambling license because they were found to have had connections to “organized crime figures.”(95) Having himself personally used his Mafia connections on his previous three construction projects, Donald Trump himself was approved to take over. Remember, at this point, Donald had already paid off Atlantic City’s Mayor. In 1985, the new complex opened for business. The casino was modestly named, Trump’s Castle.


But by 1990, just like Trump Plaza, Trump’s Castle was collapsing fast. Donald needed help. The kind of help that only his father could provide.


His son’s second ill-advised vanity project in Atlantic City now bleeding money fast, Fred stepped in. One day, he quietly used a proxy to buy $3.5 million of gambling chips at Trump’s Castle. Fred didn’t use the chips, they were just meant to artificially inflate the casino’s income.(96)


This is called an illegal loan. Oddly, this time, the Trumps actually got caught. But the devil is in the details. For this highly illegal act, they were fined a grand total of $30,000.(96)


Ignore for a moment the exorbitant wealth that Fred Trump had amassed at this point in his life. In this narrow case alone, we know that Fred was easily able to drop $3.5 million on a whim to help bailout his wayward son. But a $30,000 fine? Was this an effective, appropriately proportional punishment? Mathematically, a $30,000 fine represents .009% of the $3.5 million figure that the crime was based on in the first place.


So again, normally, the Trumps straight up avoid any consequences for their illegal behavior. But here we see that even when they do “get caught” and are “held accountable” in some technical sense, in reality, any objective observer can conclude is that this “punishment” was nothing more than a half-hearted slap on the wrist.


Imagine a parent who’s prohibited their teenager from smoking cigarettes. One day, the parent discovers the teen has a fully loaded carton of cigarettes in their bedroom. And what if that indignant parent then said, “Ok, that’s it! You’ve been caught red-handed. As your punishment, I’m going to let you keep the carton of cigarettes. But, I’m going to open up one of the packets inside of the carton, and I’m going to remove one single cigarette from the pack. I will take that one single cigarette outside, and I will destroy it so you can’t smoke that one. Senator Susan Collins and I think that you’ve now learned your lesson.”


In an impressively consistent fashion, Donald Trump bankrupted his second casino not long after it opened. In 1992 alone, Donald went bankrupt on the first two businesses he had started.


Continuing to struggle, Donald had a cute idea to save Trump’s Castle. What if we changed the name?


In 1997, Trump’s Castle became Trump Marina.(97) In spite of this bold change, the business continued to flounder, treading water for years while Donald looked for someone to sell it off to. Mercifully, by 2011, he found a buyer. Trump’s Castle, I mean Trump Marina, became the Golden Nugget Atlantic City. It sold for 1/10th of the value it was expected to go for merely three years prior.(98)


Quick episode recap: Donald’s father, his greatest funder, his mentor in developing corrupt relationships with politicians, directly told Donald that his random impulse to build and operate a casino in New Jersey was a bad idea.


But Donald Trump doesn’t like being told he can’t do things.


So, he ignored his father’s prudent council, and in 1984 he opened a casino. It was almost immediately clear that this business would be more of a financial burden than an asset. Then, in 1985, bypassing elementary common sense, Donald opened a second casino. This one soon became such a financial disaster that Donald’s father was willing to illegally funnel millions of dollars into the business in a last-ditch effort to keep it afloat.


A few short years further down the line, both of these bad investments ended in bankruptcy. But here’s the thing, in the mid 1980s, Donald saw yet another new casino construction project stall in Atlantic City. This one’s going to be huge! This one could be, like, the biggest casino ever!


In 1987, incapable of exercising basic self-control as a fully grown adult, Donald Trump decides he has to have it. He’s buys his third Atlantic City casino.


In 1990, Donald unveiled his new crown jewel, the tastefully named Trump’s Taj Mahal casino. The enormous complex cost $1 billion to construct.(99) In front of the cameras, Donald pitched his shiny new slot machine warehouse as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”(100)


The Eighth Wonder of the World went bankrupt in 1991. Yes, the year after it opened.(99)


As it happens, Donald’s third casino quickly drained a huge portion of gamblers who had previously been spending money at his first and second casinos. As a result, the very year after Trump’s Taj Mahal went bankrupt, so did Trump Plaza and Trump’s Castle.


Trump’s Taj Mahal survived its immediate bankruptcy, but the business’s finances never fully stabilized. By 2014, unionized workers at the casino pushed back against major proposed cuts to their benefits and livelihoods. In an effort to save money, Donald’s casino was about to “effectively [cancel] the casino’s employees health insurance and pension coverage.”(101)


Bina Vashi was a housekeeper at Trump’s Taj Mahal. She observed, “When Trump came out of bankruptcy in 2010…he made an extra $17 million a year, while I was making less than $17 per hour. Now he is blaming the health insurance that I rely on to keep healthy for Taj’s financial problems.”(101)


Charles Baker, a cook at Trump’s Taj Mahal, said "They stripped us of our health care, our severance, and deducted our half-hour break from our check.”(102)


Donald was never willing to make humane concessions with the low-income employee’s he relied upon for years to make Trump’s Taj Mahal work. Things had gotten so bad by 2016 that Donald’s third casino closed down after its workers went on strike.(102)


Two years later, the casino reopened under new ownership as a Hard Rock Hotel.(103)


Let us now pause to remember something else going on behind the scenes in Donald Trump’s life in the 1980s. When he married Ivana Zelníčková in 1977, the Czechoslovakian StB and the Soviet Union’s KGB (Communist intelligence services) identified Donald as a target for espionage.


At that time, of course, there was no way for either of these clandestine operations to have had any idea just how far Donald Trump would eventually rise in American public life. All they knew at the time was that Donald fit the specific category and criteria of Americans they were looking to exploit: ambitious, wealthy and corrupt businessmen with powerful social and political connections.


This didn’t mean that Donald was particularly special when he was first identified as a target. Craig Unger, a journalist and author who has studied Donald Trump for decades, explains, “Trump was just one of hundreds of people [the KGB] had approached. At best, he was a rich and influential businessman. Perhaps he would become more powerful in years to come.”(104)


When Donald and Ivana were first married, the Czechoslovakian StB started tapping the phone conversations between Ivana and her father Miloš. The StB opened and read the mail between Ivana and her father as well. But they went even further. “According to files in Prague, declassified in 2016, Czech spies kept a close eye on the couple in Manhattan…There was periodic surveillance of the Trump family in the United States.”(105)


By the mid 1980s, Soviet spies were strongly embedded within multiple layers of American society. Unger notes, “The FBI had identified roughly six hundred KGB agents out of about two thousand Soviet officials living in the United States.”(104)


A secret, internal KGB memo from the mid 1980s which has since been unearthed, includes a section on “kompromat.” The act of gaining kompromat on a target is essentially gaining access to material which can be used to blackmail them. Politico reports that kompromat is, “’Compromising information about [a] subject, including illegal acts in financial and commercial affairs…and exploitation of [the target’s] position to enrich himself.’ Plus ‘any other information’ that would compromise the subject before ‘the country’s authorities and the general public.’ Naturally the KGB could exploit this by threatening ‘disclosure.’”(105)


In the mid 1980s, the KGB decided to pursue a strategy of kompromat on Donald Trump. It would take some time, but the results would prove well worth the wait.


In 1986, they made their move. According to Donald himself, one day he “found himself seated next to the Soviet ambassador [to the US] Yuri Dubinin.” This interaction was not serendipitous, but Donald didn’t have the first clue as to what was actually happening. Donald continues, “One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel, across the street from the Kremlin [in Moscow], in partnership with the Soviet government.”(105)


Natalia Dubinina, KGB agent and daughter of the Soviet ambassador, was delighted by how easily Donald took the bait. When the flattering offer of a major new international business deal presented itself [in partnership with the Communist Soviet Union,] “Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition…My father’s visit worked on him like honey to a bee.”(104)(105)


The Soviet’s plan progressed swiftly from there.


In 1987, Donald published a book under his own name that was written by someone else. It was called, The Art of the Deal. In the book, Donald’s ghostwriter relays that Natalia Dubinina, after the initial meeting just mentioned, told Donald that she had “good news from Moscow.” She told Donald that Intourist, the Soviet Union’s state travel agency, had “expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a [Trump] hotel in Moscow.”(104)


Intourist was founded by Joseph Stalin in 1929. “Its job was to vet and monitor all foreigners coming into the Soviet Union.” The public facing travel agency was in fact run by the KGB. And as Politico reports, “The KGB wouldn’t invite someone to Moscow out of altruism.”(105)


In truth, the Soviets never planned to actually follow through with building a Trump hotel in Moscow. As former KGB agent Yuri Shvets explains, in the late 1980s, “The Soviet government was running out of money.” But the phony “negotiations” the KGB initiated with Donald Trump served a completely ulterior motive: a public facing false narrative, under which they could continue to develop a long-term relationship with this extremely wealthy and connected New Yorker. In his 2021 book, American Kompromat, Craig Unger writes that, “Discussions about Trump Tower Moscow could provide a highly credible cover for contacts with Trump that could last for decades.”(104)


The date that the Soviets selected for Donald to make his pilgrimage to Moscow was telling in and of itself. On July 4th, 1987, Donald Trump accepted an all expenses paid luxury trip to the capital city of America’s greatest enemy.


Once Donald landed in the global capital of Communism, he was showered with “lavish hospitality” by his KGB handlers.(105) Donald was put up in Lenin’s suite at the National Hotel.


By day, Donald was chauffeured around Moscow to evaluate potential building sites for his new hotel that would never be built. But that was just a distraction to keep him occupied. The true value of Donald’s trip to the Soviet Union was the mission to gain kompromat on the man. In this endeavor, it appears the KGB was successful.


The kompromat came into play in the evenings Donald spent in his luxury Moscow hotel. A hotel which just so happened to be under full 24/7 surveillance by the KGB. Every room Donald Trump entered inside Moscow’s National Hotel was bugged. Oleg Kalugin is a former head of the KGB’s foreign operations and intelligence gathering unit. Kalugin explains that while Donald was in Moscow, “The [KGB]’s interest [was] only one. To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future.”(105)


My, now whatsoever type of information are we talking about here?


Kalugin continues, by night, the KGB handlers led Donald to “good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else.”(105)


This wasn’t the KGB’s first rodeo secretly documenting their targets in ethically compromising situations. Kalugin explains, “it was widespread practice at the time to use prostitutes to entrap foreign businessmen.”(106)


Kalugin bluntly told a Western reporter that “In your world…you ask your young men to stand up and proudly serve their country…In Russia, sometimes we ask our women just to lie down.”(106)

Now, let’s get real clear on what we know, and what we don’t know about exactly what, if anything, the KGB truly “has” on Donald Trump.


On one hand, there is no official, publicly available proof that the Soviet Union filmed or recorded Donald in some sort of sexually compromising encounter with prostitutes on his trip to Moscow in 1987.


However, we do know that scores of former KGB agents have since described in no uncertain terms that the practice of gaining this sort of kompromat on their American targets was standard practice for their agency at that time.


It’s technically possible that such recordings of Donald never took place. But we have to acknowledge the possibly that such recordings very well might in fact exist. And if they did, should we expect for them to be, say, searchable on YouTube? Of course not, that would make no sense. If the recordings do exist, the most likely explanation of why we’ve never seen them is deceptively simple. It’s just that the KGB was an extremely professional and patient organization. The KGB was oriented towards long-term strategy, not the immediate, ADHD news-cycles of the Western media. If the KGB got blackmailable material on Donald Trump, they would not have publicly released it up front. They would have sat on it. They would have guarded it safely. They would have waited until they could use it at exact right moment, when they could leverage the explosive material to its highest potential.


The best tool we have available to gauge the extent to which the Soviet Union’s intelligence services gained leverage and influence over Donald Trump is best understood by observing one thing: Donald Trump’s public words, actions, and behavior, after he returned home from celebrating the 4th of July in the capital city of his own country’s greatest enemy.


Shortly after returning to the US, Donald got ahold of one of his biggest enablers, the New York Times. A basic tenant of legitimate journalism includes verifying the veracity of claims made by sources featured in your publication. But when it came to Donald Trump, the NYT of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, time and again let Donald off the hook for saying things that were clearly not true. Instead, the paper seemingly took Donald at his word, and didn’t bother to fact check many of his obviously dubious and verifiably false assertions.


Upon his return from Moscow, the NYT printed that Donald had “met with the Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.”(107) This is 100% false. No such a meeting ever took place.(104)


Things would continue to get weirder from there.


While Donald was in Moscow, former KGB agent Shvets explains that Donald “Was fed KGB talking points and flattered by KGB operatives who floated the idea that he should go into politics.”(108)


Shortly after he returned from the Soviet Union, Donald began to take bold political actions that baffled anyone who actually knew anything about the man.


On September 1st, 1987, Donald Trump paid nearly $100,000 for full-page advertisements in three of America’s top newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.(109) Pitched as an open letter to the American people, Donald espoused a litany of foreign policy opinions which aligned neatly with global interests of his new friends in the Soviet Union.


The ad was titled, “There’s nothing wrong with America’s Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can’t cure.” The Guardian notes, “The ad offered some highly unorthodox opinions in Ronald Reagan’s cold war America, accusing ally Japan of exploiting the US and expressing skepticism about US participation in NATO.”(108)


A portion of Donald’s ad read, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States…The world is laughing at American politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help…Make Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others pay for the protection we extend our allies…Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.”(109)


For Americans who saw this highly charged political ad coming from a failed New Jersey casino tycoon, Donald’s sudden interest in Cold War foreign policy was a bit of a head scratcher.


But back in Moscow, Donald’s “bizarre intervention was cause for astonishment and jubilation.” Why? Because the KGB practically couldn’t believe their luck. Donald’s ad was considered a “successful ‘active measure’ executed by a new KGB asset [Donald Trump].”(108)


Then it got even stranger.


Still fresh off of his fantasy trip to the global capital of Communism, Donald Trump started listening to the new voices in his head, voices explicitly and purposefully planted there by the KGB itself.


In October of 1987, Donald Trump let it be known that he was considering running for President of the United States.


That month, Donald’s private helicopter touched down in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for his first campaign rally.


A packed audience of 500 New Hampshire Republican primary voters were patiently waiting to see the New York celebrity in person. When he began speaking, Donald immediately confused everyone by stating that he would not be running for President in 1988. But, having already drawn hundreds of people there on the premise that he was in fact running in 1988, he gave the audience their money’s worth just the same.(110)


Politico reports on Donald’s 1987 Presidential campaign rally, “Trump railed…about Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Washington, Wall Street, politicians, [and] economists.”(110)


Donald claimed that America “was facing ‘disaster’ and was ‘being kicked around.’ Other countries were ‘laughing at us.’ ‘It makes me sick,’ Trump said.”(110)


To be clear, Ronald Reagan was President at the time of this speech. It was Ronald Reagan’s American that Donald Trump was suddenly so disgusted with.


Donald concluded his foreboding address, “If the right man doesn’t get into office…you’re going to see a catastrophe in this country in the next four years like you’re never going to believe. And then you’ll be begging for the right man.”(110)


Anything sound familiar?


Politico described Donald’s shocking 1987 Presidential campaign speech as, “nativist and isolationist, an angry, gloomy rant about America losing out in a dangerous world.”(110)


The New Hampshire audience was primarily made up of senior citizens. They gave Donald a standing ovation.(110).


Back home in New York, Donald’s spastic entrance and immediate exit from into American Presidential politics left many bewildered.


Newsweek noted that the “political talk is probably…overdone. Even if Trump were serious about a career in public life, it would be difficult for a casino operator, no matter how well known, to get elected to anything. Nor is it at all clear that he is serious. Trump admits that he only has a glancing familiarity with important issues and intimates that he would hate running for office.”(111)


The NYC media buzz about Donald’s prospective run for office was also of course just one additional method of securing free positive publicity for a man who possessed an insatiable appetite for his own coverage in the press.


And as per usual, Donald played both sides of the aisle at the same time. In December of 1987, People magazine chose to put Donald on their cover, glamorizing and glorifying the man’s wealth. People magazine stroked Donald’s ego over his non-campaign for President. Speaking to why he chose to drop out of the race, he claimed, “The fact is that I don’t like publicity.”(112) Right.


Then the old standby, People magazine informed its readers that in the end, Donald was simply, “too busy to run for president at that time.”(112) He totally would have done it. He surely could have done it, this implies. But unfortunately, the dedicated businessman just couldn’t get away from his long days diligently crunching the numbers at his desk to share his visionary leadership and foreign policy expertise with the rest of us.


One of the reasons Donald Trump was too busy to run for President in 1988 was that he was becoming embedded in a new hobby: international money-laundering.


From his perch at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Donald personally sold two luxury condos to a man named Robert Hopkins. According to reporting at the time, Hopkins “had no verifiable legitimate income or assets.” Nevertheless, Hopkins presented Donald with a “briefcase full of $200,000.”(113) As it happens, Hopkins had made his wealth by running over 100 popular small business outlets all across NYC. These 100 outlets were all illegal gambling rings. Hopkins was a high-ranking Italian Mafia member. In 1986, he was arrested not only for his enormous illegal gambling empire, but also for having ordered the murder of Pedro Acosta, the leader of a rival illegal gambling ring.(114)


In 1988, Donald himself was “investigated by the U.S. Attorney for money-laundering.”(59) For those playing along at home, this marks the fourth separate major government agency Donald had been investigated by. Donald’s decision to accept that suitcase of dirty money from a known Mafia leader sure looked like it was shaping up to become a real headache.


The US Attorney at the time was an ambitious young man named Rudy Giuliani.


In the mid-1980s, Giuliani had earned himself a reputation for successfully prosecuting multiple top Italian Mafia bosses in NYC, including some who were personally represented by Donald Trump’s own lawyer, Roy Cohn.(115)


Giuliani was actually doing such good job putting Italian Mafia bosses behind bars that some of the remaining Mafia family leaders conspired to have him killed.(116)


That’s right, Rudy Giuliani was definitely “tough on crime,” when it suited him politically.


But it turns out, that would all have to change in 1989, when Giuliani was planning to run for Mayor of New York City.(117)


Donald heard this news and immediately jumped on the opportunity. As a full-fledged celebrity figure by this point, Donald quickly got himself on TV and publicly announced his support for Giuliani’s prospective mayoral campaign. To top it off, Donald “announced he'd raise $2 million in a half hour if Rudy ran for mayor.”(117)


That seemed to do the trick.


Shortly after this bold and public stunt, the federal investigation into Donald Trump’s money laundering scheme with Robert Hopkins, which US Attorney Rudy Giuliani would be entrusted to lead, was quietly dropped.(59)


Donald Trump had bought himself a new friend in Rudy Giuliani. Over three decades later, the corrupt alliance between these two men would reach heights neither of them could likely have even imagined when their paths first crossed in the 1980s.


It really does help to have corrupt friends in high places. And on that note, let’s circle back to Donald Trump’s indispensable criminal boxing ring coach, Roy Cohn.


After remaining several steps ahead of law enforcement over the course of his decades long, largely criminal career, Cohn was finally disbarred in 1986. While no longer legally able to practice law in the state of New York as of that point, this action would prove too little and too late. The charges against Cohn “involved alleged dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.”(118)(119)


Roy Cohn’s long overdue disbarment arrived three weeks before his death.


In his early 20’s, one of Cohn’s first and most significant professional accomplishments was deeply enshrining homophobia into the highest levels of American government and legal system.


In the early 1950s, Roy Cohn got President Eisenhower to ban homosexuals from jobs in the federal government. Because of Roy Cohn, hundreds of existing employees in crucial agencies like the US State Department were accused of being homosexuals, and were fired. Cohn was almost singlehandedly responsible for stoking a new and deep wave of toxic prejudice against an untold number of American citizens simply for the crime of having been born the way they were born.


In 1984, Roy Cohn was diagnosed with AIDS.(119)


At that point, “Cohn called in his last favor and appealed to Ronald Reagan for special treatment – an insult to the millions of people, including his own friends that died unnecessarily during the administration's failure to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic. Cohn was able to get himself into an experimental treatment program that very few people could get into.”(119)


Ronald Regan himself, the high and mighty Christian moralist, sent a final telegram to the loyal friend who’d been so kind to help overthrow the will of the voters of New York in 1980 on the President’s behalf.


“Nancy and I are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers. May our Lord bless you with courage and strength. Take care and know that you have our concern. Ronald Reagan.”(119)


Publicly, Roy Cohn “insisted to his dying day that he was suffering from liver cancer.”(119)