Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who has covered Trump for 27 years speaks to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.
August 20, 2015

From this Wednesday's Democracy Now, here's a side of Trump that's being completely ignored by our corporate media that just loves the fanfare, the horse race and hates substance: David Cay Johnston: 21 Questions for Trump on Kickbacks, Busting Unions, the Mob & Corporate Welfare:

To talk more about Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, we are joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who has covered Trump off and on for 27 years. He recently wrote an article for The National Memo titled "21 Questions for Donald Trump." David Cay Johnston is an investigative reporter previously with The New York Times. He’s currently a columnist for Al Jazeera America as well as a contributing writer at Newsweek. His latest book is "Divided. The Perils of Our Growing Inequality."


AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston is an investigative reporter previously with The New York Times. He’s currently a columnist for Al Jazeera America as well as a contributing writer at Newsweek. His latest book is Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality.

David, welcome back to Democracy Now! You have been covering Donald Trump for more than 30 years. Can you talk about who Donald Trump is?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald Trump is not at all who people think he is, and I’m very surprised that conservatives are embracing him. For example, Donald’s most famous building, the Trump Tower, instead of building it as a steel girder building, he chose to build it out of concrete, a 58-story—he says 68 stories—a 58-story concrete building built by a company called A&S [S&A Concrete] construction. And who owned [S&A] construction? "Fat Tony" Salerno, the head of the Genovese crime family in New York, and Paul Gambino—I’m sorry, Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino family. Trump used the same company for other projects that he built, even though they were more costly than using steel girder construction.

When he tore down the Bonwit Teller building to make way for the Trump Tower, he had about a dozen union house wreckers on the site and about 150 Polish workers, all of them illegally in the country, who he paid $4 to $5 an hour and who did not have hard hats. And Trump claimed in a lawsuit that he had no idea that these workers were there in any way other than an appropriate way. And a federal judge mocked him, pointing out that they were easy to spot because they were the ones who had no hard hats.

Donald’s personal helicopter pilot, Joseph Weichselbaum, was a convicted major cocaine and marijuana trafficker whose criminal case landed before, of all people, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister. Now, Judge Barry recused herself, but she also, in the process, made every other judge in the federal system aware of the sensitivity of this particular case.

And in addition, Donald Trump has been found in the past repeatedly to have not paid people he owed money to. It is a standard business practice of his. He has let people think that he fixed Wollman Rink in Central Park for free. He was paid $10 million, but some of his contractors were never paid, because he told them this was a public service project. And he’s been sued innumerable times for racial discrimination of his businesses. He’s been found to have engaged in racial discrimination. He’s not at all who he appears to be.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and, David Cay Johnston, you also note that he’s not even a billionaire, as he so often claims, that in some years he hasn’t—

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, he wasn’t one in—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In some years, he hasn’t even paid taxes.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: He wasn’t one in 1990. Yeah, in 1990, when I revealed that—he claimed he was worth $3 billion back then, and I got a hold of his banker’s net worth statement that showed he was worth negative-$295 million, and as—I was at _The Philadelphia Inquirer then. We ran across the top of the front page, "You are Probably Worth More Than Donald Trump." I think the record now is pretty clear. He’s probably worth a billion or somewhat more than a billion, but nowhere near $10 billion.

But important to that is that Donald, in all likelihood, despite claiming a $400 million annual income, probably doesn’t pay any income taxes, because there’s a special provision in federal tax law that if you’re a real estate developer or operator, and your losses, your paper losses for the depreciating value of your buildings, which are really going up in value, exceed your other income, you can live tax-free. And I have three years of Donald’s tax returns from the late ’70s, early ’80s that show large negative income and no federal income tax.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve challenged him to release his taxes?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, yeah. I think the likelihood that Donald will release his tax returns, even if he’s the Republican nominee, is extraordinarily small. I mean, look how hard Mitt Romney, who benefited from another provision of the tax code that would have allowed him to live tax-free or virtually tax-free as the sole owner of Bain Capital management, fought to only release two years of his tax data, even though his father set the standard at 16 years. [...]

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And among the questions you raise, there’s also about Trump’s operations in Atlantic City, with his casinos there and his questionable relationships with possibly other mob figures in Atlantic City. Could you talk about that?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Sure. Well, Donald never had a dollar invested in Atlantic City. And by his own account in The Art of the Deal, he brags about deceiving his partners, the directors of the old Holiday Inn motel company, who owned Harrah’s casinos. And he boasts about tricking them and deceiving them. He needed to buy a particular piece of land. And Donald always says he’s such a great negotiator. So who did he send to negotiate with the representative of Nicky Scarfo, the head of the Atlantic City crime family? Well, he sent his lawyer, Harvey Freeman. He didn’t go himself. And I think that’s consistent with Donald having so assiduously avoided the draft. Donald is not a guy to put himself in any position that he thinks might represent any kind of physical danger to him whatsoever.

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