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Excerpt: ‘Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth — The Deals, The Downfall, The Reinvention’

On Twitter there’s a profane character who calls himself @realDonaldTrump — and then there’s the all-too-real Donald Trump: reality star, casino mogul, political toxin, and conman extraordinaire. Nobody has written as many informed and perceptive stories about Trump as investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, whose Brooklyn basement full of Trump-related files is now a top destination for every serious journalist covering the Republican presidential front-runner. Barrett’s landmark 1992 book Trump: The Deals and the Downfall is now a cherished out-of-print rarity, but Regan Arts recently published a Kindle edition titled Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth — The Deals, The Downfall, The Reinvention. What follows is an exclusive excerpt from its new foreword:


Two days after his 69th birthday, Donald Trump became the first presidential candidate to launch his campaign aboard an escalator, descending on a continuous loop of steel against a backdrop of continuously looping waterfalls, all in front of the very cameras that have so often made his story a spinning reel of autoerotic autobiography. Everyone else in the movie that Donald is making with his life—that morning and beyond—is just an extra.

As much attention as that particular escalator ride garnered, the Trump history leading up to that moment went unnoticed: more than a century earlier, the first escalator was built on the Old Iron Pier in Coney Island, a precursor to Steeplechase, the landmark amusement park that Fred Trump, Donald’s father, tore down in the 1960s, ending the Brooklyn beachfront’s run as one of the world’s most famous playgrounds.

The stage-managing of that escalator entrance at his signature Trump Tower was just one of the anomalies at Trump’s mid-June announcement.

His bid for the presidency came 25 years, nearly to the day, after Donald produced a birthday extravaganza—at Trump’s Castle in Atlantic City—the day after he first defaulted on a casino bond in the thick of a financial meltdown. On stage in the confetti-covered Crystal Ballroom, a George H.W. Bush impersonator declared that Trump should be president, a joke on its way now to possible prophecy.

Melania, Donald’s third wife, joined him on his journey down the gold-railed escalator, just as she did in a 2013 Celebrity Apprentice episode when she and Donald introduced her line of caviar skincare. But it was first wife Ivana who had overruled the architects 35 years earlier to insist on a 60-foot waterfall, and who had trekked across an Italian quarry to pick the finest rosy-beige Breccia Perniche marble for the five-story atrium—the same marble that matched the peachy orange hue of Donald’s hair on the morning of his press conference.

The lights illuminating the waterfall were installed by a contractor whose brother-in-law, Donald Manes, voted for the tower’s zoning variance as a member of the city’s reigning Board of Estimate, a few years before he plunged a kitchen knife into his chest just as US Attorney Rudy Giuliani was about to indict him. Trump’s lawyer on the Trump Tower tax abatement, Stanley Friedman, was Manes’ partner in crime, who delivered a second Board of Estimate vote for the tower and was later convicted by Giuliani on unrelated racketeering charges. Giuliani once opened a probe into Trump’s sale of a Trump Tower apartment to the head of one of the city’s largest gambling rings, who brought a briefcase of cash to a closing Donald personally attended. Giuliani is now an informal campaign advisor to his onetime donor Trump.

Trump Tower itself is a monument to the mob. Sweetheart deals with a mob Teamsters local that delivered the concrete, and mob contractors that supplied and built the tallest reinforced concrete job in the country, were choices Donald made, provoking the interest of federal prosecutors at the time. Now, as he lays claim to the White House, he is announcing an even larger concrete project, a thousand-mile wall to protect us from drug and trafficking cartels.

The Trump Tower apartments, and some of the offices above the atrium, had long been magnets for criminals. A half dozen felons, including the head of the Gambino-tied concrete-drivers union, owned part or all of over two dozen units in the tower in its first decade. Trump’s cluelessness on foreign policy, apparent even in his opening speech, extended to the tower’s apartment and office occupants—a disturbing collection of international rogues.

Baby Doc Duvalier bought a $2.5 million apartment there before the tower opened and before the president-for-life was driven from power in Haiti. Chuck Blazer, the 450-pound, now-convicted, wheeler-dealer at the center of the vast FIFA soccer scandal, wallowed between two different tower apartments and a tower office where his branch of the soccer federation was headquartered. Another FIFA potentate, Brazilian Jose Maria Marin, who was once caught on videotape pocketing a gold medal that was supposed to be presented to a member of a championship team, is under house arrest on racketeering charges in his $3.5 million Trump Tower apartment.

Bayrock, a developer that joined Trump in New York and Fort Lauderdale projects, was headquartered at the Tower and one of its partners, Tamir Sapir, a Russian billionaire who Trump called “a great friend,” had a $5 million apartment there. Sapir’s top aide pled guilty to participating in a 13-year racketeering conspiracy with the Gambino crime family, with some of those years overlapping with his involvement in running Sapir’s construction operations. Felix Sater, who owned a 50 percent “executive membership” in the Bayrock entities set up for the Trump projects, pled guilty in a $40 million mob stock swindle and cooperated with federal prosecutors. Sater, the son of a Russian mobster, appeared in photos with Trump and was identified as a senior adviser on a Trump Organization card. Sater also did prison time for plunging the stem of a wine glass into a commodity broker’s face.

While Candidate Trump contends that Saudi Arabia was behind the 9/11 attacks, a top Saudi government minister at the time of the attack, Prince Mutaib bin Abdulaziz, owns a full floor in the tower. In fact, although Trump would soon argue that “we should stop supporting the Saudi dictatorship,” as well as stop buying their oil, he said in his announcement, “I love the Saudis; many are in this building.”

Two other Trump Towers, one in Istanbul and one in Philadelphia, involved convicted cocaine traffickers, but not as residents. Trump’s initial partner in the twin towers in Istanbul—one residential and one office/commercial building—was Engin Yesil, who was sentenced to six years in prison for trafficking 20 years earlier. He later said that he assigned his earnings on the Trump project to Dogan Holdings, a giant Turkish developer that was fined $2.5 billion by the Turkish government for dodging corporate taxes for years. The Dogan firm was alarmed when Candidate Trump made his strongest anti-Muslim statements a few months after his announcement and threatened publicly to separate Trump from the project.

The Philadelphia tower was never built after Trump’s local partner Raoul Goldberg disappeared and the development firm went bankrupt. Sentenced to 46 months in prison in 2000 on cocaine charges, Goldberg was on probation when he brought the deal to Trump in 2005. Under a licensing and management contract with Goldberg’s firm, Trump was so involved he did the video pitch for it, and his company got the permits and cut the spa and restaurant deals, with daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. working on the ground.


The Trump Tower lobby where Trump made his presidential announcement wasn’t exactly his property alone, either. The lobby is privately owned public space. The zoning variance that Manes and other Trump insiders on the Board of Estimate approved gave Trump 20 extra floors if he ran the shops and atrium as space open to public use, where visitors could relax without shopping at Gucci or eating at Trump Grill, where 45-dollar Trump steaks sell a floor below the lobby.

A 22-foot black marble bench near the entrance made it so easy to relax that Trump tried to discourage visitors by covering it with planters soon after the tower opened, a violation so blatant that the city cracked down, forcing Trump himself to huff and puff in the office of a City Planning Commission deputy and to write a letter complaining about “drug addicts” who apparently couldn’t resist gilded Fifth Avenue rest stops. He lost that battle but never gave up, eventually replacing the bench and other public space with two Trump Stores, 40-foot mahogany counters where everything Trump—from books to bling—was sold at prices no vagrant could afford. The city fined him $2,500 in 2008, but sales, including those of Melania’s timepieces and fashion jewelry, may have topped that every hour. So, they continued on for years, well after the presidential debut, until the city levied a $4,000 fine in February 2016 and finally shut the counters down.

In exchange for this atrium access, Trump even built his own three-story, $100 million, Louis XIV facsimile penthouse, where he issues tweets and devours Twinkies in his pajamas; yet he’s broken the deal again and again, contemptuous of commitments to a public he now wants to represent.


Adapted from Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth–The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention by Wayne Barrett. Copyright Wayne Barrett. Available now as an ebook from Regan Arts.

The Rise And Fall — And Rise! — Of Edward I. Koch

Over his 22 years of post-mayoral life, Ed Koch proved he could transcend not only an electoral loss but a moral mistake, and rise, like his city, to a brighter morning.

The shorthand on the top of every Ed Koch movie review was a plus or minus sign. This master of the soundbite always got right to the point. His life, all 88 years of it, gets a plus sign now, even from one of his most relentless critics. We know he had 12 years at Gracie without a dull moment, and a grand post-mayoral schtick of more than 22 years. His post-death life, judging by the media clamor today, may last nearly as long. He died the day Neil Barsky’s documentary classic, Koch, is premiering across the country, once again proving he has the timing of a box office king.

His own account of how he became a movie critic is pure Koch. Called by Tom Allon, the editor of a Manhattan weekly who is running for mayor himself this year, and offered $50 per review, Koch replied: “I wouldn’t cross the street for $50.” How much do you want, asked Allon. “Two hundred and fifty,” Koch insisted. We’re a small paper, said Allon, saying he couldn’t afford that. “Call me back when you get bigger,” said Koch, and Allon called back a day later, feeling big enough to pay the tab.

He was born to banter. A World War II vet, he loved every form of cojones combat. When it is said, and no one said it more often than he did, that he was New York, what we all meant was that he was its street-smart voice, a daily shot of caffeine that stirred our subway and sidewalk blood. I dubbed him Mayor Mouth decades ago, and he relished the title. He could’ve charged for his shirtsleeve press conferences and still packed the house, always making sure that he called on his nemesis reporters first, including me. There or anywhere else, whatever popped into his head emerged instantly from his mouth.

When he had his 1991 heart attack, he was conscious during a difficult pacemaker operation and had a silent conversation with God. “I was doing all the talking,” he recalled, a premonition about what’s happening somewhere today. He was thrilled then that two years out of office, the news that he collapsed “traveled faster” than the ambulance, just as he’d publicly marveled when he had his 1988 stroke and a doctor declared he had the brain of a 28-year-old.

Much of the commentary on him now is celebrity chatter, because he was, in our memory, more a character on our living room couches than a municipal mechanic or manager. But he did in fact do things that will forever matter in the life of the city. As deserved as the racial criticism of him was at the time, it is the ultimate irony that the monument to him is the not the renamed Queensborough Bridge, but the 365,000 housing units that have been built or rehabbed with city capital dollars and transformed the city’s poorest neighborhoods since Koch launched that effort. Though no mayor before him had spent a dollar restoring the housing stock (it was a federal gig), none since has dared walk away from the unique financial commitment Koch made to our neighborhoods and we have now spent, collectively, $13.5 billion converting every part of the city into a home. When he lost to the city’s first black mayor in 1989, he didn’t carry one of the neighborhoods he and his imitating successors rebuilt.

His greatest achievement was directly linked to his greatest failing. He had excused his own racial rhetoric by declaring that most blacks were anti-Semitic, as if nothing he could say or do would make him okay in their eyes, a charge that hardly requires rebuttal, but one that Mike Bloomberg has certainly put the lie to, both in polls and at the polls. If they don’t like me, it’s their fault, was all Koch would allow himself to see, regardless of cause. All these years later, this stain makes it impossible to write an obit of him without conceding that you are looking through a white lens.

The $5 billion, 10-year housing plan he announced in 1985 was also a response to a scandal that so shook Koch he seriously contemplated suicide, an unimaginable short-circuiting of the life he led since it. He died without ever really accepting his own responsibility for the worst municipal scandal in the modern history of New York. He accurately described himself as innocent of all criminal charges. He would no sooner take a penny than he would take a punch.

All he cared about, and sadly all he had in the end, was the public artifice he’d constructed; a celebrity mayor stretched across the skyline. To get there and stay there, he handed off pieces of his administration to the party bosses that ruled the still formidable outer borough Democratic machines, all of whom were mirror images of the Manhattan boss, Carmine DeSapio, that reformer Koch had toppled in the Village at the start of his career. No one knew better than Koch that all these bosses cared about were under-the-table deals. Why else would they want to control the city’s leasing agency and the Parking Violations Bureau?

To suggest, as he has, that he knew nothing about the cesspools inside his own government is to contradict the core of his celebrity as a quintessential New Yorker. What quintessential New Yorker didn’t know in those days what was driving the predator felons who engulfed wings of his government just ahead of the handcuffs? It is one thing to say he received no prior notice of cash bribes being paid down the hallway, and quite another to say he had no prior notice of the crass clubhouse character of the men he empowered. One followed the other as surely as catastrophe follows a compromise of the soul.

But the scandal did not define him. He was so much more than his weakness. Years of scandal headlines brought him down a peg and, though he never acknowledged it, contributed to his 1989 defeat. But he paid the price that was due. He proved he could transcend not only an electoral loss but a moral mistake, and rise, like his city, to a brighter morning.

Read City Limits for more original coverage of New York City politics and urban issues. 

Photo credit: AP/David Bookstaver, file

Wrong On Jeep And Bailout, Romney Is The Best Witness Against Himself

Stumping across the industrial Midwest as early voting begins, Mitt Romney is still misleading voters about the auto industry. At a rally near a GM plant in Defiance, Ohio, on Thursday evening, the Republican nominee stooped to repeating a rumor that had appeared on several right-wing blogs.

“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep— now owned by the Italians—is thinking of moving all production to China,” he told the crowd.

Yet there was simply no basis for Romney’s claim, beyond a wildly misinterpreted Bloomberg News article about Chrysler’s plans to open factories in China to make Jeeps for sale in the Chinese market. A Chrysler spokesman mocked the rumor and offered a firm assurance: “Let’s set the record straight. Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.” Indeed, Romney had the facts exactly reversed, because Chrysler is planning to add 1,100 new  jobs in a third shift at its Jeep Cherokee plant in Detroit next week, according to Motor Trend magazine.

The Romney campaign declined comment on the candidate’s ridiculous assertion, but nobody should be surprised to hear him talking down the automobile industry’s recovery. He hopes to win over working-class voters in crucial Ohio by sowing confusion about the Obama administration’s auto rescue — and his own opposition to the Obama plan. That is precisely what he did during the final debate with President Obama, who derided his attempt to “airbrush” his position against the bailout.

But the best evidence against Mitt Romney’s prevarications is provided, as it is so often, by Mitt Romney himself.

Arguing over Romney’s record on the bailout, both candidates agreed only that viewers should “look it up.” The best place to look is No Apology, the book Romney published in 2010, specifically designed to lay out his positions for the current presidential campaign.

In his book, Romney excoriates the bailout in the starkest terms, contending that “the rule of law was ignored in order to reward the auto workers union at General Motors.” He cites it in a list of a half -dozen examples during Obama’s first 18 months in office of what he describes as “actions that demonstrate” the administration’s “distrust in free enterprise.” On page 8 of his 325-page treatise, Romney insists that when liberals are in power, “they take action” like the bailout “that is consistent with socialism but call it by a more plausible name.”

That is an odd claim, considering that the rescue of the industry was actually structured by Steven Rattner, the Wall Street superstar Obama named as his “auto czar.”

At another point in the book, Romney wrote: “I opposed Washington’s bailout for the industry in 2008 because it enabled GM and Chrysler to avoid the restructuring and productivity improvements essential for their success. The managed bankruptcy that I proposed ultimately occurred, but only after tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money had been wasted, and only after sweetheart deals and paybacks for favored interest groups had been engineered with the public’s money. The question now is whether or not the administration’s heavy hand has protected political and UAW interests in such a way that the industry’s burdens persist.”

Yet during the debate, Romney tried to leave the impression that he did in fact support the federal help he denounces as waste in his book.

No Apology returns to this issue once more, meshing the Wall Street and auto rescue efforts. “Of course, the financial system itself must not be allowed to collapse,” he wrote, “but individual institutions that do not show the capacity to right themselves should be allowed to fail. Non-financial businesses should also be allowed to fail; if they have future prospects, bankruptcy will allow them to remerge as stronger, viable employers.” Leaving no doubt that he means the auto industry, his next line adds: “General Motors shares should have immediately been distributed to the public rather than being held by the federal government.”

Romney’s insistence that federal guarantees should only have been offered to private lenders who might have rescued the industry in 2008 and 2009 — the same suggestion made in his famous New York Times op-ed article — was debunked by no less an authority than GM’s vice chair at the time. Bob Lutz, a staunch Republican, recalls that “the banks were even more broke than we were,” and had no money to lend his struggling company.

For any voter still seeking to assess Romney’s sincerity, there is plenty of salient material in No Apology,  including clear evidence that Romney’s notorious “47 percent” comment was not an error but is instead rooted in deep personal beliefs.

“There are people who correctly presume that they will get more money from government if it is run by Democrats,” he wrote. “I understand these kinds of Democrats very well. Adam Lerrick of the American Enterprise Institute calculated for ThWall Street Journal that under candidate Obama’s tax plan, 49 percent of all Americans will pay no federal income tax. Added to that number are another 11 percent who would pay federal income tax of less that 5 percent of their income. So for 60 percent of Americans, spending restraint and lower taxes championed by Republicans may not mean a great deal to them personally—at least in the short term, even though lower taxes promote economic growth, good jobs and higher incomes in the long term.”

And just to be sure readers got the insulting point, Romney added: “Yes, there are a number of people who have become so dependent on government that they think only of how much it will give them.”

More recently, while seeking to excuse the “47 percent” remark,  Romney has said his depiction of nearly half the population as “victims” was “completely wrong” — explaining that “with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you are going to say something that doesn’t come out right.”

Finally, in sharp contrast to Romney’s utterances of the word “peace” a dozen times in the debate, and his declaration that “our purpose is to make sure the world is peaceful,”  No Apology practically promises that he will embroil the country in future wars. “America must be prepared to fight and win land wars and counterinsurgencies,” he wrote, even specifying that “land forces may be required to stabilize a collapsed state—and Pakistan is certainly a possibility in this regard given its nuclear arsenal.” He repeatedly talked about Pakistan on Monday evening, but never mentioned the “possibility” of American military intervention there. “Land forces may also be required to again remove a government that is enabling attacks on America, such as was done with the Taliban,” he contended.

“Scenarios triggering the need for ‘on the ground’ are far less inconceivable than they once were,” he  concluded, recommending that we add 100,000 soldiers to the Army and Marines, a position he did not reiterate in the debate. “Entering wars will not always be our choice.”

Research assistance from Jacob Anderson, Andrea Hilbert, Max Jaeger, and Catherine Thompson

Photo credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Who Is Mitt Romney Today? Notes On A Hanky

Below are the notes—scribbled on a “hanky”—that Mitt Romney snuck out of his pocket as he approached the podium just before the debate began last week, in apparent violation of Commission regulations. “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by debate rules,” Romney pollster Neil Newhouse told ABC News.

Fill in date and time: October 3, 9:02 PM EST.

No pre-existing positions

It’s O’s 20th anniversary, and I’m in my 44th year with Ann; should I mention that?

Declare firmly that there will be no tax cut that “adds to deficit”—call it my “number one principle”/repeat and “underline” it since I’ve never said it before

Make clear how absurd O is for calling it a $5 trillion tax cut when i’ll pay for it with secret stuff i’ll figure out later with John Boehner

Insist that a top rate drop of 35 percent to 28 percent is no tax cut for rich because I will slash their deductions the same amount/job creators will boost jobs anyway

End O’s death taxes and death panels

Shout out my $716 billion medicare cut spiel until Big O and Kid Ryan choke, a savings is a cut if it comes out of payments to the insurance companies

Remember you were once governor of Massachusetts and did a big thing (wink wink)

Claim my Massachusetts was #1 in education when it was ranked that in my first year only; a Day One accomplishment just like the ones I’m planning for the White House

I worked with 87 percent Dem legislature, don’t mention I doubled my GOP predecessor’s veto total, talk about Monday meetings as if they led to consensus

Go way out there and say I’m not going to cut education funding even while i add trillions to defense

If O mentions tax breaks to leave US—look baffled, declare I need a new accountant as if anyone would believe I’ve ever missed a tax break, declare I’ve never heard of something Bain clients feast on

Pluck big bird/like jim lay down

Oppose Dodd Frank because it protects the big banks financing my campaign

Double down on doubling up—double 12.5 million unemployed to 23 million, double 25 percent of college grads that can’t find work to 50 percent, double 22 year cost of oil and gas tax breaks to 50 year equivalent of Obama’s green subsidies, triple two studies that partially endorse my budget plan to six studies

Say half of O’s green job companies went bankrupt when less than 10 percent did

Declare my health plan covers pre-existing conditions and look misty-eyed.



Research assistance provided by Jacob Anderson, Max Jaeger, Stephanie Rogan and Catherine Thompson.