by Kurt Eichenwald Jan 13, 2019
I have known Donald Trump since 1987. Like everyone else who knows him well, before he became a politician, I know he is liar, a narcissist, and eventually I knew he was mentally ill. At that time, he professed to be a Democrat. This had nothing to do with politics.
So, how long did it take to conclude all this about Trump?
Three phone calls for everything but the mental illness. That took three years. But let’s talk about those four experiences:
About October 1, 1987, I began working on a tryout as a reporter at the New York Times in the business section. My first story was about Trump filing with the SEC to buy more of than 5% of the stock in Alexander’s Dept Store. I called Trump Corp to ask a question of spokesman. Trump himself picked up. I identified myself and the first words out of his mouth were, “Oh, Kurt, I love your stuff.”
That surprised me, since I had never written anything for him to love. But I figured this was a business guy sucking up to a Times reporter. I asked him some questions, and he asked me to go on background. He began to wax on about the prospects of Alexanders, how mismanaged it was, how he could save it. He talked about how strong the stock market was, how he believed Alexanders was missing out on this continued strength and that he wanted to load up on Alexanders shares partly because of that.
He then told me to identify him as an analyst to explain something about his intent. I made the huge error of doing so. Problem of first day at work. I was later told, no one at the NYT allowed Trump to state something in the paper anonymously because when he asked, it was his sign he was about to lie.
A week later, my phone rings. It’s Trump. “Kurt, did you see that article about me in the metro section today?” I hadn’t but I had the paper next to me, and began looking for it it was on the front. It was a glowing article about Trump by a reporter named Fox Butterfield. Before we were able to discuss anything else, for his second sentence, Trump said, “Fox Butterfield is the greatest reporter in America.”
He then went on and on about how this story really captured who he is, and bragged about himself in a way that seemed bizarre. I couldn’t understand why he had called me. I was just some reporter on a try out. And it was clear, he was behaving like a kindergartner showing daddy his crayon picture. He wanted me to reiterate how great he was, he kept asking, “Don’t you think that really captures who I am? I do. He really knows me.”
I was not sure what to say, but I figured I would take this opportunity to do some real reporting. After five minutes of his spiel about how great he is, I said, “I was wondering about the Alexander’s buy…” and he said, “Ok, well, gotta go..” and hung up. It would prove to be the strangest call of my career.
A week later, the stock market crashed, losing more than 20% of its value in a single day. Work went into overload. One day about a week in, an article appeared in the New York Post. Trump proclaimed that, he was so great, he had known the crash was coming and had already sold all of his stock. I found out he had called the Wall Street Journal and another reporter at the NYT to say this. None of them would print it because…even if it was true…who cares? But no one believed it was true.
I KNEW it was false. He had been buying up Alexander’s stock. There was no new SEC filing (and there never would be) showing he had been selling his shares I couldn’t understand it. Why would this man be calling around to brag how smart he was by claiming he did something that was provably false? I decided, this was an interesting story. I went to the deputy editor of the business section and spelled out what I knew and said it would be an interesting story that Trump was purposely calling people to pretend brilliance in a lie.
The editor did not even look up from his computer and said the words I remember to this day: “Dog bits man. Donald Trump lies.”
In other words, everyone in the financial world KNEW Trump was a pathological liar, in 1987. Proving it was like proving the sun rose in the morning. I went back to work.
As for the mental illness…the story of how I concluded that I wrote in July 2016. Why?
Because one of his execs told me: “The thing about Donald Trump you don’t understand is he’s mentally ill.”
So why am I saying all of this? Because lots of people – particularly Cult45 – think these portrayals of Trump as a disturbed liar are new. No, this is stuff people who have covered him have known for decades.
Look at the people who go on TV to discuss him. Many have worked with him. Many have covered him, know him as “Donald.” We knew he was a liar and unbalanced when he was a democrat, when he was a reform party, when he was a Republican. Our position never changed. We did not engage in situational ethics.
A person who did business with Trump over the years told me in 2016, “If you asked him, Donald would tell you I’m his best friend.”
This struck me as odd, so I said, “And what would you say HE is?”
A pause, then the man replied: “A clinical sociopath.”
(header image: Donald and Melania Trump stumping for Derek Zoolander)