WHAT WAS TRUMP THINKING?
It isn't Just about Narcissism. It's about Winning.
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I’m not the only person asking “why.”
Why did Donald Trump pretty much shoot himself in the foot, not just by not returning classified documents as asked by the DOJ, but by bragging about his possession of classified documents while knowing he was being recorded?
The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, documented Trump’s historic seemingly uncontrollable show-off impulses.
And, as you’d expect, on air, there’s been plenty of armchair diagnosis on TV about narcissistic personality disorders as well as speculation about leverage Trump could, possibly, have wanted to exercise with foreign states with whom he wants to do business deals: The leading candidate being Saudi Arabia.
But I think there’s more to it.
In his mind, the best defense is the best offense. And, given his background in the unregulated often opaque and ruthless world of New York real estate, it might appear that he assumes (not necessarily wrongly) that everyone else is playing dirty, so he needs to play dirtier to gain the advantage.
Readers of my 2014 book The Liar’s Ball may recall a fascinating episode in which Abe Wallach, Trump’s former executive vice president for acquisitions and finance, gave me this first person account of what happened on a long-haul flight. (He told me he never told Trump any of this).
In his own words:
I called the airline prior to leaving New York and made sure that I would be seated next to [a competitor]. . . .
The flight groaned on and I was not getting anything out of him. What to do? All I wanted was information that was in the head and briefcase of the guy sitting next to me.
He and I ordered a round of drinks but when they arrived he excused himself saying he wanted to stretch his legs. This was my opportunity; it was enough time to slip two sleeping pills into his drink.
He returned; we toasted, and began to sip our drinks. I was extremely nervous. What I was doing was wrong, illegal. . . . What if I gave him too many pills and, combined with the alcohol, he died or went into a coma? I was flipping out.
We continued our conversation and he ordered another drink. Shit, I thought, one drink with sleeping pills was enough, but two drinks! In about 15 minutes, he was clearly drunk and said he was extremely sleepy. I got him some additional pillows, turned off his light, and asked the attendant to cover him with a blanket.
Within five minutes he was snoring away. . . .
For the first five minutes I kept putting the palm of my hand over his nostrils to make sure he was still breathing.
Slowly and quietly I reached for his attaché case. Should I open it and review the papers while he slept next to me? What if he woke? The alternative was to take the attaché case to the bathroom where I would have ample light and could take notes. I chose the latter.
With his attaché case in hand, I carefully walked around him, entered the bathroom, and locked the door. I was so nervous that I had trouble opening the case, thinking at first that it was locked. It was not locked. Once opened, I began to read the documents and notes taken by him on yellow pads. . . .
I went back to see what condition he was in. He was fast asleep, still snoring. I went back to the bathroom and took notes on those items that I thought were important. . . .
I went back to my seat, placed his attaché case where it had been, and began to monitor his condition. So long as he was snoring I knew he was alive, but what if he was in a coma?
Purposefully I pushed my leg against his to see if he would wake; he did, I apologized, and he fell back to sleep for another three hours.
I was a nervous wreck, tired, famished, and feeling very guilty for what I had done. On the other hand, the man sitting next to me was refreshed and said that he hadn't had such a good sleep in a long time.
Trump denied any knowledge of Wallach doing this on his watch. But you get the picture of the world in which Trump was operating.
It’s a world in which very little gets documented in emails or elsewhere. It’s a world in which people’s word is absolutely NOT their bond. Hence the nickname of the annual industry party in New York and the title of my book: The Liar’s Ball.
Elsewhere I describe how, back in 1985, another New York city real estate developer, and competitor of Trump’s, Harry Macklowe, ordered a construction team to knock down a couple of “Single Room Only” buildings in the middle of the night, ahead of a city wide ban, without “permits in hand.” Further, the gas was left on. The ultimate penalty? A $2 million fine and a ban from building on the site for four years. And yet within two years, Macklowe was back. Building Hotel Macklowe on the site. How? Because he’d got very, very brilliant attorney who had argued before the Supreme Court that the ban had been “unconstitutional.”
Somewhere in all this, you can sort of see why Trump appears to have a “let’s push the boundary” attitude to the rule of law. In the environs he’s used to most of his adult life, this is quasi-normal behavior.
So, too, is keeping anything at all that that might be kompromat.
Another revealing incident from my book was when Trump erupted with anger at his once best friend, Ben Lambert, when Lambert told him his firm Eastdil would like to represent a former partner of Trump’s in selling the GM building, which Trump had wanted to buy. According to a colleague of Lambert’s, Roy March, within 24 hours of Lambert’s visit, a box of documents from Trump Org suddenly appeared in Eastdil’s offices. It was smartly returned without being opened. “We didn’t want to create a conflict by opening it,” March told me.
You have to wonder what was in the box.
Readers of this newsletter won’t be shocked by the recent photographs showing that Trump kept hundreds of government documents, including some classified ones, spilling out over the floor given that I’ve said before that he even kept my hand-written Thank You notes for lunches etc back in the day, only to photocopy them and post them on his FaceBook page, several years later, when I wrote something that ticked him off.
I remember thinking, “Wow, if he’s kept my measly, barely readable little hand-written cards, how big must his storage facility be to keep all the other correspondence he gets?” He must need acres of it.
Now we know. He needed a ballroom and a shower.
I also thought that for a man who prides himself on clean lines and design, his office was a higgledy-piggledy mess, because yep, he kept all this “stuff”—papers, paraphernalia, newspaper clips—all over the desk.
Over the weekend I turned to Sam Nunberg, Trump’s first political adviser, for his insight into why he thinks Trump did and said what he did and said. And what he might be thinking, now, it seems clear that you could argue he has needlessly brought this indictment on himself.
Was it carelessness? Hubris? Paranoia? All of it?
Take a listen.