Bob Garfield: I'm Bob Garfield, and this is the On The Media midweek podcast. This week we're featuring the latest and sadly, the final episode of the podcast Trump, Inc., produced and reported by our colleagues in the WNYC newsroom. They had a great run, better than Trump himself, and you should definitely go back and check out their archives. The episode opens with Ilya Marritz, Andrea Bernstein, and the rest of the Trump, Inc.. team on a field trip.
Ilya Marritz: We're now on an unpaved road.
GPS: Your destination is on the right.
Ilya: On a bright, sunny, cold day in January 2021, a bunch of us who make Trump, Inc. did something we don't get to do much anymore because of the pandemic.
Speaker: All right, now we're finally all five of us here, woohoo.
Speaker: Oh my gosh.
Ilya: That's really something.
Speaker: It's nice to see everybody in real life, I have to say. I missed you guys.
Ilya: We met up in person. It was right after Trump encouraged an insurrection at the US Capitol and shortly before he was impeached as a result. We picked a location none of us had been to before, a place we knew we could be outside.
Speaker: It's actually kind of nice. These picnic tables are nice.
Speaker: You think those are nice?
Ilya: A place with symbolic meaning, Donald J Trump State Park.
Speaker: I do wish we had a frisbee or a dog.
Ilya: Or both. A dog that catches frisbees. It's the only sizable chunk of public land in the United States currently named for the 45th President. The park is in a wealthy suburban area north of New York City, and at first, there doesn't seem to be much to see.
Speaker: Hang on, do you guys want to see the tennis court?
Speaker: Let's go look.
Speaker: All right.
Speaker: Wow, there's a whole tree that has collapsed over this.
Speaker: Oh, some water.
Speaker: Some kind of something that has disintegrated.
Speaker: Six foot high weeds just keep growing right out of pavement.
Speaker: Like some kind of concrete structure here that's at the back.
Ilya: The water is just spreading at the south end. There's a lot of concrete bits and bricks.
Speaker: This is broken, this is ruined. This is literally ruined.
Speaker: This is some Cardi B themed graffiti over here.
Speaker: Here we are.
Ilya: As a state park, this place is 15 years old, but as a point of interest, it has some history. Senior producer, Katherine Sullivan, learned that the Count of Rochambeau was here with his men.
Katherine Sullivan: This is called French Hill because the French troops in the Revolutionary War camped here twice during the Revolutionary War.
Ilya: Sometime after that, it became an estate with a tennis court, and in the late 1990s, Donald Trump came along.
Katherine: He bought this whole park in a couple of different sections. He bought this section in 1998. He wanted to build a golf course, that didn't work because it would have led to problems to New York City's water supply.
Ilya: Unable to turn the land into a moneymaker, he did the Trumpy thing and turned it into a money saver. He deeded 436 acres to the State of New York in exchange for a tax break that could be worth much more than he paid for the land. Today, the park has no rangers, no maps, no trash cans.
Speaker: There's no net. In fact, I'm not sure, how do you know it's a tennis court?
Speaker: Look, you can see the painted lines [crosstalk].
Speaker: Oh, yes.
Ilya: We're here to do more than just tick another box on our Trump bingo cards. As Donald Trump leaves the White House against his will, the unresolved conflict of interest that's at the heart of the Trump, Inc. open investigation will disappear. The sitting president will no longer be a businessman with an active business, so we're ending this podcast. There's one last thing we think is important to do while Trump is still in office. We want to make a record. Something for the people of the future to help them understand the Trump presidency as we tried to understand it.
The highest office in the land tethered to a business, so we made a time capsule and we set it to be opened 10 years from now, the year 2031. Our time capsule contains eight objects. Each one tells a tale. A birth certificate, a board game, a newspaper ad, a Ziploc bag full of shredded paper, a bar tab, a pair of museum tickets, some cheques, and a USB drive, and that's today's show.
Meg Cramer: I think I should go first because I have the first object. Ilya, you printed out the thing that I asked you to print out?
Ilya: Yes, hold on.
Meg: Okay, let's collect everything in the envelope.
Ilya: Trump, Inc. reporter, Meg Cramer.
Meg: This is a one-page document on a decorative green background. Thing number one is a birth certificate from 1961. Not the original. This is a printout of a scanned document, a one-page form filled out on a typewriter.
Speaker: The most important thing about that is the place, right?
Meg: Yes, place of birth. Honolulu, Hawaii. It is President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate. August 4th, 1961, 7:24 PM. I wanted to include this object because it comes from a pivotal moment in the years leading up to Trump's 2016 campaign. Trump did not invent birtherism, the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States. His interest in this conspiracy theory coincided with a roughly six-week period in the spring of 2011 when he was publicly toying with the idea of running for president. That March, Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, flew to Iowa. When Cohen got back, there was a press conference at Trump Tower.
Michael Cohen: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Michael Cohen. I'm an executive at the Trump organization.
Meg: Reporters were ready for a political announcement, but Cohen was there to talk about business.
Michael: I traveled to the Republic of Georgia to explore several real estate opportunities on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Meg: A new Trump Tower in Batumi, Georgia, the country. They're holding out the possibility that he might run for president. Trump got something he valued, attention. The President of the Republic of Georgia who was at this press conference ended up fielding questions about Trump's potential candidacy.
Reporter: Just a follow-up, Mr. Saakashvili do you think Mr. Trump should consider running for president?
Mikheil Saakashvili: That's totally up to him.
Meg: A few days later, Trump appeared on The View wearing a dark suit and a long red tie. The hosts asked him about his candidacy and some comments he made in a recent interview. Here's Joy Bihar.
Joy Behar: You recently said about President Obama, I'm going to quote you, "He grew up and nobody knew him. Nobody knows who he is until later in his life. The whole thing is very strange." What are you driving at there? Are you a birther, Trump?
Meg: Trump doesn't come right out and say it. Instead, he raises his doubts. He sticks up for birthers. He argues with the hosts, they talk over each other. Whoopi Goldberg points out the racism, they run out of time and cut to commercial. When they come back, Trump is still on the couch. Barbara Walters says, "We very rarely do this and it may be setting a bad precedent, but we love him, so we've asked Donald Trump to stay for the second segment."
Barbara Walters: Real fast, could you beat Obama?
Meg: Suddenly, he's everywhere. The Today Show, CNN, The Laura Ingraham Show, and of course, Fox.
Reporter: All right, Mr. Trump, does it have anything to do with race?
Meg: President Obama tried to take the high road and ignore Trump, but he was also trying to pass a new budget, and the Trump show was getting more attention. On April 27th, the president called a press conference in the White House briefing room.
Barrack Obama: As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth.
Meg: He's got this expression on his face that, to me, looks like he's trying to take this seriously, but also, isn't it ridiculous, but also, you can tell he's pissed. He never mentions Trump by name.
Obama: We're not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers. We live in a serious time right now.
Meg: Obama staff posted a PDF of the birth certificate on the White House website. That's where I got my copy. The one I'm including in this time capsule. The same day the White House released the document, Trump held his own press conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A recent Republican presidential primary poll had him in the lead ahead of the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney.
Reporter: The president just called you a carnival barker and a sideshow.
Meg: "I am very proud of myself because I have accomplished something nobody else has accomplished," Trump says. I'd want to look at it, but I hope it's true. Even though Obama released his long-form birth certificate five years before Trump became president, it is an object that represents so many parts of Trump's story. In the year 2021, we all remember the basic contours of Trump's foray into birtherism. Racism, lies, a conspiracy theory that generated an endless spiral of doubt. What I want people in the future to understand is that this pattern became predictable. It repeated itself again and again throughout Trump's presidency right up until the very end.
All right, let's put it in the envelope.
Speaker: Yes, what's the envelope we're using?
Speaker: That's right. It had a little--
Meg: Okay, hold it. I have the next object and-
Ilya: It's big.
Meg: - it's big. This is the biggest thing we have. Okay, let me get it. If you're listening in the future, I think that this might be a collector's item someday.
Ilya: Object number two, Trump: The Game. Parker Brothers, 2004 Edition.
Speaker: Trump, there's a new game, what is it?
Speaker: It's an airline, a new conventional airline.
Speaker: The Trump proceeds from Trump: The Game will be donated to charity.
Speaker: It says on the cover, "I'm back and you're fired, Trump: The Game."
Ilya: When we chose to add Trump: The Game to the time capsule, we were inspired by the work of ProPublica reporter,
Heather Vogell, who has looked tirelessly at the finances behind Trump-branded hotels, condos, and resorts around the world.
Meg: What is this game essentially? What's the play here?
Ilya: Heather thinks of Trump's financial strategies as different types of games. She laid out three of them for us.
Meg: Fake it till you make it, house of mirrors, and pay-to-play, these were three of the ones that were most in your face. The first game is fake it till you make it.
Ilya: This one is all about managing public perception of Trump-branded developments just as they were hitting the market.
Meg: Basically, instead of following the traditional path for opening a resort, he would go out and basically trumpet the project as being almost done, really great, really full of money, I'm investing my own money before it had reached that point essentially in hopes that people would see it as a safer bet and would pour their own money into it. That's money that can be used right away and turned around and used to fund the construction so that you can have something on the ground that will help you suck in some more buyers and pull them in and keep the thing going. One example, and there were many from all over the world, but one of them was when Ivanka, in a 2009 interview, talked about the Toronto project that they did as being virtually sold out. Those were the words.
Ivanka Trump: Virtually sold out, so from Hawaii to Istanbul.
Meg: The reality was that only 24.8% of units had sold and this was a project that actually ended up going bankrupt. Trump had basically prepared for that eventuality by making sure in his contracts that his licensing fees, which were the primary way he was making money from the project, the bulk of them would be paid upfront right in the beginning before the project had enough investment in it really to guarantee that would even be complete. The second game that I have brought is House of Mirrors.
Ilya: The point of this game is to be able to borrow more money from the banks and pay less money in taxes.
Meg: That's the way I'm thinking about this next bit of reporting we did, which was comparing how Trump organization represented the value and earnings in their properties when they were filing documents with property tax officials and also when they were filing documents with lenders. The pictures that they painted in both of those circumstances did not match up in all circumstances. In one mirror, the building looks flush with cash. It looks robust and big and healthy and then that's the mirror that you want to show lenders, right? Then you want to think about putting that same building in front of a totally different mirror, and in that mirror, it looks very lean, not flush.
That's the mirror that you want to show the tax authorities. The final game was really, to me, one of the more brazen forms of rule-bending if not rule-obliterating that we found, and this was bribery. We call this game Pay-to-Play. What we found out was that the Trump Organization paid bribes through middlemen to New York City tax assessors in order to lower their property tax bills for several Manhattan buildings back in the 1980s and 1990s. We had five former tax assessors and city employees, as well as a former Trump organization employee, tell us that this happened.
Ilya: Fake it till you make it, house of mirrors, pay-to-play, these were Trump's signature moves in business, and he adapted them to politics when he campaigned for president as a deal maker, and then he took them to the White House. In response to Heather's stories about these tactics, the Trump organization denied any wrongdoing. Trump: The Game comes in a sturdy cardboard box measuring about 10 by 16 inches. It's a convenient size for us because it's big enough to hold all the other objects we're putting in our time capsule, so the game box is the capsule. On to object number three.
Speaker: This is full-page ads from Indian newspapers. One of them is The Times of India and it is an entirely black background. It says, "Trump has arrived, have you?" Then there a picture of Donald Trump Jr. wearing a pink tie, his arms folded. He did not have a beard in this photograph and he's looking directly at the camera and it says, "Book your Trump Tower residence before 21st of February, 2018 and join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner on 23rd, February 2018." This was sent to Anjali Kamat by a friend of hers and she has sent it along to us.
Anjali Kamat: It was a cold February night in Brooklyn and I was about to fall asleep when my phone buzzed. It was a WhatsApp message from a friend in New Delhi who'd sent me these photographs. These full-page ads, they woke me right up. They were the most blatant example I'd seen of using the power of the presidency to sell Trump-branded real estate. Don Jr. was traveling to India to market luxury condos and part of his pitch was the dinner invitation to buyers.
Reporter: Melania, for the condensation part at least because it's too early in the money to have dinner. Donald Trump Jr., welcome to CNBC TV 18.
Donald Jr.: It's great to be here. Thank you.
Reporter: Are you expecting a very crowded dinner table?
Donald: Oh, I think we have--
Anjali: I spent over a year investigating the Trump organization's business deals in India.
Donald: It's great to be back here in India.
Anjali: Where there were more Trump-branded projects than any other foreign country. Almost all of Trump's business partners there had been investigated for money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, and other violations. For months, I poured through records and multiple languages trying to pry information from actors in the notoriously secret world of global real estate and finance. Then, just as I was wrapping up, the Trump team put it all out in the open. Don Jr. was holding dinners in every Indian city with a Trump project; Kolkata outside of Delhi, Mumbai, anyone who saw the ad and had $40,000 to spare for deposit on a Trump-branded apartment would get to meet the son of a sitting American president, but, and this is important, because of lax disclosure rules, we still don't know who they are.
Donald: We're just sophisticated people.
Speaker: You're offering a dinner date with yourself, totally biased.
Donald: If I didn't, I'd be the first person in the history of real estate to not go meet with their buyers, but that's the problem because my father happens to be in politics--
Anjali: People of the future, I don't know if this seems normal to you. If it is happening in the future, it started here in this time over 200 years after American democracy began. This was the moment when it became just another day in Washington when the president could directly profit from his position, and that's why these full-page ads transmitted to me in living color via WhatsApp early in the Trump administration belong in the time capsule.
Speaker: Hello, everyone.
Anjali: By the time Donald Trump Jr. had arrived in India, the Trump family brand had just received a big boost. A few months before he flew there, his sister Ivanka made her own trip.
Ivanka Trump: Thank you for all being here and for the incredibly warm welcome, and thank you, Prime Minister Modi for joining us here today.
Anjali: Though Ivanka was there in her role as an unpaid White House advisor, she still was earning millions from her family business.
Ivanka: I love what you're doing to build India as a thriving economy, a beacon of democracy, and a symbol of hope to the world.
Anjali: After her visit, things moved quickly for the Trumps on the business side. The final permissions on the Trump Towers project near new Delhi were rushed through. A retired planning official told me it took no time, and two months after that is when Donald Trump Jr. landed in India with those striking full-page ads that read, "Trump has arrived, have you?"
Ilya: Let's put this in, yes?
Ilya: I'm just going to hold this and in you go. Okay, the other way. In you go.
Meg: All right. Okay, so this is the next object. It's a clear Ziploc bag and it's got torn up pieces of paper inside and a political article. This comes to us from Eric Umansky. Rolling.
Eric Umansky: Rolling.
Meg: When we talked the other day and I asked you about contributing an object to the time capsule, right away you were like, " I know exactly what I want to put in."
Meg: What have you gotten?
Eric: I have a bunch of little ripped up tiny little pieces of paper.
Meg: Wai, can you hold up the little ripped up piece of paper? I want to see them.
Eric: You want proof of ripped up paper, you can look through the crinkle.
Meg: Those are bigger pieces than I thought they would be.
Eric: As I read the story, it came in different sizes. The story is that papers that touch the president's hand need to be preserved. It is the Presidential Records Act and it's the law. There's a whole system for archiving and keeping those records, except in this instance, Trump has been tearing him up.
Meg: I remember when this story came out because we ended up interviewing Solomon Lartey and he was one of the people whose job it was to tape these torn up records back together.
Solomon Lartey: We had the clear tape, not the cloudy tape and we were told t do this. We didn't have no, "I'm not doing this," we were told that we had to do it. It had to be done.
Meg: He worked in the White House records office. One reason he was willing to talk to us about this experience was because he no longer works in the White House records office, he was terminated and he doesn't know why.
Solomon: Anything that was negative, it was getting torn up. Anything negative.
Eric: I think that what is the feeling that I think is important to convey is this mix of absurdity breaking of the rules, potentially the laws, hypocrisy because this is one of these random things that happened during the administration. You may remember when Nancy Pelosi ripped up the state of the union address.
Meg: Oh, yes.
Eric: Trump afterward, and I have this quote, said, "That's an official document. You're not allowed to do that. It's illegal what she did. She broke the law." This one random thing I just think represents or is inflicted with so many different aspects of the Trump administration.
Speaker: All right, let's put it in.
Meg: Okay. Let's deep it in there.
Ilya: Torn up paper, a newspaper ad, a board game, and a birth certificate. We have four more objects to add to our time capsule. We'll be right back.
Meg: We're back with the final episode of Trump, Inc., which we're recording at Donald J Trump State Park just north of New York City. It's a pretty forlorn place, home to the ruins of a once palatial estate.
Speaker: Actually, let's ask this guy something.
Meg: We did meet this one guy. He was coming back from a walk. Chuck Newman.
Speaker: We're doing a story about Trump.
Chuck Newman: What about him?
Speaker: Do you come here often to this park?
Chuck: I do. I actually volunteered to be the trail main team.
Meg: Oh, wow.
Chuck: This is a really small park. It's 400 acres total.
Meg: Newman keeps an eye on this orphaned park. He told us a little of the story of this place from before Trump arrived, how Rochambeau was here, how it became French Hill Farm. The property of a man named William Delavan Baldwin, a public service-minded executive with the Otis Elevator Company.
Chuck: He was the first chairman of the Westchester County Parks Commission and it said he donated 25 acres for the extension of The Bronx Parkway.
Meg: We're here to assemble a time capsule, a message to the future from the last days of the Trump presidency.
Speaker: Thanks so much.
Chuck: You're welcome.
Meg: We've added four objects to the capsule. Here's number five.
Katherine Sullivan: What I have here is a receipt. It's a thin slip of paper, a long rectangle and it's a receipt from the Mar-a-Lago club.
Meg: Katherine Sullivan tells the story.
Katherine: April 6th, 2017. Early in his term, President Trump hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping, not at the White House but at Mar-a-Lago, the president's private club in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump greets him at the door as he arrives. Lots of photos were taken. The two heads of state sit on an antique-looking couch along with their wives. She and his wife, Peng Liyuan, drink tea. Donald and Melania Trump appear to be drinking Coke on the schedule to discuss our bilateral trade and the North Korean nuclear program.
Ivanka: Hello, how are you?
Meg: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner enter the room with their children. Their daughter Arabella, then five years old sings a song in Mandarin to Xi.
Speaker: These two kids will be Chinese kids.
Katherine: Then there's a formal dinner in Mar-a-Lago's gilded dining room. Everyone is sitting at a long lavish table. Along with the two presidents and their wives, you can see Ivanka and Jared and lots of advisors and staffers. This is the same venue where Trump was once known for hosting wild parties before he became president.
Now, over dessert of chocolate cake, Trump orders a massive airstrike against a Syrian airbase. After the meal, a small group of White House staffers, including Steve Bannon and deputy White House chief of staff, Joe Hagin, retire to the club's library bar. The library bar doesn't actually appear to have many books in it, though it does have a portrait of Trump in tennis whites. Its title, The Visionary.
The group tells the bartender to leave the room. They have Secret Service guard the door while they help themselves to drinks.
About a week later, Mar-a-Lago generates a bill. It's a thin slip of paper. It says the server's name is Colin. It looks like a receipt you get at any restaurant. It reads 16 Patron Tequila, 22 Chopin Vodka, 10 Don Julio Blanco Tequila, and six Woodford Reserve, that's Kentucky bourbon for a total of $1,005.60. This receipt, which is what I'm putting in the time capsule, triggers a game of Bureaucratic Hot Potato. Mar-a-Lago sends this bill to the state department. There's confusion about what it is and who should pay for it. It's batted around to different government offices. Eventually, the White House pays it. Meaning, that a $1000 bar tab is paid by taxpayers.
We don't know if the White House ever asked Bannon and others to pay the bill. Along with this receipt from the library bar, there's a long back and forth email exchange, a kind of argument about other costs for this trip. It's a little complicated, but what's important is that Mar-a-Lago room rates exceed the rates allowed for federal travel. Booking at the club breaks some of the rules for federal invoicing, so in order to accommodate Trump and his entourage's frequent stays at the resort, the government creates a whole new credit card, a parallel system to avoid regulations and to pay large amounts of money to the president's business. I keep thinking about how Trump never became a normal president. People kept saying he would during the campaign, during his inauguration, during his presidency, but Trump himself never signed on to that, instead, the government and the political system changed for him.
The night he was sworn in as president, three singers from Nashville performed his inaugural ball. The song Trump chose for his and Melania's first dance was My Way.
Ilya: Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a despotic leader. He ruled like a king, although technically, he was a president. While the land was rich, the people were poor. Some didn't have enough to eat, some couldn't afford to heat their homes through the long winters, the leader didn't care. He let his dukes and earls, they were called oligarchs, plunder the country's wealth, where he built himself what he thought would be the finest estate in the world. It had massage parlors, a bowling alley, a boxing ring, a stuffed lion, a hundred car garage, a zoo, a galleon on a lake. There were taste testers to make sure his meals weren't poisoned.
For ordinary people, life became miserable. One year in the middle of winter, they revolted. When the revolutionaries reached the president's estate, they found he had fled the country by helicopter. As they walked the palaces marble halls under crystal chandeliers, they felt a mounting sense of disgust. Where had all of this wealth come from?
Speaker: All right, Ilya, what have you brought?
Ilya: I've two paper tickets, museum-type tickets that I picked up in Ukraine. Our sixth object is a pair of tickets to the estate of the former strongman president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. It's a place that is sometimes called the museum of corruption. I'm the kind of dork who, when he travels, keeps a lot of bus tickets and museum tickets and stuff like that and uses them for bookmarks. What you see is this sumptuous interior with chandeliers and drapery and fluffed up pillows. These tickets for me were a souvenir for my trip to Ukraine, and I pinned them up in my office cubicle, but then looking at them every day, they started to stand for something bigger, money that can't be traced.
Without secret flows of money, Viktor Yanukovych could never afford to build his palace on a public servant's salary. Yanukovych's trusted advisor for many years was an American, Paul Manafort, who hid his earnings in accounts in Cyprus and the Caribbean before coming back to the states and working for Donald Trump's campaign. Without a system of financial secrecy, there is no Donald Trump. It's with him every step of his career. When he's starting out, he pretends to be a self-made man, when in fact, almost all of his wealth comes from his dad.
Over the decades, he does business with so many anonymous buyers and shadowy development partners that it's really impossible to know who's been paying him. Donald Trump broke the norm that presidents are supposed to tell Americans about their finances, show their tax returns. When he filed a financial disclosure as required by law, it included more than 500 entities. Most of them, black boxes that remain mysteries today. It's like he threw a cloak of invisibility over his business. These tickets to a gaudy estate in Eastern Europe represent what happens when money and politics mix with no transparency. Okay, so I'm putting these in. Thanks, Katherine.
Michael Cohen: As exhibit 58 to my testimony shows.
Ilya: Our penultimate object for this time capsule was entered into the congressional record.
Cohen: I am providing a copy of a $35,000-check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1st of 2017 when he was president of the United States pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea to reimburse me the word used by Mr. Trump's TV lawyer for the illegal hush-money I paid on his behalf.
Speaker: Okay, so what I have brought is a photocopy of two checks. The first one says Donald J Trump, it's his personal account, 725 5th Avenue New York, New York. You can see that familiar signature.
Meg: The first day we saw exhibit 5A was February 27th, 2019 when Michael Cohen, who was once Donald Trump's personal attorney and one of his most loyal aides, was testifying before the house oversight committee. This was more than two years into Trump's presidency. Sitting in the WNYC newsroom, I nearly screamed. The document contained multitudes, sex, silencing, betrayal, the mix of White House in business, abuse of power, criminality, and Trump's ability to evade consequences. Donald Trump must have signed tens of thousands of checks as a businessman, maybe more. We've seen giant blown-up versions of them in press conferences, small versions in court papers, and government records.
Always there in the right-hand bottom corner, Trump's signature scrawled out with a thick imprint of a Sharpie marker, letters all angling up, each of them, a mini-tower. Checks or narrows slips of paper, maybe a quarter the size of a full 8.5 by 11 page, they can easily be caught by the wind and a world away. That's what exhibit 5A looks like. In the year 2017 after he was sworn in as president, Donald Trump and his business wrote 11 such checks to Michael D Cohen. One was for $70,000, 10 others were for $35,000 each. $420,000 in all. Here's how they came to be written.
In October of 2016 just before the election, presidential candidate Trump had already been battered by the release of a private tape, where Trump said about women, "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy." At the time, Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's fixer. As Cohen famously said, he would take a bullet for Mr. Trump.
Cohen: Going back into the story as I stated when we--
Meg: Then a new revelation threatened Trump's campaign, this one from Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. An adult film star who said she'd had an affair with Trump.
Cohen: It'd got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either somebody wire the funds and purchase the life rights to the story from Ms. Clifford, or it was going to end up being sold to television, and that would have embarrassed the president and it would have interfered with the election.
Meg: As Cohen tells it, Cohen met with Trump in Trump's office in Trump Tower with Allen Weisselberg, the Trump organization's chief financial officer, and they agreed they would pay $130,000 for Clifford’s silence. Then Cohen and Weisselberg went off to Weisselberg’s office to see if they could come up with the name of a third party who could front the money, maybe a member of one of Trump's golf resorts, but they couldn't think of anyone. Weisselberg denied wrongdoing. Cohen took out a home equity loan, which he got by lying to the bank. He used this money to fund a limited liability company, Essential Consultants LLC, which he set up in Delaware to hide its ownership. The money was paid out and Clifford remained silent and Trump won the election. The idea was that Trump organization would reimburse Cohen for the hush money calling it a retainer fee.
Cohen: One month into his presidency--
Meg: Early in 2017, Trump invites Cohen to the White House to the Oval Office.
Cohen: It's truly awe-inspiring. He's showing me all around and pointing to different paintings. He says to me something to the effect of, "Don't worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedExed from New York, and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system."
Meg: More than a year after this Oval Office meeting in April of 2018, FBI agents in New York raided Cohen's home and his office and a hotel room where Cohen was living while his apartment was being renovated. At first, Donald Trump promised to pay for Cohen's defense in this criminal investigation, but then Trump broke that promise and stopped paying for Cohen's lawyers. Cohen started cooperating with prosecutors setting off a chain of events; guilty plea, sentencing, public mea culpa tour that allowed us to see exhibit 5A. Donald Trump had a series of Michael Cohens in his life, people, businesses, politicians lured by the glitter and excitement of being in Trump's orbit willing to get in bed with him and do what he asked.
When Trump was done with them, he tossed them away and buy their silence. It almost always, always worked. For a decade, Michael Cohen was the agent, the enforcer of this pattern, but Trump miscalculated Cohen's loyalty, his willingness to swallow a broken promise. "I did this illegal act," Cohen said when he pleaded guilty, "At the direction of a candidate for federal office." Cohen went to prison. The Justice Department, with its policy of not indicting sitting presidents, closed its case. What was left were the receipts that Cohen placed in the public record.
Katherine: They are the physical manifestation of the way Donald Trump used his money to maintain his power and now I'm going to put them in the envelope because I am freezing.
There you go. We got one more, Meg?
Meg: We want one more.
Speaker: We want one more.
Jared Paul: I have here a flash drive on which I have an audio file of helicopter sound.
Ilya: Our eighth and final object comes from Jared Paul.
Jared: For people in 10 years, we have a thing called USB flash drives, which was a tiny thumb-sized stick.
Ilya: If you've been listening to the show, you know Jared's work, he's our sound designer.
Jared: It has one audio file on it, which is helicopter sound.
It's a scene we all know, President Trump on the South Lawn surrounded by microphones on lawn boom poles.
Speaker: He's shouting to be heard over his nearby helicopter.
Jared: Whether or not you've realized that Trump's routine of addressing the media right next to the noise of Marine One is a sound design choice.
Speaker: Shall we do one of them indoors?
Jared: Choosing to do press briefings right next to one of the loudest pieces of machinery that exists rather than, say, in the quiet purpose-built press briefing room right there in the White House, Trump is using sound to tell a story about his relationship with the media. He's designing a scene that is inherently chaotic even before he arrives, in which he's inevitably yelling at the media and then they have to yell back if they want to have any chance of being heard. The reporters are typically not heard. Listening to the tape of these briefings, you can barely pick out a word of any of their questions. More often, you'll hear Trump cutting off reporters to tell them to speak up because "You have a helicopter raging back there."
Trump: Yes, I can't hear a word you're saying.
Jared: Then with the questions inaudible, Trump can freely extrapolate whatever question he feels like answering in that moment. His answers can be heard over the din because of the microphones in his face. This dynamic is emblematic of the relationship with the media Trump has cultivated throughout the past four years in which he seeks to control who asks him what, when. If it's a question he doesn't like, it will be drowned out. Most of all, his voice will always be the loudest.
Up to now in recent history, presidents have always attended the inauguration ceremonies of their successors. Then the first family leaves the Capitol by helicopter.
Okay, we have laid the envelope inside Trump: The Game, and we're going to seal it shut, or at least shut it.
Speaker: Wait, Meg, so we're not actually burying this.
Meg: We're not actually going to bury it now, no. For a couple of reasons, one, I don't want to litter. I think that's very important, also I did a little bit of research on time capsules and they were like, "Whatever you do, don't bury your time capsule. It is the number one way time capsules get lost, and then people of the future will never be able to discover the things that you wanted them to." Instead of burying this, I think that we should give it to New York Public Radio's archivist, Andy Lanset, and then he can look after it.
Ilya: We didn't want to leave the park without leaving something though, and Meg had something, a symbolic we were here though she wouldn't tell us what it was. We just had to find the right place for it.
Chuck: If you go down, you see the rock wells here?
Chuck: If you head down there, maybe a hundred yards, there's a monument. Excuse me, give me one sec.
Ilya: Chuck Newman. Chuck Newman, the trail keeper, told us about a bronze plaque on a big boulder that tells the story of this land from the time before Trump.
Speaker: We go down there?
Chuck: Yes, it's about a hundred yards down. You'll see a rock outcropping.
Chuck: It's not marked in any way.
Speaker: There you go, maintain the trail.
Speaker: I found it, good.
Speaker: Wait, did she find it? Okay, come see what's on the other side of this big rock, wow.
Ilya: I'm surprised you would see this from the highway.
Speaker: Yes, she has some good eyesight.
Speaker: I can't believe there's a plaque here. It's like who would ever find it unless he knew how to look for it.
Ilya: Meg, what's your surprise?
Meg: This is a half-sized bottle of water. A Trump natural spring water and we've had this bottle of water for a long time and we've never opened it, and I thought that if we were going to leave something behind, we should leave something environmentally friendly behind it. I think that we should finally open this bottle and I think we should dump out its contents right here. Do you mind? May I?
Meg: Okay, all right.
Andrea: This episode was produced by Meg Cramer and Katherine Sullivan with additional reporting by Anjali Kamat, Heather Vogell, and Eric Umansky. Our editor is Nick Varchaver, sound design and original scoring by Jared Paul. Hannis Brown wrote our theme and additional music. Special thanks to Latif Nasser, WNYC archivist, Andy Lancet. Our executive producer is Matt Collette, Emily Botein is WNYC as vice president for original content. Steven Engelberg is the editor in chief of ProPublica.
Ilya: This is our last episode of Trump, Inc. and we have a lot of people to thank, including the people who made this show what it is; Charlie Herman, Bill Moss, and Alice Wilder. We also want to thank so many others who helped to make this show possible, including but certainly not limited to
Isaac Arnsdorf, Ruth Baron, Doris Burke.
Andrea: Caleb Cotting, Megan Ditri, Jesse Eisinger, Peter Elkind, Justin Elliot, Robin Fields, Andrew Golis, Ed Heber, Isaac Jones, Nat Katz, Derek Kravitz, Jeremy Kutner.
Ilya: Rick Kwan, Ian McDougall, Alec McGillis, Emily Mann, Meg Marco.
Andrea: Casey Mims, Celia Mueller, Jen Munson, Viola Gnome Kravitz.
Ilya: Jake Pierson, Joe Pored, Jim Schachter, Wayne Schulmeister.
Andrea: Melinda Siri Wodonna, Dick Tofel, Marilyn Thompson, Anjuli Choi, Lucas Waldron, and Katie Savitski.
Ilya: Thanks also to the legal teams at both WNYC and ProPublica and additional thanks to ProPublica's research desk and its production engagement and facilities teams.
Andrea: We also want to share a deep appreciation for our New York Public Radio colleagues, including the journalists in the WNYC newsroom and the On the Media, plus the teams and the green space and in the marketing engineering IT and facilities departments.
Ilya: All of the people who helped us to gather tips, documents, and information, including the many named and unnamed sources who trusted us, and most of all, we want to thank you, our listeners.
Andrea: We were reporting on Donald Trump before this project, and we'll surely be reporting on him after, so be sure to follow our work by listening to WNYC and staying subscribed to this feed. We don't know exactly what's next, but it's a safe bet it'll land here. I'm Andrea Bernstein.
Ilya: I'm Ilya Marritz.
Andrea: Thanks for listening.
Bob: This has been the non-media podcast extra and bye for the big show this weekend, but meantime, don't forget to subscribe to the newsletter at onthemedia.org/newsletter. It is a trip.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.