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Trump Biographer Wayne Barrett on Donald Trump’s Shocking Rise to the White House

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We speak about the man who is now America’s president-elect with Wayne Barrett, who writes for the New York Daily News and The Daily Beast and has reported on Donald Trump since the 1970s. His 1991 biography of Donald Trump was just republished in paperback with the title of “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention.” He recently wrote a piece for The Daily Beast titled “Meet Donald Trump’s Top FBI Fanboy.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to Wayne Barrett, who writes for the New York Daily News and The Daily Beast. His 1991 biography of Donald Trump was just republished; it’s called Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. And he just wrote a piece for The Daily Beast headlined “Meet Donald Trump’s Top FBI Fanboy.”

Can you explain, Wayne?

WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, I mean, I certainly agree with part of what Allan just said, and disagree with other parts of it. The piece lays out the case that there’s a fifth column in the FBI. I don’t know if you want to sweepingly condemn the FBI as an institution. I certainly—you know, I actually may be one of the liberals he described, because I was invited to Quantico, spent two days there speaking to every public corruption agent in the United States. And I was not on a panel; it was just me. And I’ve known many, many FBI agents, particularly on mob and public corruption cases, that I consider some of the most honest people I’ve ever known and apolitical people who will go after Democrats and Republicans.

But what we really have in this election, as I wrote—it’s remarkable that we have never had a Democrat, which I discovered as I went through each name in writing this piece—there’s never been a Democrat who’s been an appointed head of the FBI in the history of the FBI. Four Democratic presidents have appointed Republicans. And so, it is Republican institution in many ways, but it’s this—Comey was—I think I agree totally with the notion that he was forced into this letter—excuse me—into this letter by this cell or fifth column out of the New York office that was in direct connection not with—direct connection not just with Rudy Giuliani, who I wrote about, but also James Kallstrom, who is a big Trump supporter, whose foundation has received $1.3 million from Donald Trump and who was regularly on Fox advertising that he was talking to agents involved in this investigation. And I think this cell was a cell that threatened James Comey, who, by the way, testified back in July that he had changed his registration. He didn’t say what he had changed it to, but he said, “I’m a lifelong Republican, but I just changed my registration,” maybe out of disgust with Donald Trump. He didn’t explain why, but he changed it sometime this year. And so, I think he was really pushed by this cell. And I think it’s completely correct that it would have leaked. It would have leaked in the most damaging way to both the institution and to Comey personally, which was that he was refusing to make public that the investigation had been reopened in this fashion. And I think he was forced into this.

I want to say one thing else, though. It was the coverage, the unbelievable coverage that the broadcast media, in particular, gave to the Comey letter, that is much more responsible for the political impact than the letter itself. And, you know, Donald Trump has said, I think, the most remarkable statement I’ve ever heard from a political candidate of any—for any office, which was “I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and I wouldn’t lose a vote.” Well, who’s responsible for that? The media is. And, you know, I think this is the collapse of the American broadcast media, in particular, that that is what we saw. They just would not—I mean, the whole notion, which you mentioned, Amy, at the start, 12 women were sexually assaulted by this man, or at least said they were. Did they all just happen? I think an awful lot of the people who voted for Donald Trump believe that that happened, but we never even heard about it for the last two weeks of the campaign. It literally disappeared from broadcast media, because they allowed the Comey letter to displace every other important matter that should have been before the American people. They really used this letter, and it was the media coverage of the letter, much more than the letter itself, but they really, literally, used this letter to push the American people towards this final judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Those women must be rather afraid right now, because Donald Trump promised he would sue them after the election. Now it’s after the election, and he has also become—will become the most powerful person on Earth as president of the United States. But I wanted you to give us a little background, Wayne. You perhaps are among a very few journalists who have covered Donald Trump for decades, wrote a biography of him, not now just in time for the election, but back in 1991. You’ve met with him. You’ve talked to him. Talk about the man who was just elected 45th president of the United States.

WAYNE BARRETT: I actually met him in the '70s, started writing stories about him in the ’70s. So I do feel like I have some grasp on the guy. And that's why it’s almost mysterious for me to say that I have no idea what portion of his agenda he is going to implement at the start of his presidency. I said last night when I was on your show, and this was before his speech, where I think his speech indicated that prosecuting Hillary Clinton is not going to be at the top of his agenda, although if he makes Rudy Giuliani the attorney general of the United States, Rudy Giuliani has already said, “I could make this case in two months. I could do this case in a week.” You know, it’s going to be very hard for Rudy Giuliani, if he’s the attorney general of the United States, not to pursue a case, in some respects, but I don’t think that’s the direction Donald wants to go in.

I think—I think, a terrible thing that some of your guests have suggested, that he is going to start with immigration. And the first people who have to be defended in this country now by all of us who care are immigrants. I think that has been such a cornerstone. That’s another example of the complete and utter failure of American broadcast journalism. A totally legitimate story published by the Associated Press indicates that the wife of the presidential candidate who based his entire campaign around immigration is herself an illegal immigrant. I will bet you that it got two minutes of airtime in the last days of this campaign. If that is not a legitimate news story, I know nothing about news.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s just explain what that is. That was the AP report, and it appeared in The New York Times, that said that Melania Trump, before she was legal to work in this country, had done a series of modeling jobs and had been paid something like $20,000.

WAYNE BARRETT: Yes. And, you know, the one thing that, you know, I think he has a totally personal commitment to, it’s—you know, if you look back at his public appearances over many, many years prior to this presidential campaign, he has been talking about immigrants, never really focused on Mexicans before, but has been talking about illegal immigration for a large part of his semi-public life. And, you know, so I think this is a real agenda to him. It’s a real agenda to his base. And this is the most fearsome thing that I see right around the corner that’s going to come very early in his presidency. And it’s—we have to defend those homes. We have to defend the people in those homes. And it’s—you know, if our—

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to break and go to Phoenix, Arizona, to talk with an immigrants’ rights activist, also about Sheriff Arpaio, who lost his race, is under criminal investigation—though who knows, in the various criminal investigations, whether they would be dropped because he was a major Trump supporter?—how he got his start, Donald Trump? And this brings in Nikole Hannah-Jones, too, because you were just recently in a America Divided series talking about housing. But Donald Trump, back in the '70s, Wayne Barrett, being sued by the federal government trying to keep out African Americans from his family's housing projects?

WAYNE BARRETT: Yeah, well, we know it’s a long history. I don’t know—I don’t know how Barack Obama can sit down in the White House on Thursday—I just—with a man who says he’s not even a citizen. It’s just going to be so difficult for the president to go through this exercise. I have such respect for him. And it’s just incredible. Yes, the man has a history of racist actions that go all the way back to '73. I wrote about this way back in the ’70s. And, you know, I wrote about it in the context of the fact that he was getting all of these—seeking and then quickly getting these breakthrough tax abatements and supports for his projects from the City of New York and the state of New York, at the same time that he was under a consent decree that he signed with the Nixon Justice Department for racially discriminating against blacks. So, it was—you know, it was an anomaly then, and it certainly is part of his history. The most remarkable thing is that the leading birther in the United States is succeeding this president. It's just—I mean, I just—I can’t imagine it.

When I went to Columbia Journalism in 1967, and Fred Friendly, the producer of the—Edward R. Murrow’s shows, was just starting the Broadcast Lab, it was the first year of the Broadcast Lab at the Columbia Journalism School. And at that time, the concept was that broadcast news was the payback, the obligation that the networks had because they were given the airwaves for nothing. This was what they owed us. They owed us, in exchange for what is certainly a trillion-dollar value—they owed us decent broadcast news. It was not supposed to be a profit center. Now, it’s just a—it has to be a profit center, and instead of journalists making decisions, we have Zucker and Moonves and these people. It’s a commercial enterprise. All it cares about is ratings to generate advertising, and it has plunged American democracy into this abyss.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Wayne Barrett. He is the biographer of Donald Trump, certainly not the authorized one. He wrote the 1991 biography of Donald Trump that’s just been republished, called Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. And we’ll link to your piece in The Daily Beast, “Meet Donald Trump’s Top FBI Fanboy.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to go to Phoenix and continue our discussion with our guests at this roundtable on this day after the 2016 presidential election, that has not only shocked the country, but the world. Donald Trump has been elected the 45th president of the United States. Stay with us.

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