This story was originally published by ProPublica.
People have wondered why the former president collected classified intel, speculating that he is just a packrat. But he has a long history of gathering and wielding sensitive info to help himself.
Ever since the FBI came out of Mar-a-Lago last month with box after box of documents, some of them highly sensitive and classified, questions have wafted over the criminal investigation: Why did former President Donald Trump sneak off with the stash to begin with? Why did he keep it when he was asked to return it? And what, if anything, did he plan to do with it?
It’s true that Trump likes to collect shiny objects, like the framed Time magazine cover that was stowed, according to the U.S. Justice Department, alongside documents marked top secret.
It’s true, as The Associated Press reported, that Trump has a “penchant for collecting” items
that demonstrate his connection to famous people, like Shaquille O’Neal’s giant shoe, which he kept in his office in New York’s Trump Tower.
But I’ve covered Trump and his business for decades, and there’s something else people around him have told me over and over again: Trump knows the value of hoarding sensitive, secret information and wielding it regularly and precisely for his own ends. The 76-year-old former host of “The Apprentice” came up in the world of New York tabloids, where trading gossip was the coin of the realm. Certainly sometimes he just wanted to show off that he knew things about important people. But he also has used compromising information to pressure elected officials, seek a commercial advantage or blunt accountability and oversight.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Take a little-known episode
where Trump tried to pressure former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
In 1997, Trump, then a major casino owner in Atlantic City, was furious with New Jersey elected officials for supporting a $330 million tunnel project. The tunnel would run from the Atlantic City Expressway almost to the doorstep of a casino run by then-rival Steve Wynn. “Trump didn’t want Wynn in Atlantic City,” Whitman recently told me. Trump “wanted to control the gambling there.”
As a casino owner, Trump wasn’t able to make donations in New Jersey legislative races, contributions being one of his go-to methods of attempting to exert control over government decisions. But Trump could run caustic ads and file lawsuits, which he did. When none of that worked, and the tunnel was in the final stages of approval, Whitman said, Trump called her up.
A few years before the tunnel vote, Whitman’s son, Taylor, who was in high school at the time, had gotten falling-down drunk at a private dance at Trump’s Plaza Hotel off Central Park in New York City and had to be taken to the hospital. This is something that high school students stupidly do, and Whitman said to me she was happy for Taylor to be sick “to teach him a lesson.” But in the call, Trump suddenly brought the episode up. He said it would be “too bad” if the press found out about her son’s drunken antics.
“He made the threat during the deliberations over the tunnel,” Whitman said, and it “blindsided” her because the high school dance was private and Taylor's behavior had been a family concern. She had no idea how Trump found out about it, she said, but the episode made it clear to her that people collected and delivered sensitive information to Trump about what happened in his properties. She did not buckle to Trump, and he never made good on his threat…