Pulitzer winner recounts Donald Trump’s past

Donald Trump called a convicted cocaine trafficker “a credit to the community” after allowing the man to manage his personal helicopter to shuttle high rollers to his casinos.

He said his net worth fluctuates based on how he feels — “even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day.”

Trump likely hasn’t paid federal income tax since 1977, and during the first presidential debate on Monday, Sept. 26, he said his tax evasion makes him “smart.”

Whether or not you like the Republican presidential candidate is beside the point — all of those assertions are true. Acclaimed writer David Cay Johnston visited the College on Tuesday, Sept. 27, to share more facts about the real estate mogul he has known for nearly three decades.

Johnston reads excerpts from his book “The Making of Donald Trump.” (Kim Iannarone)

“Journalists have a unique position in the world,” Johnston said. “We are the only occupation where we are paid to tell you the truth… Our only reason to exist is to tell you the truth — the verifiable truth, not opinions.”

Unaided by a microphone, Johnston told the crowd in the Education Building that through his work as a journalist, he’s accused people of murder, exposed corruption scandals and forced two presidents to change their tax policies.

He isn’t just confident, though. He’s correct. Despite intense scrutiny, every single one of Johnston’s stories, no matter how ambitious, has held up as true — even the stories included in his latest book, “The Making of Donald Trump,” which skyrocketed to No. 15 on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best sellers list in August.

Johnston is the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting. His byline has appeared in major media outlets like The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and, most recently, New York Daily News, where a day prior to his visit to the College, he published a story titled “14 questions for Mr. Trump to answer in Monday’s big debate.”

Johnston met Trump in 1988, when he took over the casino beat in Atlantic City, N.J. In those 28 years since, Johnston has learned more than a few things about the Republican presidential candidate. In fact, Johnston said he has what he believes to be the largest collection of Trump-related documents in existence, which comprises tens of thousands of pages.

“I actually used to rent two storage lockers just to keep all my files,” he said. By poring over them, Johnston found material for his book, which he uses as a platform to dispel common myths about Trump with indisputable facts.

In one chapter, Johnston details Trump’s ties to Joseph Weichselbaum, a convicted cocaine trafficker who managed Trump’s personal helicopter. Trump called Weichselbaum “conscientious, forthright, and diligent” and “a credit to the community” in a character reference letter.

Johnston wonders why Trump risked his casino license by continuing to do business with a convicted criminal — something prohibited by the N.J. Casino Control Act. Trump stuck with Weichselbaum, even as his case was transferred to Newark, N.J., to Judge Maryanne Trump Barry — Trump’s older sister — in a move that neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the defense lawyer has ever been able to explain, Johnston said.

The judge eventually recused herself by citing a conflict of interest: she, too, had flown in Weichselbaum’s helicopters.

“Imagine that Barack Obama had… let’s say, someone who regularly drove him to the airport when he was a state senator… who was a two-bit drug dealer, made a little bit of money on the side selling drugs,” Johnston said. “You think he’d be president of the United States today?”

Johnston is the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for beat reporting. (Kim Iannarone)

The unusual relationship between Trump and Weichselbaum is not the only sketchy business practice of which Trump has found himself at the center. Johnston said Trump is named in more than 4,000 lawsuits. Among them is a case brought forth by a Benjamin Moore paint dealer who claims Trump swindled him out of $34,000 after he provided the paint for the reconstruction of one of Trump’s golf courses.

When a judge asked Trump’s witness why the predetermined amount was not being paid, his response was, “Mr. Trump feels he has paid enough.”

“If you’re really a billionaire, what’s the problem?” Johnston asked.

The problem, according to Johnston, is that Trump is not a billionaire. Not even close.

“We cannot be a free people if we have someone running for president based on a fraud,” he said.

Even the announcement of Trump’s campaign was a fraud, Johnston said. Trump reportedly paid actors $50 a pop to show up to his announcement and cheer him on as he spoke.

Between all the accusations against Trump, never once did Johnston tell his audience not to vote for him in November. That’s an opinion, and his talk was based entirely around hard facts.

“When you go to the poll, you ought to know who you’re voting for,” he said. “If you read my book and you still want to vote for him, you’d better go out and vote for him.”

Johnston doesn’t think a Trump presidency will lead to the end of the world. He said a far more pressing concern is the apathy so many Americans have toward politics.

“To those of you who are young… it’s your democracy,” he said. “Keep it. Work on it. Love it. Care about it. Be engaged in it.”

Otherwise, Johnston said he fears his descendants will pick up a history textbook that begins with a frightening phrase: “The United States of America was…”

This story originally appeared in The Signal.

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