Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (20 page)

BOOK: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man
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“Do you know what your father was worth when he died?” she said. “A whole lot of nothing.”

There was a pause and then a click. She'd hung up on me.

The Debacle

sat there with the phone in my hand, not knowing what to do next. It was one of those moments that changes everything—both what came before and what will come after—and it was too big to process.

I called my brother, and as soon as I heard his voice, I burst into tears.

He called Gam to see if he could explain what we were really asking for, but they had basically the same conversation. Her parting shot to him was slightly different, though: “When your father died, he didn't have two nickels to rub together.” In the world of my family, that was the only thing that mattered. If your only currency is money, that's the only lens through which you determine worth; somebody who has accomplished in that context as little as my father was worth nothing—even if he happened to be your son. Further, if my father died penniless, his children weren't entitled to anything.

My grandfather had every right to change his will as he saw fit. My aunts and uncles had every right to follow his instructions to the letter, despite the fact that none of them deserved their share of Fred's fortune any more than my father did. If not for an accident of birth, none of them would have been a multimillionaire. Prosecutors and federal judges don't typically have $20 million cottages in Palm Beach. Executive assistants don't have weekend homes in Southampton. (Although, to be fair, Maryanne and Elizabeth were the only two of the siblings, other than my father, to work outside of the family business.)
Still, they acted as if they had earned every penny of my grandfather's wealth and that money was so tied up in their sense of self-worth that letting any of it go was not an option.

On Irwin's advice we approached Jack Barnosky, a partner at Farrell Fritz, the largest law firm in Nassau County. Jack, a pompous, self-satisfied man, agreed to take us on as clients. His strategy was to prove that my grandfather's 1990 will should be overturned: Fred Trump had not been of sound mind at the time the will was signed, and he had been under the undue influence of his children.

Less than a week after we served the executors, Jack received a letter from Lou Laurino, a short, wiry pit bull of a lawyer who was representing my grandfather's estate. The medical insurance that had been provided to us by Trump Management since we were born had been revoked. Everyone in the Trump family was covered by it. My brother depended upon this insurance to pay for my nephew's crushing medical expenses. When William had first fallen ill, Robert had promised Fritz that they would take care of everything; he should just send the bills to the office.

Taking away our insurance didn't benefit them at all; it was merely a way to cause us more pain and make us more desperate. William was out of the hospital by then, but he was still susceptible to seizures, which more than once had put him in a state of cardiac arrest so severe that he would not have survived without CPR. He still required round-the-clock nursing care.

The family all knew this, but none of them objected, not even my grandmother, who was as aware as anybody that her own desperately ill great-grandchild would probably need expensive medical care for the rest of his life.

Fritz and I had no choice but to launch another lawsuit to make them reinstate William's medical insurance. The suit required depositions and affidavits from the doctors and nurses responsible for William's care. It was time consuming and stressful and culminated in an appearance in front of a judge.

Laurino defended the cancellation of the insurance by first claiming that we had no right to expect the insurance in perpetuity. It was, rather, a gift that had been bestowed upon us out of the goodness of my grandfather's heart. He also downplayed William's condition, insisting that the round-the-clock nurses who attended to William and had saved his life more than once were overpriced babysitters. If Fritz and Lisa were worried that their infant son might have another seizure, he said, they should just learn CPR.

The depositions did nothing to help us. I couldn't believe what a terrible interlocutor Jack was. He failed to follow up and went off on tangents. Despite the fact that Fritz and I had prepared long lists of questions for him, he rarely, if ever, referred to them. Robert, much more detached than the last time I'd spoken to him, reiterated my grandfather's hatred of my mother as his central justification for the disinheritance; Maryanne angrily referred to me and my brother as “absentee grandchildren.” I thought of all the times she had called the House when I was visiting my grandmother; now I understood why she'd never told my grandmother to say hi. My grandfather, she said, had been furious with us because we had never spent time with our grandmother, completely ignoring the history of the last decade. Apparently, my grandfather had also hated that Fritz never wore a tie and I, as a teenager, had dressed in baggy sweaters and jeans. When he was deposed, Donald didn't know or couldn't remember anything, a kind of strategic forgetfulness he has employed many times to evade blame or scrutiny. All three of them claimed in their sworn depositions that my grandfather had been “sharp as a tack” until just before he died.

During that time, my aunt Elizabeth ran into a family friend, who later relayed the exchange to my brother. “Can you believe what Fritz and Mary are doing?” she asked him. “All they care about is the money.” Of course wills are about money, but in a family that has only one currency, wills are also about love. I thought Liz might have understood that. She had no power. Her opinion about the situation wouldn't have mattered to anybody but me and my brother, but it still hurt that she
was toeing the party line. Even a silent, powerless ally would have been better than none at all.

After almost two years, with legal bills piling up and having made no progress on any kind of settlement, we had to decide whether to take our family to court. William's condition remained serious, and a trial would have taken the kind of energy and focus my brother didn't have. Reluctantly, we decided to settle.

Maryanne, Donald, and Robert refused to settle unless we agreed to let them buy our shares of the assets we'd inherited from our father—his 20 percent of the mini-empire and the “priceless” ground leases.

My aunts and uncles submitted a property valuation to Jack Barnosky, and, using their figures, he and Lou Laurino arrived at a settlement figure that was likely based on suspect numbers. Jack told us that, short of a trial, it was the best we could expect. “We know they're lying,” he said, “but it's ‘He said, she said.' Besides, your grandfather's estate is only worth around thirty million dollars.” That was only a tenth of the estimate Robert had given the
New York Times
in 1999, which itself would turn out to be only 25 percent of the estate's actual value.

Fred no doubt believed that my dad had been given the same tools, the same advantages, and the same opportunities as Donald had. If Freddy had thrown them all away, that wasn't his father's fault. If, despite them, my dad had continued to be a terrible provider, my brother and I should consider ourselves lucky that there were trust funds our father couldn't squander when he was alive. Whatever happened to us after that had nothing to do with Fred Trump. He had done his part; we had no right to expect more.

While the lawsuits were still in progress, I received word that, after a brief illness, Gam had died on August 7, 2000, at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, just as my grandfather had. She was eighty-eight.

If I had known she was sick, I think I would have tried to see her, but the fact that she hadn't asked to see me clarified just how easy it
had been for us to let each other go. We had never spoken after that last phone conversation, just as I had not spoken again to Robert, Donald, Maryanne, or Elizabeth. It had never occurred to me to try.

Fritz and I decided to attend Gam's funeral, but, knowing we were unwelcome, we stood in one of the overflow rooms at the back of Marble Collegiate Church. Along with a couple of Donald's security guards, we watched the service on a closed-circuit monitor.

The eulogies were remarkable only for what was not said. There was a lot of speculation about my grandparents' reunion in Heaven, but my father, their oldest son, who had been dead for almost twenty-seven years, was not mentioned at all. He didn't even appear in my grandmother's obituary.

I received a copy of Gam's will a few weeks after she died. It was a carbon copy of my grandfather's, with one exception: my brother and I had been removed from the section outlining the bequests for her grandchildren. My father and his entire line had now been effectively erased.

The Worst Investment Ever Made
The Political Is Personal

early a decade would pass before I saw my family again, in October 2009 at my cousin Ivanka's wedding to Jared Kushner. I had no idea why I'd received the invitation—which was printed on the same heavy-gauge stationery favored by the Trump Organization.

As the limo I'd taken from my home on Long Island approached the clubhouse at Donald's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, which looked eerily like the House, I was unsure what to expect. Ushers handed out black shawls, which made me feel a little less exposed as I wrapped one around my shoulders.

The outdoor ceremony took place beneath a large white tent. Gilt chairs were lined up in rows on either side of a gilt-trimmed runway carpet. The traditional Jewish chuppah, covered in white roses, was about the size of my house. Donald stood awkwardly in a yarmulke. Before the vows, Jared's father, Charles, who'd been released from prison three years earlier, rose to tell us that when Jared had first introduced him to Ivanka, he had thought she would never be good enough to join his family. It was only after she had committed to converting to Judaism and worked hard to make it happen that he had begun to think she might be worthy of them after all. Considering that Charles had been convicted of hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, taping their illicit encounter, and then sending the recording to his sister at his nephew's engagement party, I found his condescension a bit out
of line. After the ceremony, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I entered the clubhouse.

As I walked down the hallway, I saw my uncle Rob. My last exchange with him had been when he'd hung up on me in 1999 after I had told him that Fritz and I were hiring a lawyer to contest my grandfather's will. As I approached him now, he surprised me by breaking into a smile. He put his hand out, then leaned down—he was much taller than I was even in my heels—shook my hand, and kissed me on the cheek, the typical Trump greeting.

“Honeybunch! How are you?” he said brightly. Before I could answer, he said, “You know, I've been thinking that the statute of limitations on family estrangement has passed.” Then, bouncing on the balls of his feet, he smacked a closed fist into his open palm in a not-quite-accurate imitation of my grandfather.

“That sounds good to me,” I said. We spent a couple of minutes exchanging pleasantries. When we were done, I walked up the stairs to the cocktail reception, where I spotted Donald speaking to somebody I recognized—a mayor or a governor—although I can't recall who it was.

“Hi, Donald,” I said, as I walked toward them.

“Mary! You look great.” He shook my hand and kissed my cheek, as Rob had. “It's good to see you.”

“It's good to see you, too.” It was a relief to discover that things between us were pleasant and civil. Having established that, I gave way to the next person in the lengthening line of people, some of them waiting to congratulate the father of the bride. But
The Apprentice
had just concluded its eighth season, so it's just as likely that many of them were simply there for the photo op. “Have fun,” he called after me as I walked away.

The reception was being held in an enormous ballroom quite a distance from the hors d'oeuvres. Along the way I saw my aunt Liz in the distance, chasing after her husband. I caught her eye and waved. She
waved back and said, “Hi, sweetie pie.” But she didn't stop, and that was the last I saw of her. I walked past voluminous bunting and the highly polished dance floor and finally found my place at the second cousins' table on the periphery of the ballroom. In the distance I could hear the occasional
of rotors as helicopters landed and took off.

After the first course had been served, I decided to find Maryanne. As I wound my way through the tables, Donald took to the stage to give his toast. If I hadn't known who he was talking about, I would have thought he was toasting his secretary's daughter.

I spotted Maryanne and paused. Fritz and I would not have been invited to Ivanka's wedding without Maryanne's approval. She didn't see me until I was standing right in front of her.

“Hi, Aunt Maryanne.”

It took her a few seconds to realize who I was. “Mary.” She didn't smile. “How are you?” she asked, her expression rigid.

“Everything's great. My daughter just turned eight, and—”

“I didn't know you had a daughter.”

Of course she didn't know I had a daughter or that I was raising her with the woman I'd married after my grandfather's funeral and then divorced or that I had recently received my doctorate in clinical psychology. But she acted as if her lack of such knowledge was an insult to her. The rest of our brief conversation was equally tense. She mentioned that Ivana had missed Ivanka's wedding shower but said, sotto voce, that she couldn't discuss why.

I retreated to my table, and when I realized the vegetarian meal I'd ordered had not arrived, I ordered a martini in its stead. The olives would suffice.

Sometime later, I saw Maryanne, looking determined, head toward us as if on a mission. She walked straight up to my brother and said, “We need to talk about the elephant in the room.” Then, gesturing to include me, “The three of us.”

A few weeks after Ivanka and Jared's wedding, Fritz and I met
with Maryanne and Robert at her apartment on the Upper East Side. It wasn't clear to me why Rob was there, but I thought perhaps he planned to make good on his claim that the “statute of limitations” on family estrangement had passed. I took it as a good sign, but as the afternoon wore on, I became less sure. We didn't discuss anything that seemed pertinent. As we sat in the living room with its spectacular view of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Maryanne made passing references to “the debacle,” as she called the lawsuit, but nobody else seemed eager to go down that road.

Rob leaned forward in his chair, and I hoped finally we were going to start dealing with the so-called elephant in the room. Instead he told a story.

Ten years earlier, Rob had still been working for Donald in Atlantic City when Donald's financial situation was dire. His investors were getting hammered, the banks were after him, and his personal life was in shambles. When things were at their worst, Donald had called Rob with a request.

“Listen, Rob, I don't know how this is all going to end,” he had said. “But it's tough, and I might drop dead of a heart attack. If anything happens to me, I want you to make sure Marla will be okay.”

“Sure, Donald. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

“Get her ten million dollars.”

I thought,
Holy shit, that's a lot of money!
at the same moment that Rob said, “What a cheap bastard.”

Rob laughed at the memory as I sat there stunned, wondering how much money those people had. Last I'd heard, $10 million would have been one-third of my grandfather's entire estate.

“Around the same time, Donald called to tell me I was one of his three favorite people,” Maryanne said. “Apparently he forgot he had three children.” (Tiffany and Barron were still to come.)

We never met with Rob again, but Fritz and I, separately and together, had lunch occasionally with Maryanne. For the first time in my life, I got to know my aunt. Not since I'd spent time with Donald
while I was writing his book had I felt a little bit as though I were part of the family.

A couple of months after my aunts' April 2017 birthday party, I was in my living room lacing up my sneakers when the front doorbell rang. I don't know why I answered it. I almost never did. Seventy-five percent of the time it was a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon missionaries. The rest of the time, it was somebody wanting me to sign a petition.

When I opened the door, the only thing that registered was that the woman standing there, with her shock of curly blond hair and dark-rimmed glasses, was someone I didn't know. Her khakis, button-down shirt, and messenger bag placed her out of Rockville Centre.

“Hi. My name is Susanne Craig. I'm a reporter for the
New York Times

Journalists had stopped contacting me a long time before. With the exception of David Corn from
Mother Jones
and somebody from
, the only other person to leave a message before the election had been from
Inside Edition
. Nothing I had to say about my uncle would have mattered before November 2016; why would anybody want to hear from me now?

The futility of it annoyed me, so I said, “It is so not cool that you're showing up at my house.”

“I understand. I'm sorry. But we're working on a very important story about your family's finances, and we think you could really help us.”

“I can't talk to you.”

“At least take my card. If you change your mind, you can call me anytime.”

“I don't talk to reporters,” I said. I took her card anyway.

A few weeks later, I fractured the fifth metatarsal of my left foot. For the next four months, I was a prisoner in my home, my foot elevated at all times as I sat on the couch.

I received a letter from Susanne Craig reiterating her belief that I
had documents that could help “rewrite the history of the President of the United States,” as she put it. I ignored the letter. But she persisted.

After a month of sitting on the couch, scrolling through Twitter with the news constantly on in the background, I watched in real time as Donald shredded norms, endangered alliances, and trod upon the vulnerable. The only thing about it that surprised me was the increasing number of people willing to enable him.

As I watched our democracy disintegrating and people's lives unraveling because of my uncle's policies, I kept thinking about Susanne Craig's letter. I found her business card and called her. I told her that I wanted to help but I no longer had any documents relating to our lawsuit years before.

“Jack Barnosky might still have them,” she said.

Ten days later I was on my way to his office.

The headquarters of Farrell Fritz was located in one of two oblong buildings sheathed in blue glass. Bitterly cold air pushed between them across the wide-open space of the enormous parking lot. It's impossible to park anywhere near the entrance, so after I found a spot, it took me ten minutes to get to the lobby on my crutches. I negotiated the escalator and the marble floors very carefully.

By the time I arrived at my destination, I was tired and overheated. Thirty banker's boxes lined two walls and filled a bookshelf. The room's only other contents were a desk and a chair. Jack's secretary had kindly put out a pad of paper, a pen, and some paper clips. I dropped my bags, leaned my crutches against the wall, and half fell into the desk chair. None of the boxes was labeled; I had no idea where to start.

It took me about an hour to familiarize myself with the contents of the boxes and compile a list, which required wheeling around the room on my chair and lifting boxes onto the desk while standing on one leg. When Jack stopped by, I was flushed and soaking wet. He reminded me that I couldn't take any documents out of the room. “They belong to your brother, too, and I need his permission,” which wasn't at all true.

When he turned to leave, I called after him, “Jack, wait a second. Can you remind me why we decided to settle the lawsuit?”

“Well, you were getting concerned about the costs, and, as you know, we don't take cases on contingency. Although we knew they were lying to us, it was ‘He said, she said.' Besides, your grandfather's estate was only worth thirty million dollars.” It was almost word for word what he'd told me when I had last seen him almost twenty years earlier.

“Ah, okay. Thanks.” I was holding in my hands documents that proved the estate had actually been worth close to a billion dollars when he died; I just didn't know it yet.

After I was sure he had gone, I grabbed copies of my grandfather's wills, floppy disks with all of the depositions from the lawsuit, and some of my grandfather's bank records—all of which I was legally entitled to as part of the lawsuit—and stuffed them into my bags.

Sue came by my house the next day to pick up the documents and drop off a burner phone so we could communicate more securely going forward. We weren't taking any chances.

On my third trip to Farrell Fritz, I methodically went through every box and discovered that there were two copies of
. I mentioned the fact to Jack's secretary and suggested that it obviated the need to get my brother's permission, which was a relief since I didn't want to involve him. I would leave a set of documents for him in the unlikely event he ever wanted one.

I was just beginning to look for the list of material the
wanted when I got a message from Jack: I could take whatever I wanted, as long as I left a copy. I hadn't been prepared for that. In fact, I had plans to meet Sue and her colleagues Russ Buettner and David Barstow (the other two journalists working on the story) at my house at 1:00 with whatever I'd managed to smuggle out. I texted Sue with the news that I'd be late.

At 3:00, I drove to the loading dock beneath the building, and nineteen boxes were loaded into the back of the borrowed truck I was driving since I couldn't work the clutch in my own car.

It was just beginning to get dark when I pulled into my driveway. The three reporters were waiting for me in David's white SUV, which sported a pair of reindeer antlers and a huge red nose wired to the grill. When I showed them the boxes, there were hugs all around. It was the happiest I'd felt in months.

When Sue, Russ, and David left, I was exhausted and relieved. It had been a head-spinning few weeks. I hadn't fully grasped how much of a risk I was taking. If anybody in my family found out what I was doing, there would be repercussions—I knew how vindictive they were—but there was no way to gauge how serious the consequences might be. Anything would pale in comparison to what they'd already done. I finally felt as though I might be able to make a difference after all.

BOOK: Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man
5.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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