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Trump on the couch: What he spilled to Maggie Haberman

Donald Trump's sit down with the NYT's Maggie Haberman has drawn buzz. But it's the latest in a trend of the former president's interview style.

When I was based in New York in the 1980s, and regularly interviewed Donald Trump, there was a pattern to our conversations that would become familiar to the world during his presidency.

He always called me back quickly, punctuated the calls with flattery – you’re a great writer, etc. – and forcefully offered his spin on the subject du jour, even about his divorce battle with his first wife. When he wrote a scathing personal letter to hotel queen Leona Helmsley, he faxed me a copy. Then he’d hop off quickly – "I gotta go, baby. You take care. I’ll read you tomorrow." 

But once in a while Trump would slam me, as when I asked a skeptical question about his struggling Atlantic City casinos, which would later go belly up. "I don’t know why I even talk to you," the celebrity businessman snapped. "You’ve never written anything nice about me." That was demonstrably untrue, but in any event, he still returned my calls.

When I started covering his candidacy in 2015, Trump once praised me at a press conference, and sat for six interviews for my show. But when I bumped into him in the White House on one of his first days in office, he half-jokingly complained in front of his staff that I’d "gone neutral" on him. That was actually my job, but in his view, it was like a dirty word, meaning that I couldn’t be counted on to back him a thousand percent.


That history made me think of Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter who first started covering Trump as a tabloid scribe and never quite stopped. He would give her access, and then tweet that she was a "third-rate reporter" when he was ticked off about a story. 

Yet after leaving office Trump granted her three lengthy interviews for her forthcoming book, "Confidence Man," a broad biography. The Atlantic just published an excerpt.

It struck a chord when Haberman wrote: "I have found myself on the receiving end of the two types of behavior Donald Trump exhibits toward reporters: his relentless desire to hold the media’s gaze, and his poison-pen notes and angry statements in response to coverage."

Here is a telling excerpt about running for president (he had told me in 1987 that if he ran, he’d win, prompting one of his associates to call him out of touch with reality. That didn’t age well.)

"‘The question I get asked more than any other question: If you had it to do again, would you have done it?’ The answer is, yeah, I think so. Because here’s the way I look at it. I have so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are.’ He then went on to talk about how much easier his life would have been had he not run. Yet there it was: Reflecting on the meaning of having been president of the United States, his first impulse was not to mention public service, or what he felt he’d accomplished, only that it appeared to be a vehicle for fame, and that many experiences were only worth having if someone else envied them." (In fairness, Haberman quotes Trump as saying "getting things done" in a later interview when she asked what he liked about the job.)

The former president admired onetime Brooklyn Democratic machine leader Meade Esposito for ruling with an "iron fist," the same phrase he applies to such foreign strongmen as Xi Jinping. He says he thought Mitch McConnell would be that way but now says "the Old Crow’s a piece of s***." The Republican leader famously broke with Trump after Jan. 6.

Of comparisons to Chris Christie, who’s been bashing Trump of late: "I didn’t know I had that big of a weight problem… He’s an opportunist." 

The 45th president didn’t really believe he would be reinstated – an idea pushed by the MyPillow guy – but encouraged Rich Lowry and other conservative writers to suggest that as a way of keeping it out there.


Trump denies giving Jared Kushner sweeping powers, but when pressed: "Look, my daughter has a great relationship with him and that’s very important."

On newsworthy subjects, Trump insisted to Haberman he was not watching television on Jan. 6, as numerous witnesses have testified. He was meeting with Mark Meadows and others and found out late about the violence.

In similar fashion, he said he didn’t take any documents of note to Mar-a-Lago, and said his letters from Kim Jong-un were with the National Archives, but Trump didn’t return them until after the Washington Post reported on them at the beginning of this year. 

At one point Trump turned to two aides who had joined an interview with Haberman, and declared, "I love being with her, she’s like my psychiatrist."


"The reality is that he treats everyone like they are his psychiatrists — reporters, government aides, and members of Congress, friends and pseudo-friends and rally attendees and White House staff and customers. All present a chance for him to vent or test reactions or gauge how his statements are playing or discover how he is feeling," she writes. 

I’d make a broader point: The whole country has Trump on the couch. I remember him asking me in a solo session eight days before he took office what I thought about the North Korean nuclear situation, toggling between that and political and showbiz gossip that he always devoured.

For nearly eight years now, supporters and critics alike, along with social media posters, have tried to psychoanalyze Trump: Why did he say this, tweet that, attack this person, defend that person, not appear to know or care how things worked? It’s part of the secret sauce that, in marked contrast to low-key Joe Biden, has seemingly everyone debating Trump’s state of mind all the time. And there’s no hourly fee.

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