It was the summer of 1980, and Donald Trump, a rising star in New York City real estate, trekked to Brooklyn to sit down with the Organized Crime Strike Force.
The still-lanky developer arrived alone, with no attorneys by his side, and willingly submitted himself to all of the investigators’ questions.
The FBI investigation involved a person Trump needed to ensure the speedy construction of Trump Tower: John Cody, a union boss who was being investigated for suspected mob ties. The FBI subpoenaed Trump after getting a tip that the developer had promised Cody’s supposed girlfriend a luxury apartment spread in his signature tower.
In going it alone with the investigators, according to Trump biographer Wayne Barrett, the future president tried to recast himself not as an adjunct to Cody’s scams but as a victim himself of a shakedown.
Now, as Trump continues to push to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller — against the advice of his attorneys — the president is putting to use his same old box of tools developed during a lifetime of legal squabbles in New York City: trying to talk or cooperate his way out of things. But while he’s using the old tactics he once employed over a real estate fight, he’s also on unfamiliar turf, where the stakes of the investigation stretch far beyond any barrier he ever encountered in his business life.
What remains, however, is Trump’s belief in his central self-created myth: that he can convince anyone of anything, if he’s simply given the opportunity to get them in a room alone.
“On the one hand, the kind of lawyers he likes are crusading, hard-hitting, very aggressive lawyers, and he uses them when he has to,” said longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. “On the other hand, he believes he’s always his best advocate.”
The New York Times has reported that Trump is pushing his lawyers for a meeting with Mueller “to clear himself of wrongdoing” and convince investigators of his own viewpoint: that the entire exercise has been a “witch hunt.”