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Trump on the Couch: What He Said to Maggie Haberman


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When I was based in New York in the 1980s and regularly interviewed Donald Trump, there was a pattern in 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. When he wrote a scathing personal letter to hotel queen Leona Helmsley, he faxed me a copy. Then he was jumping quickly – “I have to go, baby. You be careful. I’ll read you tomorrow.”

But once in a while, Trump would slam me, like when I asked a skeptical question about his struggling Atlantic City casinos, which would later go bankrupt. “I don’t even know why I’m talking to you,” said the famous businessman. “You never wrote anything nice about me.” It was obviously wrong, but regardless, he still returned my calls.

When I started covering his candidacy in 2015, Trump once congratulated me at a press conference and gave six interviews for my show. But when I bumped into him at the White House on one of his first days in office, he half-jokingly complained to his staff that I had “gone neutral” with him. It was actually my job, but to him it was like a swear word, which meant I couldn’t be counted on to support it one hundred percent.

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 6, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.
(Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

This story made me think of Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter who started covering Trump as a tabloid columnist and never really stopped. He gave her access, then tweeted that she was a “third rate reporter” when ticked off for a story.

Yet after leaving office, Trump gave him three lengthy interviews for his forthcoming book, “Confidence Man,” a broad biography. The Atlantic has just published an extract.

It struck a chord when Haberman wrote, “I found myself at the mercy of both types of behavior Donald Trump exhibits toward journalists: his relentless desire to hold the media’s gaze, and his poison-pen notes and his angry statements in response to coverage.”

Here’s a revealing excerpt from his run for president (he told me in 1987 that if he ran he would win, prompting one of his associates to call him out of touch with reality. has not aged well.)

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman.
(common Wikipedia)

“‘The question I get asked more than any other question: if you had to do it again, would you have done it?’ The answer is, yes, I think so. Because that’s how I see it. I have so many rich friends and no one knows who they are. He then went on to say how much his life would have been easier if he hadn’t shown up he felt he had accomplished, only that it seemed like a vehicle for fame, and that many experiences were only worth having if someone another envied them.” (In fairness, Haberman quotes Trump as saying “get things done” in a later interview when she asked him what he liked about the job.)

The former president admired Meade Esposito, former head of the Brooklyn Democratic machine, for governing with an “iron fist”, the same phrase he applies to foreign strongmen like Xi Jinping. He says he thought Mitch McConnell would be like that, but he now says “the Old Crow is a piece of shit”. The Republican leader broke with Trump after Jan. 6.

Comparisons to Chris Christie, who recently criticized Trump: “I didn’t know I had such a big weight problem…He’s an opportunist.”

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

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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 topics, Trump insisted to Haberman that he was not watching television on Jan. 6, as numerous witnesses testified. He was meeting Mark Meadows and others and belatedly discovered the violence.

The US Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, a year after the US Capitol was stormed.

The US Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, a year after the US Capitol was stormed.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Similarly, he said he did not bring any documents to note at Mar-a-Lago and said his letters from Kim Jong-un were in the National Archives, but Trump did not return them until later. the Washington Post reported on them earlier this year.

At one point, Trump turned to two aides who had been in an interview with Haberman and said, “I love being around her, she’s like my psychiatrist.”

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“The reality is that he treats everyone as if they were his psychiatrists – reporters, government aides and congressmen, friends and pseudo-friends and rally attendees and White House staff and clients. All offer him a chance to let off steam or test his reactions or gauge how his statements play or find out how he feels,” she wrote.

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I would make a larger 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 of the North Korean nuclear situation, oscillating between that and the political and showbiz gossip he always devoured .

For almost eight years now, supporters and critics, as well as posters on social media, have tried to psychoanalyze Trump: why did he say this, tweet that, attack this person, defend this person, doesn’t seem to know or worry about how things worked? It’s part of the secret sauce that, unlike the low-key Joe Biden, apparently has everyone debating Trump’s mindset all the time. And there is no hourly rate.

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