The president acknowledged in a 2017 meeting with civil rights leaders that he benefited from Black voters staying home.
In a private meeting inside Trump Tower days before his inauguration, Donald Trump told a group of civil rights leaders something most Republicans wouldn’t dare publicly acknowledge: lower turnout among Black voters did, in fact, benefit him in the 2016 presidential election.
“Many Blacks didn’t go out to vote for Hillary ‘cause they liked me. That was almost as good as getting the vote, you know, and it was great,” the president-elect said, according to an audio recording of the meeting shared with POLITICO.
The coronavirus pandemic was not on anyone’s radar on Jan. 16, 2017, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when Trump hosted the meeting with leaders from the Drum Major Institute, a voting rights group founded by King and fellow civil rights leader Harry Wachtel. But voting access was. The meeting was requested to lobby Trump on a proposal to put photo identification on Social Security cards to combat voter ID laws.
Attendees included Martin Luther King III, William Wachtel, James Forbes, Johnny Mack and Scott Rechler. Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young briefly spoke to Trump by phone during the meeting.
Wachtel’s then-chief of staff Tootsie Warhol provided the audio to POLITICO this week. The lawyer-turned-activist attended the sit-down and surreptitiously recorded it from his iPhone. Born Teddy Mukamal, he said his motivation for sharing the recording now is that he is in the process of reinventing himself as Warhol, an artist and activist, since leaving his law firm in November.
He told POLITICO, “The first thing that I can never forget was how when you walked in, (Trump) name-drops all these Black celebrities and tries to give the illusion that they’re his friends.”
Inside Trump Tower, Trump told the group that he had “so many” Black friends who “are so incredible, and everyone knows that.” At the top of the meeting, he showed off NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s sneaker, world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s belt and Sugar Ray Leonard’s boxing glove. (He also flaunted Tom Brady’s Super Bowl helmet and his own chair from “The Apprentice.”)
Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Jared Kushner and two other aides appeared throughout the meeting. Omarosa Manigault, a prominent Black Trump aide who left the administration a year later, was present the entire time.
At one point, Trump left the room to take a call. “Off the record, that was your friend Barack (Obama),” he told attendees upon his return. “We actually have a very good relationship. I said he did a great job last night on ‘60 Minutes,’ and, uh, we actually have a very good relationship.”
Manigault told Trump the group had talked about what the incoming administration could do to reduce crime in Chicago while he was out of the room. Soon after, Trump asked: “Do you know John Lewis? What do you think?”
Days earlier, in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” Lewis said he didn’t see Trump “as a legitimate president” because Russia helped him get elected.
“It really backfired on him because he’s really, you know, it’s what he said is very bad in terms of a democracy,” Trump said. “You run. You win. They even gave me that, right? They gave the Man of the Year stuff in Time. And then he says, ‘Oh, it’s not legitimate.’ That’s really against a democracy, like or not like.”
In the 2017 meeting with civil rights leaders, Trump criticized the state of America’s inner cities, which he said are in bad shape — a recurring theme of his presidency. And he went on to claim that he listens “better to the African American people than anybody else,” including those in the room, and pledge to “work on the inner cities.”
Trump floated the possibility of another meeting at the White House in one or two months, but Warhol said it never materialized. The White House invited Young to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom, Warhol said, but Young had already been awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor by Carter in 1981.
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