July 26, 2016

Doing it to do it: Donald Trump gets litigious with his former ghostwriter


Don't make him sue you.

Don’t make him sue you.

I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.

So begins The Art of the Deal, a book written by the very strange alliance of Donald Trump, now notorious as the man who would be both the clog in the drain of American politics and its sole plunger, and Tony Schwartz, a very smart, relatively liberal writer not too many people had heard of until recently.

Even in that first paragraph, a tangle of authorial threads is apparent. “I do it to do it,” for instance, feels wonderfully, woefully Trump, even as it speaks its Trumpitude with a degree of concision and self-awareness that seems completely alien to The Donald. (In a recent phone conversation with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Trump expressed essentially the same sentiment a little more Trumpily: “I’ve made a fortune by making deals. I do that. I do that well. That’s what I do.”)

In 1987, when The Art of the Deal was published to massive success (it enjoyed about a year on the New York Times bestseller list), Trump was famous as a rich and mouthy denizen of Ed Koch’s grimy, exhilarating New York. He wasn’t especially associated with Mussolini, and the improbability of his writing a line like “[My father’s] story is classic Horatio Alger” existed in soft focus at best. In a review that called the book “thoroughly engaging,” Publishers Weekly voiced appreciation that Trump had shared “his secrets for success: imagination, persistence, skill at ‘juggling provisional commitments’… and most crucial of all, a true trader’s instinct.” Tony Schwartz is never mentioned.

In fact, although his name was on the cover, few seem to have spent much time considering his contribution to the book.

Over the ensuing years, though, it was periodically noted that Trump didn’t seem quite the past master The Art of the Deal makes him about to be. In 1988, Louis Menand quipped in the New Republic that the book, rather than offering an honest window into Trump’s operations, was merely “a weapon in the continuing public relations war that is Donald Trump’s way of doing business.” Writing in 1991 for the New York Times, John Tierney noted that Trump’s mounting difficulties seemed evidence that he had “ignored some of his own advice.”

But now it is the summer of 2016. Operation Gilded Mega-Eagle is in full swing: just a few nights ago, Trump made history by accepting the presidential nomination of a superbly divided Republican Party. And Tony Schwartz — who has hardly been idle in the intervening years, writing several more books, founding a successful consulting firm, even taking Amazon to task in the pages of the New York Times — can take no more.

It began when Trump announced his candidacy last summer by declaring that “our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’” Schwartz did not waste time in responding:

With that, the dam broke, and ever since Schwartz has been outspoken about the time he spent with Trump, unleashing a veritable that-scene-in-Ghostbusters of sour memories that he’s apparently been holding down for decades. This included speaking with Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, who published the resulting article in the magazine’s July 25th issue. In it, Schwartz describes Trump as reptilian — nasty, dim, and weak — and claims to have written all of The Art of the Deal himself.

“I put lipstick on a pig,” he said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Schwartz also details, among many other things, Trump’s utter willingness to lie (something the entrepreneur “had a complete lack of conscience about,” securing him “a strange advantage” over adversaries), his obsession with “money, praise, and celebrity,” and the fact that by the time The Art of the Deal was on shelves, his personal fortunes were plummeting (“He was losing millions of dollars a day. He had to have been terrified.”). If Schwartz were writing the book today, he tells Mayer, he would call it The Sociopath.

The response came like clockwork. In a letter also published by the New Yorker, Trump Organization VP and general counsel Jason Greenblatt upbraids Schwartz for suggesting the presence of factual errors in a book he claims Schwartz was tasked with fact-checking. He goes on to demand that Schwartz immediately return all the money he’s been paid for his work on the book and provide written statements retracting his public comments about Trump, as well as a promise not to “generate or disseminate any misleading or inaccurate information or make any baseless accusations with respect to Mr. Trump or the Book at any point in the future.”

Schwartz’s lawyer, Elizabeth McNamara, quickly fired back a reply (also published by the New Yorker) that accused Greenblatt of “a transparent attempt to stifle legitimate criticism.” It goes on to note that Greenblatt’s letter “alludes vaguely to ‘defamatory statements,’ ‘outright lies’ and ‘downright fabrications,’” but fails to “identify a single statement by Mr. Schwartz that is factually false, let alone defamatory.”

This is essentially where the story stands, for now. Schwartz is not the only one of his kind — Ted Cruz Cohabitation Survivor Craig Mazin comes to mind (love that guy) — but, in an election season that has seen much terrified disbelief wrapped up in jokes, Schwartz’s comments stand out for their undisguised moral seriousness.

As for the implied threat of legal action, its seriousness is not immediately clear. While there’s no pleasure in imagining Tony Schwartz, a seemingly reasonable and decent person, facing down a lawsuit from Team Trump, it is worth saying that, if it happened, a defamation trial could be a public, research-based investigation into whether Donald Trump, who has managed to soft-shoe his way up to the engine room of American imperium, is, in fact, a liar.

And Tony Schwartz, if you’re out there, we’d love to talk to you. Please give us a call.



Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.