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Trump's Niece Describes A Toxic Family Dynamic Where Kindness Was Weakness

Donald Trump and father Fred Trump attend the opening of Wollman skating rink in New York City's Central Park in 1987.
Dennis Caruso NY Daily News via Getty Images
Donald Trump and father Fred Trump attend the opening of Wollman skating rink in New York City's Central Park in 1987.

Donald Trump's estranged niece, Mary Trump, has long been uncomfortable with her last name.

"It's not a very common name," she said in an interview with Fresh Air on Tuesday. "If I paid with a credit card, I invariably got asked if I was related [to Donald]. And I always said no."

Before her uncle entered politics, that's usually where the conversation ended. But Donald Trump's political career changed things. "It was a bit of a shock, you know, to hear my name being mentioned dozens of times a day," Mary Trump said.


Mary Trump said she was devastated when her uncle was elected president: "I knew he was unfit," she said. "And whether other people knew that aspect of the situation or not, they certainly had ample evidence that he was sexist, if not misogynist, racist and not truthful about his alleged success in business."

Mary Trump's father, Fred Trump Jr., was Donald Trump's older brother and the black sheep of the family. After Fred Jr.'s death in 1981, Mary Trump's grandfather changed his will to exclude Mary and her brother. She writes about her family's tangled history in the new memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man.

Mary Trump described Donald Trump as a "belligerent and uncontrollable" youth whose sister did homework for him when he was a student at Fordham University. Years later, Mary Trump realized how toxic the relationship was between her uncle and her father.

Writing the book, she said, helped her better understand her father's place in the family. In the interview, Mary Trump described her dad as a man whose kindness was seen as weakness in a power-driven family. "The tale they spun [was] that he was just this failed guy who just couldn't accomplish anything," she says. "When my family did talk about my father, it was to say that, essentially he was handsome and kind — and 'kind' was always said as if it were not really a compliment."

As for her uncle, Mary Trump said: "One thing we can say about Donald is he has been consistently himself for decades. ... I can't really think of any way in which he's evolved or changed from the person he was when he was a teenager."


Interview highlights

On getting access to the Trump family finances when she and her brother sued her grandfather's estate

After my brother and I were disinherited, we, after several fruitless months of negotiation, decided to sue my grandfather's estate. In the course of that lawsuit ... we were entitled to all of the documents pertaining to his [Fred Trump Sr.'s] personal finances, his personal tax returns, and all of the financial documents relating to all of his entities, which would have been in excess of four dozen buildings in Queens and Brooklyn.

On her decision to hand over the documents to The New York Times, which published an exposé of the Trump family finances in 2018

[Times reporter Susanne Craig] over time, despite my intransigence, made a very good case that I might actually have something that could help concretely, as she put it, "rewrite the financial history of Donald and my family." Before then, I had completely forgotten about the existence of those documents. It had been almost 20 years in the past. I didn't think about it anymore. It had ended very badly for me and there was no reason to revisit it. But when she made it clear that those documents, if they were still in the possession of the attorney who had handled the lawsuit for me, could be analyzed properly, there could be a lot of really valuable information.

So finally, for the first time, I felt like I could do something tangible. So within a few weeks of deciding to call [Craig], I had gone to my former attorney's office and gotten all 19 boxes, which included 40,000 pages or so of all of the documents. ... In the next year, the investigative team did this extraordinary job of forensic accounting and hardcore digging into all sorts of other sources and contacts. And they came up with what I think is one of the most brilliant pieces of investigative journalism I've ever seen. ...

They put it in numerical terms that were quite honestly mind-boggling to me. When my grandfather died, we were told that his estate was worth about $30 million and it turns out it was closer to a billion. So that's hardly a rounding error. For the first time in my life I understood just how much money my family had and just how much money my grandfather's business and properties were worth.

On why she believes her trustees, Maryanne, Robert and Donald Trump, weren't looking out for her best interest after her father died

They had used egregiously misrepresented valuations of properties I had a share in to craft a settlement agreement [in her lawsuit against the Fred Trump Sr. estate] that, as it turns out, was much to my disadvantage. ... That's been one of the more eye-opening things, because Maryanne, Robert and Donald weren't just my aunts and uncles — which should have been enough for them to look out for my interests, considering my dad, their brother, died when I was 16 — but they were also, after my father died, my trustees. So they had a fiduciary responsibility to make sure not only that I didn't get taken advantage of, but that I understood what I had so that I could make informed decisions going forward, and, of course, neither of those things actually happened.

On Fred Trump Sr.'s disappointment in his eldest son, Fred Jr.

I think that the truth is that my dad was just sort of constitutionally sensitive. He took things to heart. He took criticism, especially from my grandfather, very hard. Because he was the oldest son [and] my grandfather's namesake, my grandfather was very invested in my dad's being the son my grandfather wanted him to be ... a tough guy, who had no moral compunction about lying, cheating and doing whatever to promote the business. When he realized that my father was not that person, he treated him very harshly and humiliated him and essentially made sure that my father would be exactly the opposite of the kind of person he wanted him to be.

On her father's decision to leave the Trump family business to become a pilot

He had every intention of graduating from college and working for his dad, working his way up through the company and taking over someday and perpetuating the empire. That was his plan. It wasn't a burden. It wasn't something he felt was thrust upon him. He actively wanted to do this. It wasn't until he actually started working for my grandfather, however, that he realized that my grandfather wasn't going to give him any real responsibility or respect. And after three years, it became unbearable.

So my dad, who had earned his private and professional pilot's licenses when he was in college, decided that he needed to make a change. In 1963, [he was] accepted into a training class at TWA, which was the second-largest carrier at the dawn of the jet age, was a really big deal. He was one of the few people to make it who was not trained in the military. So it was an even bigger deal to go from flying prop planes on your own to flying jets. He was also given the very coveted Logan Airport in Boston to LAX route. But after four months of incessant torment and humiliation from his father and his siblings, he just couldn't do it anymore, because unfortunately, when one of the great tragedies of my father's life is that his father's opinion meant more to him than I think anything, and it broke him.

On Donald Trump seeing his niece in her bathing suit at Mar-a-Lago and saying, "You're really stacked"

Now I would say it's really creepy, but at the time it shocked me, partially because ... it was like he'd never seen me before. And to be fair, it [was] the first time anybody outside of my immediate family had seen me in a bathing suit, anybody who I was related to, because we weren't that kind of family. We didn't go on vacations together. We didn't go to the beach together. So he'd never seen me in a bathing suit before. But I was 29. I wasn't a kid. And I was pretty unflappable, I think, but it was really embarrassing and I just wanted to hide. ... It's just what he does. He says these outrageous things that are hurtful or insulting or wildly inappropriate and people laugh it off and don't hold him to account and he feels total impunity to continue doing such things — and he does.

On being surprised by the positive response to the book

It's incredibly gratifying that people seem to be responding to it. I never expected this kind of reception — and I'm not talking about the sales. I'm talking about the positive reviews and people seem grateful, and that's just amazing. I did not expect that, certainly not to this degree. But what really matters is that this book make an impact and make a difference. And I'm not entirely sure how that gets quantified, but that was the point and that's what I'm hoping for.

Amy Salit and Joel Wolfram produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

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