Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of starting the birther controversy but Trump's own son praised his dad for "starting the conversation" about where Barack Obama was born.
Eric Trump's comments came during a series of previously unpublished interviews from 2014, in which he and his older brother, Donald Jr., compared him to Winston Churchill, bragged that he was paid $2 million to have dinner with the mother of a construction contractor, and insisted there were "hundreds" of billionaires who would "take a bullet" for the Republican presidential candidate.
In the interviews, conducted by author Michael D'Antonio for his book "The Truth About Trump" and provided to NBC News, the Trump sons struggled to defend their father's penchant for hyperbole and his "investigation" of Obama's birthplace. Donald Jr. suggested that he wasn't allowed to talk about Obama's origins because of political correctness: "I'm the white privileged son of a rich guy."
Birthers & Media Bias
Asked to explain his father's championing of claims that Obama was foreign-born, and thus ineligible for the presidency, Donald Jr. contended that his birther probe was more of a metaphor for media bias than an actual effort to prove Obama was an illegitimate office-holder.
"Whatever he wants to do, he's earned the right to say it, and frankly, right wrong or indifferent, whether people agree or not, I'm glad that someone actually has the proverbial fortitude — to use a word less vulgar than I'd like to go with it — to actually say, 'I don't care if it's popular,'" Trump Jr. told D'Antonio. "This is what I think."
"When you really break it down," continued Trump Jr., "what he's saying is, 'Hey, this is a guy that's been carried by the media. There are a lot of unanswered questions that anyone else would have to answer and we expect that they answer, and he hasn't for X, Y Z politically correct reason, and I don't believe that.'"
"I think what he's really getting at is, 'Hey, there's a broader picture here in that this guy's been given a, he's playing by a different set of rules or standards than anyone else historically, than anyone who's going to compete against him for the 2012 race.'"
When the biographer suggested that his father's birther campaign offended some voters, Donald Jr. said he understood that it did, but blamed a climate of political correctness. This portion of the conversation was previously reported by Buzzfeed.
"Don't we want politicians to have opinions about things that aren't swayed by public opinion? The problem is that everyone's trying to appease everyone, with 300 million people and every little opinion, and God forbid we offend the one person of the 300 million, and I don't know how you make a decision…I appreciate someone who has the moral conviction to stand by a belief, or even question it.
"What's wrong with questioning something these days? Whether it be political spectrum, across a racial divide, it's increasingly difficult for — and this is coming from, I'm the white privileged son of a rich guy. (laughs) There is a point where I'm not even allowed to have this conversation in America today, which again, I can have it, but it's a no-win proposition for me. It's the proverbial, 'Do you beat your wife?' question: No matter how you answer, if you don't take it far enough, you're a horrible despicable individual, or if you take it too far then you're — it's interesting."
Younger brother Eric credited his father with "starting a conversation" about Obama's birthplace that would not have taken place without him.
"There's always, I think, a moral to the story," he told D'Antonio. "I think with the birthers it's, 'Okay, well, then, just prove it.' Meaning these people are going out saying that which a lot of people were at the time. 'Then just show us. Just be transparent. You're the leader of the free world, be transparent.' There are underlying themes to this, and in fact, he has done his best to start the conversation that was unwilling to be had before. Now that conversation might flush itself out in one of several different ways. But at least the conversation is being had."
President Obama released the short form of his Hawaii birth certificate in 2008 and the long form in April 2012. Earlier in April 2012, Donald Trump announced he had asked investigators to find Obama's birth certificate. Last month, Trump admitted that Obama was born in the U.S. — but repeated his earlier false claim that Clinton had "started the birther controversy."
The $2 Million Dinner
In another passage from the transcripts, Donald Jr. recalled an incident when his father was taking bids from concrete contractors for a job on a Trump property — and one of them made an offer his dad didn't refuse.
"He gets on the phone with one of these guys, and he goes, 'Mr. Trump, I'll take $2 million off my contract — this is an $8 million contract, so it's 20 percent [sic] — 'I'll take $2 million off, but I want something from you. I want you to come have dinner with my mother, with me, at my mom's house.'"
The younger Trump said his father asked the man why he was willing to forego so much money.
According to Eric, the contractor explained to the senior Trump that if he showed up for dinner it would prove to his mom he was successful, that he'd made it. "And of course," said Eric, "[my father] did it. He probably had a great meal…..I was like, 'Wow, that was $2 million.' I don't care who you are. No one is going to get that nod.'"
Trump Jr. did not identify the contractor and D'Antonio said he did not know the identity of the man. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the incident.
Television's "Number One" Show
Eric Trump said that his father believes what he says about his businesses, even when it's not factually accurate.
"When you talk about, let's call it hyperbole — he's not doing it to create faux demand," he told D'Antonio. "He really believes that these things that he's creating — and that he spends seven hours debating over where to put a palm tree on a golf course — he really believes that these things are the greatest within that market…his passion is so real, and so there, that it's not hyperbole. He genuinely believes that this is what it is and the efforts that he's put in, it is what it is."
"We never stop dumping money into our properties and that's why they're always…you can go into — and I urge you to do this — if you go out and see our property in Las Vegas or Chicago, walk into one of the mechanical rooms," he told D'Antonio. "You could eat off the floor."
D'Antonio asked about Trump's previous claims that his reality show "The Apprentice" was the most popular show on television.
"He was proclaiming that 'The Apprentice' was the number one show when it was like number 73," D'Antonio said. "What is that?"
"He still looks at it as being number-one," Trump's son replied. "He looks at it as the best. He compares it to other shows that have been really hot, and perhaps exceeded that, but three seasons later and they're out. They're flashes in the pan. He looks at the show and says, 'It's still getting renewed.' And because of the sponsorship dollars, it's still making the most money of all of these other shows. A, it's a reality show, so the cost side is limited; B, because of the product placement that he's been able to do, he's getting a lot.
"And he's able to say, 'No other show can compete with this,'" the younger Trump said.
"As a business it IS the number-one show. So he knows there's something ahead of it in the ratings that week or that hour, but it's still very dominant. It's a force."
Bullets and Billionaires
Eric Trump acknowledged that his father can be a polarizing figure, but said that throughout history that's been a common theme among great political leaders and captains of industry.
Citing the success of "The Apprentice," Eric wondered aloud, "What is it that makes incredible men and women, what is it that makes people fascinated by incredible figureheads across history? Look at Rockefeller. Look at Carnegie. Look at J.P. Morgan. Look at Teddy Roosevelt. What causes that? These guys were all larger than life. Look at Churchill. Some of these guys weren't the most politically correct, but people loved them for some reason and they were interested in them. They were fascinated by them. I think in most cases, people were actually also jealous of them.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of jealousy."
Still, he explained, "I also think there's a tremendous amount of billionaires who — I can go through my contacts and his and I can count hundreds off the top of my head — who would take a bullet for him and our family."
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for the names of those billionaires.