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Donald Trump Reminds Me of Bernie Madoff, Tom Vilsack Says

Trump Is to Politics What Madoff Was to Investment: Tom Vilsack 1:36

MT. PLEASANT, Iowa — Potential Democratic vice presidential pick Tom Vilsack compared Donald Trump to one of the most notorious fraudsters in U.S. history.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News in the town where he began his political career, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a strong condemnation of presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Image: Bernie Madoff on Dec. 17, 2008
Disgraced financier Bernie Madoff on Dec. 17, 2008. DON EMMERT / AFP - Getty Images, file

"Donald Trump is sort of to politics what Bernie Madoff was to investment," Vilsack said Saturday afternoon. "He is selling something that people don't fully understand and appreciate what it actually means."

Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme was uncovered in December 2008. The disgraced financier later pleaded guilty to running a fraud of up to $65 billion through his investment firm. Now 78, he is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence. His clients included the elderly and charities, especially Jewish philanthropic organizations.

Vilsack, a former two-term Iowa governor who is thought to be a dark horse to be presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's running mate, held nothing back when it came to trump.

He emphasized that he would not feel comfortable trusting his family's lives to the business mogul if he were to become commander in chief.

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"I don't trust someone who says to me we're going to be a safer nation by bringing torture back," the Cabinet member said. "I certainly don't think it's going to make us a safer nation by suggesting that more countries need nuclear weapons. So those kinds of statements, those kinds of positions concern me for the safety of my family, and I think Americans will feel that way."

Image: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on June 1, 2016
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during a press conference on June 1. THAIS LLORCA / EPA

When asked his reaction to Trump selecting Mike Pence as his running mate, Vilsack warned that the Indiana governor might have difficulties reconciling with some of Trump's more controversial positions.

"Certainly the issues involving Muslims were a concern to Gov. Pence before, I can't help but think they're still a concern to him," he said, referencing a Trump policy to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Vilsack directed any questions about his own vice presidential vetting process to the Clinton campaign.

However, he responded to criticisms that compared to other possible Clinton VP candidates, he is perhaps lacking when it comes to foreign policy.

"Look, here's what I know about foreign policy: I know that the United States of America is singularly the nation in the world that must be at the center of every problem we face globally. And it must lead that effort, I understand that," Vilsack said.

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He also noted how food and agriculture is vital to international relations, recalling a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan where the monarch asked for help bringing agriculture to Syria to aid the country and its refugees. Vilsack noted he'd traveled the world meeting with presidents, kings and prime ministers on the same issues.

"So I'm happy to talk about foreign policy. I'm happy to talk about America's relationship in the world. I'm happy to talk about the intricacies of the economics and the military aspects of all of this. Bring it on," he added.

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Vilsack was back in Iowa to attend a rededication ceremony of a town square fountain in honor of the late Mt. Pleasant Mayor Edd King.

King's 1986 murder shook the community, and ultimately paved the way for Vilsack to begin his journey in politics by succeeding the town leader as mayor.

"I was happy to come back in [King's] honor," Vilsack said.