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Release of FBI Documents Resurrects Past Racial Controversies at Trump Housing

The filings are again unearthing allegations against Donald Trump and his father of deliberate racial discrimination at their housing properties.
Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with airline executives in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.Evan Vucci / AP

As the Trump White House continues to wage a very public war with members of the national intelligence community, the FBI has released several hundred pages of records pertaining to one of the president's first public scandals — the 1970s investigation into allegations of deliberate racial discrimination at his family's housing properties.

Although President Donald Trump has long maintained that he never showed prejudice against prospective tenants of color, his management company was the subject of a Civil Rights Division lawsuit in 1973 alleging that he and his father had a system in place to keep African-Americans and Puerto Ricans out of their apartments.

In the FBI files released Wednesday, which were posted on the bureau's Freedom of Information Act website, a 1974 interview with a former doorman at a Trump property in Brooklyn highlights the allegations brewing at the time. The man said that he was told by his bosses that if a black person came to the location and inquired about an apartment for rent, he should "tell them that the rent was twice as much as it really was, in order that he could not afford the apartment."

The timing of the FBI's release comes amid strong rebukes from Trump and the White House about alleged leaks from the law enforcement and intelligence communities, which led to the early resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Monday over his communication with Russian officials in December — before Trump took office.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News about the timing of the documents' release.

The filings are again unearthing the lawsuits and allegations against the Trumps. In the 1970s, the Department of Justice reported that the family had used the letter "C" as a code for "colored people" on application forms from minorities.

The Trumps countersued, and in 1975, while not admitting guilt, settled the dispute by agreeing "to furnish the New York Urban League with a list of all apartment vacancies, every week, for two years."

They also were supposed to allow the league to present qualified applicants "for every fifth vacancy in Trump buildings where fewer than 10 percent of the tenants were black," according to The New York Times.

Related: 'Not Wanted’: Black Applicants Rejected for Trump Housing Speak Out

However, three years later, the Trumps were still on the defensive. In 1978, the government filed another motion against the family, this time alleging that they were not complying with the 1975 deal. And by 1983, the situation had not improved dramatically, with The Times reporting that at least 95 percent of two Trump properties were populated by whites only.

In his best-selling 1987 book, "The Art of the Deal," Trump claimed that their policy wasn't about race, but class. “What we didn’t do was rent to welfare cases, white or black," he wrote.

Criticisms of Trump's tactics in the 1970s was resurrected during last year's presidential election, when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton brought up the allegations with a video released in late October, featuring an African-American retired nurse who claims that she was denied an apartment in a Trump building because of her race.

"There is absolutely no merit to the allegations," Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email to NBC News at the time. "This suit was brought as part of a nationwide inquiry against a number of companies, and the matter was ultimately settled without any finding of liability and without any admission of wrongdoing whatsoever."

Related: Trump’s History Undermines New Outreach to Black Voters

In an earlier presidential debate, Trump dismissed the allegations again. "We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do," he said.

But last fall, several people who tried to rent from Trump disputed his claims. Stanley Leibowitz, an 89-year-old former rental agent, told NBC News that the president's father once told him: "You know I don't rent to the N-word."

"Donald Trump was right alongside his father when I was instructed to do that," he added.

The FBI has been criticized in recent months for the timing of another release.

Officials decided to put out paperwork related to former President Bill Clinton's controversial 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich only a few days before the November election in which Hillary Clinton was on the presidential ticket.

The FBI defended its actions at the time, telling The Associated Press that the Rich files "became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI's public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures."