Donald Trump And The Making Of A Predatory President
In the New York Military Academy’s 1964 yearbook, there is a striking photo of a young man with a young woman by his side. He stares smugly into the camera under the caption “Ladies Man.”
This young man would go on to become president of the United States.
“The young lady in the picture, however, was not graduating senior Donald Trump’s girlfriend. Nor was she a visiting friend,” write journalists Barry Levine and Monique El-Faizy in their new book, “All The President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator.”
“The woman in the picture is 19-year-old Fran D’Agati Dunn, a secretary who worked at the school at the time and was asked to step in for the photo. Nothing more than a prop.”
It is this sort of narration, combined with a stunning 43 new allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct, that makes “All The President’s Women” such an impactful read. Levine and El-Faizy painstakingly document Trump’s decadeslong history of treating women as objects and accessories, from making derogatory comments to walking into the dressing rooms of underage beauty queens to alleged rape.
We wanted to look at not just what he had done, but why and what it meant.
In early 2018, when adult film star Stormy Daniels was dominating the news cycle, Levine took notice. Between Daniels’ claim that Trump had paid her hush money and the accounts of 20 other women who came forward against Trump during the 2016 election, Levine knew there had to be more there.
Once he started digging, he realized he wanted to collaborate with another seasoned journalist, specifically a woman, on the project. After a couple of initial conversations, he decided he wanted to work with El-Faizy to tell a story that went beyond individual allegations of inappropriate behavior.
“I think we wanted to look at not just what he had done, but why and what it meant,” said El-Faizy. “How he came to be formed as the predator he became.”
HuffPost spoke with Levine and El-Faizy about the more than 100 interviews they conducted over the year they were writing the book, the patterns that emerged, and what the predatory behavior of the “most visible man on earth” says about our culture at large.
You reported 43 new allegations of misconduct against the president in this book. How did you all just go about locating the women that you spoke to? And also what made these women want to share their stories publicly?
Levine: It was extremely difficult. It was a very intensive period to cover, and that’s why I focused on the reporting while Monique was able to shape the narrative. But in terms of the women, I was fortunate ― in addition to finding Monique ― there were two other journalists that I was able to put together on my small team. One was Whitney Clegg, an investigative producer who re-interviewed some of the victims who came forward in 2016. And then I also was able to collaborate with Lucy Osborne, a producer for the BBC in London, who had done a documentary on Donald Trump and women. She had some leads on some women, particularly young models, that she had wanted to chase down. So she went off in one direction, Whitney went off in another direction, Monique was taking all the interviews as we were filing them and, under a tremendous deadline, turned the book into what I would consider a great read.
But I’ll just tell you one story, about Karen Johnson. She’s the woman who made the allegations about the night at Mar-a-Lago during a New Year’s Eve party, [during the time] when Melania Trump was dating Donald Trump. [Johnson says that] when Melania was upstairs, she was attacked [by Trump]. She said he had actually done to her [what he described doing in] the “Access Hollywood” tapes, in terms of grabbing her. She was someone who held onto this story for many, many years, and was fearful originally to come out with this story because she had been a dancer in her earlier life. And she thought, if I come out and say this, they’re going to attack me, they’re going to call me a liar because I had once been a dancer. And so she kept this secret.
It took me two full months before she even felt comfortable to begin telling me the details. So, it’s been a very emotional journey in terms of getting these brave and courageous women to come forward. And I just have to say, I’m just so thankful that I was able to work with Monique and Lucy and Whitney to pull all this together.
What patterns emerged for you as you were going through all of the reporting?
El-Faizy: To me, that was the unexpected power of the book. We’ve all heard the stories, the women would come forward one by one. But when you put it all in one space, first of all, it’s enormous, and that’s shocking in and of itself, but these patterns really do emerge. [Trump] clearly has a thing for younger women. He started talking about Ivanka being sexy when she was around the same age as these models that he was kind of staring at backstage and pursuing at parties. So that’s one of the patterns.
He likes porn stars, as we’ve seen throughout his life. And he has these habits. He’ll push somebody against the wall and try and kiss them. He’ll grab a breast or a buttock. When he’s in a property that he owns, whether it be a hotel or Mar-a-Lago, he feels that he has the right to walk in on a woman in her room.
What’s interesting is that there were very few one-offs. We only put things in [the book] that fit the pattern, because he has such well-established patterns over the years. What was powerful about that is, when we would interview the women, almost all of them in some way blamed themselves: “What kind of vibe was I putting off? What was I wearing?” And when you look at them in the context of these patterns, you realize it has almost nothing to do with that woman. If it wasn’t that woman, it would’ve been another woman wearing something else and putting off a totally different vibe.
He’ll push somebody against the wall and try and kiss them. He’ll grab a breast or a buttock. When he’s in a property that he owns, whether it be a hotel or Mar-a-Lago, he feels that he has the right to walk in on a woman in her room.
I think that really comes across in the book, especially when you get to the end and you’re reading the appendix, which outlines every single allegation. There are stories that you’ll get to one and say, oh, that sounds exactly like that other woman’s story, down to the details. It’s very striking.
Levine: About six months into the reporting, we were getting all these new stories, in addition to cataloging the earlier allegations that were made in 2016. And at the same time, I was also digging into research and finding stories about [Trump’s] inappropriate behavior with women that had popped up in the media but had never really been cataloged ― everything from making horrible comments to a model that was seated at a table with Graydon Carter, to incidents where he himself said that he attacked women, [like] pouring a glass of wine on a reporter in New York.
To me, [these incidents] all needed to be cataloged. I think it’s very powerful, after you go through the beautifully shaped narrative that Monique wrote, that you then get, in very black and white fashion, every single allegation of inappropriate behavior, in addition to the disparaging comments that I found he made involving so many women. I just think when you read them one after another, it is extremely impactful. And so the appendix of this book, to me, is as important as the narrative itself.
As you both alluded to earlier, you take a deep look into Trump’s early years, which is probably something that most readers will know less about. To me, it seemed like his treatment of women as objects and accessories began very early. Would you say that that’s accurate?
El-Faizy: Absolutely. That’s why I chartered the book the way I did. In his graduation photo from the military academy, the woman standing next to him is an accessory. To me, that said it all.
And I think that that comes from his father, too. His father would bring these young, pretty girls up to the academy. From what his classmates say, these were not women that Donald Trump knew or had any kind of relationship with. They were just girls that his dad would bring up for him, presumably for the image of it. So I think that he didn’t develop that attitude in a vacuum.
And how do you think those early experiences with women then impacted his relationship with women later on in his life?
El-Faizy: What’s interesting is that he never changes. We interviewed one of his classmates, Sandy McIntosh, who said, “We were in an all-male academy. We learned about women and girls from Playboy magazine. But then we got out and realized, oh no, that’s not an appropriate way to look at women.”
And Trump just never made that change. To me, what’s interesting is that nothing later in his life impacted him enough to force him to reconsider his attitude.
The book also gets into Trump’s obsession with models, with Playboy, and with beauty pageants. You include a quote from a former Miss Arizona who says that she believes Trump purchased the Miss Universe organization explicitly “to utilize his power to get around beautiful women.” What did you take away from that?
El-Faizy: Trump is, at his heart, a business guy. And if that’s your mind state, you buy whatever you want in life. He had the money to do it; he wanted these women, so he just went out and bought access to women, with the beauty pageant, with the modeling agency. And I think for a lot of these men, it’s as much about being around the women as it is how it looks to other men.
There’s a story in the book from a hairstylist who used to blow-dry Marla Maples’ hair. And he told me that Trump would come into the salon and just stand by her chair and look around and see who was watching him be with Marla. So it wasn’t that much about, “Oh, I want to see my girlfriend Marla.” It was about, “I want to be seen in the presence of this young, beautiful blonde.” It’s the equivalent of driving a red Ferrari.
Levine: I tend to take a much darker view of those years. It’s absolutely clear in the book that for Donald Trump, creating his own modeling agency and being a part of some of these other beauty pageants and contests that he would arrange parties for at the Plaza Hotel in the ’90s — that became his personal hunting ground.
Take the story, for instance, that Heather Braden told. Heather was a model, and she told a story where Trump and these actors were in this giant Miami Beach mansion with like 50 models. It really wasn’t a party. The whole thing was an exercise for Donald Trump and these three other men to see how many of these models they could take in the private rooms, sometimes two or three women at a time.
Heather was older at the time, and she was kind of watching everything take place. She turned down Trump, but she said these younger models didn’t know any better. And they would come out disheveled; they would look very uncomfortable when they came out of the private rooms, and there was no question in her mind that these were sexual experiences taking place. Donald Trump had created this private hunting ground to allow himself access to young models. And he formed a very tight relationship with John Casablancas, the founder of the Elite modeling agency.
For Donald Trump, creating his own modeling agency and being a part of some of these other beauty pageants and contests … that became his personal hunting ground.
This book puts all of these allegations together and uncovers a lot of new information, but for years now, there has been a pretty well-documented history of Trump’s misogyny and sexual misconduct. And yet it largely has not been seen as a dealbreaker for his supporters. Why do you think that there are a lot of people who feel allegations of sexual misconduct can be dismissed or overlooked?
El-Faizy: Yeah, it’s interesting. I had written a book about evangelical Christianity years ago, so I went back to that community for this book because, of course, the evangelical community is probably what put Trump over the edge in 2016. That community is very much run by male leaders, and so it was the men who really drove that train for Trump.
One of the evangelical women I spoke to and I said, “What is it? Why are they supporting him?” She said, “I think that a lot of them think, ‘If I wasn’t a Christian, that’s what I would be doing.’” Trump is surrounded by porn stars and beautiful blondes and whatever. And so she thought there was a certain kind of male envy.
The structure of the evangelical church, where Trump gets the bulk of his support, is very patriarchal. For them, this kind of patriarchy is what God has instructed them to do, and they find all kinds of different ways of rationalizing it. Early on, I called an old source of mine. I said, “how on earth are you supporting him?” And they said, “God uses imperfect vessels.” So they rationalize it by saying, [Trump] is being used, he’s a tool of God. He doesn’t need to be perfect, we’re all sinners. But at the very core of their support is just a comfort with patriarchy and the idea that women are supposed to be submissive to men.
And then the more cynical answer is the community supports him because he does what they want him to do. He gets them conservative judges, he’s helping roll back abortion laws, things like that. But in terms of the women being able to support him, it’s because they live within a world in which they’ve completely accepted the idea of patriarchy.
I feel like another sentiment that I hear a lot, even among people who believe that Trump is predatory, is exhaustion and frustration that these allegations don’t seem to stick to him. So, why bother? What would you say to those people?
El-Faizy: I think that’s part of the reason why it was important to put all these [allegations] in one place, because it is easier to dismiss individual behaviors. But when you look at it all in the aggregate, you realize it’s not really just about one man’s behavior; it is about systems that allow this behavior to go on for decades and decades. Trump is one of many men who has been able to be predatory with women. I would argue, right now, he’s the one we should be looking at because he’s the most visible man in the world and he sets an example. But there needs to be a look at the systems that allow this to go on.
When we brush aside or when we say we’re tired of this, we’re being complicit, we’re letting it go on. We have to get outraged about every one of these things. I’m now sort of going off-topic a little bit, but when I read the Ta-Nehisi Coates book “Between the World and Me,” that was the thing that I came away with. We can’t just say, “Oh, there’s another black kid getting shot.” We have to be outraged every time or this never ever changes.
It’s not really just about one man’s behavior; it is about systems that allow this behavior to go on for decades and decades.
Levine: This is a man who wants another four years to be president of our country. You can’t say, ‘Who cares?’ You can’t turn away from the truth.
Given the sheer breadth of allegations that exist against President Trump, do you think that we should be speaking about him in the same way that we speak about predatory men like Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein?
El-Faizy: I think absolutely.
Levine: The reporting shows that Donald Trump has been a predator over the course of many decades. There needs to be a reckoning here of his behavior. And we had to attempt to connect the dots to show not only the actual instances of the allegations but also to talk about how he became a predator. And I hope that the readers will get answers to that.
Why is it so essential for the American public to grapple with Trump’s predatory behavior? What does this one man’s story say about our culture at large?
El-Faizy: I think it’s his behavior, but also his policies. His behavior reveals an attitude about women, and that attitude is being held by the man who formed policy for American women and also for women around the globe. And we see the manner in which those attitudes are affecting women around the world, and the systems that are supporting these kinds of things.
What was so hurtful about the confirmation [of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh] was that you had an accuser [Christine Blasey Ford] who came forward, she was credible, people listened to her. And yet there was very little investigation and he was confirmed anyway. So I think a lot of women felt like, we thought we made all these advances since the ’60s, but in fact, the patriarchy is alive and well and still completely in control of the system. And I think that’s important to examine.
So now the book is out there in the world and we have this information. What should we be doing with it? What do you hope comes next?
Levine: I really think it is so important now, despite everything else going on with the impeachment inquiry, that investigative news organizations take the time to pick up these allegations and dig deeper because there are still so many stories. There is so much more material out there on Donald Trump and women.
When I was wrapping up the book, the E. Jean Carroll allegations [that Trump had attempted to rape Carroll in the mid-’90s] surfaced. And first of all, after the reporting I had done, everything that she said rang true. But beyond that, there were news organizations who were wrestling with whether they were going to present her allegations to begin with. And to me, that is the absolutely wrong thing. We need to allow these women to tell their stories. To me, that’s the most important thing.
El-Faizy: I think that we’ve seen that women are not fully valued in society and we need massive change. And I think that the midterm elections with all these young, newly elected women, were the beginning of that. And I hope that that’s not just a one-off and that that continues, because until we reach parity in the power structures of organizations and in government, this is not going to be fully addressed and fully changed. We need to see more women getting elected and that this is not just a moment, but actually the beginning of some real change.
Levine: I hope that even if people hear these allegations and don’t even read the book, that it will make them aware that the story of Donald Trump and women, his predatory behavior, has not been fully written, and that this is something they should remember when they consider whether or not they want him to be president for another four years.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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