Recording shows Trump saying he listens 'better to the African-American people' than Martin Luther King III
A new taping given to U.K. outlet the Independent shows how Donald Trump, in the days leading up to him taking office, said that he was more attuned to the needs of the African-American community than Martin Luther King III, the activist son of the famed civil rights leader.
The recording of the January 2017 Trump Tower meeting
, which included Trump and a host of top African American activists, had been set up by aides involved in Trump’s transition to power. As well as King, William Wachtel and Riverside Church pastor James Forbes were also in the room, the Independent reported. Wachtel is the son of Harry Wachtel, the late civil rights attorney.
The meeting was called to sort out perceived differences between Trump and the community as a whole, but it instead degenerated into “the most disastrous outreach meeting in the history of presidential transition,” one aide said.
The Independent reports
that taping and transcripts from the gathering show Trump made the meeting all about his own gripes, rather than those of the community he was meant to be reaching out to. Not just that, but he said he knew more about their issues than those in the room did.
“I listen better to the African-American people than anybody else. Anybody else in this room,” he said. In front of him was the son of Martin Luther King Jr., the most revered American civil rights leader of all time.
A Trump staffer who was there told the Independent there was shock on both sides of the room about Trump’s approach, and even a feeling that Trump may not have realized what the meeting’s purpose was.
“I was so embarrassed. Who in their sober, right mind would say to Martin Luther King III, whose father gave his life fighting for equality for people of colour, would say they did more — as in more than giving up your life — for black people than anybody else? I am 100 per cent convinced that he forgot who the heck he was talking to.”
The subject of the now-late John Lewis was then raised, and Black History Month 2017 was referred to, in terms of the transition team’s plans for the event. Lewis had, by that point, famously refused to attend Trump’s inauguration.
“I got treated very badly by John Lewis,” Trump said. “I always liked him but then all of the sudden he came out with this thing, and of course, sleepy eyes Chuck Todd plays it up, you know, big.” Todd is a host on the NBC network.
When Trump asked the group what they thought of Lewis, Wachtel said Lewis may have been working on behalf of others when he decided not to attend Trump’s big day. Trump said the move had backfired badly, and said it was “very bad in terms of our democracy.”
“You’re dying from laughing inside, but you can’t laugh because you’re in a serious place,” said Theodore Mukamal, a former aide to Wachtel, who recorded the meeting and gave the tape to the Independent.
Rather than discuss critical issues of concern, Trump went on to boast about getting more African-American votes that the previous two Republicans to have run for president, saying:
“I got many more votes than Romney, many more votes than McCain… we ended up with 11 per cent… and I’ll tell you, it’s much more if you add — many blacks didn’t go out to vote for Hillary (because) they liked me — that was almost as good as getting the vote.”
When Wachtel went into a spiel about voter turnout in America, and ways it could be improved by targeting young would-be voters, Trump didn’t seem overly interested.
“If we can get young people into those voting booths, and they realize that they can make a difference,” Wachtel said. “And John Lewis should know that better than anyone else.”
But Trump, drawing things to a close, simply said:
“I’m very surprised at John Lewis. Let’s take a picture.”
King diplomatically told reporters on the day that the meeting had been “very constructive,” and a Trump spokesperson said of the Independent’s recording:
“Donald Trump’s record as a private citizen and as president has been one of fighting for inclusion and advocating for the equal treatment of all. Anyone who suggests otherwise is only seeking to sow division and ignore the president’s work for underserved communities …”
But a Trump official who had been there at the meeting told the Independent it had been a terrible experience and a badly wasted chance for Trump.
“He (King) could have advised him (Trump) every step of the way on race relations in this country on domestic policy issues, that could help to rebuild — things that were important things like housing, poverty, and voting rights. Trump completely squandered an amazing opportunity to build a relationship with him.”
“At the time, you’re thinking that maybe he’s just waxing, you know, stupiditously, only to find out that here we are three years later, and that’s actually the essence of who he is. This is who he is.”