Donald Trump: The Art of the Informant

Art of the Informant

Donald Trump’s associations with people connected to organized crime have been a concern for some, and rightly so. The organized crime figures that Trump is known to have interacted with or done business with comprise an impressive list, and one that’s not just limited to American organized crime syndicates. Equally important, and almost completely ignored, is Donald Trump’s connections to the FBI. While it’s necessary for investigators to investigate and help the public understand the President-Elect’s connections to organized crime, it’s equally necessary to look at his relationship with the FBI, both as a separate issue and as context for his organized crime connections. The question for many has been “how did Donald Trump get away with all of these business deals and mob ties, if he’s so shady?” The answer seems to be offered in an old FBI memo, which indicates Donald Trump wanted to play both sides and work with the mob for the protection, advice, access (and increased profits) that would come with such partnerships while also working with the FBI for protection, advice and access (and increased profits).

Daniel Sullivan, a labor organizer and Teamster with ties to the mafia, had become an FBI informant assigned the number NY18904, working under Agent Walt Stowe, among others, and Supervisor Damon Taylor. By 1981, he was reporting to the FBI about his relationship with Donald Trump and the Trump Organization’s desire to build a casino in Atlantic City. Donald Trump soon reached out to the Bureau, ostensibly about his “reservations about building a casino in Atlantic City” because of the organized crime elements. This reasoning seems disingenuous, since one representative at the meeting (although “not as a matter of Bureau policy”) advised Donald Trump not to build the casino and that there were easier ways to invest his money.

The real purpose of the meeting was made apparent by how Trump steered it. The conversation soon became about how he should handle security, employee background checks and honesty – at which point Trump volunteered “that he wished to cooperate with the FBI.” According to the memo, the Agents at the time were unable to make any firm commitments, but “would be glad to re-discuss the situation” if Trump did decide to build the casino. (He did.)

When Trump next met the Agents, he made it clear that he had not only decided to build the casino but that he wanted to cooperate fully with the Bureau. This meant “providing full disclosure during the construction phase of this casino and subsequently, once the casino was operational. TRUMP stated that in order to show that he was willing to cooperate fully with the FBI, he suggested that they use undercover Agents within the casino.”

On the one hand, this is patriotic and admirable. Attempting to help law enforcement deal with (sometimes violent) organized crime is a worthy endeavor, but it doesn’t seem that Trump’s motives were quite so pure – and his commitment to the Bureau wasn’t as strong as he suggested. While assuring the Bureau’s Agents that he hadn’t compromised his offer to let them work undercover at his casino, Trump did admit to them that he was happy to use his new connections with the Bureau if it might “nip things in the bud” and prevent future, unspecified problems.

More significantly, in the same conversation, Trump did admit to the Bureau that he had disclosed his relationship with the FBI, naming specific Agents, and that he had outed an FBI informant that he was working with to others. According to Donald Trump’s call with the Bureau, he told Mickey Brown, then director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, about the Agents and Daniel Sullivan’s association with them. Amid rumors that the Division of Gaming Enforcement had been infiltrated by the mob, and considering Brown’s use of his position to create rules that would drive Steve Wynn to sell his Atlantic City Golden Nugget casino a few years later and Brown’s later involvement with several notable casinos, Trump had no reason to believe it was safe to disclose this information without checking first.

As it would later turn out, Brown’s association with the casino’s he would run in the future presented only a calm facade, as it would later be revealed that ran the casino was connected to civic corruption, as Governor John Rowland (later removed for corruption) responded to Brown’s letter of interest in opening a casino with reopening the bidding process for him in a legal maneuver which David O’Leary, Rowland’s Chief of Staff, reportedly admitted was designed to help cover up the monopoly and financial status of the tribe that would be running the casino.

While this FBI memo goes to great lengths to emphasize that Donald Trump didn’t appear to have actively compromised the proposed undercover operation, this may have simply been a matter of timing. These assurances were made as a result of a phone call on September 21, 1981 and memorialized in a memo written the next day. The official meeting to discuss implementing the proposal, which was “in [a] thoroughly finished state” wasn’t scheduled to take place until October 1.

Trump’s behavior, however, made his priorities clear – he wanted to use the FBI connections to pave the way for his business operations, and wasn’t afraid to take advantage of those connections before any formal agreement had even been reached. While he reportedly didn’t use the word “informant” he was happy to spread around the man’s connections to the FBI, despite his working in a field that Trump knew was rampant with corruption and organized crime. While the Agents believed that Trump was unaware of Sullivan’s status as an informant, and thus unable to betray it, Trump admitted later that Sullivan had bragged about his close ties to the FBI.

It’s unknown how far Trump’s relationship with the Bureau went, but it’s clear that he not only sought to develop one but that he sought to actively trade on it at every opportunity, even if it meant revealing that a man known to be working with organized crime was also working with the FBI. If his relationship with the Bureau continued, as Trump seemed to want, then it’s entirely possible that he’s shared information with them gathered from the infamous surveillance that he employs.

Donald Trump will not be the first President to have worked as an FBI informant – Ronald Reagan similarly worked as an informant to the FBI as part of his business career. This has been omitted from the publicly posted version of Reagan’s FBI file, along with the sections dealing with Iran-Contra and other corruption associated with his administration, but a FOIA request is pending for them. Similarly, requests have been filed on the FBI informant Trump was associated with and other follow-ups.

In the meantime, you can read the 1981 memo below.

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