No reporter has scrutinized Donald Trump longer and more closely than David Cay Johnston. Johnston met the future president in 1988 while investigating Trump’s casino operations in Atlantic City for The Philadelphia Inquirer, uncovering evidence of connections between Trump and the Mafia. Johnston’s subsequent exposés of the US tax system’s bias toward the rich and corporations, including his book, Perfectly Legal, have won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize. He spoke with The Nation’s Mark Hertsgaard about his new book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. —Mark Hertsgaard
Mark Hertsgaard: What’s been the biggest surprise of Donald Trump’s presidency so far?
David Cay Johnston: There aren’t any. What you have to understand about Donald is that he’s a con artist. He doesn’t think strategically; he thinks in the moment. So over time, he will be increasingly erratic and do more of what you’re seeing—trying to delegitimize everyone else, like the FBI, and sow confusion.
He faces one problem he’s totally unequipped for. A con artist takes advantage of his mark—during his business career, Donald stiffed his workers and his bankers—and moves on. He gets away with it because he doesn’t have to deal with the mark again; he just moves on to the next one. As president, he doesn’t have the freedom to move on; he has to continue dealing with foreign leaders, members of Congress, the news media, and others who can make life difficult for him. Donald doesn’t know how to build lasting relationships with people, and in politics and especially in government you need those kinds of relationships.
MH: Do you think Trump will serve out a full four-year term?
DCJ: It depends entirely on the outcome of the most important election this country will have had since the Civil War, the election this November. If Republicans retain control of Congress, there will be no impeachment proceedings. If the Democrats take control, they will immediately begin the most important thing, which is to hold public hearings examining Trump’s actions.
That’s important because, even though large numbers of people clearly don’t like Trump, they have no real idea who he is or what he is doing to our government. If people knew more of the truth about Trump and what he’s doing to our government, we’d be seeing more protests. For example, they have no idea about his years of dealings with a confessed drug trafficker. And my fellow journalists didn’t report that; I offered them all the documents and they wouldn’t print it.
[Editor’s Note: Johnston himself reported that the drug trafficker Trump befriended was Joseph Weichselbaum, a thrice-convicted felon who helped helicopter high-rollers to Trump’s Atlantic City casinos in the 1980s. When Weichselbaum was convicted of importing cocaine for sale in the United States, Trump urged a lenient sentence for him, telling a judge that Weichselbaum was “a credit to the community.”]