didn’t have his phone number, so I dialed the one listed in the phone book for the Trump Organization.
“Can I speak to Donald Trump?” I asked.
It was an audacious call. I had been working as a reporter in New York City for less than a year. I had never met the man, and at this moment Trump’s home and office were the epicenter of the most intense media frenzy I had ever witnessed.
“What do you want?”
The woman on the line was Norma Foerderer, Trump’s longtime gatekeeper and someone so integrally involved in all his dealings— business and personal— that The New York Times
had reported a few years earlier, “Some suspect she runs the company.”
At this point, all I knew about Donald Trump was what I had read in the newspapers or seen on television. But I figured I knew enough to say exactly the right thing to get him on the phone.
It was August 1994, and the public was fixated on the tabloid story of the decade: Michael Jackson had just secretly married Lisa Marie Presley— the King of Pop together with the daughter of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. And the newlyweds, who had not yet been spotted together in public, were trying to stay out of sight right in the middle of Manhattan— at Trump Tower.
The news had brought a mob of paparazzi, Michael Jackson fans, Elvis Presley fans, and a parade of onlookers hoping to catch the first glimpse of the married couple. So many people had surged to Trump Tower that the NYPD had cordoned off the sidewalks around the building, forcing the growing crowd to watch from across the street.
I was a twenty- six- year- old reporter more interested in politics than celebrity sightings and spent most of my time reporting on a new mayor in City Hall named Rudy Giuliani, but I was working for the New York Post
and on this particular day, my editors only cared about one story.
So I made what I believed would be a slam- dunk pitch to get Trump on the phone:
“I want to do a story on why the most famous newlyweds in the world would have their honeymoon at Trump Tower.”
And sure enough, I got a quick call back. Donald Trump was on the line telling me to come on over. Along with New York Post
photographer Francis Specker, I hustled uptown to Trump Tower. Walking past the police cordon set up to keep the paparazzi mobs away, I was whisked up to meet Trump in an office on the twenty- sixth floor filled with framed magazine covers featuring his favorite subject: Donald Trump.
It was a whirlwind from the start, a private tour of Trump Tower given by the man himself. The ground rules were simple: He would show me everything, I could use all the information he gave me, and I could quote him as “a source in the Trump Organization.” We met with Michael Jackson’s bodyguards and photographed the basement tunnels Jackson and Presley were using to get in and out without being spotted by the mob outside. He showed me a blue van with tinted windows in the garage— the couple’s secret getaway car.
He showed it all off— from basement to penthouse— and along the way my source in the Trump Organization gave me all the gossipy details. I learned the terms of Michael Jackson’s lease of the apartment directly below Trump’s own. He wanted me to know that Michael and Lisa Marie had lots of famous neighbors. Steven Spielberg had an apartment on the sixty- fourth floor, Andrew Lloyd Webber on the sixtieth. My source pointed out apartments he said were owned by Elton John, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Sophia Loren, and the British royal family. He told me of a woman who bought one apartment for several million and then bought the one below so she could put in a swimming pool. “It’s the most expensive pool in the world,” a source in the Trump Organization told me.
None of this was serious, but my editors at the New York Post
ate it up. They had a screaming front- page headline—“INSIDE MICHAEL’S HONEYMOON HIDEAWAY”— and four separate articles inside the newspaper, including one headlined “Tour Bares the Secrets of Lisa and Michael’s Honeymoon Nest.” If any of the residents of Trump Tower were unhappy with the New York Post
’s printing a graphic of the building with arrows pointing to where they lived, they would need to take it up with a source in the Trump Organization. The Post
had a big exclusive for the front page and I had a new source.
At one point while he was showing me his apartment on the sixty- eighth floor— the same floor plan and décor as Michael’s, he told me— Trump stopped, turned, and asked if I wanted a picture. At first, I was a little confused. Didn’t he notice I had come with a photographer who had been snapping photos the entire time? But I quickly realized he was asking if I wanted to get a picture taken with him. And with that I stood next to Donald Trump and faced photographer Francis Specker.
At some point while I was still in New York, I put the photo in a frame, but when I moved to Washington some two decades ago, I tossed it in a box of other old photographs. And for more than a decade it has been in the box down in my basement. Looking at the picture now, it appears to me as if it just came out of a time capsule. I am wearing a heavily wrinkled suit and a tie I almost certainly bought for three dollars from a New York street vendor. The background is pure Trump: a crystal chandelier, glossy marble, a decadent ceiling adorned with carved stone, and gold— lots of gold. I have long hair and the awkward grin of a reporter trying to figure out why the guy he’s interviewing suddenly stopped to pose for a photograph with him. As for Trump, he is considerably slimmer than he is now, but it is striking how little about his appearance has changed: He’s wearing the same style of dark suit he wears now, the same long red tie, the same facial expression I have seen in a thousand other photos.
As my secret tour of Trump Tower ended, I figured this wouldn’t be the last time I’d call him and get a quick call back, but I had no idea where it would lead. I was a cub reporter for a New York tabloid. He was a flamboyant real estate developer with a scandalous personal life. As I shook his hand, I couldn’t have begun to imagine his journey would ultimately lead to the White House, and so would mine.
Copyright © 2020 by Jonathan Karl. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.