Donald Trump knows his life has made its inevitable turn into the homestretch. He’s 75. He’s overweight and overstressed. Which gives him confidence that he will win his last, most crucial bet, that the undertaker will beat the bailiffs to his door.
But Trump can’t outrun his shadow. Trump was born in 1946. Two and a half years later, David Cay Johnston arrived. Neither of them suspected that the shadow, always following behind, would become Trump’s Recording Angel.
In 1971 Trump took over the family business, real estate, mostly apartment buildings in the Outer Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. A year later, Johnston got into the news business, covering Michigan state government at the Lansing Bureau of the Detroit Free Press.
Before the 70s were over, both Trump and Johnston were playing in their businesses big leagues … while Trump was making his move to Manhattan as a politically-fixed hotel project, Johnston was doing deep journalism for the Los Angeles Times.
At that time, Trump’s Recording Angel was a reporter at the Village Voice named Wayne Barrett. Barrett had called out Trump’s corrupt connections, his racism, his bullying, and his lying, lying, lying. But Barrett’s village was Manhattan, his city and state were New York.
It was when Trump moved across the Hudson, where casino gambling was legal, that he acquired a second, serious shadow. David Cay Johnston’s first book, Temples of Chance, published in 1992 was all about the casino industry, hot Wall Street money and organized crime. Even then, Johnston and Trump had shared interests,
Over the next 20 years and more, Trump and Johnston mastered the same complicated subject: American tax law and how it could be be abused, or simply constructed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. While Trump was making, losing, and making more millions of dollars, and twisting the tax codes to keep almost all of them, Johnston was winning a Pulitzer Prize and writing four books. Most of his reporting was about the tax dance floor on which Trump was doing The Twist.
Then, things got serious. Trump didn’t move from crime to the White House — he moved crime to the White House, constructing the historic Cabinet of Grifters and enacting the tax crime of the century.
But his shadow, Johnston was right behind him, recording the Devil’s work in three books, the newest of which, hot off the presses, is The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family.
David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter and bestselling author. His new book is The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family. Johnston also authored The Making of Donald Trump and It’s Even Worse Than You Think. He has lectured on economics, journalism, and tax policy on every continent except Antarctica and is a former president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Johnston has been a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, the BBC, ABC World News Tonight, Democracy Now!, and NPR’s Morning Edition, among other shows, and was a consultant for the Netflix series House of Cards.