Donald Trump, chairman and president of The Trump Organization and the executive producer of NBC’s "Celebrity Apprentice," spoke with Larry King on Tuesday about the public’s furor with AIG, the Bernie Madoff saga and the nation’s economic woes.
The following is an edited version of the interview. Larry King: We have public anger over the AIG bonuses. Is it justified Donald Trump: Well, it’s unbelievable anger. I heard people saying things that you wouldn’t even believe — a very major senator saying that the people that did this should commit suicide. That’s a pretty strong statement, I would say. It is very bad politics in terms of what AIG did. They took $165 billion in money from the government and now they’re going around giving out bonuses and giving people bonuses that really, in many cases, did not do a very good job and, in many cases, took the bonus and left right after the bonus. The bonuses were supposed to hold these people together and hold them into the company. I think it’s a very, very foolish thing that they did, and certainly should have used a different name if they had to do something. King: We — the collective we — we the people, own 80 percent of AIG. Should we allow it to fail
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Trump: Well, Larry, now that you’re in for $160 billion, it’s a lot harder to walk away. I think AIG has the politicians right where they want them. Frankly, I think letting Lehman fail was far worse than letting AIG fail. Watch how AIG is tied to global economy » Think of this, Larry. The car companies want $35 billion. These people got $165 billion already and they’re going to get a lot more. I don’t know. It sounds, to me, just absolutely insane. King: Can we get the bonuses back Trump: Well, it’s pretty tough because supposedly they have iron-clad contracts and some of the people got their bonuses and already left. They took millions of dollars. The following day, they left. The reason for the bonus was to keep them in the company, supposedly. So they took the bonus and they left. I don’t think those people are going to be giving the bonuses back, Larry. Watch how Congress plans to recoup the AIG bonuses » King: A new CNN/Opinion Research poll — 45 percent of the public believes another depression is likely within the next year. Do you Trump: Well, you know, I was one of the first ones that said depression and used the word depression a couple years ago, because I have a lot of experience with banks and I see how incompetent some of the banks were. Now what’s happened is the government really has stuffed the banks with money. They’ve stuffed them. The banks aren’t loaning the money. The banks should be ashamed of themselves. The banks have taken all of this money, billions and billions, and they don’t loan 10 cents. But the fact is because of that and some other moves, I don’t believe you’ll have a depression, but it could get a little bit worse before it gets better. King: What’s your read on how the president is doing Trump: I think he’s really trying. He inherited a mess. Mr. Bush gave him a total mess, but he’s really trying hard. I think he’s doing as well as can be expected thus far, and I think, ultimately, he will be successful. King: Is there anything he isn’t doing he should do Trump: Well, the word, “stimulus,” is probably not used in its fullest, Larry, when he’s — you know, certain of the things that were given weren’t really stimulus. They were pork, as we call it, or they were gifts to certain people. But overall, I think he’s doing very well. You do need stimulus and you do have to keep the banks alive. King: We have an e-mail question for you, Donald. If you were in charge of distributing federal bailout money, how would you prioritize it Who would you allocate it to” Trump: I’ve always liked the fact that when you give money to the taxpayers to everybody, like whether it’s $1,000 a head, $5,000 a head, those people will, to at least an extent, go out and spend the money. In a way, that’s more direct stimulus than the kind of things we’re doing, which are very complicated, very, very political and really very dangerous and very costly. So I’ve always liked the idea of either a tax decrease or just handing out checks to virtually everybody based on what they’ve been paying over the years. King: Prosecutors now, Donald, are trying to say some $100 million in assets, most of it listed in Ruth Madoff’s name — are fruit of her husband’s (Bernie Madoff) crime and should be forfeited. What do you think Trump: The man is a total disaster. You know, I was in Palm Beach many times when I got to meet Mr. Madoff, and everybody thought he was like the cat’s meow. It was very interesting. So many people invested with this guy. I’d say, “Who do you invest your money with” They’d say Madoff and they’d stick their chest out like they went to the Wharton School, right They’d just stick their chest, “I’m with Madoff.”
King: How did he get away with it, Donald Trump: Well, the economy kept him going. Because people were stupid enough or foolish enough to just keep pouring money into his accounts. So, as other people wanted their money, he would take the new money coming in. It was the ultimate Ponzi. They’ll probably change the name of Ponzi to Madoff. It was really the ultimate scheme.