Opening The Books On Donald Trump's Business Deals In Atlantic City
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Donald Trump is running for president without ever having held elected office, but he offers as qualifications his record as a great businessman and dealmaker. This week, he tweeted that he will make the American economy sing again. Here's an example of what Trump promised last June when he announced that he was entering the race for the Republican nomination for president.
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DONALD TRUMP: Rebuild the country's infrastructure. Nobody can do that like me. Believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below cost, way below what anyone ever thought.
GROSS: My guest, Robert O'Harrow, a reporter with The Washington Post's investigative unit, has examined Trump's business practices and the promises he made when Trump acquired Atlantic City's Taj Mahal before the Taj was completed. The Taj was Atlantic City's largest casino hotel complex when it opened in 1990. Trump already owned two other Atlantic City casinos, Trump Plaza and Trump Castle. These three casinos could have enabled him to dominate gambling on the East Coast. But the year after the Taj opened, it filed for bankruptcy.
O'Harrow says this was the first and most significant of the four bankruptcies Trump's companies have experienced. Robert O'Harrow, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with why you wanted to examine Donald Trump's business deals. Why did you choose the Taj Mahal as the focus of your longest piece?
ROBERT O'HARROW: We decided to look at bankruptcies in general after the issue came up over and over again in the debates. In each case, Donald Trump assured voters and viewers that he personally had never gone bankrupt, and so we thought we ought to examine the details and find out what sort of culpability might have he had, what forces were working against him.
And in doing that, it became clear to us that the Taj stood as perhaps his most - the most significant bankruptcy that he was involved with. It was his first, and it had some elements to it that were seen strikingly germane to the current election.
GROSS: So why did he want the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City?
O'HARROW: In the 1980s, Donald Trump made a successful move into the casino business in Atlantic City, and he had acquired and built two casinos. And there came an opportunity to get involved with the Taj Mahal when the then-owner of it died suddenly and the company, Resorts International, went into flux. And so Donald Trump saw an opportunity to become the dominant gambling force in Atlantic City.
GROSS: And the Taj Mahal was only what, like, half completed by then? It wasn't a functioning casino yet. It was still being built.
O'HARROW: No, it was what many people at the time called a white elephant. It was the dream of the resort's owner to build this tremendous, lavish, giant facility. But it stalled for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the financing. And so yes, it was a hulking, half-finished building.
GROSS: So when Donald Trump took over the Taj Mahal casino, he had to convince the casino commission that he could raise enough money to complete the project. And he bragged that he could get a better deal than other developers could get and that he wouldn't have to rely on junk bonds. And just so we can understand, could you explain what junk bonds are and why Donald Trump tried to convince the commission that he would avoid using them?
O'HARROW: Well, I should point out first here that this is one of the reasons why we thought this was such a relevant story to today. And the key here is that Donald Trump had to convince this commission that he could raise enough money at a low enough interest rate to make this ambitious project feasible.
And what he told the commission in early 1988 was that he wouldn't use a type of loan called a junk bond. And a bond, of course, pays people loaning the money a certain amount of interest rate in exchange for loaning the money. Junk bonds are called junk bonds because they're very high-risk, and, as a result, they pay a much higher interest rate than a traditional loan or, let's say, a mortgage would pay. So junk bonds were available to a whole host of developers and entrepreneurs back in the '80s.
The problem, of course, is the more interest you take on, the higher the risk of the failure of the project because it means you have to make more money to pay off the loans. Now, at the time, junk bonds were very common. But Donald Trump appeared before the commission, and he made a very, very stark promise. And he did it in a way that has similarities to some of his statements today. He did it with disdain, and he did it in an unequivocal way. And he said, for example, that he would get loans from regular banks not junk bonds, and he said junk bonds are ridiculous. He said the funny thing with junk bonds is that junk bonds are what make - what made the companies junk. And he said - he just flat out said he would not use them, and that was in February of 1988.
GROSS: Yeah, and I want to quote him from a transcript of one of these Casino Commission hearings. He said, I don't have to use junk bonds. I can use my own funds or I can use regular bank borrowing, so I can build at the prime rate. I mean, the banks call me all the time. Can we loan you money? Can we do this? Can we do that? And he also says it's easier to finance if Donald Trump owns it. With me, they know that there's a certainty that they would get interest. I get it done, and everybody is happy. And it turns out successfully. So those are the promises he was making to the Casino Commission.
O'HARROW: That's right. What he was selling was himself, and he said he could pull off this project for one main reason - because he was Donald Trump.
GROSS: Was Donald Trump able to get the lower interest bank loans that he promised? 'Cause he promised, I won't use high-interest junk bonds. I'm going to get good rates from banks.
O'HARROW: No, the striking thing for us is just months after he received the approvals that he needed for the Taj, he discovered the prime-rate loans never materialized. He was still determined to move forward. As he told me in a phone conversation, he didn't want to be personally liable for whatever happened, so he went ahead and got the junk bonds after all and paid roughly 50 percent more than he had told the commission he would in order to raise $675 million.
GROSS: So Trump ends up doing what he said he wouldn't do, financing the Taj with the help of junk bonds. He wanted the Taj to be the biggest and the most luxurious, extravagant, whatever casino. It was definitely going to be the biggest. But were there, like, extravagances that he spent money on that he maybe had second thoughts about later when he went bankrupt?
O'HARROW: I've never heard him express any regrets about what he spent money on, but he definitely spent a lot more money than he originally projected. His plans included super deluxe suites and crystal chandeliers and all these expenses, and Trump was questioned about it. And they pressed him about his projected costs which were going to add luxury suites and gourmet restaurants and opulent fixtures, and the commission referred to them as extras.
And one of the commissioners asked him, don't people have to live within their means? And Trump responded that the costs were insignificant, and that they were really necessary to impress customers. He said we are probably talking about a difference of 50 million or so. He said, I mean, the worst thing to happen with the Taj Mahal is for the building to open and for people to have been disappointed with it because word-of-mouth on something like this is so important. He said, it's like a Broadway show.
GROSS: Right. If word-of-mouth is bad in a Broadway show, it's going to close.
O'HARROW: He added one thought that I - depending on your point of view - is true or ironic. He said, my basic attitude has always been that I want to do what is good for Atlantic City.
GROSS: So the Taj Mahal opened in April of 1990. Michael Jackson was the star guest. How were Trump's finances by the time the Taj actually opened?
O'HARROW: Only some people seemed to understand it at the time, but it soon became clear that his company's finances were in dire straits. He had taken on too much debt in a number of different areas, including his other casinos. And so when it came time to pay the interest payments on his junk bonds, the Trump company finances went into a tailspin. And so to jump forward a little bit in July 1991, the Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy.
GROSS: What does that mean exactly?
O'HARROW: That's when you're seeking protection from creditors in order to reorganize your finances. And this is a very important point, Terry, because this is one of the ways Donald Trump says that he's a great negotiator. When you go into bankruptcy, you begin negotiating with the lenders, and in this case, it included large banks who were in it to try to make lots of money. And Donald Trump began negotiating and trying to rearrange the deal in order to salvage his ownership of the Taj.
GROSS: Was he able to renegotiate the deal?
O'HARROW: He was, and he ended up giving - eventually on not only the Taj but on the two other casinos over the next couple of years - gave up significant ownership of those to the banks as part of the negotiations.
GROSS: So he could brag that he negotiated a great deal, but the deal depended on him giving up a lot of what he owned and handing it over to the bank.
O'HARROW: A lot of these circumstances depends on how you view the outcomes and if - how you decide to frame it. And Donald Trump has framed these bankruptcies and others and his experience in Atlantic City as an extremely profitable set of endeavors for him. So he says that he was at the helm, at a time when Atlantic City was going through a very tough economic time, that everybody was suffering from it.
The East Coast was suffering from an economic downturn where he ascribes much of the blame for the troubles, and he said - he told me that he had no regrets whatsoever about how things unfolded. He said, the Taj Mahal was a very successful job for me. He said, it's not personal. This was just business. And then he said, I got out great.
GROSS: If you just look at it mathematically, how much money did Donald Trump make or lose by the time he sold the Taj?
O'HARROW: It's a terrific question because in some ways it's unanswerable. Because the Taj was a private company, it's hard for anybody to get deep into the books and to be able to pass judgment on exactly how much he was up or how much he was down. But the Casino Control Commission did some studies of his numbers, and they're really interesting. About the time the Taj was opening, that casino and his two other casinos had a total of about $1.3 billion in debt. And Trump himself personally had guaranteed 833 million of it, and that's according to the Casino Control Commission.
There was a lot of debate. What was his net worth? Trump said that it was about 1.4 billion. Forbes Magazine put it at about 500 million. And the Casino Control Commission reported that it was actually worth 206 million, and that's because - how do you do the math? Well, Donald Trump did the math on the value of the assets that he was involved with. The others did the math subtracting how much debt was owned by other people. It gets complicated, but one of the things that we know is that by March of 1991 - and this is a year after the casino opened - the Casino Control Commission said that he was in noncompliance - that's their word - on $1.1 billion in loans across his empire and that included the Taj, Trump Shuttle Airline, which we haven't mentioned he owned that, the Castle, which was another casino, Trump Palm Beach Corp. down in Florida and Mar-a-Lago, the spectacular estate in Florida. So that's a lot of detail for you, and it's suffice to say that to stay afloat, he had to give up the airline. He gave up a very expensive yacht and other holdings in order to keep his enterprises going.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert O'Harrow. He's a reporter with The Washington Post. He works on the investigative unit, and he's written several articles about Donald Trump's businesses examining his business practices. And in his largest article so far about Donald Trump's business practices - is about the Taj Mahal casino. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow, who's a reporter in the investigative unit. And what he's been examining lately - well, one of the things he's been examining lately is Donald Trump's business practices.
Donald Trump has never held elected office, but he's promised that because he is such a great businessman and makes such great deals that he'd be able to do a great job running the country and making business deals and so on. The largest article that O'Harrow has written so far about Trump has to do with the Trump Taj Mahal, the large casino that Trump owned and then sold after it went into bankruptcy.
So when you file for bankruptcy for your business but you own all the shares in the business and it's a private company, where is the line between a personal and a corporate bankruptcy, especially if you've personally guaranteed some of the loans that your company has taken out?
O'HARROW: You've just asked a question that they examine in the best law schools in the country. But suffice it to say that there is a line, and he filed corporate bankruptcies, not personal bankruptcies here. And he has rightfully pointed out that the law provides bankruptcy in a positive way. It's to enable entrepreneurs to restructure and to keep going rather than just fail outright.
And so, you know, we need to note something that he has said repeatedly is that he used the laws of the nation to his own benefit. And everybody's going to have to decide on their own the degree to which he was personally involved here and what that means to them because there's no question this was a corporate bankruptcy.
GROSS: So we actually have a clip standing by of exactly what you talking about, so let's listen to this clip. And this is an excerpt of the first Republican debate hosted by Fox News. This is August 6, 2015, and the person asking the question is Chris Wallace.
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CHRIS WALLACE: Trump Corporation's casinos and hotels have declared bankruptcy four times over the last quarter-century. In 2011, you told Forbes Magazine this - I've used the laws of the country to my advantage. But at the same time, financial experts involved in those bankruptcies say that lenders to your companies lost billions of dollars. Question, sir. With that record, why should we trust you to run the nation's business?
TRUMP: Because I have used the laws of this country just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera. I have never gone bankrupt, by the way. I have never. But out of hundreds of people...
WALLACE: ...No, but sir, that's...
TRUMP: Excuse me.
WALLACE: ...You're lying.
TRUMP: Excuse me...
WALLACE: ...But your companies have gone bankrupt.
TRUMP: Out of - what am I saying? Out of hundreds of deals that I've done, hundreds, on four occasions I've taken advantage of the laws of this country like other people. I'm not going to name their names 'cause I'm not going to embarrass them, but virtually every person that you read about on the front page of the business sections, they've used the laws. The difference is when somebody else uses those laws, nobody writes about it.
GROSS: So, Robert O'Harrow, when you spoke to people who had worked with Trump and when you spoke to members of the casino commission in New Jersey, did they talk to you about how he used the bankruptcy laws and if he used them kind of, like, straightforwardly or if there was a lot of, like, manipulation of those laws?
O'HARROW: I did. You know, of course, some of these folks feel spurned by Donald Trump because he made a whole host of promises and they felt that he didn't keep his promises. One of them was Steven Perskie. He's the former chairman of the Casino Control Commission. He also was a former Democratic lawmaker.
Now he worked very closely with Trump to sort through a lot of these problems that came along, and the way he describes it is that the city - Atlantic City officials and the casino regulators were in a really tough spot because Atlantic City was struggling. The casino business was struggling. And in maneuvering the way that he did, according to Perskie, Trump gave them really no choice but to keep going. And here's what Perskie said.
When I read and hear him say he was beloved in Atlantic City, that was before the bankruptcy. He remembers to perceive how he started, not how he was perceived when he left.
And Perskie went on to tell me that it got to the point where Donald Trump himself was such a force in Atlantic City with the three different casinos that he became too big to fail, so that they cut him slack with that in mind because they were worried about the impact on a city that was already struggling.
GROSS: Because if this huge casino, the Taj, went under, it would be bad for all of Atlantic City.
O'HARROW: Well, not just the Taj. The other two casinos also struggled and eventually filed bankruptcy as well.
GROSS: My guest is Robert O'Harrow, a reporter for The Washington Post's investigative unit. We're talking about his article examining Donald Trump's business practices and deals when he took over the Atlantic City casino hotel the Taj Mahal. After we take a short break, we'll talk about who lost out when the Taj went bankrupt. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Robert O'Harrow, a reporter with The Washington Post investigative unit. We're talking about an article he wrote examining Donald Trump's deals and promises when he took over the not-yet-completed Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. When it opened in 1990, it was the largest casino hotel in Atlantic City. He already owned two other casinos in the city, Trump's Castle and Trump Plaza. The year after the Taj opened, it filed for bankruptcy. When we left off, we had listened to a clip from the first Republican candidates debate, which was hosted by Fox News in August. Chris Wallace had asked Trump about his company's four bankruptcies.
So in that clip that we heard, Donald Trump said that he did a great job for his company, for himself, for his employees and his family. And he's talking about how the Taj ended up after bankruptcy. But you looked into, like, who lost money on this deal when he declared bankruptcy and couldn't pay all of his loans. So who lost out?
O'HARROW: The answer about who was affected is deeper than it might seem because in March of 1992, Trump's Castle and his Plaza casinos also filed for bankruptcy. And to resolve those debts, Trump gave up half his stake in each of the casino to the lenders. So the lenders definitely lost money through the cascading failures of these three casinos. But small-time investors who had bought the bonds directly or through retirement funds also suffered losses. And so did small business owners who sold the Trump organization paint, equipment, food, limousine services. And many of those were eventually paid only a fraction of what they were due. And we know this in part because a professor at Temple University - in your town - Bryant Simon went in and studied Atlantic City and found that a lot of people recall having to struggle to get by after these bankruptcies.
Bryant Simon - the professor - told me that Trump was quote, "a brutal and ruthless negotiator." And he said that people paid the price. And when I brought that up with Donald Trump, he said that he acknowledged that he drove hard bargains, but he said that he created many opportunities for a lot of people in the city to make money. And here's what he told me.
I wasn't the nicest person on earth. Many of these same people, if not all, made a lot of money with me.
GROSS: I want to play another Donald Trump clip. And this also is from the first Republican debate, which was hosted by Fox News on August 6, 2015. And this is Donald Trump speaking. And he's speaking about getting out of the casino business in Atlantic City.
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TRUMP: I had the good sense to leave Atlantic City - which by the way, Caesar's just went bankrupt. Every company - Chris can tell you - every company, virtually, in Atlantic City went bankrupt - every company. And let me just tell you; I had the good sense - and I've gotten a lot of credit in the financial pages. Seven years ago, I left Atlantic City before it totally cratered. And I made a lot of money in Atlantic City. And I'm very proud of it.
GROSS: OK, and the Chris that Donald Trump referred to is Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. And of course, Atlantic City is in New Jersey. So what do you think about when you hear that? Like, what facts did you find that either back up or contradict what Donald Trump just said?
O'HARROW: Well, I'm going to tell you what Steve Perskie told me. But first, I think it's worth noting - and I've been struck by this during the whole election - that how often Donald Trump uses money as the measurement of his civic virtue, or his talent, or his credential to become the president of the United States. And clearly, money can serve as one way of measuring success. But it's - in my business over the years as a journalist, I haven't seen another candidate rely so much on claims of wealth to underscore personal integrity.
GROSS: Right. Well, you know, he said, I made a lot of money in Atlantic City. We've been talking about his bankruptcies, how he couldn't pay off his debts, how people who he owed money to lost money. So is it true that he made a lot of money in Atlantic City, as he said, by the time he actually pulled out? Can we - can you tell whether he made money or lost money?
O'HARROW: Oh, I think he made money. The degree to which he made money and how he made it I think is open to question. I would like to get specifics. But getting specifics on the actual dollar value and how they're anchored to particular deals and bottom lines is a very difficult thing. But I think that probably the - the - maybe the thing that is more illuminating for me is the reaction that people had after he was gone. And Steven Perskie - again, I think his voice is interesting. And he said to me this.
Trump was welcomed with open arms by everybody. And he provided the sense that he was able to do everything he promised, Perskie told me a few months ago. He said, his name and his legacy in the city were significantly tarnished. The business community and regulators no longer accepted the music of the Pied Piper.
I thought that was really an interesting statement from a man that in some ways helped Trump get through the bankruptcies by allowing him to continue to do business.
GROSS: You should just refresh our memory of who Perskie is.
O'HARROW: Perskie is the - was the head of the Casino Control Commission at the time that Donald Trump was going - and the Taj - were going through the bankruptcies.
GROSS: Donald Trump owned two other casinos in Atlantic City that ran into financial trouble. One of them was the Castle - Trump's Castle. And there was a point when he owed a lot of money for the Castle, and he couldn't pay off the debts. So he got a loan from his father, Fred Trump, who founded the real estate empire that Donald Trump came to take over. So he got a loan from his father. And it's an odd kind of loan. And I'm going to ask you to describe how it worked.
O'HARROW: Sure. It really is a fascinating episode because let's remember that Donald Trump was a young man still when all of this was unfolding. And he was the son of a real estate tycoon in Greater New York area and in fact really got his start with help from his father, who underwrote a lot of loans. This loan in particular is singular. The Castle was facing the prospect that it could not pay lenders the high interest on the loans that were outstanding. Now, they knew it. But nobody else knew it. They head off the crisis. And because Donald Trump himself did not have enough money to pay the interest, he turned to his father. And the father sent a lawyer into the Castle and handed over a check for $3.3 million, according to the Casino Control Commission documents. And that was called front money, as though it was going to be used for gambling. And the lawyer walked out with an equivalent amount of $5,000 chips in a bag. The next day, they did the same thing and bought chips worth $150,000 and walked out with those. That money that was handed over for the chips was used in part to pay for the interest. And the casino recorded it as an outstanding gaming liability. But when state officials examined it later, they ruled that in fact it was a surreptitious loan and that it violated the state casino regulations. And the State Division of Gaming Enforcement fined the Castle $65,000 for participating. Donald Trump was never found culpable of any wrongdoing, and nor was his father, Fred.
GROSS: I guess I'm a little confused why they weren't found guilty of any wrongdoing, since the money - the way you described it - was from the father for the son - for Trump.
O'HARROW: That's right. It was the father giving the son's business - the Castle - this infusion of money. And that was used to pay the - you know, you're not the only one who is mystified. Armstrong - the Casino Control Commissioner - was very distressed that more wasn't done with it. But that's where it stands.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert O'Harrow. He's a reporter with the investigative unit of The Washington Post. And we're talking about stories that he wrote examining Donald Trump's business practices. Let's take a short break. Then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Robert O'Harrow. He's a reporter with The Washington Post's investigative unit. We're talking about stories that he's written examining Donald Trump's business practices. We've been focusing on O'Harrow's examination of Donald Trump and the Trump Taj Mahal, the very large casino that he owned in Atlantic City that went into bankruptcy.
So this is a very complicated business story that you've written, and a complicated examination that you undertook. So what's your takeaway?
O'HARROW: There's a couple of things that I was struck by while I was reading through all of these records and all of these transcripts and eventually briefly talking with Donald Trump. And the stories are complicated. And they're massively complicated. But at some level, there's something very, very simple that happened that is worth thinking about when thinking about a presidential candidate. In this case, Donald Trump had tremendous ambition to finish something that some people said was an impossibility. You cannot make this Taj Mahal work. And he went after it. And his ambition was notable. Along the way, he was questioned by regulators who were supposed to look out for the interest of the state and Atlantic City. Well, how can you do this when nobody else can? And his answer was very clean and clear. Because I'm me, he said. In effect, he said, because I'm Donald Trump, and I'm going to get money at such a low rate that this is just going to become one of the greatest successes of all-time.
And he derided a financing method that he said he wouldn't - that was ridiculous and he wouldn't use, which was junk bonds. And then a few months later, as we said, he used those. So he - tremendous ambition, tremendous set of promises and he turned his back on his promises. And then he told me, that was my prerogative. Now, I think it probably was his prerogative. But as a reporter trying to take stock of a presidential candidate, I think that's noteworthy. Making promises, changing the promises or turning your back on them, suffering the consequences and then later saying, that's my prerogative. So I think a very complex story can be reduced to something really quite that simple.
GROSS: Now, he threatened to sue you when you were writing this story. What was the nature of the threat?
O'HARROW: Well, he seemed very concerned that I was going to somehow frame this as a personal bankruptcy. I told him multiple times I wasn't going to do that. But I think in his anxiety about this being a personal bankruptcy, he got a little distressed. And he said this was not personal; this was a corporate deal. If you write this one, I'm suing you. And, you know, I assured him that I understood the difference, and, you know, we've reported that in the story because we felt that it was part of the story after he made the, you know, that statement.
And talking to him was very, very interesting. And he underscored probably a couple, three times that he was worth billions of dollars. And I told him that I understood that. And, you know, it was an interesting conversation. I will say that after having spoken to him and read and seen much of what he's said during this campaign, the similarities in language between now and then are really striking. And the core of his promise then and now is very, very striking. And in some ways, it comes down to two words - believe me. And it's hard not to ruminate on that.
GROSS: After the bankruptcy of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino, what effect did that have on Donald Trump's other businesses and on his general approach to business?
O'HARROW: So at the time of the Taj's bankruptcy, Trump's organization labored under tremendous debt across the board. And his empire owed something like $3 billion-plus to institutional lenders. And Trump had personally guaranteed 833 million of that, according to the Casino Control Commission. So over about three years, he gave up half through negotiations of the three casinos and sold off a number of his assets, including a small airline that he had and a giant yacht that he had down in Florida in order to remain, you know, afloat. And over the years, Trump eventually adopted a kind of a new approach to his business, where he chose not to have his own money personally invested and that he started building an empire that was built around his brand and selling his brand. And he now claims that that approach has helped him earn enough money so that he claims to be worth $10 billion dollars now.
GROSS: What does it mean when Donald Trump licenses his name so that something becomes the Trump something? So it's like, you know, Trump Steaks or Trump Water or Trump magazine. Like, what...
O'HARROW: Or Trump buildings - what it is is very simple. He'll, for a fee - large fees - he'll allow a building to put his name on the building. And he may take a role in helping management, helping promotion and so on.
GROSS: So he has a role in it, but it's not his business per se, even though the business carries his name?
O'HARROW: Well, branding is a real business. Lots of companies brand. But with Donald Trump, it's a personal brand that he's selling, which I think lends, in many people's eyes, lends cache, glitter, the promise of glamour. If it's a Trump building, a lot of people will want to rent there. I think that's - that at least is the theory.
GROSS: Robert O'Harrow, thank you so much for talking with us.
O'HARROW: Thanks for having me on.
GROSS: Robert O'Harrow is a reporter with the investigative unit of The Washington Post. His article about Trump's Taj Mahal is called "Trump's Bad Bet: How Too Much Debt Drove His Biggest Casino Aground." After a short break, rock historian Ed Ward will tell us about the band Them, in which Van Morrison got his start. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.