By Jennifer Gonnerman
Wayne Barrett, the author of “Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls,” in 2007. Credit Photograph by David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons
At 10:30 on Wednesday morning, the investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, who is seventy-one years old, sat propped up in bed, covers pulled up to his chin, a green-eyed cat curled up beside him. An oxygen tank stood at the foot of his bed; his pillbox was nearby. On the television in the corner, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was gloating about her candidate’s victory in the Presidential election.
There may be no journalist in the nation who knows more about Trump than Barrett. He started writing about him at the Village Voice in the late seventies, when Trump was a young real-estate developer, and published a book about him, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfalls,” in 1991. The book investigated Trump’s career to that point, including his company’s record of racial bias in choosing tenants for its buildings.
During the campaign, more than sixty journalists made the trip to Barrett’s house, in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn, to talk to him about the candidate. (Jane Mayer spoke to him for her profile of Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter for “The Art of the Deal.”) The lucky ones got a chance to go down to the basement and dig into his cartons of Trump documents. In the final months of the campaign, as Rudy Giuliani became Trump’s most visible surrogate, reporters were calling Barrett with Giuliani questions, too, because he’d written two books on him as well. The morning after the election, journalists were still calling: a radio host interviewed him on air, a Washington Post reporter wanted to talk. But their sense of urgency had faded. In seventy-three days, Trump would be sworn in as the next President of the United States.
I’ve known Barrett for many years—we were colleagues at the Voice—and I still remember the days when he would lean over his desk, hollering into the phone at bureaucrats who refused to hand over public documents. When I visited him on Wednesday, he never left his bed. He was still fiery, but sombre. “Donald just has no interest in information. He has no genuine interest in policy. He operates by impulse. And I don’t see any of that changing,” he said. “Why would you change it? You got to be President of the United States. This personality has prospered in two universes now—business and politics—without discipline. Why would you acquire it at seventy?”
He had heard the talk that Giuliani would become the next Attorney General, but he was not convinced that the former mayor, who served as Associate Attorney General in the Reagan Administration, would want the job. “He’s been No. 3 in the Justice Department—he’s been at that level already. It could fuel the desire to be No. 1, but it’s just as likely that he’ll want to be chief of staff in the White House and extend himself a bit,” he said. Barrett could also imagine a scenario in which Giuliani remained at Greenberg Traurig, the law firm where he now works. “With a Trump White House, Greenberg could become the No. 1 lobbying firm in the United States, and Rudy could make tens of millions of dollars,” he said.
These days, Barrett is still doing his own reporting, even though he is largely confined to his bed. When I visited him, he had a telephone, a laptop, a copy of the Times, and two remote controls beside him. He has interstitial lung disease, and he used to go to rehabilitation twice a week, but he collapsed at rehab in February and hasn’t been back. “By then I was so deep in Trumpl and, I kept putting it off,” he said. “And, of course, the longer you put it off, the worse you get.” At the start of the campaign, he could walk from his bedroom to the front door several times each day. Now crossing the first floor leaves him breathless. That morning, his wife had made lunch for him before she went to work, leaving it on his bed in a backpack.
Hillary Clinton appeared on television to give her concession speech. He reached for a remote to turn up the volume; the sound of applause filled the bedroom. “This is her farewell,” he said. “She’ll speak on women’s issues every once in a while, but she’s going to just disappear into the sunset.” He listened closely. “Donald Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” Clinton said. Barrett’s lips pressed into a frown. “Never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it,” she added.
As Clinton finished her speech, he turned down the sound. “I don’t know what she means by ‘open mind,’ “ he said. “I don’t know how you can look at the guy with an open mind and ignore everything he’s said and done up until now. You don’t look at him with an open mind; you look at him with all the information you can assemble, and you try to get him to not do the terrible things he promised.”
Barrett’s own strategy was to keep reporting. In the week before the election, he published two stories on the Daily Beast. The most recent one revealed that a pro-Trump super PAC, backed by the billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, had been making payments to Giuliani’s law firm. Barrett had been working on two other stories, too, but had been too sick to finish them by Tuesday. One was an investigation into Trump’s eldest daughter and her husband—“I did a tremendous amount of work on Ivanka and Jared,” he said—and he was hopeful that he would be able to publish it soon. For the weeks ahead, his plan was to keep on working, to keep scribbling notes on a reporter’s pad while making phone calls from his bed.
This a November 10, 2016 piece reproduced from the day’s The New Yorker – editor