Mary Trump: The inside story of why she wrote a tell-all memoir

Donald Trump’s niece was a family outcast. She describes many relatives as dysfunctional

Mary Trump: the American president’s niece, describes many of her relatives as dysfunctional. Photograph: Peter Serling/Simon & Schuster via AP Photo

Mary Trump: the American president’s niece, describes many of her relatives as dysfunctional. Photograph: Peter Serling/Simon & Schuster via AP Photo

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For most of her life, Mary Trump was shunted aside by her own family.

Her uncle, President Donald Trump, for years looked down on her father – his own brother Fred Trump jnr, an alcoholic who died when she was a teen.

Her grandfather Fred Trump snr hated her mother, whom he blamed for Fred Trump jnr’s drinking, according to court papers. Her aunt, the president’s sister, once accused Mary Trump and her brother in a legal deposition of being “absentee grandchildren”.

Even when Mary Trump shared Christmas with her family, her grandfather was often annoyed by what he took to be her disrespectful nature. Her crime, court papers say: she showed up wearing a baggy sweater.

The book, along with a number of court documents that have never been reported, sheds new light on a decades-long saga of greed, betrayal and internecine squabbles

Mary Trump’s status as an outcast culminated in 1999 when Fred Trump snr died, and she discovered that she and her brother had been cut out of his will, depriving them of what they believed was their rightful share of untold millions. A dispute over the will devolved into a court fight, its details shielded by a confidentiality agreement that Mary Trump has adhered to for nearly 20 years.

Now, however, the story of that fight – and other new allegations – have been thrust into the spotlight with the publication of Trump’s memoir. The book, along with a number of court documents that have never been reported, sheds new light on a decades-long saga of greed, betrayal and internecine squabbles, laying out what Mary Trump has described as her family’s legacy of darkness and dysfunction.

Her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, which is set to be published next week, has ended up in court itself: the Trump family has sought to stop its publication. Mary Trump has countered that the secrecy provision that has kept her silent until now is unenforceable and based on financial fraud.

The book makes a number of allegations that Mary Trump depicts as family secrets, among them a claim that a young Donald Trump paid someone to take his SAT, the standardised test used for US college admissions. It also alleges that his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a former federal judge, considered him “a clown” who had “no principles” and that the Trump family left Fred Trump jnr unattended at a hospital on the night that he died.

Donald Trump with his first wife, Ivana Trump, and father, Fred Trump, at a Mike Tyson boxing match in 1988. Photograph: Jeffrey Asher/Getty
Donald Trump with his first wife, Ivana Trump, and father, Fred Trump, at a Mike Tyson boxing match in 1988. Photograph: Jeffrey Asher/Getty

In her book Mary Trump seeks to explain how Donald Trump’s position in one of New York’s wealthiest and most infamous real-estate empires helped him acquire what Mary Trump has referred to as “twisted behaviours” – attributes like seeing other people in “monetary terms” and practising “cheating as a way of life.”

Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, calls her grandfather – the president’s father, Fred Trump snr – a “sociopath” who damaged his children. His father’s behaviour, she concludes, led the president to adopt bullying and other aggressive behaviours to mask his own insecurities.

Although several close associates of Donald Trump have published exposés of him and his time in office, Mary Trump, who is 55 and lives on Long Island in New York, is the first member of the family to have broken ranks by writing a book.

Sarah Matthews, a White House spokeswoman, says that the book is in Mary Trump’s “own financial self-interest”. She also says the president has described his relationship with his father in warm terms and calls the allegation about the SAT “completely false”.

A lawyer for Trump’s family, Charles Harder, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A turbulent family

The seeds of Mary Trump’s alienation began before she was born, with her father’s relationship to his family, and continued through her childhood before bursting open when her grandfather died, according to her book and court documents, some of which remain under seal.

Mary Trump and her brother, Fred Trump III, were the only children of Fred Trump jnr, the oldest sibling of Donald Trump, and Linda Clapp Trump, a former flight attendant who did not win her father-in-law’s approval.

Fred Trump jnr was not inclined to the family real-estate business, so Donald Trump stepped into the role of his father’s successor. The eldest Trump sibling became a pilot and struggled with alcoholism.

Donald Trump with his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and his brother Robert Trump in 1990. Photograph: Sonia Moskowitz/Getty
Donald Trump with his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and his brother Robert Trump in 1990. Photograph: Sonia Moskowitz/Getty

In her book Trump writes that her uncle Donald watched her grandfather mock her father, learned from the ridicule to become Fred snr’s favourite son and joined in it. Donald Trump told his brother, referring to his career as a pilot: “Dad’s right about you: You’re nothing but a glorified bus driver.”

For a child of one of New York’s most successful families, Mary Trump had a turbulent upbringing. Her father was clashing with his own father and younger brother, she writes, drinking and smoking heavily. They lived in a drafty apartment in Highlander Hall, a Trump building in the New York borough of Queens, and at one point she was hospitalised with pneumonia.

Her father started to spiral downward. He had tried to buy a house but could not get a mortgage. “Our family was effectively trapped in that run-down apartment in Jamaica,” she writes. “At 29 years old, my father was running out of things to lose.”

On one occasion young Mary woke up to her father laughing while aiming a gun at her screaming mother’s face, she writes in her book. By 1970 her mother told her father to leave, and he would never live with them again

On one occasion young Mary woke up to her father laughing while aiming a gun at her screaming mother’s face, she writes in her book. By 1970 her mother told her father to leave, and he would never live with them again. They divorced in 1971. Fred Trump jnr died of a heart attack in 1981, at the age of 42.

His children, who had already been given $400,000 each in trust by their grandfather, inherited a 20 per cent stake their father had been granted in Trump apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens, several ground leases and other revenue-producing businesses.

Long after their father’s death Mary Trump and her brother continued attending family events, including a Mike Tyson fight in Atlantic City with Donald Trump, their grandfather’s birthday party at Peter Luger Steak House, Ivanka Trump’s eighth birthday party, and weddings, holidays and visits with their grandmother.

Still, they remained at the edges of the family. Fred Trump snr never liked Linda Trump, according to testimony in a battle over his will, and worried that any money left to his two grandchildren would end up in her hands.

A fight over inheritance

When Fred Trump snr’s will was revised in 1991, he left $202,000 to each grandchild, including Mary Trump and Fred Trump III. The bulk of the Trump fortune would pass to his four living children. His other grandchildren stood to eventually inherit their parents’ portion. But Mary Trump and Fred Trump III, without their knowledge, were cut out of a 20 per cent share of their grandfather’s estate that they might have received had their father lived.

“This is tantamount to disinheriting them,” an adviser told the Trump patriarch in a memo before the will was finalised. “You may wish to increase their participation in your estate to avoid ill will in the future.”

After Fred Trump snr died, on June 25th, 1999, Mary Trump and Fred Trump III learned that they had been cut out. Nine months later they contested the will in court in New York, arguing that their grandfather had been suffering from dementia and that his children had manipulated him to influence the way the will was written.

Mary Trump’s memoir sheds new light on her uncle the president and decades of family infighting. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times
Mary Trump’s memoir sheds new light on her uncle the president and decades of family infighting. Photograph: Doug Mills/New York Times

A week after they went to court a Trump family company cut off health insurance to Mary Trump, her mother, brother and her brother’s family, including Fred III’s nine-month-old son William, who had suffered from seizure disorders and would be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Donald Trump acknowledged the termination of the insurance was related to the fight over his father’s will.

Fred III said he was shocked that his family would trivialise his son’s medical care.

“My loving aunts and uncles, in an expression of their undying concern for William, were more than willing to jeopardize his care in order to punish me and my sister,” he said in his affidavit.

Those aunts and uncles had not visited William at a hospital a short cab ride from their Manhattan apartments, although in a restaurant Donald Trump “yelled across the tables that he had heard my child was sick”, Fred III later said.

‘Absentee grandchildren’

The fight over the will was equally bitter.

“They live like kings and queens,” Donald Trump said of his niece and nephew in his deposition. “This is not two people left out in the gutter.”

Maryanne Trump Barry testified there was “no relationship” between Mary and Fred III and her father, calling them “absentee grandchildren”, even as she acknowledged that they had attended Christmas at her parents’ house and other family events.

“They often came and left very early,” she said. “On each time they came Freddy was never wearing a tie, which drove my father bananas, and Mary was in pants and a baggy sweater, which drove him bananas as well.”

Mary Trump, in response, gave her lawyer a long list of the events they had attended.

In her book Mary Trump accuses Robert Trump of telling her and her brother during the will battle that, if they did not settle, the family would bankrupt one of the companies in which they had inherited a stake and saddle the two of them with the bill.

Barry and Robert Trump did not respond to requests for comment.

Donald Trump with his sister Elizabeth Trump Grau, mother, Mary Trump, and Melania Knauss, as she was then, at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, in 1999. Photograph: Davidoff Studios/Getty
Donald Trump with his sister Elizabeth Trump Grau, mother, Mary Trump, and Melania Knauss, as she was then, at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, in 1999. Photograph: Davidoff Studios/Getty

The Trumps settled their disputes in April 2001, court records show. As part of the deal Mary and Fred III received an undisclosed cash settlement, and they agreed to turn over the 20 per cent stake in Trump assets they had inherited from their father, including seven apartment complexes, ground leases and stakes in a public housing complex and in the company Robert Trump had purportedly threatened to bankrupt.

After the New York Times reported on the family’s questionable valuations of its real-estate assets in 2018, Mary Trump concluded that she and her brother were duped in the settlement, she has claimed in the run-up to publishing her book.

When her uncle Donald announced that he was running for president in June 2015, Mary Trump did not take it seriously, assuming, she writes, that he “simply wanted the free publicity for his brand”. Throughout the campaign, which was marked by scandals like the release of the Access Hollywood tape, Mary Trump did not speak out, fearing that her voice would not be heard and that her views would make no difference, she writes in the book.

On election night Mary Trump took to Twitter, writing, ‘Worst night of my life.’ She also wrote, ‘We should be judged harshly,’ adding, ‘I grieve for our country’

She stayed in touch with her aunt, Barry, whom she quotes as saying about the presidential race, “He’s a clown – this will never happen,” during one of their regular lunches in 2015. Barry was particularly baffled by support for her brother among evangelical Christians, according to the book.

On election night, however, Mary Trump took to Twitter, writing, “Worst night of my life.” She also wrote: “We should be judged harshly,” adding, “I grieve for our country.”

Mary Trump has grown apart from the brother with whom she had been aligned in the family conflict years ago. While she has chosen to speak out against the family, he has taken a different path, nurturing a relationship with their uncle. In a statement released through the Trump family last month, Fred Trump III distanced himself from his sister’s book and said their legal settlement had been generous and his son well provided for. – New York Times

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man will be published by Simon & Schuster on July 14th

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