Penn Jillette is the one who talks. And, boy, did he.
The magician, one half of the comedy-magic duo Penn and Teller (the latter of whom famously keeps silent in performances), was a cast member of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” a reality show President Trump hosted before going into politics.
It was in those encounters that Jillette said Trump used racially charged language. That echoes allegations of former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman that Trump has used bigoted language; she claims to have heard him use the n-word in a recording.
“[Trump] would say racially insensitive things that made me uncomfortable,” Jillette told Vulture, an entertainment website, in an expansive interview published Tuesday. At one point, he also suggests there are tapes of Trump using compromising language but did not say what they might contain.
Jillette was a cast member on “Celebrity Apprentice” for two seasons, appearing alongside Manigault Newman in 2013. The White House has been on the defensive about Manigault Newman’s book and publicity tour, characterizing her as a disgruntled former staffer.
Interviewer David Marchese asked Jillette if “Apprentice” creator Mark Burnett holds compromising recordings of Trump, an apparent reference to the tapes Manigault Newman has suggested exist.
“Yeah, I was in the room,” Jillette said.
Marchese responds: “You’ve heard him say…”
Jillette interjects. “Oh, yeah.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and spokespeople for Jillette did not return a request for comment, nor did Metro Goldwyn Mayer, where Burnett is now a senior television executive.
Sanders told reporters Tuesday she could not guarantee the public will never hear Trump using the n-word in a recording, only that she has not personally heard it.
Trump has raised the profile of the public dispute over Manigault Newman’s ouster from the White House, calling his former staffer a “dog” and a “crazed, crying lowlife” on Twitter. Critics say the comments are typical of the race-based language Trump uses to attack his detractors.
Manigault Newman’s book alleges Trump used racist language during tapings of the “Apprentice” reality show. She has released secret recordings of White House staffers allegedly in discussion about potential tapes and how to publicly address them.
Trump supporters have said Manigault Newman was the one responsible for circulating the rumors of the tapes. She was on the first season of the “Apprentice” show and became one of its most prominent stars, earning the onetime trust from Trump.
Jillette couched his words in a lengthy explanation of memory and responsibility now that “the stakes are high” for explaining what, exactly, Trump has said about race. He referred to himself as an unreliable narrator.
“I don’t think he ever said anything in that room like ‘African Americans are inferior’ or anything about rape or grabbing women . . . he would ask one cast member if he’d rather have sex with this woman or that woman,” Jillette said.
The magician said he would have been more open about his recollection if Trump hadn’t been elected president. But that stature has made him reluctant to discuss details now, Jillette said.
“What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars,” he told Vulture. “So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong.”
Jillette makes it clear that, as a prominent libertarian, he is no supporter of Trump. But he explained tapes of any conversations might remove context around the wild, unfettered environment that is reality television.
“I want those tapes to be used against him, but it might be unfair,” he said.
And yet, the showman — a longtime critic of political correctness — apparently holds a certain admiration for Trump’s choice to speak unfiltered, even if he sharply disagrees with his policies.
“Which means if I’m in a room with Trump I’m happy to hear him talk. But I’m also happy to hear Charlie Manson talk. I have nothing good to say about Donald Trump as president,” he said.