The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump claimed he’s never called the FBI. He has — when he wanted its help.

“You don’t call the FBI,” Trump said. "Life doesn’t work that way.” Except it did for Trump.


In the course of arguing for why he might accept foreign assistance in the 2020 election on Wednesday, President Trump dismissed the idea of calling the FBI about such things.

“I’ll tell you what: I’ve seen a lot of things over my life,” he told ABC News. “I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t — you don’t call the FBI. Life doesn’t work that way.”

Except that, for Trump, it has. And he has most definitely called the FBI.

During the 2016 election, The Post’s Robert O’Harrow reported extensively on Trump’s ties to an FBI informant and an FBI agent in the 1980s. The informant was a labor consultant with a criminal record and mob ties named Daniel Sullivan, whom Trump worked with. And through Sullivan, Trump cultivated a relationship with a young FBI agent named Walt Stowe.

Stowe described their relationship in two days of interviews with O’Harrow, calling Trump a “professional friend.” (Trump said Stowe was a “high-quality guy” but not quite “a pal.”) And Trump sought to cash in on that friendship by cooperating with Stowe and the FBI in planning an undercover operation in one of his casinos.

Internal FBI documents show Trump told Stowe and other agents about his concerns about opening a casino in Atlantic City, given the influence of the mob in that city in that era. Trump told them he wanted to cooperate.

“TRUMP stated in order to show that he was willing to fully cooperate with the FBI, he suggested that they use undercover Agents within the casino,” the documents show.

Trump soon golfed with Stowe and dined with him. He even talked about potentially hiring him one day. And then, when Trump had a problem getting a gaming license in New Jersey, he sought to cash in on the relationship.

So he called the FBI.

As O’Harrow reported:

On Sept. 21, 1981, the FBI got a strange call from Trump. He said he had traveled to Trenton the previous week to meet with Mickey Brown, the director of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. Trump was worried about the status of his application for a casino license. Brown told Trump that everything was on track except for “one problem” that might draw out the investigation — his ties to Sullivan, according to an FBI report.
Brown said that Sullivan had not been candid with investigators about his background and his business activities.
To defend himself and “nip things in the bud,” Trump said he told Brown that Sullivan had introduced him to two FBI agents and was close to the agency.
“TRUMP stated that he talked with BROWN about nothing of a substantive nature, particularly involving any proposed undercover activity,” the report states.
In a call with Sullivan that same day, Stowe and Taylor learned that Sullivan had been asked by gaming investigators specifically about his association with the FBI. “Source declined to answer this question,” the report said.
Trump’s meeting with Brown put into peril the undercover operation to ferret out organized crime proposed at Trump’s planned casino, documents and interviews show.
By late September, the FBI proposal was in a “thoroughly finished state,” but, Stowe said, it apparently never came to fruition.

An FBI report the next day stated that its agents “have repeatedly told TRUMP that they were not references for [Sullivan] and cannot speak for [his] business dealings.”

It had been just five months since Sullivan showed up in Trump’s Manhattan office with two FBI agents who wanted to talk about organized crime. And Trump was already calling in favors — quite literally.