FBI Releases Documents Related to Trump Apartment Discrimination Case
The FBI released hundreds of pages of documents from an investigation into Donald Trump and his real estate company’s alleged discriminatory policies in the 1970s.
The Hill reports:
The probe, which took place from 1972 to 1974, was part of one of the largest discrimination cases brought in that era. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division ultimately filed a suit in 1973.
Donald Trump, 27 years old at the time and four years out of business school, held a news conference at a Manhattan hotel, calling the government’s claims “such outrageous lies,” according to an in-depth account of the case published by The Washington Post last year.
The company countersued the government, asking for $100 million in damages for false allegations of discrimination.
Within the FBI’s newly released documents, totaling 389 pages, are notes by law enforcement and numerous interviews with Trump Management Co. employees and management, in addition to tenants of the building.
Many of the interviewees said that they had never seen any discrimination against African-Americans or Puerto Ricans.
One tenant told FBI investigators that “it was obvious that she had not been discriminated against since she, in fact, a Negro female, had been rented an apartment” at one of the buildings owned by Trump Management Co., documents say.
The FBI released the documents on an area of its website called “The Vault,” a section dedicated to topics on which the bureau has received a large volume of Freedom of Information Act requests.
However, one employee told investigators that he or she had been specifically directed by the elder Trump to screen applicants and not “rent to blacks” and to steer them to other buildings.
“I asked Fred Trump what his policy was regarding minorities and he said it was absolutely against the law to discriminate. At a later time during my two weeks at [one Trump building], Fred Trump told me not to rent to blacks,” said the unnamed employee, who was eventually fired.
“[Trump] also wanted me to get rid of the blacks that were in the building by telling them cheap housing was available for them at only $500 down payment, which Trump would offer to pay himself. Trump didn’t tell me where this housing was located,” he said.
The employee also noted that he or she thought that the rental office often wrote codes on the top of rental applications to distinguish between black and white applicants.
Other documents in the case against Trump, reviewed by the Post last year, corroborate the employee’s account.
The court documents detail the experience of a husband and wife who rented properties, who said they had been told the Trump Management Co. “wanted to rent only to Jews and Executives’ and ‘discouraged rental to blacks,’” according to the Post. “The couple told the government’s lawyers that they were advised that ‘a racial code was in effect, blacks being referred to as ‘No. 9.’”
The FBI noted that several building managers did not have fair housing law posters in their offices, as required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and told agents they were not aware they had to have them.
Many employees stated they had not been instructed to discriminate against applicants based on race and maintained that income became the primary reason that individuals were denied apartments. One employee remarked that some income requirements seemed too high.
As noted by a Politico report, a man who had previously been a doorman at one property said that a supervisor had instructed him to tell potential African-American tenants that the rent was “twice as much as it really was, in order that he could not afford the apartment.”
Other employees and tenants offered up observations of “Negros, Puerto Ricans and Orientals” living in the buildings.
In June 1973, FBI agents were ordered “to give this case preferred attention on a daily basis.”
The bureau created a new set of criteria that it needed answered for the case. If anyone previously interviewed had not been asked those questions, they needed to be re-interviewed, a memo said.
For example, they began to ask employees about “phony leases” arrangements used to discriminate against minorities. A large portion of employees of Trump’s company interviewed by the FBI denied having any knowledge of these tools.
One former building superintendent, interviewed in 1974, told investigators that the “phony lease” technique had been used by other superintendents employed by Trump during his tenure with the company, but refused to name names.
“He would only state he had heard this from more than two superintendents and was of the opinion it was a common practice.” However, he denied that racial discrimination was encouraged by the company and said that he did not know of any person rejected on the basis of race.
Many of the pages released by the FBI contain redactions, primarily for privacy and law enforcement reasons. Because the documents are dated — and some notes are hand-written — some are illegible.
Eventually, the government and Trump Management entered into a consent decree in June 1975.
The Trumps admitted no wrongdoing and were prohibited from “discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling.” They were also required to take out advertisements notifying minority individuals that they had an equal opportunity to seek housing at Trump properties.
Both the federal government and Trump hailed the settlement as a victory.
Photo credit: Bowery Boys History.