By Josh Dawsey,
In New York last weekend, $100,000 got donors a plate of grilled chicken and asparagus, a posed picture with President Trump in a 60-foot long palatial entryway and a 20-minute group chat with the president.
When Trump returned to his home city, he zipped up Park Avenue to huddle with a number of former business associates and friends at the triplex of Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman. About two dozen of them paid $100,000 each to hear Trump talk for about 20 minutes — or about $5,000 a minute.
Trump was once looked down upon by some in New York business circles as a showy developer and TV star. He was not feted at the top real estate galas. He was well known on Page Six of the New York Post — but was often home watching sports games at night.
But this time, he was president. Trump and his team told the crowd he had to leave at 3 sharp — the roads were closed so he could make a speedy departure to John F. Kennedy Airport.
The portrait of Trump, in his element among his friends and business associates, comes from five people with knowledge of the Upper East Side fundraiser. The cost was steep, according to even veteran political fundraisers — though not entirely unusual for a presidential visit.
“That is an extraordinarily successful fundraiser,” said Fred Malek, a prominent GOP fundraiser. “There aren’t that many people even in New York who can pony up $100,000.”
The image, in some ways, is not an ideal one for the president. Trump has attacked the influence of donors in American politics, calling the process dishonest and vowing to “drain the swamp.”
He has been attacked for giving too much to corporate and elite interests, and he arrived in Schwarzman’s apartment mere hours after the Senate passed a tax bill that analyses show is particularly beneficial to the wealthy. At the event, Trump was pressed by his New York friends about a part of the tax plan that could hurt wealthy New Yorkers in business — and promised he would look into it. He told the crowd he had already gotten a complaint call from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).
Trump seemed, several people familiar with the event said, in his element. Many of the donors praised his performance in office and he soaked in the adulation. He didn’t mention the guilty plea from former national security adviser Michael Flynn the day before or the mushrooming Russia investigation that has left many of his allies and friends worried.
Schwarzman sat to his right, with builder and close friend LeFrak on his left. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was nearby. So was presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway. Other guests were around three tables. Trump didn’t eat lunch like the others.
What Trump told the assembled crowd, according to several people present, was not all that different from what he tweets before dawn or boasts about at his political rallies. When one guest asked about his standing in the polls and his base, Trump said “people always thought I was going to lose, and I proved them wrong,” one attendee said. He went on to crow about his win in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan.
He bragged about his negotiating skills on airplanes, calling Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson “tough” and smart. He seemed interested in explaining how ships are built in Newport News, Va., where he had visited.
The president told the donors — which included gas magnate Jon Hess, billionaire Richard Lauder, sugar magnate Pepe Fanjul, casino executive Steve Wynn and New York builder Richard LeFrak — all about his tax plan and how it would help the middle-class. The crowd was filled with hedge fund managers and other titans that will see their taxes cut.
It was “a little ironic,” one person with direct knowledge of the event said.
One attendee said Trump seemed more serious than he’d ever seen him in the past and “had facts and figures.” Another person familiar with the event said his showing was impressive to many of the donors who had harbored concerns privately about Trump’s temperament.
“It wasn’t the same guy I’ve known for all these years,” the attendee said. “The one thing that impressed the hell out of me, he had all his facts and figures there and ready. He was very articulate about it.”
Trump said the United States was getting even better missiles to shoot North Korea’s down but that China needed to take the lead against North Korea. He also said he expected Japan to increase their military defenses in response to North Korea.
Wynn went on a three-minute soliloquy about the 2018 election and the challenges ahead for the Republican Party.
Before he left, Trump told several of the guests that they had always been his friends — and they could call him anytime and he looked forward to seeing them soon.