Voices: For Trump, power means getting away with crimes – and boasting about it

The New York Times this week obtained leaked audio of conversations between Australian businessman Anthony Pratt and former President Donald Trump. Pratt is a potential witness against Trump, and describes Trump’s business practices as being “like the mafia”.

Though Trump vociferously denies it, Pratt says Trump told him secret information about nuclear submarines. He also describes incidents in which Trump created opportunities for the businessman to pay for access. And he details an incident in which Trump asked his wife Melania to walk around Trump’s country club, Mar-A-Lago in a bikini “so all the other guys could get a look at what they were missing.”

Trump in Pratt’s account also boasted about the phone call he’d had in which he’d tried to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The call resulted in Trump’s first impeachment.

That statement in particular recalls earlier leaked audio in which Trump has boasted about wrongdoing such as sharing classified documents and sexually harassing women. In all of these instances, Trump isn’t remorseful or hesitant. Instead he seems proud and even giddy. The private Trump (like the public Trump) is a man who seems to want power specifically so he can abuse it. He revels in the fact that fame, fortune, and political influence gives him impunity to behave badly, and even criminally.

In the phone call with Zelensky, the Ukrainian president asked Trump for military aid. Trump said such aid would be conditional on Zelensky investigating (false, debunked) conspiracy theories about Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee against Trump in the 2020 election (which Biden eventually won.)

Trump of course in public said he had done nothing wrong. But in the conversation with Pratt, it sounds like he was actually pleased with how scandalous and ugly his actions had been. “That was nothing compared to what I usually do,” Trump said according to Pratt.

That’s reminiscent of Trump’s attitude in released leaked audio in 2021 of a meeting in which former he appears to boast about mishandling classified documents. The audio was from a July 2021 interview Trump gave to a writer and publisher working on a memoir of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows. Two Trump staff members were also in the room.

During the conversation, Trump was angry because Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, had said in an interview that Trump had wanted to launch a military strike on Iran. The indictment alleges that in order to try to rebut this claim, Trump showed those in the room a classified document that detailed plans for attacking Iran.

Trump denied the charges. But in the audio, he can be heard saying, “These are the papers… this was done by the military and given to me.” He then says, “See as president I could have declassified it. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.” And he concludes. “It’s so cool… you probably almost didn’t believe me, but now you believe me.”

And then there’s the most famous leaked Trump audio; the Access Hollywood tapes. Released in 2016, the tape was a record of a 2005 conversation in which Trump boasted about his ability to harass women without consequences. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he says. “Grab them by the pussy, you can do anything.”

Trump claimed he was engaged in “locker room talk” and that he was not actually sexually assaulting women. But at least 18 women have I fact come forward to accuse Trump of sexual harassment and violence. This year he was held liable for raping writer E Jean Carroll in the 1990s.

Trump once joked in a speech that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” That wasn’t analysis; it was a boast. For Trump, you know you have power, you know you’re special, when you can harm people, or do wrong, and get away with it. Murder, rape, giving away state secrets — Trump isn’t ashamed of those things. He thinks they make him “cool.”

Trump’s impunity may not extend as far as he thought. He was impeached for the Zelensky call, though he was not removed from office. He lost the 2020 election despite the loyalty of his followers; he lost the civil suit to Carroll and must pay her millions; he’s being tried for mishandling of classified documents.

But if Trump wins the presidency again, he can probably squash that investigation, and put himself once again beyond the reach of consequences. As Trump keeps telling us in public and private, he isn’t running to help people or make the world a better place. He seeks power because when you’re in power, they let you do all the crimes, and they let you hurt people. That, for Trump, is cool. He likes to boast about it.