Nine years before becoming president, Donald Trump went on an expletive-filled tirade during a meeting with New Jersey officials about a real estate proposed development, at one point saying the state was “f—ed up” and deriding South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross and his brother Phil as “useless.”
The May 8, 2008, meeting at Trump Tower in New York City between the future president; Gary Rose, an adviser to former Gov. Jon Corzine; and former New Jersey Division of Law Director Robert Gilson has become the stuff of legend in New Jersey political circles.
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The Record newspaper of northern New Jersey earlier this year reported some details from the meeting. However, a contemporaneous memo authored by Gilson and recently obtained by POLITICO provides more detail than previously known, including the references to the Norcross brothers, who have come under scrutiny over how they crafted and took advantage of New Jersey‘s tax incentive programs, from which they and some of their allies and clients have benefited.
Progressive Democratic groups often highlight the fact George Norcross — who with his childhood friend, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, holds sway over the Democrat-controlled state Legislature — has a longtime relationship with Trump and is a member of his Mar-a-lago Club in Florida.
The purpose of the 2008 meeting at Trump Tower was to discuss a proposed development by EnCap Holdings on the site of landfills spanning hundreds of acres and three towns in northern New Jersey just 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan. The $1 billion project, which required an expensive environmental remediation of the landfills, included a massive housing and golf course development.
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in public financing, the project had been plagued by funding issues, delays and political corruption. In an effort to salvage it, the site’s developer turned to the Trump Organization in 2007.
But in May 2008, Corzine dispatched Rose and Gilson to break the news to Trump that the state had gone as far as it was willing to go with him — a decision that coincided with a vote by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission to pull the plug on the project. In addition to Trump, Rose and Gilson, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, his son Donald Jr. and then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen were also at the meeting. Phil Norcross — who according to press reports at the time was the project’s bond counsel — was on a conference line.
One big issue that came up was financing for cleaning up the landfills. According to Gilson’s memo, Trump wanted approval for a much larger development on the site in the New Jersey Meadowlands before he agreed to secure financing.
The meeting started out pleasantly enough, according to the memo, with Trump inviting Rose and Corzine to a planned opening of baseball fields on the site.
But about an hour and fifteen minutes into the meeting, “Donald Trump appeared to become frustrated,” Gilson wrote.
Trump claimed New Jersey was in breach of its agreement and said that, had he been told of the state’s planning requirements for landfill remediation on the site, “he never should have gotten involved in the project.”
When Rose “patiently” pointed out that the state had been “consistently clear” about the requirements in at least three letters to the Trump Organization, “Mr. Trump did not seem satisfied with those responses, and instead continued to use profanity, stating that he felt he had been unfairly treated by the State of New Jersey.”
“Mr. Trump also stated that New Jersey was a ‘f _ _ _ ed up‘ state and in bad shape because the State would not allow big projects such as the revised Meadowlands Development Project Mr. Trump was proposing,” Gilson wrote.
“During this discussion, at one point, Mr. Trump threw his pen at his desk and it ricocheted off and hit his daughter,” the memo states. “Mr. Trump then told Phil Norcross that Phil and his “f _ _ _ing” brother were ‘useless.’”
The meeting ended not long after “this display from Donald Trump,” according to the memo, and Rose “calmly pointed out to Mr. Trump that we disagreed with his statements and views.”
While some of the details of the meeting, including Ivanka being hit by the pen, were reported by The Record in May, other details of Trump’s outburst have never been made public. Trump’s involvement with EnCap drew the attention of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, when it sought records relating to it, including memos.
The Gilson memo also notes that Rose spoke with George Norcross on the phone prior to the meeting. It’s not clear why the two spoke, as Norcross has never been publicly associated with the EnCap project.
The EnCap project never came to be, and this year the site was purchased by developers who plan to turn it into an industrial park.
Rose declined to comment. Gilson, who is now a New Jersey Superior Court judge, did not respond to a request for comment through the state Judiciary. Emails to the Trump Organization and the White House were not answered.
Dan Fee, a spokesperson for George Norcross, did not respond to an emailed question about Norcross’ involvement in EnCap.
However, he said in a statement that outburst was evidence that Trump and George Norcross aren’t close, and that he can “practically hear” critics “gnashing their teeth about a story that blows a hole their hopes that George and Trump are anything other than social acquaintances.”
“But since he wasn’t in that meeting, wasn’t on the phone, has never been yelled at by Trump and never spoke to his brother about it, there’s not much more to do than laugh at how silly it all must have been to see in person,” Fee said.