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Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was disastrous.

Trump Jr. is another case.

President Donald Trump and his family at his inauguration on January 20, 2017 in Washington D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. wrote in an email last summer to an English publicist who offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton, provided by the Russian government.

It’s hard to argue that this is anything but proof that President Trump’s son tried to work in some capacity with a foreign power to get Trump elected.

I used to work for Donald Trump — I was the president and chief operating officer of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in the late 1980s and into 1990. And this news felt far from shocking to me.

I have been following the Trump-Russia story closely and have been waiting for one of the president’s children to be implicated. The story of Donald Trump Jr.’s email is not just a story of apparent political corruption. It is also a story of nepotism, privilege, and inexperience gone bad.

While watching the saga unfold this week, I was reminded how President Trump puts unprecedented faith and responsibility in those he most trusts: his family. Seeing Trump Jr. flailing on the public stage is a commentary on President Trump, not Jr. After all, the president has done this before, and with similar disastrous results.

I have learned over the past six months that the clear vision of the Trump presidency is through his past. Donald Trump has not changed in his entire adult life. The Trump of 30 years ago when I worked for him is exactly who Trump is today.

Trump’s history of putting inexperienced family in positions of power

Donald Trump has a long history of putting family members in leadership and executive management positions regardless of experience, knowledge, or competence. During my time working for Trump, I watched him delegate major responsibility to both his then-wife Ivana and his brother Robert, despite the fact that neither had any background or understanding of the casino industry.

At one point in Trump’s Atlantic City casino development career, he was actually the dominant player. He owned one of the most profitable casinos in the United States — Trump Plaza — and was developing the largest property in the US, Trump Taj Mahal. He also owned the underperforming Trump Castle, which was a property with huge potential if managed properly.

All he had to do was hire the right people to develop and manage these three casinos, and he would have been the most successful casino operator of his time.

What Trump did, however, is turn to family to oversee two of these casinos. He placed Ivana at Trump Castle despite her having little to no business experience. I believe that Ivana failed miserably due to gross overspending, lack of market knowledge, and poor management skills. While there were differing reports for why Trump fired her ranging from flattening growth to personal issues, I believe he was forced to remove her due to her incompetence.

I have always believed Donald put Ivana in this position because he has ultimate faith in family. His believes that family will never turn on him, and that family represents ultimate loyalty. As we have learned in the early days of the Trump presidency, he puts a huge premium on loyalty. This is more important to him than expertise. Just ask James Comey and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Similarly, when Trump was forced to put someone in charge of the struggling development at the Taj Mahal, he tapped his brother Robert. Robert was given the monumental task of finishing the construction and getting the property open after the death of the former developer in a helicopter accident.

Again, with virtually no experience managing or building a casino, let alone the largest casino development in the world, Robert Trump was, I believe, thrust into a role he was doomed to fail in simply because he was family.

The Taj Mahal debacle ultimately cost Donald Trump everything in Atlantic City. The disastrous opening of the property was the beginning of the end for Trump as a casino operator. And while Robert is not to blame for the collapse in Atlantic City, a more experienced industry executive would have given the property at least a fighting chance for success.

Both Ivana Trump and Robert Trump are victims of Donald Trump himself. He is solely to blame for their demise in Atlantic City. And as I watched Donald Trump Jr. become the new face of the Russian election scandal, one can only blame the president himself.

This obsession with family members carried over to the presidency

Shortly after Trump announced his run for the presidency, it became clear that his three eldest children were going to play a major role in the campaign. And so they did: Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka were either at Trump’s side, out making stump speeches, or being interviewed on cable news.

Their involvement was not in and of itself a flawed strategy. Who better than the man’s children to speak of his human character and the benefits of voting for him? And if that were simply their role, you would hear no argument from me.

Unfortunately for all of Trump’s children and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, they were given responsibility way beyond their means. All four suddenly had to become political strategists and experts on governing America.

After Trump won the election, the children were interviewing Cabinet members and discussing policy. The children may have been intimately involved in the selection of the vice president, the man who would become president should something happen to their father. What qualifications did any of these four have that demanded such authority in how this country is governed? The answer is simple: They have no qualifications other than being family members of Donald Trump.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that now Donald Jr. and Kushner are at the center of a controversy that could ultimately cost the president his job. Like Ivana before them, these children were given unprecedented power and authority without accountability. It looks like it went to their heads. They apparently thought they reported to no one, and they seem to have acted without thinking. The story of Trump Jr.’s emails with this English publicist could be an example of inexperience coupled with a sense that they are so powerful that rules don’t apply to them.

There is also a possibility that Trump and members of the campaign colluded or maybe even solicited help from Russia. It is possible that Donald Trump Jr. went into this meeting along with Kushner and Paul Manafort with his father’s blessing. This wouldn’t be surprising to me. My experience with Trump tells me he will do anything to win.

So Donald Trump Jr. is now going to be subjected to intense scrutiny. He will likely be questioned under oath by groups investigating Russian interference in our election process. He will surely continue to be vague and sometimes contradict himself. He might even lie. And whatever the outcome, the majority of the blame should not fall on his shoulders.

Donald Trump should bear the blame for his son’s mistakes. Trump Jr. had no business being in a position to have meetings with Russia or anyone else. He had no experience in elections. He has no political or government policy experience. And he clearly has no experience in the laws when it comes to meeting with someone connected to a foreign government, one that just happens to be our biggest adversary.

No, Donald Trump Jr. has experience in one thing only, and that is being a family member to Donald Trump. That, unfortunately, is all the experience he needs in the eyes of the president.

Jack O’Donnell is a businessman who consults with companies and private equity firms involved in hospitality, gaming, and behavioral health. He was the president and chief operating officer at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, working directly for Donald Trump, during its most successful years. He wrote a book about Trump called Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump, His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall.


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