NOTE: On 26 March 2019, the FBI Records Vault released its FOIA file on the Trump Organization. The 149-page, heavily redacted compilation includes degraded copies of newspaper clippings, agent notes and Bureau forms dating back decades. This article covers one of those FBI inquiries into the Trump Organization.
Perhaps the FBI needed Ernestine at the switchboard.
It was the summer of 1991. Dallas and Twin Peaks aired their final episodes. New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. were prepping massive Victory parades for Desert Storm troops. William Barr started his term as Attorney General under Bush 41 to clean up the stench of Iran-Contra. The Soviet Union dissolved and Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump was amassing billions in debt emanating from “three casinos and a hotel in Atlantic City, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, an airline and a huge yacht” – all to be applied for years of tax-free living.
While these events were underway, three field offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Newark, New York and Chicago plus HQ in Washington D.C. were embroiled in a “Priority” probe over harassing phone calls made to the Trump Organization.
The brouhaha starts on page 66 of the 149-page archive and the investigation fills 19 pages; four pages are deleted and, like other files in the archive, identifying information is removed to protect personnel and personal privacy. This record is Unclassified.
It is astonishing to view the rapidity of response and the federal resources that spun into action, all directed toward a Chicago woman accused of making annoying phone calls. In a months’ time, agents from major field offices conducted multiple interviews, obtained a federal grand jury subpoena, installed a pen register, and threatened the offender with federal prosecution. Additionally, the Midtown North Precinct of the NYPD was drawn into the effort to stop the phone calls. If that weren’t enough, Trump’s head of security, possibly a reference to Matthew Calamari, known for his aggressive tactics, was directly responsible for the woman losing her job, according to the FBI interviews.
One would think the “victim” here was a major public official rather than a private citizen known for his casinos and branded real estate. All it took was a teletype from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Newark NJ to launch the country’s premier law enforcement agency into action.
The NJ team was responding to a phone call coming from somewhere in Trump’s organization, likely one of his casinos. The female caller, apparently a receptionist, complained that she “could not run the office” because the Chicago prankster tied up the phone lines during a 20-minute period.
That same day, the Newark FBI alerted the Chicago office, asking that its agents interview the offending caller. The next day, the Chicago, Newark and NY offices jumped into action. Newark FBI agents interviewed the Trump receptionist, who told them the problem caller initially sent a letter and photo, asking that “Donald Trump” see both. In the year since, the caller “sporadically contacted” someone at the organization, seeking more info on “Donald Trump”. The receptionist also stated that two other Trump Organization staff received phone calls. The Chicago office was instructed to visit the problem caller and warn her of “federal prosecution” if she did not cease. And, the New York feds were setting up interview appointments.
As the saga unfolds,’agents diligently worked the case. Several more interviews were conducted including Trump’s NY office and by mid-June, the feds had a portrait that expanded from “sporadic” to phone calls at all hours of the work day and incessant hang-ups numbering in the thousands. Now, the problem caller either asks to speak with or does speak with [Redacted], [Redacted], [Redacted] and [Redacted] in addition to Donald Trump. Various Trump personnel try to outwit the problem caller and discover whether she is calling from home or work or a pay phone. They play detective. Do they hear coins drop in a pay phone slot, the interruption of an operator? The security guy calls her supervisor at work – several times – and gets her fired. He enlists the NYPD. Clearly, this one woman has taken the Trump Organization by storm and it’s all hands on deck!
As it turned out, the NY Telephone Company checked the Trump business phone system and found that an “internal line malfunction” was causing the thousands of hang-up calls attributed to the Chicago female.
The investigation was terminated June 18 by the Chicago FBI, which discontinued the pen register on the problem caller’s line and reported its findings to NY, Newark and the FBI Director.
- Why did Donald Trump and the Trump Organization receive expedited service from the FBI over such a trifling incident?
- Did this favored status extend through his election campaign? Does it still exist?
- Does this report give credence to the claim that Donald Trump was working for the Bureau as an informant, specifically in relation to his New Jersey casinos?
- If this is how Donald Trump reacted to harassing phone calls, what does it say about his ability to handle conflict? What would he do in a real emergency, one in which the security of this country was at stake?
You see, this phone system consists of a multibillion-dollar matrix of space age technology that is so sophisticated even we can’t handle it.
But that’s your problem, isn’t it?
So, the next time you complain about your phone service, why don’t you try using two Dixie cups with a string?
We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Phone Company.
—Lily Tomlin as Ernestine: 09/18/76, SNL Transcript