Is The Latest Attention Being Paid To Trump Taking Scrutiny Away From Clinton?

Originally published on May 16, 2016 1:50 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The 2016 presidential campaign is the hottest show in politics after "Hamilton." A couple of stories we'll take up this week - will Donald Trump's campaign be damaged by an old audio recording or his refusal to release his taxes or waffling over his call to ban Muslims from entering the country? Will Hillary Clinton be damaged by new allegations about the Clinton Foundation or losses that might loom in the upcoming primaries - or just being pushed out of the headlines by Donald Trump? Doyle McManus is Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Good to see you here. Thank you.

DOYLE MCMANUS: It's good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: This odd story first - The Washington Post has released a recording from 1991 in which someone who sounds like Donald Trump, but says he's just his publicist, boasts about his love life to a reporter and addresses his PR strategies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I've never seen somebody so immune to - he actually thrived on the bad press initially.

SIMON: And Now, I don't mind saying if that's not Donald Trump, the guy should be on "Saturday Night Live." Do - who do you - is there any question?

MCMANUS: There's no - not really any question about whether Mr. Trump did what he has said to have done, that is to say impersonated himself. He's litigating whether that particular recording is Donald Trump or not. Presumably, you could have forensic experts look at the tape.

SIMON: They've been on the cable channels.

MCMANUS: But the problem for Mr. Trump is he actually admitted to this practice in sworn testimony in a lawsuit in 1990. He's now saying he never heard of it before. He's trying to erase it. But I think this is emblematic of a bigger problem Mr. Trump has. And that's he spent much of his life as a larger-than-life tabloid character in New York. There are all kinds of strange stories about Donald Trump's past.

SIMON: If that was just some kind of prank 25 years ago, does it create a real political problem now if he just loud - lied outright on "The Today Show" about it not being him?

MCMANUS: I think this is a case in which if it turns out that he lied, and it certainly looks as if he's not telling the truth - let's say it in the decorous Washington way, I think that's actually a bigger problem than the prank. In a strange way, if Donald Trump simply said I did it at the time. It was harmless joke, as he, in fact, said to the reporter later on, I don't think voters would be too concerned. The problem for Donald Trump is - does this fit into a pattern of changing his statements, denying his past statements, denying things he's done?

SIMON: Will the taxes become an issue?

MCMANUS: I think the taxes will become an issue. I think the tax returns are an issue. Remember in 2012, Mitt Romney delayed releasing his tax returns until September, for months and months. It became an issue all summer. Donald Trump is trying to pull off a bigger, more audacious coup. And that is, apparently, never releasing his tax returns at all, never saying what his tax rate is.

If you remember back in 2012, what happened to Mitt Romney was in the middle of that campaign, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said I hear from my sources that Mitt Romney won't release his returns because he paid zero taxes for 10 years now. It appears that Harry Reid made that up, but it was a very damaging charge. And Donald Trump has left himself open to that. I'm going to bet you $20 right now some Democrat in the next two months is going to use some version of that line.

SIMON: Yeah. Wall Street Journal had a report Friday saying that when - that Hillary Clinton - the Bill Clinton - the Clinton Global Initiative worked to steer a federal grant to a not - for a for-profit company owned by friends of the Clintons. Is that a fair characterization? Is this going to be an issue that dogs her campaign?

MCMANUS: It appears to be a fair characterization. It's a rather tangled story. It has more to do with Bill Clinton than it does with Hillary Clinton. But it was not only money to a private company, but it also appears that the Energy Department also gave a grant to the same company that raises a bunch of questions. As I say, it's rather tangled.

This individual incident isn't going to bring Hillary Clinton down. The problem is that she already has a handicap in the form of the Clinton Foundation. It's one of several pieces of baggage she has brought into the campaign, and these problems simply won't go away. Reporters will continue pulling at them, both on the Hillary Clinton side and on the Donald Trump side. It's kind of like having a chronic toothache that you can't get rid of.

SIMON: Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times - thanks so much.

MCMANUS: Thank you, Scott. And I also want to thank BJ Leiderman for composing your theme music.

SIMON: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.