What Trump's handling of plagiarism episode shows

By Robert Costa

Eric Trump, son of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during the Republican National Convention. It's "us and blood," in the Trump organisation, as one Trump employee put it. Photo / AP
Eric Trump, son of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during the Republican National Convention. It's "us and blood," in the Trump organisation, as one Trump employee put it. Photo / AP

Meredith McIver, an employee valued by Donald Trump for her discretion and writing, took responsibility for the plagiarised portions of Melania's Trump's speech to the Republican National Convention, thrusting a little-known loyalist into the spotlight she had long avoided.

But she wasn't fired.

"Yesterday, I offered my resignation to Mr Trump and the Trump family, but they rejected it. Mr Trump told me that people make innocent mistakes and that we learn and grow from these experiences," McIver wrote in a statement adorned with the Trump Organisation's gold-lettered logo.

Trump's handling of the episode gave a rare glimpse into the shrouded and deeply personal culture of his New York-based real estate conglomerate, the Trump Organisation, where three of his adult children serve as executives and many staffers describe themselves as part of a family with a dominant patriarch.

As Trump prepares to accept his party's presidential nomination in Cleveland tomorrow, it was also a vivid reminder that the brash candidate remains a figure universally recognised but enigmatic as a leader, in particular over how he singularly manages the private company that he has called home for his entire professional life - and which would surely be a model for how he would arrange his White House.

Beyond the dramatic "you're fired" part of Trump's persona, and his penchant for shaking up his high command in business or his presidential campaign, you'll find a 70-year-old businessman who places a premium on finding and keeping hires who are utterly devoted to him and his gilded kingdom of skyscrapers and golf courses.

It is that tight-knit, obedient formation of mid-level confidants - the long-serving advisers and assistants, the security and legal personnel - that forms the mostly unnoticed core of Trump's organisation, and of his life. The setup has enabled him to lead as he does, barking decisions and making a flurry of phone calls from his 26th-floor executive suite in Trump Tower.

While Trump consults them and listens carefully to their updates on the latest price of glass windows in Scotland or acreage in Palm Beach, it is always him at the centre, him deciding. Understanding that dynamic and earning his trust within it has led to decades-long tenures for those who are more interested in helping Trump than sharing his power.

This is not an all-Ivy League club or a coterie with Wall Street polish. What a majority share, besides their reverence for "Mr Trump," are backgrounds that often have links to blue-collar New York or to experiences outside elite circles - and an innate aversion to taking any attention away from a boss who covets it.

According to her biography on a speakers' website, McIver, 65, is a native of San Jose, California, and graduated from the University of Utah. She trained at the School of American Ballet in New York before finding her way into Trump's orbit, working with him on several books and becoming a ghostwriter for both Trump and his wife whenever they were readying public remarks.

Instead of responding promptly to the crisis that immersed his campaign as the plagiarism became apparent, or cutting loose McIver for the lapse, Trump was reluctant about the suggestion that he should quickly reveal her role to the media, according to several people close to him.

In New York away from campaign aides and without a public schedule, he spent time connecting with McIver and other Trump Organisation officials to discuss the situation, said one person.

A man sits outside Quicken Loans Arena where the Republican National Convention is being held in Cleveland. Photo / AP
A man sits outside Quicken Loans Arena where the Republican National Convention is being held in Cleveland. Photo / AP

When McIver offered her resignation, Trump, annoyed and angered by the swirling media reports but working on several projects, including his upcoming nomination acceptance speech, promptly rejected it and told her that he valued her loyalty. He reasoned that her departure would be disruptive at a company whose internal politics and organisation are critical to him, especially as he campaigns, said a second person close to Trump.

During visits to Trump Tower over the past year, the Washington Post has spotted McIver on only a few occasions. Usually she is out of sight, not interested in meeting reporters stopping by to interview Trump. That same head-down approach is shared by the women and men who work in cubicles near Trump's office, answering the phone and doing accounting for his properties. They wait for him to call them, or yell their way, and otherwise tend to their tasks.

Others around Trump have similar stories to McIver's.

Michael Cohen, the company's executive vice-president and a lawyer, grew up on Long Island and shares Trump's outer-borough cadence. He has frequently described Trump as a father-like mentor. Jason Greenblatt, a top executive and a Jew, hails from Forest Hills, New York, and has been a fierce defender of Trump against anti-Semitic charges, taking the criticism personally.

Keith Schiller, a terse and tall former detective who has for years been Trump's ubiquitous bodyguard, and Rhona Graff, his executive assistant and gatekeeper, has been with him since the 1980s. Hope Hicks, now the campaign's spokeswoman, joined the campaign after working for the company and growing friendly with the family.

It's "us and blood," as one Trump employee once put it to the Post. Everyone working there knows that at least three of his children - Ivanka, Donald jnr and Eric - will always play key roles in guiding the operation and are the company's future. But the non-Trumps still feel protected and part of the family because of the way Trump manages without a deputy or a corporate palace guard.

"Today, more than ever, I'm honoured to work for such a great family," McIver wrote in her letter.

And at the Trump Organisation, the boss wants you to feel that family pull, as long as you stay in line.

- Washington Post

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