On Sunday, the Times ran a front-page story about Donald Trump’s older brother, Freddy, a heavy drinker who died an early death, back in 1981, at the age of forty-three. Freddy was a free spirit who quit the family real-estate business to become a pilot; Donald was more ambitious, attending Wharton business school and following the lead of his father, Fred, Sr., a developer who built the family fortune.
The article contained some interesting stuff about the young Donald Trump. And, buried toward the end, it also referred to an incident that says something about the adult Trump, what sort of a person he is, and what kind of President he might be. In 2000, during a family dispute about the details of his father’s will, Trump, who was by then fabulously wealthy in his own right, cut off benefits from the family health plan that were paying for the medical care of his nephew’s seriously ill young son.
The Times story didn’t go into much detail about the fight within the Trump family, but it was a bitter one. Heidi Evans, a reporter for the Daily News, who later won a Pulitzer Prize as an editorial writer, covered the story at the time, and she got the goods. This is how one of Evans’s articles, which the Daily News published on December 19, 2000, began:
Even when it comes to a sick baby in his family, Donald Trump is all business. The megabuilder and his siblings Robert and Maryanne terminated their nephew’s family medical coverage a week after he challenged the will of their father, Fred Trump. “This was so shocking, so disappointing and so vindictive,” said niece Lisa Trump, whose son, William, was born 18 months ago at Mount Sinai Medical Center with a rare neurological disorder that produces violent seizures, brain damage and medical bills topping $300,000.
According to Evans’s account, the baby, William Trump—whose father, Fred Trump III, is Freddy’s son—had been diagnosed with “infantile spasms, a rare disorder that can lead to cerebral palsy or autism and a lifetime of care.” (The Times article notes that William did develop cerebral palsy.) This chronic illness required round-the-clock nursing care and frequent visits to medical specialists and emergency rooms. Twice in the first eight months of his life, William stopped breathing. At that stage, fortunately for the baby and his family, he was being covered under a medical plan paid for by a Trump family company.
The situation changed in March, 2000, after Fred III and his wife, Lisa, filed suit in Queen’s Surrogate Court, claiming that Fred, Sr., who died in June, 1999, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and that his will had been “procured by fraud and undue influence” on the part of Donald, his brother Robert, a New York businessman, and his sister Maryanne, a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey. The will had divided most of their father’s estate, which was worth somewhere between a hundred million and three hundred million dollars, between the families of his surviving children, leaving considerably less to Freddy’s descendants than to other siblings’ children.
Trump and his siblings insisted that the will accurately reflected their father’s wishes. After the challenge, it didn’t take them long to retaliate. On March 30th, Fred III received a certified letter telling him that the medical benefits provided to his family by the Trump organization would end on May 1st. The letter prompted Fred III to return to court, this time in Nassau County, where a judge ordered the Trumps to restore the health coverage until the dispute was resolved. “I will stick to my guns,” Fred III told Evans. “I just think it was wrong. These are not warm and fuzzy people. They never even came to see William in the hospital. Our family puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional.” Fred III’s sister, Mary, told Evans, “William is my father’s grandson. He is as much a part of that family as anybody else. He desperately needs extra care.”
Trump, for his part, was unapologetic about his actions. “Why should we give him medical coverage?” he told Evans. When she asked him if he thought he might come across as cold-hearted, given the baby’s medical condition, he said, “I can’t help that. It’s cold when someone sues my father. Had he come to see me, things could very possibly have been much different for them.”
In talking to the Times reporter Jason Horowitz about the decision to withdraw the medical coverage, Trump said, “I was angry because they sued.” Eventually, the lawsuit was settled “very amicably,” he said, and he claimed to be fond of Fred III, who now works in real estate but not as part of the Trump organization.
It was perhaps notable, however, that the story didn’t contain any comment from Fred III or his sister Mary reciprocating those feelings.
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