In July 2016, Tony Schwartz started a long apology/demythologizing tour for ghostwriting Donald Trump’s 1997 hit origin story, The Art of the Deal. On Thursday, Charles Leerhsen, Trump’s ghostwriter for his 1990 follow-up, Surviving at the Top, jumped in with his own recounting of what it was like to get inside Trump’s head during a time when, as The New York Times discovered, Trump’s businesses were hemorrhaging money to the tune of $1.2 billion from 1985 to 1994.
In a Yahoo News essay, Leerhsen describes the Trump he worked with from 1988 to 1990 as mostly “bored out of his mind,” a “failing real estate developer who had little idea of what he was doing and less interest in doing it once he’d held the all-important press conference.”
Trump was making huge, outrageously leveraged, financially ruinous deals, but day-to-day, he spent “surprisingly large” amounts of time “looking at fabric swatches,” Leerhsen writes. “Indeed, flipping through fabric swatches seemed at times to be his main occupation,” and “some days he would do it for hours,” probably because fabric swatches “were within his comfort zone — whereas, for example, the management of hotels and airlines clearly wasn’t.”
Leerhsen elaborated Thursday evening on CNN. “At this time, like, things were really going to hell in his business,” but “in the center of that was this quiet office where he was going through fabric swatches most of the day, and in the middle of all this Sturm und Drang, he was oblivious to it,” he told Erin Burnett. “Did he believe the spin he was giving you?” she asked. “The only thing I think he’s above average at is compartmentalizing,” Leerhsen said. “I think it only really bothered him when it became public.”
Leerhsen also explained why all of Trump’s late-’80s purchases “were really stupid deals,” and how he and the editors tried to salvage the book with made-up “lame explanations” when Trump was exposed as broke. Watch below.
Read more: theweek.com