The alleged Trump tapes of Russian ladies urinating on beds and N-bomb “Apprentice” outtakes have taken on a mythical quality — a holy grail for people who want to believe something will drop that will cripple the administration, end this nightmare, and return us all to our previously scheduled, boring programming. For the N-word tapes, there was the long and twisting quest for the NBC recordings wherein the then-reality TV star dropped racial epithets and called his son mentally challenged — and then there are the pee tapes. We can debate if the Chris Steele dossier is real, but it’s definitely believable, given the president’s hatred of Obama and his love of gold.
The “Apprentice” tapes, on the other hand, are probably real, or so comic Tom Arnold has teased out for months on end. Does he have them, and, if so, what’s he waiting for? Last week, I went to Magooby’s Joke House in Baltimore to catch up with him.
Steve King: You’ve said publicly that hard-hitting journalists are looking into the “Apprentice” tapes and Trump-Russia collusion stuff. If you have these recordings, why not just drop it, or leak it?
Tom Arnold: Well, that’s the thing. I was tearing it up last fall talking about everything, and my lawyer’s like “You gotta slow down.” But my answer to that is they weren’t my tapes. I didn’t make the tape. The person and persons involved in it were very nervous about it. Like the Bill O’Reilly tape or the Lawrence O’Donnell tape. It’s just like that. And actually, there are Tom Arnold tapes… And I also had to weigh it… it’s something that’s been on my mind. Do I want my name associated with black kids hearing their president say the N-word?
So, to me, I’m a dumb guy, I just hear those words and that’s something, but as this investigation goes on, it’s important who he was speaking to and who was visiting the set. Did he have business with those people, those perhaps in on the Moscow Trump Tower project he was trying to build? I know that at least three people who were executive producers of that show are speaking openly to respected, big-time journalists. So that eases my mind. I think it would be very appropriate if those people revealed this stuff. And then it would also not be a federal offense. I live in a business where pirating is a federal offense — technically, somebody could be a hard-ass and say that’s exactly what I just did, if I put that out on Twitter. Now everybody who works for Mark Burnett’s company signs a $5 million clause saying that they can’t release any of this stuff. People like Mark Cuban have stepped up and said they would pay that, but their career would be over. I mean, look at Billy Bush now. His career, his marriage… the only one who keeps going is Trump.
SK: It’s like everything around Trump turns to shit. You’ve been vocal about these “Apprentice” outtakes for a long time. What prompted you to start talking about it?
TA: When Comey started talking about the emails publicly… I was getting frustrated, and so I just started talking about it sort of matter-of-factly. With Trump, I’ve known him 30 years. I directed a special at his casino many years ago, and he was on “The Best Damned Sports Show Period” many times. He called my house to do “The Apprentice” many times. I’ve been to the Playboy Mansion with him. So I know him, and it was always cordial and friendly. Then, in 2011, when he started the birther stuff, I wrote my friend at NBC and said “Tell him not to call the house anymore.” I was uncomfortable with that — and I’m not a prude, I can take stuff.
SK: That was dark. It was really fucked up.
TA: People were buying his bullshit. I talked about how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s agent, Michael Kives, called me from Hillary Clinton’s plane the weekend before the election and said “we really need you to release this information.” Of course, people took that as “Hillary called me and begged,” which she did not. I felt bad enough for her after that. The right wing made it seem like Hillary begged me for it. She never asked or begged me for it. I felt like I had to write her an amends letter, because I felt like the woman had suffered enough.
I talked to some other producer people and they said if I did release this, would it be clear who got it; what crew member it was. Then they would have been worried about their families [getting] harassed or threatened.
SK: Do you actually have tapes, or did you see them? Is it an actual tape, or a recording of someone watching it? What is it that you have?
TA: When someone sends you something of this magnitude, they’ll send it on perhaps a 48-hour link. I’m not a hacker. I don’t know how to retrieve that or scrape it off the inside of my computer. I don’t have anything.
SK: Someone does. Burnett does, right?
TA: Burnett has all the footage from every show. First of all, I took Kives up to Mark Burnett, shoulder to shoulder, and said “This fucker has everything you need. Why don’t you ask him, instead of asking me?” And Mark just pulled out his iPhone, with a picture of his son as Trump’s ring bearer. To Mark Burnett’s credit, he said Trump’s been trying to get the footage, too, and he’s resisted that. So, they have everything. And it can be rebuilt. If people aren’t going to be mad about “grab them by the pussy,” they’re not going to be mad about this… But if this footage is part of an investigation where there’s something illegal, then that’s important, eventually. But I don’t want to step on toes. There [are] little things I know, like about the Chris Steele dossier. There are things that people have shared with me, but when they shared it they didn’t know Trump was going to be president. They don’t miss any details. I do my little thing, like all good Americans should, and let the big boys figure it out. And, by the way, Homeland Security just said Friday that the Russians hacked into like 20 different states’ voting [systems], so that seems like the bigger story.
SK: It seems like the Russians were coming at it from every angle possible. You’ve been very forthcoming and accessible about this issue, and the need for the country to sort out its own problems through the justice system.
TA: Everybody needs to do the best they can. There’s a place for not only the justice system, but for the media to do that. Originally, when I first started talking about the tape, journalists and people just wanted to put the N-word out there. That was their whole thing. They just wanted to hear that, like “grab them by the pussy,” and that’s over. But if it goes in a linear story about legal things — that could actually affect things — then maybe it’s worth the wait.
SK: I take a less forward-looking view of it. Like, after Charlottesville, there may be no better time for something as innocuous as him saying something terrible on a recording that could undo him as president.
TA: But what do you mean by that? What do you mean “undo”?
SK: Well, immediately, everyone in Congress would have to start walking away.
TA: They won’t. I’m telling you. Last night he called a black football player a son of a bitch in front of a bunch of Alabama rednecks. I’m telling you his behavior is appalling and hearing a word from 2005 is not going to change that. They’re going to say that’s old stuff — not illegal — locker room talk, slip of the tongue, whatever. He’s almost said the word onstage at Arizona, that one time when he was talking about Putin calling Obama that. Everyone thinks it’s the magic pill. If I’ve seen it, do you think the people in the intelligence world haven’t seen it? People on the intelligence committee? You don’t think they are not aware of it being said? Trust me. They’re aware of it.
SK: Politically speaking, rather than legally, it would be an easy way to pull off a Band-Aid, than to put a president though indictment and everything else.
TA: I’ve thought about this is every single way. They can disavow this and that. You’ve seen how he is with the Nazis and other people.
SK: You would start to see things crater in a way that we haven’t seen before with a sitting president. Look at the backlash with the sports stuff. It would be one of those things that’s just impossible to defend.
TA: Trust me, I would love to be able to push a button and say I’m the hero that did away with all this stuff.
SK: Are you really against Trump’s agenda, or is this all a stunt of some kind? You obviously have a lot of information. Are you genuinely concerned with what this presidency means, or are you just kind of fucking with people?
TA: I don’t know what it means. Jimmy Kimmel knows more about the healthcare bill than [he does]. I know that for a fact. I know Trump hasn’t read it. I know he could not talk about it for 20 minutes. That scares me. And the same with Chuck Grassley in Iowa. He says this is a political thing, this isn’t about people. That scares me. He doesn’t know that he’s doing.
I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who work on the staffs of some of these older senators who’ve lost their way. They are being patriots. When Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein came out of that [closed-door committee hearing], as it were, and were horrified way back when. People were like “Oh my god, they’ve seen Trump naked.” No. They know that the election was hacked, and they know the results were wrong, and they were so overwhelmed. They don’t think that America could handle that — which we could — but there are people who are patriotic, and not so political, and are sharing stuff. Same with the White House. There are in people in White House right now who are on top of this thing.
SK: I don’t know if Mueller is the one who can bring this thing home.
TA: Well, we don’t know anything. We know he’s got 17 prosecutors who are excellent. He’s got to do the best he can. Our media people have to do the best they can. They need to stay on top of stuff. But we need senators and congressmen and women to step up and do what’s best for America. We need a couple brave people, especially in the House.
SK: No one wants to hear your president saying something terrible. No one wants to see a video of him having a piss party with Russian hookers, because that in and of itself is terrible for the country.
TA: It’s not a piss party. A hooker pissed on the bed that Obama slept in. I want to be 100 percent clear. Let me say this. When Christopher Steele is on TV for the first time, you will get it. He should be on TV all the time. He will calm everybody down, and he’s just waiting on Chuck Grassley and those assholes to confirm his dossier — which they’ve had such trouble finding to be false.
SK: It just feels like everyone is waiting for this thing that will reset the election. And we’ll be able to have a new election and all this other nonsense. You know what I mean? You’re not going to fix what happened, you can only hope to mitigate it.
TA: That’s okay. Let’s understand what happened. Let’s never let it happen again. And if you get rid of Trump, Pence is not better.
SK: He’s still an old-school Republican cold warrior, who could hopefully stop this from happening in the future. No one has ever questioned Mike Pence’s patriotism and love of his country.
TA: But, where is it now? He never steps out of line for Trump. When you run for office, of course you play to your base, but once you’re an American president, you’re everybody’s president. Trump is the first president in my lifetime who just plays to the base. He’s not the president for everybody, and he makes it very clear.