His presidential campaign suspended with respect to the anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11 2001, Donald Trump kept a studious silence on Sunday, releasing only a statement. It was a stance in sharp contrast to vehement and convoluted claims he has made about that day over the last 15 years.
Immediately after the attacks, the lifelong New Yorker spoke with a local news anchor who asked whether, given his property in the financial district, he had learned anything about the devastation. Trump’s mind turned to his buildings.
“It was an amazing phone call,” Trump replied. “I mean 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan. And it was actually before the World Trade Center was the tallest. And then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second tallest. And now it’s the tallest.”
Trump later collected a $150,00 grant for 40 Wall Street, from a state recovery program meant to help small businesses after 9/11. In April 2016, he claimed that the funds were “probably a reimbursement for the fact that I allowed people, for many months, to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building”.
Officials who helped with the recovery have disputed Trump’s account to the New York Daily News, and questioned what help the businessman ever provided. But at recent rallies Trump has continued to take credit, saying at one campaign stop: “Everyone who helped clear the rubble, and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit.”
How much money Trump has given to recovery efforts or charities related to the 9/11 attacks remains an open question, though not without diligent investigation by the Washington Post, which found, for example, no record that Trump had ever given his own money to the 9/11 Museum. Just before the Republican primary, his foundation, which since 2008 has exclusively spent other people’s money, gave $100,000.
A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign told the Daily Mail last year that Trump had given “a total of $102m” to “hundreds of charitable foundations over a relatively short period of time, many of which helped people affected by 9/11”. Despite repeated requests, the campaign has declined to provide evidence of these gifts, and refused to release tax returns that would show donations.
Trump quickly urged the city to rebuild on the site of the towers, but within a few years said that the new building “shouldn’t be built” because of its “terrible design”.
“If we build this job the way it is, the terrorists win,” he told MSNBC host Chris Matthews in 2005. “If we rebuild the World Trade Center but a story taller and stronger, then we win. I mean, I don’t want to have the terrorists win, Chris. And that’s what’s going to happen if we build this pile of junk.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump has appeared to blamed the attacks on the inaction of American leaders. “The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush,” he said in a February debate. “He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe.”
In August, Trump said: “Those people that knocked down the World Trade Center most likely under the Trump policy wouldn’t have been here to knock down the World Trade Center, just so you understand.”
In September, he said: “I would’ve been tougher on terrorism. Bin Laden would’ve been caught a long time ago, before he was ultimately caught, prior to the downing of the World Trade Center.”
At another debate, he struck an uncharacteristically reflective note when spurred by criticism of “New York values” from a rival, Ted Cruz.“New York values were on display for all to see in the aftermath of 9/11,” Trump said. “In our darkest moments, as a city, we showed the world the very, very best in terms of bravery and heart and soul that we have in America.”
But at rallies over the last year, the businessman has frequently turned his attention toward Muslim Americans, whom he has accused of celebrating the attack. Trump has repeatedly claimed that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in Jersey City, New Jersey, on 9/11 itself.
The story is a fabrication, its origins in a rumor discredited by police and without any film or audio evidence. Trump later mocked a reporter who wrote a 2001 article that mentioned the rumor in the context of police investigations.
Trump has also claimed to have lost “hundreds of friends” in the attacks, though his campaign has declined to identify any victim whom he knew. On the 12th anniversary of 9/11, he wrote no memorial to the 2,996 people who died, nor to their families.
Instead, he tweeted: “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.”
The Republican nominee visited the World Trade Center memorial on Sunday, with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. In his statement, he said: “Today is a day of sadness and remembrance. It is also a day of resolve.
“Fifteen years ago, America suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. Thousands of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and innocent American children were murdered by radical Islamic terrorists.”