The FBI’s role in the election that gave Donald Trump the presidency has been a matter of partisan contention for months. Many Democrats have accused FBI Director James Comey of giving Trump a massive boost by announcing 11 days before the election that the bureau was effectively reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Then on Wednesday, McClatchy reported that the FBI and five other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have for months been investigating whether Russia may have covertly funneled money to help Trump win the election.
But what’s not widely known is that the next president has a history with the FBI that goes back more than three decades. According to a 1981 FBI memo, Trump offered to “fully cooperate” with the bureau, proposing that FBI agents work undercover in a casino he was considering opening in Atlantic City. FBI agents even prepared an “undercover proposal concerning the TRUMP casino” that senior agents and Trump planned to discuss, according to the document.
The memo, portraying a series of early meetings between Trump and the FBI, may provide important clues about the nature of the relationship between the future president-elect and the country’s largest law enforcement agency. It is not understood whether, or how deeply, Trump cooperated with the bureau in this particular instance or in the decades since, although the Washington Post has reported that Trump invited one of the agents at those early meetings to sporting events and concerts as late as the mid-1980s.
The four-page memo, written by Damon T. Taylor, an FBI special agent who worked organized crime cases out of the New York field office, describes how Trump first approached the FBI in April 1981 to “to express his reservations” about building a casino in Atlantic City.
“Trump advised Agents that he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City,” the Sept. 22, 1981, memo states. “Trump also expressed at this meeting, the reservation that his life and those around him would be subject to microscopic examination.”
Trump told Taylor and a second agent that if he decided to build the casino he wanted to “cooperate” with the FBI. The agents, who cautioned Trump about his casino plans, said they would revisit their discussion if he decided to break ground. Taylor later spoke with FBI higher-ups about Trump’s offer.
A couple of months later, in June 1981, Taylor and the second agent met with Trump and his younger brother, Robert. Donald Trump told the agents he had decided to follow through with the casino project and offered to “fully cooperate” with the FBI “during the construction phase and subsequently once the casino was operational.”
“Trump stated in order to show that he was willing to fully cooperate with the FBI, he suggested that they use undercover Agents within the casino,” the memo said. Taylor, who at one point told Trump that it would be wise to invest his money elsewhere, “advised Trump he could not speak for the FBI, and he could not make any agreements or promises as per Bureau policy in this matter.”
So Trump asked Taylor to introduce him to the FBI officials with whom he could discuss his proposal. Taylor contacted officials at the FBI’s Newark and Atlantic City offices to hammer out the “undercover proposal” for the Trump casino. That proposal was “in a thoroughly finished state,” the memo said, and Trump and the special agents in charge of the New York and Newark field offices were scheduled to discuss it on Oct. 1, 1981.
It could not be determined whether that meeting ever took place or whether the FBI acted on the undercover proposal.
The Trump transition team did not respond to questions about the memo or how Trump may have cooperated with the bureau. The FBI’s New York field office deferred to the bureau’s national press office, which declined to comment. Robert Trump did not immediately respond to a message left with his secretary. Taylor died in 2007.
The FBI memo first surfaced 20 years ago in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the website The Smoking Gun. Reporters from the website were interested in an FBI informant, Daniel Sullivan, who had close ties to the Mafia. According to the memo, Sullivan was employed by the Trump Organization as a “labor consultant.” He also was a co-owner of the the plot of land in Atlantic City where Trump would build his casino. It was Sullivan who introduced Trump, then 35 years old, to special agent Taylor.
Over the past year, as Trump ran for president, the memo was cited in reports published by the Marshall Project and the Washington Post. But in those stories, discussion of the memo centered on Trump’s alleged mob ties rather than his relationship to the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. Emma Best, an independent researcher, flagged the overlooked portions of the FBI memo to BuzzFeed News.
BuzzFeed News Reporter Ali Watkins contributed to this report.