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Trump’s Bizarre History With 9/11

Beyond perpetuating Muslim conspiracy theories, Trump once claimed he himself pulled 9/11 victims out of rubble

Donald Trump Melania Trump. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, Pa., . Trump will be speaking during the September 11th Flight 93 Memorial Service in Shanksville, PaTrump, Shanksville, USA - 11 Sep 2018

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport in Johnstown, PA on September 11th, 2018.

Evan Vucci/AP/REX Shutterstock

September 11th is the most solemn day on the U.S. calendar. The terrorist attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead 17 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many, and no occasion calls for a greater show of reverence and respect, especially from the nation’s commander-in-chief. President Trump commemorated the fallen Tuesday morning by watching a DVR’d episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight and tweeting about the Russia investigation.

A few minutes later, the president retweeted a post from White House social media director Dan Scavino about how he signed a letter proclaiming September 11th “Patriots Day 2018,” before quickly returning to his comfort zone. Lou Dobbs was still blaring on the executive television, and half-baked musings about the Russia investigation still needed to be tweeted. In a few minutes, Trump would need to depart for a memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania — where 40 people died on Flight 93 while thwarting a plot to crash into the U.S. Capitol. He snuck in a nod to his legal counsel and one more attack on the Justice Department before departing.

The president was clearly pumped up for some Trump-style tragedy commemoration upon arriving in Pennsylvania.

Trump’s relationship with 9/11 has always been curious, if not outright disrespectful. As a born-and-bred New Yorker whose identity is closely tied to the city, one would think he would make a point of showing the utmost respect for those who lost their lives, but as is the case with Trump’s relationship to just about anything, he hasn’t been able to resist making it about himself whenever possible. During an interview with Bloomberg not even two weeks ago, the president referenced George W. Bush speaking through a bullhorn at ground zero as an annoying blip preventing Trump’s own popularity among Republicans from being the highest ever. “The advantage we have is — I am actually a very popular president, which people don’t like to say, you know,” Trump said. “In fact, I guess the Republican poll came out, there’s one at 92 and one at 93 and one at 90, and they’re the highest numbers that have ever been, with the exception of a tiny period of time with a bullhorn. But that period lasted for about a week.”

The issue was brought into focus during the 2016 campaign, as well, most notably in 2015 when he falsely claimed that he watched “thousands and thousands of people” on rooftops in New Jersey “cheering as that building was coming down.” Trump was using the claim to justify his calls to surveil mosques, noting that New Jersey has a “large Arab population.” A few weeks later, he would call for all Muslim immigrants to be banned from entering the United States.

It wasn’t the only time he used 9/11 as a political tool. “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him,” he said during a debate in February 2016. “And George Bush, by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.” When the audience booed, Trump claimed that he “lost hundreds of friends” in the attacks. A few months later, during a campaign event in Buffalo, New York, he lied about putting himself in harm’s way to help clear rubble.

Trump’s bizarre relationship with 9/11 predates his presidential run, of course. While speaking before Congress in 2005, Trump defended the use of asbestos in building materials by claiming that if the World Trade Center had been constructed using the toxic substance, they’d still be standing. In 2013, he famously tweeted that he “would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.” The tweet reportedly disappeared during the 2016 campaign, but a quoted tweet dated September 11th, 2013 remains on Trump’s timeline.

The most telling example of Trump’s understanding of 9/11, of his total lack of empathy and of his pathological self-centeredness came the morning of the attack. While on the phone with Secaucus, New Jersey’s WWOR, Trump was asked whether his building at 40 Wall Street has sustained any damaged as a result of the attacks. He proceeded to brag about how now that the World Trade Center had fallen, he owned the tallest building in downtown Manhattan. “40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan,” Trump said. “Before the World Trade Center it was the tallest. Then when the built the World Trade Center it become known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.”

To answer the question posed by WWOR’s Rolland Smith, the Trump building at 40 Wall Street did not sustain any damage from the attacks. This didn’t stop Trump from applying for and accepting federal recovery money after it was made available for the area’s small businesses, largely because of lobbying efforts by then-Senator Hillary Clinton. “For many months, I allowed people to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building,” Trump explained after he was pressed to return the money. “I was happy to do it and to this day I am still being thanked for the many people I helped. The value of what I did was far greater than the money talked about.”

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