«Trump is a voracious reader»
In the person of Ed McMullen US -President Donald Trump has sent one of his friends and trusted advisors as ambassador to Berne, Switzerland. In his first Swiss interview, the new ambassador provided an insight into the “real” Trump. The president is clearly not the person presented by a hostile media, day after day.
The normally splendid panorama of the Bernese Alps is covered in thick fog. On the grand piano in the embassy’s “Piano Room” there are music notes, scribbled on note paper “cccgaageeddc,” the melody of “Old Mc Donald had a farm.” Out of the depths of the corridor there appears the US embassy’s new lord of the manor: Ed McMullen. He is the man who helped “The Donald” win the primaries in South Carolina - a home run! Ed first met the president in college at a New York Yankees baseball game where he was introduced by a mutual friend. Over the memorable campaign of 2016, they became good friends.
It’s the first interview given by Ambassador Ed McMullen to the Swiss press. He is relaxed. There are no signs of stress, even if he faces a steep uphill diplomatic battle. Celebrity journalist, Michael Wolff, has just exploded his bombshell, “Fire and Fury,” the title of his salacious blockbuster. According to the “tell all,” members of Trump’s inner circle consider the president “an idiot” and that he behaves “like a child.” The supremely confident journalist claims boldly that his book will end the Trump presidency.
Mr. Ambassador, the past few days have been a roller coaster.
Only for those who want to ride on the roller coaster.
Well, as journalists we have to ride on the roller coaster when a book comes out that causes a major eruption in the White House and makes headlines all across the globe.
Oh, you read it?
Yes, we did. Author Michael Wolff claims that “100% of the people around him" question Trump's fitness for office.
Here is the only thing I am going to say about the book. I have spent two years traveling with the president. Nothing that I have heard that’s in the book – because I won’t read the book – has any bearing on reality. Period. I know the president. I know him very well. There is absolutely nothing in that book that bears any resemblance to the reality based on what has been in the reports. So, for those who want to ride the roller coaster, play with books, and worry about things produced by people who live in fantasy: Have fun! But people who want to focus on policy, focus on improving the United States, and getting things moving in the right direction, those are the people who I will converse with, interact with and actually help solve the problems that we have to solve.
The first months the Trump administration has been plagued with leaks. Journalists were fed gossip which they spun into biased reports and books. Have you ever seen a similar amount of leaks before?
I don’t think this administration is much different than most in the past. If you look at President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush, administrations, particularly in the first terms, they are always disorganized. There may have been some leaks, but I don’t think it was out of the ordinary. This is typical of Washington. And it is only getting worse the way Washington operates and, frankly, the way the world operates in politics today. This is the real new normal. In the last eight months, this administration has taken a very good look at where its strengths and weaknesses were. And they made sure that the strengths were enhanced and the weaknesses were corrected. This President has been doing an amazing job in bringing in a quality team.
We understand that you don’t want to react to allegations made in the book. However, President Trump has. After his mental fitness for office was put in question, he tweeted: “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart... not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!”
As a close friend of the president, have you witnessed “the genius” in Donald Trump?
I think it is unfortunate the way the media takes something he says and completely distorts what his intention was. You have a group of people who are intent on trying to demean. Recent studies have shown that five percent of the media the president has received in last year was positive. 95 percent was negative. There is clearly an effort to try and focus on the negative. I’m not going to be a part of that game. I am going to focus on the things that I know that this president is committed to doing. I was the third person he hired for his election campaign. I have spent a long time with him to understand why he wanted to be president and how he intends to carry that out. Now. Genius? I would say he is very, very genius, frankly. Look at the reality.
What is the reality?
The reality is: The President actually graduated from the top business school in the US, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in the top of his class. He then went on to build a multi-billion-dollar corporation. He then went on to be a part of the media, which is very difficult to go from business into the media. He built “The Apprentice” which was an extremely successful and popular show. And then he proceeded to run for president. To be able to do four amazing things like that in your lifetime, I’d say it’s pretty genius. I know this man. I have spent more time with him than anyone quoted in these books. And I can tell you that he is dedicated to staying focused like a businessman and does not get taken off track. Yes, he has to address some of the issues because they are so fallacious and so untrue. It is unfortunate that the president of the United States is put in the position of having to respond. But the fact is, he is focused on making the United States great. He had great success in his first year. Everything that I have seen about the man - and I have first met him when I was 22 years old - I have seen the genius in Donald Trump. And there is absolutely no doubt that this is a man of amazing intellect, amazing energy, amazing focus, and absolute intent to carry out what he said he would. That is the great genius of Donald Trump.
Yes, he has to address some of the issues because they are so fallacious and so untrue. It is unfortunate that the president of the United States is put in the position of having to respond. But the fact is, he is focused on making the United States great. He had great success in his first year. Everything that I have seen about the man - and I have first met him when I was 22 years old - I have seen the genius in Donald Trump. And there is absolutely no doubt that this is a man of amazing intellect, amazing energy, amazing focus, and absolute intent to carry out what he said he would. That is the great genius of Donald Trump.
Swiss people tend to be suspicious about boastful people. When they read Trump’s tweets about the size of his (atomic) “button” or him being “a very stable genius,” they are taken aback. They tend to take him literally, but not seriously. How do you suggest we take Trump?
It is important for all of us to step back and look who this president is. If anyone is expecting business as usual and a status quo presidency out of Donald Trump, they are sorely mistaken. This is a different man. Just as Ronald Reagan when he was elected President, he was a very different man. The times have changed. This isn’t Ronald Reagan. But this is Donald Trump who has very Reaganesque qualities. He is not willing to kowtow to the pressures. And he is going to set out where he stands and follow and pursue with an intensity that we have never seen before in the United States presidency. After having had conversations with many Swiss, I have been impressed that they understand that the media has been completely one sided, that they are getting a perspective from CNN and other news outlets that have an agenda very different from the president’s. When you look at the facts and objectively understand where this president has taken the country in the last year you can see that’s good for the Swiss, it’s good for the USA, it’s good for the world economy. And that is the key to this president’s great genius. Without fail you can rest assured this won’t be a conventional presidency as we have seen in the last 20 years. This is a man who says what he thinks and does what he says.
Have you spoken to the President since you have arrived in Switzerland?
I don’t discuss my conversations with the president. I can speak to the president when I need to. But those are private conversations.
For the Swiss, it is good to know that if there are bilateral frictions, you have a direct line to the White House. Can you pick up the phone any time of the day and get to speak to the president directly?
Yes. The president made it very clear when we discussed me being ambassador that whenever and whatever I need from him he is only a phone call away. The communication with the president is fantastic. As we prepare for Davos, we have had a lot of interaction with the administration. And I did receive a nice note from him personally about something that was done in Switzerland that he was very pleased with. He is clearly watching his ambassadors and knows what’s happening in Switzerland.
Can you share with us what it was that made the president happy?
It was an article from a Swiss weekly that came across his desk that made him very happy. He is an admirer of Switzerland and Liechtenstein. He skied and has been on vacation in Switzerland.
Trump skied in Switzerland?
When he was young with his children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka. They love Switzerland. They have skied here with their mother, Ivana, as well.
You arrived here just before Christmas. Where did you celebrate?
The family flew in just before Christmas and we went down to Zermatt. The skiing and the snow was phenomenal.
Do you hit the slopes?
I do, but not on that trip. Our skiing gear was shipped in late. One of the great things about being back in Switzerland is the memories that I have. The last time I was in Zermatt, my wife was pregnant with my son who is now 23. Both of our children celebrated with us this year. They didn’t want to go back to the US. But reality is what it is. They had to go back to work and finish school.
When you call the president next time what will you tell him about your first weeks in Switzerland?
I think we have
a really set a positive tone in Switzerland. I’ve spent a lot of time working to get to know the various federal counselors.
You have met most of them?
Yes. I have been very impressed about their openness and willingness to work with the US, and the eagerness to really strengthen the bonds that make our relationship strong. With Ignazio Cassis, I enjoyed greeting him in Italian! He invited me to come down to Ticino. So, I will tell the president, and I have told the administration in the last few weeks, that we have an amazing opportunity in Switzerland.
Mr. Ambassador, you have a tough job. Much of Switzerland is virulently anti-Trump. If you look into Swiss media at any given day you will find an abundance of ridiculing of Donald Trump. Of course this has an impact on people’s opinion. What is your plan to win hearts and minds of Swiss people and introduce the “real” Trump you have known for years?
Donald Trump will do that on his own. I watched that happen. For two years I have traveled with him and I watched the articles that were written about him that had absolutely nothing to do with the real man. I watched those articles take directions that no one understood or believed. And I watched election night when the news reported that there was a 95 % chance that Hillary Clinton will be president of the United States and a very remote 5 % chance that Donald Trump would win. I have great faith in the American people and the Swiss people to pierce through the nonsense. The public today is very engaged through social media and so many other venues where they can get information. So, I would say that as people learn from this president what he really is about, that’s where the tweets are important.
A lot of people don’t like that the president tweets.
The fact of the matter is those tweets are unique to this presidency. He can go directly to the people. The people in the United States were really ready for something different and they got something different. They got an honest, lay-it-all-out-for-what-it-is president who is not going to sugarcoat things. That is not something many in Europe are familiar with.
Will you tweet?
No. We have a twitter site at the embassy.
You have known Donald Trump closely for more than 30 years. We are curious to know: How does Donald Trump work? How does he make decisions? Who does he listen to?
He listens to everyone.
Everyone that he trusts around him. There is no ideological guru who comes in the room and says: “Here is the recipe”. Donald Trump brings in everyone that he trusts on any specific issue, just as any good CEO. Wharton Business School trained him well. That’s how he executes: brings them in, listens, and then makes a decision. He is a CEO. He is not a political hack. That is what is so hard for people to understand. The President is not taking polls and focus groups and sticking his finger in the wind to decide in what direction to take this country. He is a businessman who makes decisions quickly, deliberately and with information from the best people he can get it from. And that is the Donald Trump that impressed me from day one. He is nobody’s fool. He is absolutely focused and determined every day. This man has more stamina than anybody I have ever seen in politics or business in my life.
Still? At an age of 71?
Literally, during the campaign he would be going all day long. At night, when everyone went to bed, he would still be up until about 1 or 2 in the morning, and then he would be up around 5 or 6 am, before everyone else. In his room he was going through his papers reading. He reads constantly. He is one of the most voracious readers I have ever met in my life.
But he does not read books, he reads articles.
That’s not true. He does read books.
Everybody believes he never reads a book.
It’s nonsense! I have had conversations with him about the books he was reading. You go into Trump Tower and on his desk is a stack of his reading material. I grabbed one early on and said, “What do you think about it?” he said, “You have got to read it, fantastic!” And he went through 3 or 4 points. I read that book, and realized that he synthesizes things better than anybody can.
He’s a fast reader?
He is a fast reader and he goes to the core. Anyone who says this man doesn’t read, doesn’t understand. I saw the volumes of things that he went through night after night after night. Then I was quizzed on those things the next day, and asked specifically what I thought about them, as he asked 20 more people on the phone or in person what they thought about them. He is one of the most inquisitive men I have met and he is also one of the most decisive men I have met.
Our personal experience with the Swiss federal bureaucracy is that there is a great reluctance to get involved with the US. Since Trump took office, the mood has grown even more hostile. Have you felt that so far?
Not at all. Of course there are questions people have, and I understand that. When you have been fed a dose of nonsense for a year out of the main stream media and that’s all you have heard and you haven’t seen the facts and really objectively looked at the facts. You can disagree with the way that the president may initiate certain politics. As I said, he is unconventional, this is not a politician. This is a businessman who made billions of dollars all over the world. He understands the world economy. And he understands it exceedingly well.
I think when you have the conversation with anyone about the facts. Facts matter. We can sit and talk about what we would like the facts to be. What we think they might be. What we politically, ideologically think should be happening. But facts are facts. And a record stock market with the Dow Jones at 25000 points is unheard of. No one would have ever guessed that is where we would be. In fact, there were many people who said – and the media did really do a great job of trying to promote this - that the economy was going to be in desperate shape under Trump. They suggested to sell off all your stocks, go into bonds. Well, god help those people who did, because they missed one of the most amazing booms in the economy in the last year.
You have known Switzerland for more than twenty years. You were a young leader of the American-Swiss Foundation. How would you characterize the Swiss?
The wonderful thing about the Swiss is they are very fair and objective. They are not jaded. They are inquisitive. They think. They actually take the time to understand, when you explain what the facts are, how things work. I think the uniqueness of the Swiss is that they are neutral and objective. And if they neutrally and objectively look at president Trumps policies, they can only conclude that they have been good for them, good for their economy, and for their future.
Switzerland is neutral by constitution, but sometimes our governments tends to forget that. Last year President Doris Leuthard attacked President Trump at the UN general assembly, full frontal. Regarding Trumps “America First” strategy, she said: “We do not share the notion, that nationalism and patriotism will achieve anything positive.” How does this go down with Trump and his administration coming from a neutral state?
I know the president and his administration processes things by listening to all perspectives. They listen to things objectively. I don’t mean to imply that Federal Councilor Leuthard has an agenda, but those who have a different perspective are more than welcome to have that perspective. I do think that in the end you have to look at numbers and facts and data. Let’s have a conversation about that rather than rhetoric. I think that’s when we understand the real opportunities for Switzerland and for the United States. And they look exceedingly bright and exceedingly strong over the next three years.
The Swiss business community is uncomfortable with “America first”.
A couple of weeks ago, the president’s national security statement clearly addressed the meaning of “America first”: national security, protecting the homeland, building our economy. It does not mean that we do that alone. It does mean that we do that with our long standing world partnerships. How will this be approached on trade? Only when there is an imbalance or a trade agreement that is in the negative interest of the US, our attempts will be to correct that in order to have fair and free trade. Free trade is only free when it is fair.
Switzerland is on a Treasury watch list as a possible currency manipulator because of the interventions of the Swiss National Bank. Could our country become a target of the American administration?
There have been conversations between Swiss senior officials and US senior officials in that regard. If you patiently wait, I don’t see that issue being an impediment to our relationship. Look at that list and you see that there are matters of degree: Some countries are clearly problematic, Switzerland’s currency issues are related to its status as a refuge currency, which is different from others on that list.
What do you say to Swiss business leaders who fear that Trump and his economic and trade policy are dangerous for a small country relying on multilateral approaches?
The US is reliant on the 7th largest investor of foreign direct investment in the US – Switzerland! We recognize the partnership, not only on an economic level but also on a diplomatic level: The good offices of the Swiss and their efforts to work as an intermediator with Iran and other countries. We have amazing opportunities. I don’t see how the thriving of the US economy could be deleterious to the economy of the Swiss in any way. Regulatory reform, tax reform – all have made it better for the Swiss to invest and do what they have done so well over the years. I have noticed in the media that many in Europe are saying that our new tax code may require them to make some changes in their own tax codes to be competitive. That only creates a great environment all across the international economic community - innovations that are good for the private sector and for the consumer.
As much as we like to invest in foreign countries, we also like to sell our products – pharmaceuticals, watches, machinery. And that is where the worries begin. There has been this idea of a border adjustment tax to rise import prices…
When I was here on a short visit in November to present my credentials, that was what I heard from the Swiss business community: border adjustment tax, very serious concerns! Well, that was in the bill initially, but it did not pass Congress.
You think it is dead?
I am not a political theorist or an expert on what Congress is going to do. But one thing I do know about Congress is that Congress does not have an appetite for taking on tax policy year after year after year. That tax bill was the last time I think that we are going to see any serious change in tax policy in the United States for some time to come. The last big tax bill was 30 years ago.
You have been an entrepreneur, as has the president. Are business relations the top priority of your ambassadorship?
Yes. Obviously, I think a good relationship with the political leadership is critical because they govern how the economies work. So, my goal will be to have strong relationships with the top leaders in the federal council and in the parliament and also in the business community. I will be spending a great deal of time meeting the various business leaders. And I don’t mean just the top CEOs of the largest multinational corporations – they are critically important - but the real opportunity in Switzerland is the entrepreneurs who are building this economy. I am going to spend a lot of time with them, showing and creating opportunities between the US and Switzerland for market share and brand opportunities. We really will have some exciting experiences over the next three years and find the entrepreneurs in Switzerland who can grow their businesses into hopefully multinationals one day.
How will we be able to assess your success in this field in three years?
You sound like Donald Trump! The wonderful thing about foreign direct investment is that, at the end, we have numbers to show us how successful we were. As I see it, there is no end. Obviously, I will leave Switzerland, but by then I hope to have laid a foundation for substantive opportunities between business and political leaders to build on for decades to come. So, there is no end game, there is a foundational effort to create the structures and the relationships critical to building a decades-long opportunity of growth and investment.
Is there any chance for a new attempt for a bilateral free trade agreement between the US and Switzerland?
We must have continued discussions about that opportunity. But, obviously, agriculture has been an obstacle here.
And it continues to be an obstacle?
Well, it is also an obstacle here among the Swiss. You just had some conversations in the parliament last month. But I would never shut that door because I do think that there are amazing opportunities.
Was it a mistake for Switzerland to give up banking secrecy?
Switzerland has come into compliance with what the US requires to be able to do banking. That is good for both the Swiss banking community and for the US banking community. There are some other impediments out there like FATCA which lies in the Congress, awaiting movement. I would like to think that with this administration there will be a very strong relationship-building between the banking community here and the banking community and the administration in the US. I look forward to be a participant in that, because the banking history of Switzerland is not built on secrecy, it is built on brilliance. In the new regulatory structures that we live under, there is still great opportunity for the banks of Switzerland to play the critical role they always have.
Frankly spoken, Mr. Ambassador, you seem very different from the President that we get to see on TV. You are soft spoken, composed and you don’t tweet. Can you tell us, what you two have in common?
Oh! We have a lot in common. We were both born in New York. We both have a similar sense of humor. I love traveling with him because his humor is so acerbic and dry and funny. And we have one exceedingly important trait or common characteristic, and that is that we both love our country and recognized that it was in need of a serious change, that the direction needed to be very strongly moved to encourage people to engage in elections and in their public policy, which is something I have done all my life. So, for me, to sell my business, which was a successful advertising firm, to take the offer to be ambassador to Switzerland, was really an opportunity to share the vision that he and I share. And, like the president, when you have a serious change in lifestyle and serious change in direction, you are not going to enter a new job to accomplish the trivial, you are going to look for substantive, bold changes.