The Trump Files: The Time Donald Burned a Widow’s Mortgage

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This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on August 9, 2016.

Whether it’s giving to charities or young school kids, generosity doesn’t always come naturally for Donald Trump. But sometimes he’s capable of acts of genuine kindness, such as the good deed he performed for one Georgia widow in 1986.

That year, 66-year-old Annabel Hill was fighting to keep her farm in Waynesboro, Georgia. The farm, which was $300,000 in debt, had nearly been auctioned off that February. To save it, Hill’s husband killed himself, believing his life insurance policy would wipe out the debt. But he didn’t realize most insurance companies, including his own, wouldn’t pay out policies in the event of suicide, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Hills raised some money to pay down the debt, but they still owed $187,000 by the fall of 1986, and the farm was in danger of being sold again.

That’s when Trump stepped in. Atlanta businessman Frank Argenbright Jr. held a press conference for the Hills in September that earned national attention, including from Trump. “Trump heard about Mrs. Hill’s plight in September and worked with Argenbright to raise the remaining $187,000,” the Associated Press reported. “Donations of all sizes materialized—New York disc jockey Don Imus raised $15,000—but the debt remained at $78,000.” Trump agreed to pay half of the final $78,000 himself, and Tom McKamy, a wealthy Texas farmer, pitched in the rest.

“I’m just so grateful to these men,” Hill told United Press International. “It’s really hard with the main person in your family gone. This kind of eases the ache a little bit.” Hill’s daughter Besty told the Journal-Constitution that her family “saw a whole different side of [Trump] that was kindhearted, to reach out to us, to help us.”

There was still one Trumpian touch to the story. Two days before Christmas, Trump held a “burn the mortgage” party for the Hills in the atrium of Trump Tower. Trump flew the family up to New York on his own dime and set up a meticulously planned, TV-ready ceremony. “Trump ordered the waterfalls in his towers turned off, to make it easier for the TV sound technicians,” the Journal-Constitution reported. “He made sure that at least three tested cigarette lighters were on hand to spark the fire. The mortgage papers were fake, but Trump ordered an assistant to light one up to make sure they would burn quickly and dramatically.”

“I love burning mortgages,” Trump said. “There’s nothing that gives me a greater kick.”

The family was so eager to get back to work at the farm that Annabel’s son Leonard, named after his father, had remained in Georgia with his pregnant wife and spent the day before the party preparing to plant wheat, his mother told the AP. He still lives and works on the farm today.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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