The Trump Files: Donald Thinks Asbestos Fears Are a Mob Conspiracy

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Believe Donald Trump, folks: There is an anti-asbestos conspiracy. In his 1997 book, The Art of the Comeback, Trump warned America not to buy the crusade against “the greatest fire-proofing material ever used.” He claimed the movement to remove asbestos—a known carcinogen—was actually the handiwork of the mafia:

I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal. Great pressure was put on politicians, and as usual, the politicians relented. Millions of truckloads of this incredible fire-proofing material were taken to special “dump sites” and asbestos was replaced by materials that were supposedly safe but couldn’t hold a candle to asbestos in limiting the ravages of fire.

Trump claimed asbestos is “100 percent safe, once applied,” and that it just “got a bad rap.” That, unsurprisingly, was a stretch. Asbestos can be safe, but only if it’s in perfect condition and not shedding any fibers, which are toxic and can cause cancer. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the asbestos often used in fireproofing will “readily release airborne fibers if disturbed”—and that there’s “no ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has been linked to unsafe work conditions and crooked contractors. Polish construction workers who worked on the construction of Trump Tower sued Trump, with some telling the New York Times that “they often worked in choking clouds of asbestos dust without protective equipment.” The contracting company used by Trump hired the Poles—undocumented immigrants who were working off the books—at only $4- to $5-an-hour, dramatically less than the wages of union members working on the same site. Some of the workers charged they were paid even less. The case was settled in 1999, but the terms are sealed.

But Trump did know something about the mob. A recent story in Politico laid out Trump’s long-standing and unusually close ties to mob-linked figures, including his lawyer Roy Cohn and the concrete company he used to build Trump Tower. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” wrote investigative reporter David Cay Johnston.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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