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Team Jeb Calls Out Trump for Trashing Freedom Tower

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Donald Trump’s history of making unserious comments related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks dates back years, according to Jeb Bush’s campaign, including when he disparaged the skyscraper designed to replace the Twin Towers and promoted his own in conjunction with a publicity drive for his TV show, "The Apprentice."

Over the last four days, Trump and Bush have traded barbs over whether or not Bush’s older brother, President George W. Bush, bore some responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fight started when Trump told Bloomberg TV Oct. 16, “The World Trade Center came down during his reign.” On CNN Sunday, Bush responded by saying, “Across the spectrum of foreign policy, Mr. Trump talks about things as though he's still on 'The Apprentice.' ” The feud continued over Twitter on Monday, where Trump said, “Jeb is fighting to defend a catastrophic event. I am fighting to make sure it doesn't happen again.”

On Monday evening, the Bush campaign fired back, calling out Trump for saying in May 2005 on MSNBC that if the new tower was built on the site of the World Trade Center, “the terrorists win.” He also called the Freedom Tower, as the design was then known, “disgusting” and “a piece of junk.”

A few days later, Trump held a press conference to announce he was supporting a different design for buildings to replace the World Trade Center and wanted developers to scrap the Freedom Tower plan. He promised to promote his own design on that night’s live season "Apprentice" finale. Family members of 9/11 victims called the move “outrageous” and “the ultimate publicity stunt.”

“His comments -- both then and now -- show he’s not serious about the issues we face,” Bush’s rapid-response director, Matt Gorman, told me Monday. “These are dangerous times and we can’t afford a leader who treats American foreign policy like it’s all some sort of board game."

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this column.

Trump’s 2005 interview was only one of several instances when Trump made disparaging remarks about the Freedom Tower design. In 2003, Trump called the plan by architect Daniel Libeskind a “monstrosity of garbled nonsense.” In 2005, he said, "It's a building that's essentially a skeleton" and the plan "looks like a junkyard." (Libeskind's plan was subsequently revised several times, eventually resulting in the current building, known as One World Trade Center.)

The New York Times reported in 2005 that family members of 9/11 victims didn’t like the alternate design put forward by Trump and his engineer, Kenneth Gardner, because it was similar to the original towers of the World Trade Center, only larger. That seemed to contradict statements Trump had made in 2001, just days after the attacks, when he said, “To be blunt, they were not ‘great’ buildings. They only became great upon their demise last Tuesday.”

Trump’s plans for the site also did not include the memorials that now surround One World Trade Center. Thomas Roger, father of one 9/11 victim, told the Times that Trump’s proposal was “in poor taste.”

The public officials and leaders of the project chastised Trump for announcing his proposal three years into the process and without working with the team that was already in place. After the press conference finished and "The Apprentice" finale aired, there was little follow-up and the current project went forward without Trump’s input.

Disparaging the Freedom Tower and blaming George W. Bush for the 9/11 attacks are not the same thing. The Bush campaign is tying them together now to make the argument that Trump has a long record of saying unserious things about the attack and its aftermath. Only now, he is not hosting a TV show, he is running for president.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net