Donald Trump, president of the United States, speaks during the first presidential debate © Patrick Semansky/AP
Explosive revelations: U.S. President Donald Trump privately mocks his religious followers, according to former staffers. These could play an important role in the election.
When Michael Cohen, the president's ex-house counsel, still had the status of a member of the family, Donald Trump apparently talked to him about others without mincing words. So, too, on the day in 2015 when, according to research by The Atlantic magazine, he called Cohen into his office to show him an article about an evangelical preacher.
"They are all crooks"
It detailed how megachurch leader Creflo Dollar convinced his followers to urgently need a $60 million private jet to better preach the word of God. Trump knew Dollar from a 2011 meeting with evangelical leaders.
Cohen, who divorced Trump in discord and is currently serving a prison sentence for his role in hush-money payments for sex actress Stormy Daniels, further reported that Trump was amused by how the preacher took money out of people's pockets. "They're all crooks," he had said.
One sentence that, in and of itself, doesn't have to mean much. Especially since it comes from someone who publicly squares off with the president in the best-selling book "Disloyal". But Cohen is not the only witness to testify that Trump publicly poses as a defender of religious values, but privately often speaks "with cynicism and contempt" about believers.
Attachment to preachers of the "prosperity gospel"
The magazine cites several "former staffers" who say Trump uses "comic stereotypes" to describe different religious communities. And he "mocks certain rites and doctrines of faith that are sacred to many Americans, that make up his base".
Trump's former White House spokesman, Anthony Scaramucci, tweeted a link to the "Atlantic" story and confirmed the information, adding "true". Alone with the preachers of the "prosperity gospel" he felt a kind of soul kinship. One of them, Paula White, serves as a senior White House adviser.
Trump and religion
"The Atlantic" also quotes a former Trump campaign manager on Trump's relationship with the Christian right. The president, he said, knows he needs these voters to get into power and stay there. This is why he has cultivated relations, he said.
Conversely, many evangelical leaders would have understood that Trump was not a religious man. That's according to the audio recording of a September 2016 meeting referenced in the article. In addition to Trump, participants included talk radio host Eric Metaxas, the head pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Robert Jeffress, and evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem.
Trump had admitted to church leaders that he "doesn't know the Bible as well as other people" and then joked about Mike Pence inviting him to bow his head in prayer. "I'm sorry," he had said, "I'm not used to this."
Assessments from the Trump family
Members of his own family also believe the president's role as defender of religion is mere calculation. "Whenever I see him standing next to a group of pastors laying hands on him, I see a speech bubble saying, 'What poor bastards,'" recounted niece Mary Trump, who caused a stir with her best-selling book "To Much and Never Enough".
She also released audio recordings in which Trump's older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, calls her brother a "cruel" man "without principles". In conversations recorded in 2018 and 2019, she too expressed surprise at the pact with the Christian Right.
"All he wants to do is pander to his base," added retired federal judge Trump Barry. Then to criticize him for caging refugee children: "If he was a religious person, he would be helping people – not doing this kind of."
A White House spokesperson dismissed all reports, saying, "Believers know that President Trump is a champion for religious liberty and the sanctity of life, and has acted decisively to support them and protect their freedom to worship."