UPDATE: The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett has broken his silence to deny some of the Trump tape rumors. That story here.
For Hillary Clinton supporters, the prospect is so tantalizing: more damaging tapes of Donald Trump — perhaps worse than anything we’ve heard yet — recordings that could provide a final death blow to his presidential campaign. And the only thing that stands in the way is reportedly some contractual non-disclosure commitments.
Over the weekend, Bill Pruitt — producer for the first two seasons of NBC’s The Apprentice — claimed tapes exist of the Republican presidential nominee making “far worse” comments than what Trump said in a 2005 video released Friday. (In that clip, outtakes from an appearance on Access Hollywood, Trump said he could grab women “by the p—y” because of his fame, among other graphic statements about women.) Another TV veteran, producer Chris Nee, claimed in a now-deleted tweet that Trump — who spent 11 years as host of the reality television series — may have used the “N-word” on the tapes. (Nee later wrote she had only “heard rumors” of the videos.) According to a report on BuzzFeed, meanwhile, Apprentice executive producer Mark Burnett controls the footage and has threatened to sue any employee who leak footage to the media. Nee claimed in another tweet that the contractual penalty for leaking footage was $5 million.
And that brings us to today. Burnett isn’t talking, and NBC isn’t saying much either — other than vaguely suggesting that the tapes are not under the network’s control. This is a stack of unverified claims and assumptions that we’re reluctant to place much weight on at all. But assuming what’s been reported is accurate, well then … from the point of view of Clinton supporters, what’s a mere $5 million compared to the possibility of living in a Trump presidency dystopia?
Cue David Brock, who runs one of Clinton’s Super Pacs, and tweeted, “If a $5 million ‘leak fee’ is what stands between truth and total Trump implosion, sign me up.”
And now there’s a new GoFundMe page devoted to the topic. Dubbed the Trump Sunlight Campaign, the page doesn’t mention The Apprentice specifically, but has raised $8,000 in pledges toward a $5.1 million goal in order “to raise the funds to pay those penalties and reward the whistleblower responsible with whatever remains to assist them as they move forward in their career.”
One name who has notably not offered to assist the leakers is vehement anti-Trump and pro-Clinton billionaire Mark Cuban. When Nee asked him on Twitter to pay leakers’ fees, Cuban ignored her. Cuban’s show Shark Tank is executive produced by none other than Mark Burnett.
Stories have pointed out that Burnett is a religious conservative (produced History’s blockbuster 2013 The Bible miniseries) who might support Trump. But even if he wasn’t, most top creatives would be reluctant to publicly betray a star they worked with for more than a decade by releasing their embarrassing off-camera content — that’s bad for business and Burnett has built a TV empire by knowing what’s good for the bottom line.
Wading into all this is Geraldo Rivera as well (because why not?). Rivera was on The Apprentice too, but his contribution to all this is seemingly unrelated to his appearance on the show. Rivera told Fox News he, too, has some Trump tapes, and is digging through the footage for choice nuggets of offense.
There’s no certainty, of course, that the release of any such tapes will sink Trump. Friday’s Access Hollywood tape was assumed by many to end the Trump campaign, and many Republicans jumped ship in the lead-up to Sunday night’s debate. But the weekend played out for Clinton supporters like that sequence in Independence Day where the U.S. military fires a bunch of nuclear warheads at the invading alien spacecraft all at once — the missiles explode, everybody cheers assuming the ship is destroyed, but then the smoke clears and the spacecraft is still there.
From those in the media, there’s also something a bit dismaying about the emphasis on recordings. The Associated Press first detailed allegations of Trump’s sexist behavior behind the scenes at The Apprentice via traditional reporting, interviewing more than 20 people close to the show. The story received plenty of pickup, but didn’t have a seismic impact. It wasn’t until the AP’s story prompted an Access Hollywood producer to dig up that infamous 2005 tape that the subject of Trump’s backstage behavior took off — a few minutes of leaked video trumps many hours of diligent reporting, so to speak.
Still while the potential impact of future Trump tapes is unknown, if The Apprentice recordings do exist, it’s difficult to imagine the footage not eventually getting out. They say nature abhors a vacuum. But even more than that, the Internet hates a secret. And if one thing has been proven on both sides of this bitter and historic presidential campaign it’s that everything comes out eventually.
UPDATE: HuffPo has obtained a transcript from an unaired Apprentice clip (though the candidate’s comments are pretty mild compared to the Access video).