As investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign heat up, President Donald Trump is turning to his old routine for dealing with government probes.
In combating accusations of fraud, corruption or discrimination, Trump’s handling of the authorities often starts with a charm campaign, moves to attempts to discredit or scare off his opponent — and then, regardless of the legal outcome, Trump usually claims he’s the true winner.
Tim O’Brien, who wrote a biography on the real estate mogul-turned-president, said Trump’s playbook is predictable and usually driven by his instincts, not some grand strategy.
“He’s not prone to think of a sophisticated legal solution,” O’Brien said. “Donald Trump is not a Napoleon when it comes to legal battles, he’s a pro wrestler.”
Here are the tricks Trump often turns to when he tries to fend off investigators.
When authorities have their eye on Trump, his first inclination is to schmooze the investigators. In the early 1980s when the FBI was investigating organized crime in Atlantic City, Trump offered to put an undercover FBI agent in his casinos, according to POLITICO Magazine.
In New York, Trump donated to the campaign of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who later filed a civil fraud case against Trump University. After Schneiderman formally brought the suit, Trump’s intermediaries reached out to Schneiderman on his behalf, urging him to drop the case.
“Before Eric filed a lawsuit, Trump would try to schmooze Eric,” said Eric Soufer, communications director for the attorney general. “He would schmooze anyone who he thought would be important in politics.”
He did something similar earlier this year with then-FBI Director James Comey, asking him over for dinner, making flattering comments about him in public — and pressing him quietly to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump even suggested to Comey that he supported the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and said if there were “satellite” associates of his who colluded with the Russians, he wanted to find them and root them out, Comey told lawmakers last month.
When Trump went to court with New York City in the 1980s in an attempt to obtain tax abatements designed for lower income housing that he wanted for his pricier Midtown properties, he brought a personal lawsuit against the city’s housing commissioner.
Trump won that case — and then poached the housing commissioner to work for the Trump Organization.
“He’s very effective, very articulate,” Anthony Gliedman, the former commissioner who Trump eventually hired, told PEOPLE in 1987. “It’s hard to be against him.”
He has used similar tactics as president to try to bring his opponents into the fold. Trump earlier this year seemed to insist that Comey worked for him — "The president said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,’" Comey told lawmakers of one exchange — and fired him when the FBI director didn’t follow his wishes.
Trump then appeared to consider hiring Bob Mueller, now the special counsel assigned to the Russia probe, bringing him in to interview for the open FBI job.
When the Justice Department accused Trump in 1973 of discriminating against black tenants, Trump countersued for $100 million, saying the government had falsely accused him.
He called the government’s arguments “outrageous lies.” In the suit, he attacked the credibility of the government’s lawyer by having a Trump Organization employee say the DOJ official had threatened him, according to the Washington Post. That lawsuit failed.
He learned the hardball tactics from his longtime lawyer, the late Roy Cohn. “As Roy Cohn would say, ‘Deny, deny, deny, hit back 10 times harder,’” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign consultant.
During the Trump University investigation, Trump sought to discredit Schneiderman by accusing him of offering to drop the case in exchange for political donations. He filed an ethics complaint against Schneiderman, which was later dismissed.
In 2016, Trump said a judge overseeing the fraud case against Trump University should be disqualified because of his Mexican heritage. He asserted that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, would be predisposed against him because of his call to build a wall along the border.
This year, Trump justified firing Comey by calling him incompetent and criticizing his ability to run the FBI. He suggested that the investigation into potential collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign was a politically motivated “witch-hunt.”
This week, he accused the former FBI leader of breaking unspecified laws by leaking memos about their non-classified conversations.
Already, surrogates have floated the suggestion that Trump could fire Mueller, and they have called into question his longtime relationship with Comey. They also claim that many of the prosecutors working under Mueller are Democratic donors and therefore biased.
In the 1980s, when Trump sought the tax abatement for his Manhattan properties and NYC mayor Ed Koch called him “piggy, piggy, piggy,“ Trump shot back that the beloved mayor was a “moron.”
Trump’s personal attacks have only heightened since. “What happens is they hit me and I hit them back harder and, usually in all cases, they do it first,” candidate Donald Trump explained on Fox News in 2016. “But they hit me and I hit them back harder and they disappear.”
The formula for Trump’s attacks is very basic: go after physical attributes of the opponent and call into question his or her mental state. Before Trump had an army of surrogates to bolster his case, he invented one, the “publicist” John Miller, who he would pretend to be when calling New York city tabloids. “He’s always treated his opponents like punching bags,” O’Brien said.
When Schneiderman filed his civil fraud case against Trump University, the New York Observer, which is owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, published a 7,400 word take-down of the attorney general that accused him of taking revenge on political enemies and protecting patrons — and wearing eyeliner.
“He set up a website to attack me, he sued me for $100 million, he filed phony ethics complaints against me that required me to hire my own lawyer to defend myself,” Schneiderman recalled at an event in New York last month.
"And the full front page of The Observer was a picture of me as the Malcolm McDowell character in ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ called ‘Clockwork Eric,’” Schneiderman continued. “So before there was ‘Lyin’ Ted’ and ‘Little Marco,’ I had my own nickname.”
With Comey, in addition to questioning his competence, Trump dubbed him a "showboat" and a "grand-stander." He tweeted in June after Comey appeared on Capitol Hill: “I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’"
Claim victory – no matter what
In his 1987 book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said the idea of settling the first major investigation into Trump organization under his leadership — the 1973 housing discrimination case — “drove him crazy.” But after two years of fighting, he settled with the Justice Department.
But Trump still declared victory — by pointing to a clause in the settlement in which he refused to admit any wrongdoing, according to the Washington Post. “In the end the government couldn’t prove its case, we ended up making a minor settlement without admitting any guilt,” Trump wrote in his book.
“I’d rather fight than fold, because as soon as you fold once, you get the reputation of being a folder,” he wrote.
But in 2016, after repeatedly saying he would never settle, he settled the Trump University case days after the election for $25 million. Still, he said he did so only because he was headed to the White House.
“I settled the Trump University lawsuit for a small fraction of the potential award because as President I have to focus on our country,” Trump tweeted. “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!”