On Monday morning, Donald Trump called Australian billionaire and Mar-a-Lago member Anthony Pratt a “red haired weirdo” and declared that he never spoke to Pratt about submarines. That one-two punch of strangeness follows strong evidence that Trump did exactly what he’s saying he never did: shared sensitive information about American nuclear submarines with Pratt. That information has since been spread widely among foreign officials, possibly weakening America’s nuclear defense.
Now there’s a growing impression that not only did Trump provide Pratt with inside information on some of the most critical military secrets, Trump did so in response to the “red haired weirdo” opening up his extremely chunky wallet to slide money Trump’s way. That includes offering what amounted to an unlimited campaign contribution laundered through the Mar-a-Lago resort.
Trump is trying to distance himself from Pratt because the evidence of his wrongdoing with the Australian billionaire seems clear. But even as Trump’s squirming to get away from one crime, he may have committed another.
Anthony Pratt is one of the wealthiest men in Australia. Wherever you live in the world, there’s a fair chance that some of his products are in your home right now. That’s because what Pratt makes is primarily packing materials, and in this online-order/home-delivery world, he’s doing very well. Pratt and his family are worth an estimated $24 billion. That’s up by $5 billion in just the last three pandemic-centric years.
After Trump won the 2016 election, Pratt invested heavily in his relationship with Donald Trump. He purchased a membership at Mar-a-Lago, bought high-cost tickets to spend holidays with Trump, and offered to provide an undefined level of funding for Trump’s reelection by renting an unlimited number of hotel rooms at Trump’s resort. Even after Trump lost the 2020 election, he and Pratt seemed to remain close, meeting at Mar-a-Lago and having lengthy conversations.
That Pratt would think it worth almost any level of investment to keep Trump in office makes sense. For a billionaire whose primary business is paper mills, the guy who blows most of the budget on tax cuts for the wealthy and who is devoted to destroying environmental regulations might just be the ideal leader. That Trump also so mismanaged a deadly pandemic that he helped accelerate the transition from in-person to online shopping is just a bonus.
But the thing that Trump and Pratt discussed that’s now the red-hot focus of special counsel Jack Smith isn’t whatever Trump may have promised Pratt about the Clean Water Act or undercutting health care. It’s submarines.
On Oct. 5, ABC News broke the story that Pratt had been interviewed by members of Smith’s team “at least twice” regarding conversations that he and Trump had concerning potentially classified information about the capabilities of American submarines. Pratt then went on to share what he had learned from Trump with “scores of others, including more than a dozen foreign officials.”
Among the information Trump is believed to have disclosed to Pratt are the exact number of nuclear warheads U.S. subs routinely carry, and how closely they can operate to Russian subs without being detected. Both pieces of information are critical in defining the capabilities of the U.S. submarine fleet.
If Trump was accurate in relaying the information to Pratt, and Pratt repeated it to the “scores” of people he claims, it represents what could be an unprecedented unmasking of America’s most secretive power. This leak could seriously affect how the U.S. operates on both a tactical and strategic level. There are few pieces of military information that have—or at least had—more value.
The New York Times story that Trump mentioned in his social media post ran on Sunday evening. It not only repeated the allegations of the earlier ABC News account but also expanded on them by showing how Pratt had kept money flowing to Trump’s campaign. That included offering to “book as many rooms as available” for any campaign event Trump wanted to hold at Mar-a-Lago.
On another occasion, Pratt gave Trump $1 million for tickets to a New Year’s Eve event at Mar-a-Lago even though the actual price of those tickets was “$50,000 or less.” That certainly looks as if Pratt simply stuffed $1 million into Trump’s pocket—a contribution that’s unlikely to have appeared on Trump’s campaign finance reports.
If what Pratt was after was access, he got it. Trump gave Pratt a seat in his motorcade, invited him to a state dinner, and toured one of his plants in Ohio. And in a series of recordings obtained by “60 Minutes Australia,” Pratt revealed that Trump talked about far more than submarines.
According to Pratt, Trump also told him about his private phone conversations with Iraqi leaders following a U.S. missile strike. At a point when the strike had not even become public knowledge, Trump was happy to share how he had bullied Iraq’s then-President Barham Salih.
“I just bombed Iraq today,” Trump reportedly told Pratt. “And the president of Iraq called me up and said, ‘You just leveled my city.’ And I said to him, ‘Okay, what are you going to do about it?’”
Trump also talked to Pratt about the infamous call in which he attempted to blackmail Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That call led to Trump’s first impeachment, but Trump dismissed his actions as trivial. “You know that Ukraine phone call?” he reportedly told Pratt. “That was nothing compared to what I usually do. That Ukraine phone call was nothing compared to what we usually talk about.” Which certainly raises questions about just how often Trump used his private phone calls with foreign leaders to extract personal favors.
Just to add a profound dollop of disgust on top of the flow of secrets, Pratt also says that Trump told his wife, Melania Trump, to strut around Mar-a-Lago in a bikini “so all the other guys could get a look at what they were missing.”
As has happened with so many others, Pratt notes how Trump operates “like the Mafia,” and likes to make statements that skate around the law. “He’s outrageous,” Pratt said of Trump. “He just says whatever the f*ck he wants. And he loves to shock people.”
Pratt repeatedly demonstrated his admiration for how Trump “… knows exactly what to say and what not to say so he avoids jail.” But that’s one place where Pratt was hopefully wrong. Trump seems to think so. That’s why his former pal has become a “red haired weirdo.”
Trump never hesitates to jettison anyone at any time when he thinks they’ve become a liability. He clearly feels that way about Pratt. However, it certainly seems this is another occasion when Trump has burned his bridges way, way too late to help.
And in the process of all this, there’s the strong possibility that Trump’s attack on Pratt violates a standing gag order already in place on the classified documents case. That’s because Pratt is on the list of witnesses, and Trump’s statements could easily be read as an attempt to influence Pratt’s testimony.
As the “60 Minutes Australia” piece says at the opening, Trump is in “a mess.” And he’s still making it messier.