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Longtime Friend Expects President Trump To Be Different Than Candidate Trump

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's take a few minutes now to check in with a close adviser to Donald Trump on matters of policy. Thomas J. Barrack Jr. is founder and executive chairman of Colony Capital. That's a real estate investment firm based in Los Angeles. He's been a member of the inner circle of Donald Trump's economic advisers during the campaign. Barrack has experience in government, having served as deputy undersecretary of the Interior Department during the Reagan administration. He's been a friend and business associate of Donald Trump's for some 35 years.

He joined us from NPR's studios in Culver City earlier this weekend, and I started by asking him about his suggestion that we could soon see a different Donald Trump from the one we saw on the campaign trail.

THOMAS J BARRACK JR: Now that he is the president-elect, I think what you're going to see is the real Donald Trump - a kinder, softer, more compassionate, more conciliatory, professional executive. And I think the actions of the last couple of days, really from his acceptance speech, is starting to quell the fears of erratic behavior that many people had.

MARTIN: Can I just ask - will part of that difference be taking responsibility for or trying to discourage some of the rhetoric that has made so many people feel so disturbed? Do you anticipate him either taking responsibility for that or discouraging his supporters from continuing with that?

BARRACK: I think what you'll see is his discouraging through positive action. It's neither reprimanding his supporters or attacking his offenders. We're done with the rhetoric. He now is the president-elect. And I think what you'll start seeing is presidential actions which will be based on activities, policies and practices that both sides, both liberals and Republicans, will embrace.

MARTIN: One of the things that you did that people will - people may remember is that you vouched for President-elect Trump at the Republican convention as a person you've known for a long time both as a friend and as a business associate. And you vouched for him as a man who knows how to get things done through compromise. And in this arena, that will be getting laws passed and negotiating and so forth.

Can you give us a sense of the proposals that he has made? Because during the campaign, when he's been asked about this, he's generally doubled down - for example, building the wall with Mexico, demanding a special prosecutor to go after Hillary Clinton, subjecting would-be Muslim migrants to extreme vetting. Is there compromise possible here?

BARRACK: Totally and absolutely. Look, I think my belief is - and you have to ask him and we'll see it in action - is you have an opportunity with a Republican Senate and a Republican Congress to elegantly move legislation through an otherwise bureaucratic process. Let's face reality. He's president of the United States. He's not dictator of the United States.

So you have 535 people that you have to convince in every act that you take, even in executive orders, which cannot go that far. So health care, foreign policy, trade policy, those kind of things have to be done on a bipartisan basis. And I think you're going to see President Trump in action, doing what he does best.

MARTIN: What kind of Cabinet picks do you expect that we will see? Is he looking for people like yourself, with deep business experience? Is he looking for people - give us a sense of what kinds of skill sets he's looking for.

BARRACK: Yeah, all of the above. So let's look at what President Reagan did. President Reagan had a little bit of the same fear set that President-elect Trump has. He came from California. Nobody liked that. He went to Eureka College, and nobody knew where it was. He was an actor. Everybody hated actors. He had no foreign policy experience, and people were very concerned about that.

MARTIN: Governor of the state - the country's largest state. Not small.

BARRACK: With no foreign policy experience at all. So what did he do in the first five days? Chief of Staff James Baker, George Shultz, Cap Weinberger, Richard Allen - all in nine days. The world settled down and said, you know, we have very stable and competent hands in each of those positions, each participating in the establishment but not being a part of the previous establishment. So I think you'll see him reach across the aisle, and I think the judiciousness of those decisions at the very beginning will be a good indication of what the man's judgment is going to be in the future.

MARTIN: Speaking of James Baker, who served as both secretary of the Treasury and secretary of state, he put his holdings in a blind trust when he ascended to those positions. Now, Donald Trump broke with decades of custom and refused to reveal his taxes during the campaign. It's also customary for presidents to put their holdings in a blind trust. Will you advise him to do that? And will you, if selected for a Cabinet position, as has been rumored, commit to doing the same?

BARRACK: Well, look, I think President-elect Trump has to listen to his advisers on what the best mechanism is. And I think everybody who would entertain those positions would opt for the most conservative method, whether that's disposing of the assets, which, as I recall, both the president and Cabinet members can dispose of their assets tax-free. You need to get rid of the perception or appearance of a conflict.

MARTIN: Would you do the same if selected for a Cabinet position?

BARRACK: Yes. I'm actually not interested in one, but of course I would do the same.

MARTIN: Why not? Why wouldn't you want to serve your friend, help him out?

BARRACK: Oh - which is a tremendous compliment. But look, I would do whatever the best thing for the country is, for the president-elect, for my family and for the shareholders in businesses that I have. My feeling at the moment is I can be the most impactive hiring people, starting businesses and conducting myself in international trade and finance, which is what my competitive advantage is.

MARTIN: That was Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a friend and economic adviser to President-elect Donald Trump. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.