Early Thursday morning, Gawker received an anonymous email with an attachment that purported to contain recordings from Donald Trump’s voicemail inbox. Among the recordings were messages left for Trump by various celebrities—most notably, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Tamron Hall.
While Gawker was unable to independently verify their authenticity, the recordings certainly appear to be genuine. In addition to those from the MSNBC personalities, there were messages from longtime Barack Obama advisor David Axelrod, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and boxing promoter Don King, all of whom spoke to Trump in a friendly and familiar manner.
Donald Trump’s primary rivals for the Republican nomination, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, have both called on Trump to authorize The New York Times to release a transcript or recording of an interview he conducted with the newspaper, a portion of which was off the record. They think the recording will reveal that Trump is not the version of himself he presents to Republican voters—politically incorrect and unafraid of offending liberal elites—but in fact that the authentic Trump is a creature of elite Manhattan society, who counts among his personal friends many members of the decadent liberal media, and whose natural habitat is an Upper East Side cocktail party. As Cruz has put it, Trump has “New York values.”
These voicemails buttress that argument. They indicate that Trump maintains friendly personal relations with members of the elite political press, even as he demonizes them. While Trump and some of his journalistic interrogators play oppositional roles on the public stage, the voicemails suggest that they are in fact favor-trading pals when the cameras are off.
Though we could not determine the exact dates of the messages, several of them make references to the events of the 2012 presidential campaign season, including those left by a woman who identifies herself as “T Hall,” apparently MSNBC’s Tamron Hall. In one message, Hall says “I’m on my way to Kentucky to cover the vice presidential debate,” a likely reference to the 2012 debate between Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate at the time. Hall covered that debate from Kentucky for MSNBC.
The congenial tone of the messages to Trump stands in contrast with the aggressiveness with which Hall has covered his 2016 presidential run. On Sunday, Hall engaged Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson in a heated, lengthy exchange about the candidate’s refusal to disavow former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s support. “There are those who believe here that someone got to Donald Trump and said, ‘You need this vote. You need some of the angriest parts of this party to put you through,’” Hall said to Pierson.
Previously, Hall pressed Trump himself on the contradiction of identifying himself as a Christian while using words like “pussy” to refer to his opponents. “Who is the real Donald Trump? Is he the guy saying the P-word where he knows he can get away with it at this raucous rally? Or is he the guy thumpin’ the Bible because he needs that group? And then will he be the guy later in a general election who becomes the New York liberal that Ted Cruz says you are really hiding under your suit?” she asked.
She might have added an additional option: The guy who did a favor for Tamron Hall. In one of the voice messages, she tells Trump that she was “happy I took your advice” and met with someone named “Matt.” The meeting went well, she says: “I celebrated by going to Gucci, and I’m going to use your discount, because there’s a green dress that’s like $3,000, and I need a discount bigger than the one—my discount.”
A source familiar with the matter explains that Trump has a longstanding discount with Gucci. Trump is the landlord of the retailer’s store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, in the Trump Tower—a fact he mentioned on Thursday, when he claimed, not for the first time, that he has a store that is “worth more money than Mitt [Romney].”
At the close of the Gucci message, Hall says, “I hope you’re bracing for Romney to get his butt whipped tomorrow by Obama,” indicating that it was also left during the 2012 campaign season.
In another message, she expresses her disapproval of an unnamed YouTube video with which Trump was apparently associated. “I saw the YouTube video today. I wanted to chat with you about it, since you know that I’m a huge fan, and I think the world of you. But I think that thing today was not good—not becoming of who I think you are as a person, as a statesman, like your award. I just thought it was just kind of crummy,” she says. (The award to which the caller referred may have been the Sarasota Republican Party’s “Statesman of the Year,” which was awarded to Trump in 2012 and again in 2015. It’s unclear which video Hall is referring to, though in October 2012, Trump released this “major announcement” on YouTube, in which he demanded the release of President Obama’s birth certificate, college records, and passport information.)
The hackers released four voicemail messages from Hall. Taken together with her interviews, they suggest an anchor who has two relationships to Trump—a friendly personal one and an antagonistic journalistic one. To her credit, Hall’s apparent friendship with Trump hasn’t stopped her from covering him critically and aggressively. It’s not clear that all of her colleagues can say the same thing.
Voices belonging Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, also appear in one message, the date of which is not clear. The message suggests that Trump has contributed to some sort of public or private charity event involving children.
BRZEZINSKI: Hi, Donald. It’s Mika and Joe calling. Say hi, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey there, Donald. How you doing?
BRZEZINSKI: We’re just leaving you a message because we’re trying to get in touch with you, but you must be, like, on your jet or something. We’d love to talk to you, so call one of us. What’s your other number, Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: I’m at [REDACTED]. And the kids want to scream “Thank you,” to you, Donald. Say, “Thank you, Donald.”
CHILDREN: Thank you!
SCARBOROUGH: We are so, so grateful for everything, Donald, and we just want to call you and tell you how much it means to us.
BRZEZINSKI: It was amazing. Thank you, Donald. Hope to talk to you soon. Bye.
(We have redacted the voices of the children from the audio presented above.)
Update: In a series of tweets, including one which he deleted, Scarborough confirmed that the voice is his, and that that the message was related to a charitable donation from Trump.
During this campaign cycle, Scarborough and Brzezinski have faced intense criticism from the press for their apparent friendliness with Trump, whose campaign they have covered closely. After it was reported that the Morning Joe hosts visited Trump in his hotel room as the New Hampshire primary results were arriving, CNN reported that there was “widespread discomfort” at NBC about the relationship. NBC and Scarborough have since denied any impropriety.
Less than a week later, Scarborough and Brzezinski conducted an extended “town hall” interview with Trump, which was broadcast live on MSNBC. Audio which was apparently recorded during the event’s commercial breaks was subsequently leaked to the internet radio host Harry Shearer, who broadcasted a clip on his own show.
When the cameras weren’t rolling, the trio let down their guard. At one point, Brzezinski discussed the types of questions the hosts planned to ask in the next segment, and Trump responded, “That’s right. Nothing too hard, Mika.” At another, he remarked that a segment from that day’s Morning Joe made him seem almost like a “legendary figure.” It wasn’t until late last month, when Trump declined an opportunity to categorically disassociate himself from the Ku Klux Klan, that Scarborough finally attempted to distance himself from the candidate.
Trump consistently paints himself as an antagonist to the entire news media. His campaign has ejected several journalists from Trump events, has said that most members of the media are “absolute dishonest, absolute scum,” and has pledged to “open up our libel laws” to make it easier to sue reporters.
Employees of MSNBC, the closest thing the American left has to a counterpart to Fox News, would seem like his natural enemies. But on the recordings, Hall, Scarborough, and Brzezinski are casual, chatty, even deferential to Trump. More than anything, they genuinely sound like his friends.
The voice mailbox also contains several messages from prominent figures who are not members of the media. In one message, David Axelrod, the chief strategist of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, thanks Trump for a check. In November 2012, Trump donated money to Slash the Stache, an organization backed by Axelrod which sought to find a cure for epilepsy.
Tom Brady, whose friendship with Trump is well-documented, opens one message with “Donald, it’s your favorite quarterback.” He opens a second with, “Hey big guy, it’s your favorite NFL quarterback calling.” (Don Yee, Brady’s agent, said his client did not recall leaving any voice messages for Trump and could not speak to the authenticity of the messages one way or the other.)
The outspoken boxing promoter Don King also left multiple messages, addressing Trump as “Big Don.” “You’re a Republicrat, that is so great for America,” he said in one of the messages
All told, Gawker received 35 voicemail messages intended for Trump—many of which appear to have been left by strangers after Trump encouraged supporters to call his cell phone number—totaling 26 minutes and 40 seconds of audio. We are publishing three messages amounting to two minutes and 10 seconds.
Trump’s voicemails were apparently accessed almost by accident. This is particularly interesting given the fact that Trump has consistently blasted Hillary Clinton for her use of an insecure private email server during her time as Secretary of State.
Just a few weeks ago, at a rally in Tampa , Donald Trump expressed shock at the sheer mass of Hillary’s accumulated emails, saying that he himself is not a “big believer” in using email because “once you type it, it’s not good... I go to court and they say ‘produce your emails.’ I say ‘I don’t have any’ and the judges don’t believe it. After you win the case, they say ‘now I know that you’re really smart.’”
Unfortunately for Trump, it would seem that his voicemail isn’t much safer.
Gawker received the audio files anonymously, having had no prior contact with or knowledge of the hackers. A person who claimed to be a member of the group who accessed the voicemails wrote in a message to Gawker that a group of young users of the message board 4chan attempted to find Trump’s number on Wednesday night in order to make a prank call (a not too-difficult task after Donald Trump encouraged people to call him, in response to Gawker’s release of one of his phone numbers several months ago).
While trying to leave their message, the hacker claimed, his group “just kept hitting buttons,” eventually prompting a recording asking them to log in to the voicemail inbox. When the group didn’t enter the correct password, “the call started to transfer us to Verizon. That’s when we decided to see how far we could get.” The hacker wrote that the group was able to convince a customer service representative to reset the password by claiming they had recently purchased a new phone. (Gawker reporters tried to recreate the scenario described by the hacker—being automatically transferred to a Verizon customer service representative after multiple attempts to access the voicemail of a consenting party with an incorrect password—but could not. Rather than being automatically connected, we received automated instructions to contact customer service. A Verizon representative did not immediately return calls for comment.)
The first thing the group did was change Trump’s outgoing voicemail.
What was previously a campaign message from Trump prompting callers to donate to his campaign (which you can listen to in full above), became the following:
It’s Matthew Lillard, also known as TV’s Shaggy Rogers here. And we’re going to make America great again. And this is how you do it. Visit the campaign at boards.4chan.org/b. That’s boards.4chan.org/b. Thank you for supporting Donald Trump. Together, we will make America great again. Hashtag MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Hashtag 1488.
The number 1488 is commonly used as a white supremacist identifier. (None of the hackers, as far as we know, are actually the actor Matthew Lillard.)
A video posted to YouTube on Thursday afternoon appears to contain audio of the hackers recording the new outgoing message.
The core of the criticism of Hillary Clinton’s private email server—a criticism Trump has repeated—is that her use of a private email server was an appalling and disqualifying security risk. With that in mind, it’s notable that, after Trump himself publicly broadcast this phone number, and urged his millions of Twitter followers to call it, he apparently didn’t delete the voicemails saved in this account’s inbox.
We’ve reached out to the people whose voicemail messages to Donald Trump are mentioned in this story, to Donald Trump’s campaign, and to MSNBC. MSNBC did not have an immediate comment for the record. A spokeswoman for the Trump campaign provided the following statement: “We don’t know whether or not this is authentic because this is a public phone, not a private phone. As you know, it is illegal to break into phones. We will hold you and all other parties involved responsible.”
This post was updated to reflect Joe Scarborough’s confirmation of the authenticity of the voicemail messages on Twitter after it was published.