Politico

Subway sandwiches and U.N. talk: Inside Sessions' first meeting with Trump

Written by Lisa

When President Donald Trump meets Monday with world leaders to discuss overhauling the United Nations, it may provide some affirmation for a struggling member of the president’s team: Jeff Sessions.

While the attorney general’s relationship with his boss has been fraught since Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, it was the former Alabama senator’s conviction that the New York real estate developer was the only person who could successfully modernize the U.N. that originally brought them together more than a decade ago.

Sessions invited Trump to testify before a Senate subcommittee in 2005 as Congress was considering whether to extend a $1.2 billion loan to the UN for modernizing its decrepit headquarters on Manhattan’s East River. Sessions opposed making the loan, and asked his then-chief of staff Rick Dearborn—now a senior White House aide—to invite the most famous real estate developer in the world to testify against it, according to an administration official familiar with events.

They sealed their newfound alliance over Subway sandwiches in Sessions’ office, joined by Melania Trump.

“One thing that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions both have a great appreciation for is competence, and Sessions’ admiration for Trump resulted from the level of the competence Trump exuded as a builder during his congressional testimony,” said the administration official.

Trump has frequently railed against international institutions like the United Nations, vowing to minimize the U.S.’s financial footprint in foreign affairs.

During the campaign, Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro and former strategist Steve Bannon suggested having Trump renegotiate the U.S.’s contribution the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and even suggested pulling out of membership altogether, according to two former White House officials.

Trump tweeted during the transition last December, “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”

But back in 2005, Trump—then riding high on his “Apprentice” fame—told Congress to let him take on the UN renovation rather than making a loan.

Trump claimed that he could do the job for “$700 million, tops.”

“Anybody that says that a building renovation is more expensive than building a new building does not know the business,” said Trump, who testified for half an hour. “It only costs a fool more.”

Equipped with visuals, he argued before the committee that then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and his team were doomed to be duped: “I may be naive in their world, but in this world, they’re naïve.”

He praised the international body, telling senators, “I have to start by saying I’m a big fan, a very big fan of the United Nations and all it stands for.” He added: “I’m a such a fan, in fact, that at great expense I built a building across the street. It is the tallest apartment house in the world.” The line drew a grin from Sessions.

“If the United Nations weren’t there, perhaps I wouldn’t have built it in that location,” Trump went on. “So it means quite a bit to me.”

Both the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Sessions described Trump “a breath of fresh air” in an interview last year with Yellowhammer News, an Alabama conservative news website and radio show.

He also told Yellowhammer that Trump’s remarks “the most impressive congressional testimony I’ve ever heard.”

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