Richard LeFrak said Wednesday that President Trump’s comments on the eruption of white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville were “inappropriate,” perhaps the most marked public criticism of Trump’s remarks from a member of his inner circle.
“Perhaps the context in which [the president’s] statements were made — especially at the press conference — caused people to be confused about him,” LeFrak, who heads the LeFrak Organization and was co-chair of Trump’s now-disbanded infrastructure council, said in an interview with The Real Deal for a profile that will appear in the September issue.
After Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict in Charlottesville, critics slammed him for being an apologist for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“I would not even suggest that he is any one of those things,” LeFrak said. “But I can see why people would react to those words very viscerally. He’s made some effort to clarify it but not as far as he could have.”
“It’s easy to say that I don’t approve of white supremacists,” LeFrak said of his own views. “It’s base and violent. I don’t approve of any of those things. You don’t have to be a hero to make that comment.”
The CEOs of Merck, Intel, Under Armour and others stepped down from the president’s business advisory councils after his remarks. The comments also draw condemnation from the wider business world, though in the real estate industry, the response was more mixed.
LeFrak’s own committee, which he was heading along with Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steve Roth and was meant to tackle some of the country’s biggest infrastructure, was axed soon after the disbandment of the Strategy & Policy Forum and the Manufacturing Council.
“The infrastructure committee was never formally dated,” LeFrak said. “It was different than [Blackstone CEO Stephen] Schwarzman’s committee and the manufacturing committee in that it required a presidential executive order, a charter, an agency under which it would function and approximately 15 members that would come with a variety of opinions, industries and diverse backgrounds,” he said. “The thought in the White House was that since the other two committees had dispersed, there was little point to going forward with the third. We had a brief discussion with the president about it, but that decision was made by the White House. I still stand ready to do everything I can to improve infrastructure.”
Those who intended to stay on their respective committees should not be branded racist as a result, LeFrak said.
“I’m sensitive to my customers as well,” LeFrak said. “My buildings are not occupied by Nazis and white supremacists. I’m sensitive to all the people who live in my buildings. But if people can offer something that can help the country, should they just make a sanctimonious political statement and give up their ability to help the country?”
He continued: “The part I didn’t like about it was that you looked bad if you said you wanted to stick it out. The wave of opinion that forced people out is totally understandable, but I don’t want the president to fail or the country to fail. No one has asked me if I want to continue, but if the president called me and said come down here and talk infrastructure, of course I would.”
LeFrak said that though he’s lost friends as a result of his continued support for Trump, most have stuck by him.
“Some said, ‘How could you serve a man like that?’” he said. “How could you be friends with a man like that?”
(Stay tuned for a profile of Richard LeFrak in The Real Deal’s September issue.)