Tom Arnold pulls no punches when it comes to how he feels about Donald Trump.
“He’s the worst,” he tells Variety simply. “He is the worst person ever, but he’s always been like that.”
It’s that latter assessment that’s fueling Arnold’s single-minded campaign to dig up damning, incontrovertible evidence of Trump’s many alleged foibles — racism, misogyny, double-dealing, business incompetence — that he believes must exist in the many thousands of hours of unedited pre-presidency “Celebrity Apprentice” video, film and audio recordings, a mission he’s documenting on his new Viceland series “The Hunt for the Trump Tapes.”
“The Celebrity Apprentice” executive producer Mark Burnett and his studio MGM Television have stated that they are contractually forbidden from releasing any tapes; Trump has tweeted that, per Burnett, no tapes of him using racist language exist. Former contestant and magician Penn Jillette, who is interviewed on “The Hunt for the Trump Tapes,” is one who says there are reels of footage. Arnold says he has a seen a compilation tape of such footage personally.
“Bob Woodward, he and I are spirit animals right now,” says Arnold. “We’re exactly the same guy.”
The reason for that, Arnold suggests, is because he and Trump have traveled in the same orbit, a slightly tawdrier corner of celebrified pop culture, for decades. “I’ve known Donald Trump for 30 years. I’ve been to the Playboy Mansion with him,” he says.
Additionally, Arnold continues, clip producer on Arnold’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period” had a brother who executive produced Trump’s series “The Apprentice”; he’s friendly with Playmate Karen McDougal, who Trump allegedly trysted with; he knows Russian officials who feted Trump in Moscow in 2013; he even insists he’s been sued by Trump’s now-turncoat consigliere, Michael Cohen.
“The fact that I know so many people that are in his life, it makes it really imperative that he resigns immediately,” he says. “The fact that he and Tom Arnold have so many people in common is frightening.”
Dismay at Trump’s 2016 election fueled his desire to find recorded evidence that may torpedo his longtime acquaintance’s presidency. “I started tweeting about stuff,” he says. “I started calling out people’s names, probably way before legitimate journalists could, because they have to have their facts and things like that.”
Anti-Trump Twitter tirades – with all the attendant ugly online discourse they provoked – morphed into a personal crusade. “All of a sudden people are like, ‘Why are you so crazy? You need to stop, go back, work with a crisis PR person,’” recalls Arnold. “I’m like, ‘Oh, no, there’s no time to do that. The country is in crisis.'”
Arnold simply chose to proceed in the face of all forms of pushback. “If you talk about Donald Trump in a negative way, three things will happen: many death threats, many threats of lawsuits, and they will threaten to ruin your credibility,” he says. “Because of who I am, I have no credibility — I never have — so they can’t take that away. I ignore all death threats, and I ignore all lawsuits.”
Arnold believes he has better sense than most of where the bodies — or in this case tapes — are buried, even though he never appeared personally on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” That fact is one he wears like a badge of honor.
“From day one, Donald Trump used to call my house with Mark Burnett and beg me to do ‘The Apprentice,’ which is a show that is so bad that I wouldn’t do it — it’s one of the rarer things that I haven’t done,” he says.
Arnold claims he told Burnett he couldn’t do the show because of reality TV’s penchant for intentionally agitating its participants under claustrophobic, high pressure conditions. ”If I’m there with Donald Trump, I will be in a fist fight with him,” he says. Ironically, Arnold and Burnett got into an altercation over the weekend about claims Burnett is withholding “Apprentice” tapes that depict Trump acting and speaking reprehensibly.
Amid a number of potentially explosive recordings, Arnold now craves access to Burnett’s cachet of unedited “Apprentice” tapes — which he believes cannot be legally destroyed due to long-standing laws stemming from 1950s TV quiz show scandals — and claims he knows exactly where copies are housed: a salt mine in Hutchinson, Kan.; Burnett’s studio vault in Santa Monica, Calif.; and Burnett’s Rodeo Drive office in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“I’ve confronted Mark Burnett to his face and said, ‘Why don’t you share that with America? We’re in a crisis. It will show America what’s going on, and maybe this guy will resign before he starts a war,’” says Arnold. “He’s known the real story the whole time.”
Arnold has seen, from a distance, how allegiance to Trump has ended in ruin for many, including his ex-wife Roseanne Barr, an ardent supporter whose embrace of his base’s many objectionable beliefs ultimately caused her to loose her successfully re-launched sitcom.
“Anybody that’s all in with Trump is screwed,” he says. “When I heard that the show’s coming back and she was a Trump fan I was like, ‘Oh, that’s fun. She voted for him. That’ll be interesting.’ Then I looked at her social media and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s one of those. Yikes, they’re just insane.’ … [Trump] wants people to fight. He is so bad for this country. He is so bad for the world. He plays into that Roseanne stuff.”
Despite his crusade, Arnold insists Trump was “always nice” to him personally, “never said I was a liar,” and he has to “own that.” “He’s nice at the end. He’s very good at his country club, shaking hands, taking pictures. They’re like, ‘Oh, my God. He’s amazing.’ Yeah, he’s amazing at his country club, but he’s a horrible president,” he says.
Arnold insists that he’ll stay on the hunt for the foreseeable future. “The show is still being shot, which is great because things are changing on a daily basis,” he says, suggesting that principal figures in the ongoing White House controversies like Cohen will appear. “I absolutely will not stop until Donald Trump resigns, because he is a menace to my country and my children. I’m going to be the one guy that keeps going.”
“The Hunt for the Trump Tapes” premieres Sept. 18 on Viceland.