Maryanne Trump Barry was serving as a federal judge when she heard her brother, President Trump, suggest on Fox News, "maybe I'll have to put her at the border" amid a wave of refugees entering the United States. At the time, children were being separated from their parents and put in cramped quarters while court hearings dragged on.
"All he wants to do is appeal to his base," Barry said in a conversation secretly recorded by her niece, Mary L. Trump. "He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this."
Barry, 83, was aghast at how her 74-year-old brother operated as president. “His tweet and lying, oh my God,” she said. “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying.”
Lamenting "what they're doing with kids at the border," she guessed her brother "hasn't read my immigration opinions" in court cases. In one case, she berated a judge for failing to treat an asylum applicant respectfully.
"What has he read?" Mary Trump asked her aunt.
"No. He doesn't read," Barry responded.
In the weeks since Mary Trump's tell-all book about her uncle has been released, she's been questioned about the source of some of the information, such as her allegation that Trump paid a friend to take his SATs to enable him to transfer into the University of Pennsylvania. Nowhere in the book does she say that she recorded conversations with her aunt.
In response to a question from The Washington Post about how she knew President Trump paid someone to take the SATs, Mary Trump revealed that she had surreptitiously taped 15 hours of face-to-face conversations with Barry in 2018 and 2019. She provided The Post with previously unreleased transcripts and audio excerpts, which include exchanges that are not in her book.
Barry has never spoken publicly about disagreements with President Trump, and her extraordinarily candid comments in the recordings mark the most critical comments known to have been made about him by one of his siblings. No one else in the family except Mary Trump has publicly rebuked the president.
The transcripts reveal the depths of discord between the president and his sister, illuminating a rift that began when she asked her brother for a favor in the 1980s, which Trump has frequently used to try to take credit for her success.
At one point Barry said to her niece, "It's the phoniness of it all. It's the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel."
Mary Trump, 55, told The Post recently that her uncle is unfit to be president and she plans to do "everything in my power" to elect Joe Biden. Her father, Fred Trump Jr., died of an alcohol-related illness when she was 16 in 1981. In her book, she says Donald Trump and his father mistreated her father.
The Post sought comment about the tapes from Barry and White House officials on Friday and Saturday and did not receive a response.
The allegation that Trump paid someone to take his SATs, which was one of the most publicized allegations in Mary Trump's book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World's Most Dangerous Man," stems from a conversation that Barry had with her niece on Nov. 1, 2018.
Barry told how she tried to help her brother get into college. "He was a brat," Barry said, explaining that "I did his homework for him" and "I drove him around New York City to try to get him into college."
Then Barry dropped what Mary considered a bombshell: "He went to Fordham for one year [actually two years] and then he got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams."
"No way!" Mary responded. "He had somebody take his entrance exams?"
"SATs or whatever. . . . That's what I believe," Barry said. "I even remember the name." That person was Joe Shapiro, Barry said.
Donald Trump was friends with a person at Penn named Joe Shapiro, who is deceased. Shapiro's widow and sister told the Post last month that he never took a test for anybody, including Trump. Mary Trump has said it was a different Joe Shapiro, but that person has not surfaced.
During a Post Live interview last month, Mary Trump was asked whether the source of her information was Barry. "I prefer not to say who it is," she responded. "It's somebody who would have absolutely no reason to make it up."
Chris Bastardi, a spokesman for Mary Trump, said that she began taping conversations in 2018 with Barry after concluding that her relatives had lied about the value of the family estate two decades earlier during a legal battle over her inheritance, in which she received far less than she expected.
Under New York law, it is legal to tape a conversation with the consent of one party, which in this case was Mary Trump.
The inheritance dispute was settled privately in 2001, but Mary Trump has said she was duped into an agreement because the family said the estate was worth $30 million and she later believed the value was closer to $1 billion.
Bastardi said she recorded the conversations with Barry to gain information that would show she had been misled by the family about the estate's value. "She hoped to prove this, as is often done, by recording words contrary to their sworn statements. She never expected to learn much of what she heard," Bastardi said.
He said that Mary believed the information was particularly relevant given the federal charges that have been brought this year against prominent individuals who took "unethical steps to get their children into college."
Trump has said he got into what was then called the Wharton School of Finance at Penn - which he called one of "the hardest schools to get in to" - because he is a "super genius." The Post reported last year, however, that Mary's father, Fred Jr., was close friends with a Penn admissions official. That official, James Nolan, told The Post that Fred Jr. asked him to interview Trump for admission, which he did. Trump was granted a place at the school, which Nolan said was "not very difficult" because more than half of applicants at the time were accepted, compared to last year's 7.4 percent rate.
The Trump siblings have been publicly supportive of the president. The president's other sister, Elizabeth, has stayed out of the public eye. The president's younger brother, Robert, who died on Aug. 15, said in 2016 he supported his brother "one thousand percent."
In 1999, when the family patriarch Fred Sr. died, Barry joined with Donald and Robert in a lawsuit to prevent Mary from getting a larger amount of the inheritance. Mary had said in a probate case that she and her brother should have received an amount closer to what would have gone to their father, if he had lived.
On another matter apparently related to Fred Sr.'s will, Barry told her niece that she and Donald had a rift so serious that "he didn't talk to me for two years."
Barry received her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke College, a master's from Columbia University and a law degree from Hofstra University. After being a homemaker for 13 years, and having eschewed the Trump family's real estate business, she became one of only two women out of 62 lawyers in the office of the United States Attorney in New Jersey, where she worked from 1974 to 1983.
Barry has avoided talking publicly about her brother's presidency while she was on the federal bench. In a rare public appearance, she used empathetic language far removed from her brother's tough rhetoric.
"Success can be as simple as the warm feeling you get when you smile at a stranger, someone you know must be lonely, and having that stranger return your smile," Barry said in a speech to graduates of Fairfield University in Connecticut in 2011.
President Trump, meanwhile, has publicly spoken glowingly of his sister, saying in 2016 that "We do have different views a little bit," while adding, "She's a very, very highly respected judge."
In one of the taped conversations, however, Barry revealed how a deep animosity developed between her and her brother.
She recalled how she turned to Donald for help when she wanted to be nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship. She believed that help could come from Donald's attorney: Roy Cohn, who had played an infamous role in the 1950s as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy on the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Cohn was "like kissing buddies" with Reagan, she said.
"He had Roy Cohn call Reagan about needing to appoint a woman as a federal judge in New Jersey," Barry told Mary. "Because Reagan's running for reelection, and he was desperate for the female vote." Then, she said, "I had the nomination," and Donald Trump never let Barry forget it.
According to a recent documentary film, "Where's My Roy Cohn?" Cohn had been in regular touch with President Reagan. Donald Trump met with Reagan at the White House on Aug. 4, 1983, according to presidential records. Reagan talked with Barry on Sept. 13, 1983, and nominated her the following day, according to Reagan's daily diary.
"He once tried to take credit for me," Barry said of her brother, quoting him as saying, "Where would you be without me?"
Barry said she told Donald: "You say that one more time and I will level you." She told Mary that it was "the only favor I ever asked for in my whole life." She said that she deserved the nomination "on my own merit" and that she was subsequently elevated to higher judicial posts without her brother's intervention.
"Donald is out for Donald, period," Barry said.
Mary questioned Barry about what Donald had accomplished on his own.
"I don't know," Barry said.
"Nothing," Mary responded.
"Well he has five bankruptcies," Barry said. (Donald Trump's companies filed for six corporate bankruptcies but he has never declared personal bankruptcy.)
"Good point. He did accomplish those all by his self," Mary said.
"Yes, he did. Yes, he did. You can't trust him," Barry said.
Maryanne said on another occasion that Donald Trump kept asking about Fox News. One day, Barry said, President Trump called her and said, "Did you watch Fox News?"
"No," Barry said she told the president.
"Why not?" President Trump said.
"I don't watch much television at all," Barry said she responded.
"What do you do?" the president asked.
"I read," Barry replied.
"What do you read?" the president said.
"Books," Barry said.
The president was incredulous. "You don't watch Fox?"
Around the same time the conversations were being conducted, an internal investigation was underway of whether Barry violated judicial conduct rules regarding her role in working with her siblings in determining their tax liability. The investigation stemmed in part from an action that Mary Trump had taken: She had provided boxes of family tax records to the New York Times, which published a Pulitzer Prize-winning report in 2018 that found Donald Trump had engaged in suspect tax schemes that increased his the family wealth.
Barry retired shortly after the investigation was launched, which ended the probe.
One of the most emotional conversations between Mary and her aunt occurred when they discussed the 1999 funeral of the family patriarch, Fred Sr., at Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City. During that ceremony, Donald spoke more about his own accomplishments than his father's life, Barry said.
"Donald was the only one who didn't speak about Dad," Barry said. She told Mary that "I don't want any of my siblings to speak at my funeral. And that's all about Donald and what he did at Dad's funeral. I don't know. It was all about him."
"I remember," Mary responded.
Mary Trump said she has not talked to her aunt since the book was published. She said in the Post Live interview that she would not be surprised "if she never contacted me, and I think that's fair. I understand why she would not want to."
The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.