During an onstage interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, the Oscar-winning actor compared the real-estate mogul and reality-show star—who has taken up the "birther" cause with a vengeance to promote his possible candidacy—to a car salesman on the hustle. De Niro called Trump "crazy" and accused him of saying "terrible things" without having the facts to back them up.
"I won't mention names, but there are certain people on the news in the last couple of weeks—what they're doing is crazy," De Niro said, appearing with Williams at the film festival he founded 10 years ago as a way of reviving downtown Manhattan in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. "They're making statements about people that they don't even back up. Go get the facts before you start saying things about people."
In case anyone was confused about whom De Niro was criticizing, Williams clarified: "Any of those people have shows on my network on Sunday night?"—a reference to Trump's Celebrity Apprentice.
"Yes," De Niro confirmed, and elaborated. "It's like a big hustle. It's like being a car salesman. Don't go out there and say things unless you can back them up. How dare you? It's awful. Just go out there and speak and say these terrible things?... It's crazy."
When Williams asked De Niro if he ever gets frustrated with American politics, the actor/director responded with a defense of Obama against his Republican detractors.
“It’s like a big hustle,” De Niro said. “It’s like being a car salesman. Don’t go out there and say things unless you can back them up.”
"I think of the possibility of the government being shut down and I say, 'How did we get to this point?' …I know Obama was trying to bridge the gap. His intentions are really good. Maybe some things are not as good as we all would like but his intentions are good. A lot of these guys—their intentions are not even good. They're just playing a game and they're playing with people's lives."
It was the famously tactiturn De Niro's most voluble and impassioned moment in a conversation that often featured one-sentence, an occasionally one-word, answers. The crowd responded with hearty applause.
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.