Newly appointed White House counsel Don McGahn will no doubt address Donald Trump as “Mr. President.”
Compare that to how McGahn’s uncle would address Trump in the days in the 1960s and early 1990s, when he was The Donald’s leading fixer in Atlantic City.
“You draft-dodging bastard.”
Paddy McGahn used this sobriquet almost exclusively to refer to the man who’s now our president-elect, often accompanying it with a command.
“Listen, you draft-dodging bastard…”
The label certainly fit, as Trump had suddenly developed bone spurs in the spring of 1968, when the fourth of his college deferments ended with his graduation and left him in danger of being drafted. Trump received a medical exemption as 300,000 other young Americans were inducted that year.
And the elder McGahn was speaking as a Marine who had received the Navy Cross as well as three Purple Hearts in Korea. He had survived to become an attorney and powerbroker extraordinaire who was so vital to Trump’s entry and expansion in the casino business that The Donald had to accept being called Draft-Dodging Bastard.
With another of Dan McGahn’s uncles, Joseph “Doc Joe” McGahn, Paddy had dethroned the longtime boss of the Atlantic City political machine, Frank “Hap” (short for Happy) Farley. Doc Joe—an obstetrician who became a politician who not only kissed babies, but also delivered them by the thousands—had no sooner taken Farley’s seat in the state senate in 1971 than he co-sponsored a bill to legalize gambling there. Paddy became adept at running things behind the scenes as casinos became a reality in Atlantic City.
As reported in Wayne Barrett’s biography Trump, Paddy McGahn was described by one Atlantic City official as a lawyer “whose connections go to heaven.” McGahn also knew his way around the lower depths, as he demonstrated when Trump moved to acquire a land parcel that was essential to his plans.
The parcel was owned by two young men who happened to be the scions of two slain Philadelphia mob bosses. One of the scions was reportedly the head of a busy hit squad known as the Young Executioners and the other was on his way to doing life for murder.
New Jersey gaming control officials were not likely to look favorably upon such a connection, so McGahn arranged to transfer the property first to his secretary and then to Trump.
McGahn was not shy about billing Trump and Trump actually paid him.
“What do you want me to do? He gets things done in this town,” Trump was quoted saying of McGahn.
Trump further expressed his gratitude by naming a bar in the Trump Taj Mahal casino Paddy’s Saloon. That was a double homage, as McGahn’s father, also Paddy McGahn, had run a saloon of the same name at the corner of Iowa and Atlantic Streets in Atlantic City. The honorary pallbearers at the father’s funeral in 1949 had included future dethronee Hap Farley and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, future model for the central character in the HBO show Boardwalk Empire.
No doubt Paddy McGahn the father would have smiled approvingly when Paddy McGahn the son decided to reward Atlantic City Mayor James Usry for being particularly obliging on a number of matters in 1990. Paddy McGahn the son hosted a birthday party aboard Trump’s 284-foot yacht, the Trump Princess. Usry was soon after indicted on unrelated bribery and conspiracy charges.
Paddy McGahn the son continued on and was inspired to put the Trump Princess to another, actually laudable use in 1992. McGahn had not been alone among Marines who imagined as the troopships carried them off to war in Korea that they would receive a hero’s welcome upon their return. He would have thought it only right for them to have sailed in under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to a homecoming celebration complete with bands and cheering throngs.
But even if there had been such a welcome—and there most definitely had not been one—McGahn and too many of his comrades came home not as a triumphant group, but as they were individually judged to have recovered sufficiently enough from their wounds to be transported stateside.
The surviving Marines of McGahn’s unit did hold a regular reunion and as the 1992 gathering approached he saw a way to give them the welcome home they should have received four decades before. He began by addressing Donald Trump:
“Listen, you draft-dodging bastard…”
McGahn then informed Trump that he would be making the Trump private plane, the Trump helicopter, the full amenities of a Trump casino, and most importantly the Trump yacht available for a three-day Marine Corps reunion. Trump complied, and Marines flew along with their wives into LaGuardia airport on the Trump plane and then down to Atlantic City on the Trump helicopter.
The Marines and their wives then boarded the Trump Princess. McGahn informed Trump that he would not be allowed to join them.
“No draft-dodging bastards,” McGahn said.
Trump remained ashore, barred from boarding his own yacht, under orders to prepare a big welcome when it returned.
“You better have one hell of a greeting for us,” McGahn was heard to tell him.
The Trump Princess headed briefly out to sea. A ship’s officer provided a tour, explaining that the yacht had previously belonged to Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer who had been involved in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. The officer pointed out walls that he said were covered with elephant skin as if this were something to boast about.
The yacht then swung back to shore. Trump had indeed organized a welcome such as the Marines deserved, which is to say what McGahn told him to provide, complete with band.
At one point. Trump posed for a photo with McGahn and four other Marines. McGahn stood smiling at the far left. Trump stood sheepishly in the middle, seeming to feel very much like what McGahn always called him. One of the Marines would later frame a copy along with a caption.
“ONE PRETTY DRAFT DODGER + FIVE OLD MARINES WITH NINE PURPLE HEARTS.
Atlantic City 1992”
The five Marines had indeed received nine purple hearts, along with four Navy Crosses and three Silver Stars. The Navy Cross is second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.
By then, Doc Joe McGahn had lost his state Senate seat and had gone on to work as an emergency room physician. Paddy McGahn’s influence waned to where Trump sued him for overbilling. Trump’s 1995 suit noted that McGahn’s invoices included one for a 24.75-hour day.
McGahn expressed surprise at the suit, saying he and his attorneys had just been in a lengthy wrangle over bills Trump had failed to pay on the way to multiple bankruptcies. Maybe Trump was looking for payback of another kind.
McGahn died in 2000 at the age of 72, before he could see his nephew Dan—son of a third bother, of the same name—go on to become not only a reasonably talented rock guitarist with Scott’s New Band, but a commissioner and then chairman of the Federal Elections Commission and soon White House Counsel. The younger McGahn’s duties will include guiding the new president through questions of ethics, of which there are likely to be more than even Nucky John or Hap Farley could have ever cooked up.
A previous president, Harry Truman, was commander-in-chief when Paddy McGahn and his fellow Marines displayed such courage in Korea. Dwight Eisenhower was in office when McGahn’s Navy Cross was actually bestowed. The citation reads:
“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Second Lieutenant Patrick T. McGahn, Jr. (MCSN: 0-51014), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Platoon Leader of Company B, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the Republic of Korea on the night of 22 - 23 April 1951. When the enemy launched a strong offensive and seized a key terrain feature which dominated the approaches to his company's position and provided the enemy with a direct observation of friendly units and routes, Second Lieutenant McGahn gallantly led his platoon through heavy enemy fire in a counterattack. Although seriously wounded, he spearheaded a daring bayonet charge up the rocky terrain and succeeded in capturing one strategic position, personally killing several of the enemy. Despite the intense pain of his wounds, he courageously assisted in leading a successful attack on a second objective and steadfastly refused medical aid or evacuation until assured that all other casualties had been given medical treatment. By his indomitable fighting spirit, exceptional fortitude and resolute determination in the face of overwhelming odds, Second Lieutenant McGahn served to inspire all who observed him and contributed in large measure to the successful accomplishment of the regiment's mission. His great personal valor reflects the highest credit upon himself and enhances the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
The president who bestows such medals for valor in the immediate future will be none other than the man Paddy McGahn invariably addressed as draft-dodging bastard.
Paddy McGahn left us with the memory of the one time the Trump Princess was put to laudable use. A participant in the reunion later summarized his feelings upon experiencing the ultra-luxe lifestyle of The Dodger, who has somehow gone on to get elected president as the champion of the regular working guy.
“Now you know why the guillotine was invented,” one of the five old Marines said.