Tom Arnold: My Trump Addiction Is Destroying My Career and I Don’t Care
The president’s most unlikely foe is angry, vulnerable, and very busy.
“If you want to be a fucking smart-ass, then why don't you call me back? I wouldn't have even called you or texted you because you're a pussy who hasn't done shit… So fuck you!”
Tom Arnold is inside the Regency Bar and Grill in Manhattan, yelling into the phone of a freelance sound mixer he believes has incriminating audio tapes of President Trump. The mixer worked on The Apprentice and then on Arnold’s short-lived Vice show, The Hunt for the Trump Tapes. Arnold believes Vice sent him on a wild goose chase for recordings one of their own had in their possession all along. (Vice declined to comment.)
Setting his phone down next to a half-eaten cheeseburger, he sighs, adjusts his glasses, and looks at me.
“Was that bad? What do you think? Honest opinion, sober guy to sober guy, am I handling this wrong?"
He pauses, mulling it over.
“Yeah, that's bad,” he concludes.
Arnold’s obsession with bringing down Trump has led him to make conspiratorial claims about tapes of the former reality TV star-turned-president assaulting his wife and saying the n-word that haven’t borne out. It cost him his Vice gig. It led him to exaggerate a chance encounter with Michael Cohen (he claimed to have turned the president’s former fixer against Trump over what turned out to be just a hotel selfie). And it got him into a fistfight with Apprentice producer Mark Burnett during last year’s Emmy Awards.
He doesn’t care.
"You will lose work? Yeah, my show was cancelled. They aired four episodes in one week. You'll lose credibility? I have none,” Arnold says.
It wasn’t always that way. Arnold, 60, was a reasonably successful comedian whose marriage to Roseanne Barr helped catapult him to Hollywood fame, including a star turn as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sidekick in the 1994 blockbuster movie True Lies.
At the same time though, he battled addiction to drugs and alcohol. Arnold first got sober in 1989, but later became hooked on opiates following a 2008 motorcycle accident. Arnold checked himself into rehab in 2017 after experiencing traumatic flashbacks of being sexually abused as a child. The flashbacks were triggered when his son, Jax, turned 4 years old—the same age Arnold said he was when a neighbor preyed upon him growing up in Iowa.
“My trauma is not cured,” he says.
Though 21 months sober when it comes to substances, he’s not when it comes to Trump.
“I question everything I do. Is it my ego?” he says. “I’m not afraid to use those addictive qualities for the right reasons, which is that these people are bad news.”
Is the actor playing another character?
“You're right, I do,” he replies. “It's also a way to not be intimate. Then I was thinking, maybe that’s who I actually am when I’m sober.” (In February, he filed for divorce from his fourth wife, citing irreconcilable differences.)
Arnold says he used to be friends with Trump, attending parties together in the 1990s and early 2000s (though he turned down a role on Celebrity Apprentice in 2010). That began to change leading up to the 2012 election when Trump endorsed the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in America.
“He was my buddy, but the birther stuff was so toxic,” he says. “It escalated obviously after the Access Hollywood tape in 2016.”
After the election, he continued to search for other damaging Trump tapes.
When I first met Arnold several days prior at a movie screening for The Brink, a new documentary about Steve Bannon, he pulled me aside in the lobby to hype an alleged sex tape featuring Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. For about 30 seconds I thought there might be a scoop, before it became obvious he unloads this type of gossip on anyone who will listen, especially reporters.
After his failed attempt to find the Trump tapes, he glommed onto figures in the Trump-Russia investigation, seeing them as another way to topple his old friend. Hours before we meet at the Loews Regency, he tweeted out a photo of himself and Cohen at the hotel’s restaurant. He describes their relationship like being “on a remote island” vacation with a woman you love.
Speaking of couples, he’s become cozy with George Papadopoulos, whom Mueller charged with lying to the FBI about his campaign contacts with Russians, and his wife, Simona. After George’s family reported Simona, an Italian lawyer, to Immigration Customs Enforcement last fall amid an ongoing feud, the actor stopped by their California home to offer support.
“Tom Arnold is a great person, who has been close to both George and I in some critical moments of our lives,” Simona tells me. “Friendship has no political color and our reciprocal appreciation has nothing to [do] with our respective views about the Mueller probe. Definitely someone who I consider above all a great friend.”
“I do feel a lot of compassion for George and his wife. I just want them to get a chance because they have in-law problems,” Arnold says. “When you're mother-in-law calls ICE on you, geez, marriage is hard enough, I speak from experience. But then you have people thinking you're a Russian spy, your mother-in-law is calling ICE, you got to testify, and Mueller, FBI people following them around. What a stressful environment.”
Just then a burning smell envelopes the restaurant. After I dismiss the odor, a waiter rushes over to put out the fire at our table. It was Arnold’s notebook containing all his Sharpie scribblings of key Russiagate figures and dates, a candle flame blackening its cover. He hardly notices and is already freewheeling on what it was like being questioned by Secret Service.