What to know about new claims that Trump made racist comments on ‘The Apprentice’

As Donald Trump seeks to make inroads with African American voters in his third run for the White House, fresh allegations are surfacing about his disrespectful behavior toward Black people on “ The Apprentice,” the hit reality TV show that launched his political career.

Former contestant Gene Folkes told The Associated Press that the ex-president used racially insensitive words when Folkes was fired from the show in 2010. Folkes also said he got a cease-and-desist letter from NBC barring him from speaking publicly about his experience.

A former producer also recently published an account in Slate alleging that Trump used a racist slur to refer to Kwame Jackson, a Black contestant who was a finalist on the show’s first season, and said he came forward because his non-disclosure agreement expired.

A Trump campaign spokesman has vehemently dismissed the accounts as false and politically motivated. Questions remain about whether any of it was caught on tape.

Here’s what to know about new claims of racially insensitive exchanges tied to “The Apprentice”:


Folkes said he had just been fired by Trump and was commiserating with a crew member inside a bar at Trump Tower. As the crew member, a Black woman, consoled him, Trump suddenly appeared.

“He came up and he asked me: ‘Is this your woman? Because you two would make a really great couple, you both have the same background,’” Folkes said.

The contestant manager reminded Trump that she worked for him, Folkes said. Then, Trump made a comment similar to something he uttered in the boardroom that hadn’t aired on TV, Folkes said.

“He said again, ‘It’s not like I used the N-word,’ and then he walked off, and that was that,” said Folkes, a New York-based consultant, podcast host and U.S. Air Force veteran.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign vehemently denied Folkes’ claims, calling them “completely fabricated accusations” that had been debunked in 2016, when Trump first ran for office.

“Nobody took it seriously then, and they won’t now, because it’s fake news,” said the spokesperson, Steven Cheung.


Last week, Bill Pruitt, a former “Apprentice” producer, published a piece in Slate alleging that Trump actually used the racist slur in a meeting to refer to Jackson.

Pruitt wrote one of Trump’s company’s managers suggested picking Jackson over Bill Rancic, the other remaining contestant and a white man. Pruitt wrote Trump winced before asking if America would accept a Black man winning, referring to Jackson using the slur.

Pruitt acknowledged that he recalled quotes to the best of his ability and said the conversation was recorded.

“He’s about to run for a second term as president of the United States and I heard him use a term that should have and would have abolished him from politics forever more had people heard about it,” Pruitt told the AP. “Anyone who is capable of using it shouldn’t be leading the country.”

Jackson said Trump never said the slur to his face. But he said Pruitt’s account and the conversation about an alleged Trump recording spotlighted the nation’s inability to resolve broader questions of what kind of speech voters will tolerate in 2024.

The Trump campaign denied Pruitt’s claim. “Prove it,” Cheung wrote on the X platform, adding that President Joe Biden’s allies were “peddling” the story “because Biden is hemorrhaging support from Black Americans.”


During the decade-plus “The Apprentice” and its spinoffs were on air, hundreds of cast and crew members signed NDAs, limiting their ability to discuss their experiences. In the last week, as the AP reached out to more than two dozen former crew members and contestants about Trump’s behind-the-scenes behavior, some wondered how contractual agreements may have insulated Trump from blowback about politically volatile comments.

In 2016, entertainment giant MGM said it owned the show’s archive and contractual obligations kept it from unilaterally releasing any unaired, archived material. The online shopping giant Amazon has since acquired MGM, and Amazon MGM Studios declined to comment.

The show’s executive producer Mark Burnett also has said he doesn’t have the ability or right to release footage. NBC has said it does not own the footage and licensed it from Burnett for broadcast.

Trump’s 2016 campaign was rocked by allegations about his conduct on “The Apprentice” and other appearances during his association with NBC, notably in footage in which he said he could sexually assault women and get away with it because he was a “star.”

Trump’s comments about female cast and crew members were the subject of an AP investigation published in October 2016. After reading the AP story, “Access Hollywood” producers said they dug into their own show’s archive, uncovering the 2005 tape in which Trump made lewd remarks about women.


Over time, Trump has called ex-contestants criticizing him “failing wannabes” motivated by greed. But he has been trailed in his professional and political life by charges of racism, from a 1973 discrimination lawsuit against his real estate business, to his push to carry out executions of five Black and Latino youths who were later exonerated of rape allegations, to his yearslong fanning of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama — the nation’s first Black president — was born abroad.

Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, spotlighted Pruitt’s account on social media.

On Monday, the campaign posted a TikTok video featuring Pruitt’s allegations, as well as the affirmation of Omarosa Manigault Newman, who went from a show contestant to White House aide to a Trump critic, that she had heard a tape of Trump using the slur.

“Donald Trump is exactly who we all knew he was – a lifelong racist,” a woman says in the TikTok. “Black voters kicked Donald Trump out of the White House in 2020, and we’re going to do it again this November.”


Burke reported from San Francisco and Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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