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Bad blood between Trump and McCain goes back to 1990 feud over airline ‘slots’

The bad blood between Donald Trump and John McCain goes back to a long-forgotten debate over the slots reserved for airlines at two of the country’s busiest airports.

Back in 1990, Trump’s airline, the low-cost Trump Shuttle, was a small but popular airline for businessmen and politicos flying back and forth from New York City to Washington, DC. When he launched the shuttle, Trump paid more than $70 million for 92 highly-coveted slots at DC’s National and NYC’s LaGuardia airports. The slots, a term used for the right to land and take off at the airport, were so valuable that Trump often used them as collateral for multi-million-dollar loans.

Along comes McCain, the Arizona senator, who was a strong ally of Phoenix-based upstart airline, America West. To help the local company, McCain had been trying for years in Congress to get an amendment to the major aviation bill that would “require National and LaGuardia to open up just enough to let in America West” and a small Wisconsin-based airline, reported the Washington Post at the time.

That presented an enormous threat to the Trump Shuttle, the Pan Am shuttle and other airlines operating at the airport, who would likely lose plenty of customers to the competition. The debate over McCain’s amendment blew up into a full-scale battle involving late-night backroom meetings, arm-twisting lobbyists and congressional dealmaking.

Trump’s team was livid. And the real-estate developer instructed the shuttle’s president, Richard F. Cozzi, to “do everything I can possibly do to protect the asset value,” Cozzi told the Post. “We just don’t think it’s fair. [America West] wants them {slots} given to them.”

Among Trump’s top soldiers was infamous Nixon operative Roger Stone, who was lobbying for the Trump Shuttle.

“So, I went to McCain’s office to meet with him about the airlines,” Stone told McCain biographer Paul Alexander years later. “I opened the meeting by saying, ‘Senator, you know I represent the Trump Shuttle and I wanted to talk to you about the landing rights issue at LaGuardia. I understand that America West is an Arizona-based company…’ And that’s all I had to say. He went crazy. Crazy! Like a madman. Seething, drooling, his face turned beet-red. ‘Get out of my office! How dare you talk to me like that! No one talks to me like that!”