A powerful Hollywood ally of Donald Trump has threatened staffers who could release potentially damaging outtakes of the show, a source close to Mark Burnett told BuzzFeed News.
Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice, and his production company have not responded to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News and many other outlets since grotesque outtakes from another show rocked Trump’s campaign Friday, even as former staffers have suggested on Twitter (without clear evidence) that The Apprentice material could be just as damaging.
But the person familiar with Burnett’s thinking told BuzzFeed News that the producer is backing his star.
Burnett “is pro-Trump and has made clear to his teams that he will sue anyone who leaks,” the person said.
Another top Burnett star, the pro-Clinton billionaire and Trump foe Mark Cuban, defended the producer’s right to stay out of the fray.
“Burnett can make his own decisions,” Cuban, who is also an investor on ABC’s reality series Shark Tank, told BuzzFeed News.
Burnett has remained publicly neutral and studiously avoided questions about his role in the presidential campaign.
But pressure has been building on The Apprentice producers to release unaired raw footage of the show after Friday’s release of a 2005 hot mic video of Donald Trump apparently bragging about sexually assaulting women and trying to have sex with a married woman.
More than 20 former contestants, crew members, and editors told the Associated Press that Trump treated women on the show inappropriately, including talking about which contestants he would like to have sex with and rating them by breast size.
“If there was a break in the conversation, he would then look at one of the female cast members, saying, ‘You’re looking kind of hot today, I love that dress on you,’ then he would turn to one of the male cast members and say, ‘Wouldn’t you sleep with her?’ and then everyone would laugh,” a former crew member, who spoke anonymously due to a non-disclosure agreement, told AP.
“There would be about 10 or 12 cameras rolling and getting that footage, which is why everybody was like, this guy just doesn’t care.”
3. But pressure on Burnett to release the footage has continued to grow.
6. One anonymous crew member said Burnett guarded footage carefully while the show was airing to protect against spoilers.
“The Apprentice footage was super vaulted stuff, to keep it from getting into anyone’s hands,” the member told AP. “The game-show aspect meant that the footage was locked down super securely.”
NBC spokesperson Rebecca Marks told AP she did not know if the network has unaired footage in storage, and even if they did, they would not be permitted to release it.
“We don’t have the legal right to give out the footage from that show,” Marks said.
On Saturday afternoon, Bill Pruitt, who said he worked as a producer on the first two seasons of The Apprentice, tweeted that there were “far worse” tapes of Trump out there:
8. And another television executive, Chris Nee, said in a since-deleted tweet that producers could face a $5 million “leak fee.” He mentions it in this tweet as well:
9. The head of a pro-Clinton Super PAC suggested Sunday that he would cover the legal expenses of staffers on the show who leak damaging footage of Trump.
“If a $5 million ‘leak fee’ is what stands between truth and total Trump implosion, sign me up,” said David Brock, the founder of American Bridge and a leading Clinton ally, in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Ben Smith contributed to this report.
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