Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump sister and federal judge, dies

Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s older sister and a former federal judge in New Jersey who was surreptitiously recorded by a family member criticizing her brother’s presidency, saying he was “cruel” and “has no principles,” was found dead Nov. 13 at her home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She was 86.

Her death was confirmed by a law enforcement official and a person close to the Trump family speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private matters. No other information was immediately provided.

Mrs. Barry and her real estate mogul brother were not particularly close, and she made only rare visible ventures into his exceedingly public life. Her brother’s presidency, during which he made racist statements and villainized immigrants, strained their relationship further. She became a withering — though private — critic of her brother.

In 2018 and 2019, Mrs. Barry’s niece, Mary L. Trump, secretly recorded 15 hours of face-to-face conversations with her, releasing audio excerpts and transcripts to The Washington Post in 2020.

“It’s the phoniness of it all,” Mrs. Barry told her niece. “It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.”

“All he wants to do is appeal to his base,” Mrs. Barry continued to her niece. “He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this.”

Her brother refused to concede his defeat in the 2020 presidential election and has been charged in federal and state courts for his alleged efforts in trying to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. He is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Mrs. Barry, the eldest of Fred and Mary Trump’s five children, was never a contender to take over the family’s real estate empire. The academic standout went her own way, into a profession that her family respected — and into a career that buffered her from Donald’s and Fred’s frequent run-ins with the law.

Over the years, Mrs. Barry, who was known for her forthrightness as a judge, was frank about her brother’s egotism, telling Trump biographer Gwenda Blair that Donald “likes hearing about how he’s the greatest — not just the greatest, but the best of the greatest.”

But when he got into trouble, she sometimes came to the defense of her kid brother.

In 2008, when Donald was trying to save his Scotland golf course and resort project from intense opposition by neighbors who were appalled by the scope of his coastal development plan, he staged a highly publicized visit to his immigrant mother’s hometown — his first time there since he was a toddler.

As part of the family’s PR blitz to save their project, Mrs. Barry attended a news conference near a Scottish castle.

“My mother would be so proud to see Donald here today,” she said.

During Donald’s 2016 presidential campaign, Mrs. Barry largely steered clear of politics, but she did at one point aver that her brother was not the extremist boor that his opponents saw. He was, rather, “just a nice boy from Queens,” she said.

Maryanne Elizabeth Trump was born in Queens on April 5, 1937, in the strict household of Fred C. Trump, a housing developer whose career boomed after World War II.

Maryanne grew up at first in the family’s modest two-story Tudor in Jamaica Estates, Queens, but when she was about 10, they moved into a far larger house that Fred Trump built — 23 rooms, with nine bedrooms. It was a strict environment: Maryanne was not permitted to use lipstick, curse or have between-meal snacks.

She joined the debate club and student council at Kew-Forest, the private school in Queens that the former president and three of his siblings also attended. By all accounts, she was a devotedly hard worker in her academic pursuits but was never seen by her father as someone right for his company. Freddy, the oldest son, was his father’s choice, but Fred concluded that Freddy lacked toughness and turned instead to Donald as his successor.

Maryanne received an undergraduate degree in 1958 from Mount Holyoke College, the women’s college in Massachusetts, and waited tables for two years to earn extra income. She went on to complete a master’s degree in public law and government from Columbia University in 1962.

She called herself a traditionalist and declined an acceptance at law school to raise her son, David, later telling the Newark Star-Ledger, “I wanted to be a full-time mother. And, in fact, even when I was in law school, there was never a day when I was not home at 3 o’clock when David got home from school.”

She gradually resumed her legal education and graduated from Hofstra University Law School in 1974 and took a job as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey. She rose to the No. 2 post in that office before being confirmed in 1983 to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Over the ensuing years, she was described as a meticulous and occasionally jocular presence on the bench who prided herself in her independence. She disapproved of what she considered an overly generous plea deal between the U.S. attorney’s office and lawyers for two Essex County, N.J., detectives accused of aiding a prominent drug dealer and insisted the case go to trial, at which both law enforcement officials received long jail terms.

The case she told the Star-Ledger was most important to her involved a gravely ill 8-year-old girl whose insurance company had turned down paying for a potentially lifesaving operation. Mrs. Barry ordered the company to pay for the procedure, which (according to the girl’s attorney) enabled the child to live “happily ever after.”

Outside the court, Mrs. Barry was open about her generally conservative and anti-feminist views when it came to the law, particularly in what she regarded as a proliferation of frivolous sexual harassment cases.

“Don’t tell me that a woman can be a combat pilot, and yet not withstand a dirty joke,” she was reputed to have said at one gathering that the Star-Ledger described as an “FBI-sponsored program on women in law enforcement.” Too much attention placed on what she considered trifles “demeans real sex harassment” cases.

“You have the office pigs out there,” she continued. “And the way to deal with them is with the deft touch, and with humor — as opposed to a hydrogen bomb. … Because you don’t need to make an enemy for life if you want to get ahead. It’s better to make a friend.”

In 1999, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed her appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. U.S. Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) was a pivotal sponsor and once praised her “intellectual grasp of the law” and “ability to exercise good judgment.”

“I’m not so sure my public image is who I really am,” she said at the time. “I can be tough, but there’s a soft spot there, too.”

Her first marriage, to David Desmond, with whom she had a son, ended in divorce. She was then married to John J. Barry, a lawyer, from 1982 until his death in 2000. Survivors include her son David William Desmond, brother Donald and a sister. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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