London - A Los Angeles-based television producer, who was born in London and served in the Falklands as a British Army paratrooper, is at the centre of the latest claims which may shatter Donald Trump’s remaining chances of getting to the White House.
Mark Burnett is the president of MGM, the company which is facing demands that it makes public footage it allegedly holds showing Trump making explicit sexual comments about women and also using the N-word.
The swirl of claims about toxic pronouncements by Trump comes after the release of tapes from 2005 in which he seemed to boast of sexual assault - revelations which have severely damaged his election campaign and finally forced a number of senior figures in the Republican hierarchy to sever links with their candidate.
There are further allegations that Trump used the N-word not just in the filming of The Apprentice, but at least on one other occasion. In addition rumours are circulating that US security agencies have compromising professional and personal material about the Republican candidate which may surface in the near future.
It has been reported that Burnett, who produced The Apprentice, had made employees sign a contract with a $5m (£4.1m) penalty clause to prevent outtakes embarrassing for Trump coming to light. “He has made clear to his teams that he will sue anyone who leaks”, BuzzFeedNews maintained they had been told by “a source”.
A crowdfunding page called the “Trump Sunlight Campaign” has been started to raise $5m for a whistelblower to come forward with the tapes, and the political commentator David Brock, a high-profile backer of Hillary Clinton, has declared that he is prepared to pay the money if necessary.
But Burnett denies that there is a “leak fee” or that he is a Trump supporter. He and his wife Roma Downey, an actress born in Northern Ireland, are involved in a Christian project to raise $25m for religious minorities facing persecution by Isis, but he is not, he says, involved in politics.
Burnett has, however, given political donations in the past - to Democrats: John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
A statement issued on Burnett’s behalf said: “Despite reports to the contrary, Mark Burnett does not have the ability nor the right to release footage or other material from The Apprentice.
“Various contractual and legal requirements also restrict MGM’s ability to release such material. The recent claims that Mark Burnett has threatened anyone with litigation if they were to leak such material are completely and unequivocally false. To be clear, as previously reported in the press, which Mark Burnett has confirmed, he has consistently supported Democratic campaigns.”
But allegations about Trump’s behaviour in places other than the set of The Apprentice have continued. A DJ, Shane Powers of digital broadcasting platform Dash Radio, told listeners to his show that Trump had used the N-word, with sexual allusion, during a game of golf with three other men.
Meanwhile there are rumours that the US intelligence services have incriminating information about Trump and that senior figures in the military and security community have grave disquiet at the prospect of him becoming the commander-in-chief.
Fifty Republican national security experts warned in a letter two months ago that Trump “would be the most reckless president in US history”, someone who “lacks the character, values and experience” to be in the White House. Analysts giving him briefing on nuclear warfare - which he has been entitled to receive as a presidential candidate - have been alarmed by him demanding to know why the US has not used nuclear weapons more often.
At the same time there is said to be unease in the security community about Trump’s public expressions of admiration for Vladimir Putin and readiness to accept the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Republican candidate’s hiring to his team of Paul Manafort, the ex-campaign manager of the Russian-backed Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, added to this.
Trump, for his part, has publicly criticised the competence of American intelligence services, and his supporters have accused the services of backing Hillary Clinton by, for instance, being too quick to blame the Russians for hacking Democratic Party emails and thus painting the Trump campaign, which benefited from the disclosures, as beneficiaries of the Kremlin.
Such is Trump’s suspicion of the intelligence apparatus that he has been taking a retired Lieutenant General, Michael Flynn, to classified security briefings. The Republican candidate described the former senior officer as “a real fan of mine… a terrific general, [who] feels like I do about illegal immigration, in particular”.
But it is Burnett who appears to hold the Republican candidate’s political future in his hands. In the past he has said of Trump: “He’s a billionaire but he’s a really down to earth, normal guy. And at the end he’s a really loyal friend, as I have seen him with normal people.”
But he also added: “He’s a big, strong guy who would think nothing - if someone metaphorically pushed him, he’d push back, not twice as hard, but five, 10 times as hard ... He is not the enemy you’d want.”