Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #903 Daniel Hopsicker on Donald Trump and How He Is Going to Make America Great Again

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

One of our hair­craft is miss­ing . . .

Intro­duc­tion: With the sup­posed “out­sider” Don­ald Trump hav­ing locked up the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, we take a look at the under­bel­ly of Trump’s busi­ness career. Not­ed for his sup­posed busi­ness acu­men, Trump has ben­e­fit­ed from finan­cial deal­ings with orga­nized crime fig­ures and peo­ple with long-stand­ing intel­li­gence con­nec­tions. Under­ly­ing his asso­ci­a­tions are rela­tion­ships stretch­ing back to the secret­ing of Axis loot dur­ing, and after, World War II.

Do not fail to note that real estate projects and gam­bling casi­nos are major vehi­cles for laun­der­ing money–the avail­able evi­dence sug­gests that Trump’s busi­ness deal­ings may well have been mon­ey laun­der­ing oper­a­tions.

Some of these peo­ple may even make it into a Trump cab­i­net, such as Trea­sury-Sec­re­tary-to-be Carl Icahn: ” . . . There’s Trump bud­dy, and favorite for a Cab­i­net post  in a Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, shady financier Carl Icahn, whose check­ered career may final­ly get the atten­tion it deserves. Exam­ple: Icahn made a $100 mil­lion invest­ment in a bogus St. Peters­burg Flori­da com­pa­ny whose only “prod­uct” turned out to be 5.5 tons of cocaine bust­ed on a com­pa­ny plane. The plane, a DC‑9, was also used to give ille­gal free rides dur­ing the 2000 elec­tion to soon-to-be Flori­da Sen­a­tor and lat­er nation­wide GOP Cam­paign Finance Chair Mel Mar­tinez. . . .”

Iran-Con­tra scan­dal play­er Adnan Khashog­gi is also a Trump crony. (Khashog­gi has also been among the financiers of Al-Qae­da, AND the so-called “Truther” move­ment.) ” . . . . And there’s Sau­di wheel­er-deal­er Adnan Khashog­gi, who sold Trump his yacht at a bar­gain-base­ment price, win­ters in Palm Beach, and is sim­i­lar­ly fab­u­lous. . . .”

In his Atlantic City oper­a­tions, Trump ben­e­fit­ed from a mob-linked milieu: ” . . . . in Atlantic City New Jer­sey a crowd gath­ers at the launch of  New Jersey’s glitzi­est new hotel/casino, “Harrah’s Trump Plaza” to hear the Gov­er­nor and Atlantic City’s May­or heap praise on Don­ald Trump for invest­ing in the future of Atlantic City.Trump wasn’t a tycoon yet, just a bud­ding real estate wun­derkind. . . .

The land where Trump Plaza stands in Atlantic City was owned at the time by sev­er­al Trump part­ners. One, Dan Sul­li­van,   was a Team­sters offi­cial and friend of Jim­my Hof­fa whose arrest record, accord­ing to “Board­walk Jun­gle” by Ovid Des­maris, includ­ed “imper­son­at­ing a police offi­cer, lar­ce­ny, grand lar­ce­ny, felo­nious assault and pos­ses­sion of a dan­ger­ous weapon.”

Sul­li­van was also famous, at least in cer­tain cir­cles (see clip­ping below) as the last per­son to have seen a dis­si­dent Team­ster lawyer named Abra­ham Bau­man alive. “Bau­man dis­ap­peared after speak­ing with Sul­li­van,” read a Casi­no Gam­ing Com­mis­sion report. “Nei­ther he nor his body were ever found.”

“Nei­ther he nor his body.” 

Mankind is grate­ful New Jer­sey state troop­ers nev­er found one with­out find­ing the oth­er, mak­ing it clear that one big rea­son for Trump’s envi­able suc­cess there is that state offi­cials were—and, prob­a­bly, still are—morons.

Being the last per­son seen with a guy every­one pre­sumes is dead can be quite a bur­den.

Dan Sul­li­van shoul­dered it man­ful­ly. He was a use­ful per­son to know, with excel­lent con­nec­tions on the labor nego­ti­a­tion front. He had influ­ence with Mob-run unions like the Team­sters; Labor­ers Inter­na­tion­al; and Hotel & Restau­rant Employ­ees.

So on a build­ing project expe­ri­enc­ing bar­gain­ing prob­lems with the hotel and restau­rant work­ers union, Trump arranged for Sul­li­van to be hired as a labor nego­tia­tor.

“Trump advised [the FBI] that [Sul­li­van] is involved as a labor con­sul­tant to their firm,” not­ed a Sep­tem­ber 1986 FBI memo.

The role of “labor con­sul­tant,”  some­one spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­duc­ing “labor peace” on large con­struc­tion projects, can be fraught with dan­ger.  But the FBI showed itself to be under­stand­ing of peo­ple whose jobs involve poten­tial­ly ques­tion­able activ­i­ties.

“They are aware that it is a very rough busi­ness and that [Sul­li­van] knows peo­ple, some of whom may be unsa­vory by the sim­ple nature of their busi­ness,” stat­ed the FBI memo. . . . Trump told the New Jer­sey Casi­no Com­mis­sion he met Sul­li­van “prob­a­bly at one of the clos­ings or dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions, let’s say, and then ulti­mate­ly at the clos­ings for Hol­i­day Inn’s par­cel. He had the mid­dle par­cel. With­out that piece in the  mid­dle the deal wouldn’t have worked.”

For his part, Sul­li­van con­firmed to The Casi­no Com­mis­sion that he hadn’t met Trump until their nego­ti­a­tions for the land beneath Trump Tow­ers. But a smirk­ing Sul­li­van lat­er called Trump “an old friend from New York. . . .”

These con­nec­tions are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Trump busi­ness asso­ci­a­tions. He also had what might be described as a “sweet­heart deal’ with Hol­i­day Inn: ” . . . . News­day report­ed that no oth­er com­mer­cial devel­op­er had ever received a tax abate­ment from the city, yet Trump was award­ed a 40-year tax abate­ment on the Grand Hyatt Hotel which saved him $3 mil­lion a year. The Wall Street Jour­nal called it “the tax deal of the cen­tu­ry.” Yet local activists com­plained Trump that despite the huge tax breaks he got in Atlantic City, he gave noth­ing back to the city. All that mon­ey went some­where. But where? When Trump Plaza final­ly closed amid Atlantic City’s crum­bling casi­no scene, the hotel “The Don­ald” built for $250 mil­lion back in 1984, couldn’t fetch $20 mil­lion at auc­tion. . . .”

Trump begun buy­ing prop­er­ties in Atlantic City in the ear­ly 1980s, but didn’t build a casi­no until he had a part­ner, Hol­i­day Inn, which already owned Harrah’s Casi­nos, that was a lock to win reg­u­la­to­ry approval from New Jer­sey offi­cials.

In fact, Don­ald Trump built Trump Plaza only after Hol­i­day Inn secured financ­ing of $250 mil­lion. Trump had no pre­vi­ous track record of suc­cess­ful large devel­op­ment. But the young entre­pre­neur was lucky enough to get to build a big build­ing with oth­er people’s mon­ey. Good for him.

Then I read some­thing I couldn’t believe.  Don­ald Trump also got to put his own name on it?  It wasn’t called Hol­i­day Inn-World or Har­rahs-Land? Adding insult to injury:

Hol­i­day Inn had secured $250 mil­lion to finance the build, but Trump Plaza only cost $220 mil­lion to erect. Trump and com­pa­ny, who didn’t risk a dime, pre­sum­ably made $30 mil­lion on con­struc­tion.

Trump also got to take home half the take from the glitzy, new, and already paid for casi­no. He even got a clause hold­ing him harm­less for casi­no loss­es for five years. If some­body walked in and placed 37 win­ning bets in a row on ‘black’ at roulette while let­ting the win­nings ride each time, it wasn’t Trump who was then forced to eat tuna fish out of cans for a month.

What I was look­ing at was not just the deal of the cen­tu­ry. It was the great­est deal since the Uni­verse began. . . .”

In his West­ern deals, Trump has fol­lowed in the foot­steps of mob real estate fig­ures like Louis Less­er, an asso­ciate of Howard Hugh­es. ” . . . . Louis Less­er was a part­ner with Syn­di­cate leg­end Mey­er Lan­sky and Kirk Kerko­ri­an in buy­ing up Las Vegas hotels and casi­nos. He had exten­sive ties with Howard Hugh­es. He devel­oped, owned, and leased many prop­er­ties to Hugh­es’ Air­craft, includ­ing a mas­sive project in New­port Beach.

Less­er helped Hugh­es buy up hotels and casi­nos in Las Vegas. When Less­er sold his Fron­tier Hotel and Casi­no to Hugh­es, it was the begin­ning of Hugh­es’ take-over there. In an exam­ple of Trump’s syn­er­gis­tic Great Chain of Life, years lat­er, Don­ald Trump erect­ed the Trump Hotel Las Vegas on a por­tion of the prop­er­ty.

Louis Less­er, when he resigned as chair­man of Louis Less­er Enter­pris­es in 1967, was replaced by an asso­ciate of Hen­ry Sal­va­tori, who the L.A. Times called a “GOP King­mak­er.”

In 1964, Sal­va­tori chaired Bar­ry Goldwater’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia. He con­vinced Gold­wa­ter to allow Ronald Rea­gan to give a tele­vised fundrais­ing speech enti­tled “A Time for Choos­ing,” which launched Reagan’s polit­i­cal career. Sal­va­tori became a promi­nent mem­ber of Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cab­i­net.”

 Louis Less­er sold his Taj Mahal Hotel and Casi­no in Atlantic City to Don­ald Trump.

Lat­er, when the casi­no went bank­rupt, a court fil­ing in the bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ings revealed Trump’s Taj Mahal Casi­no list­ed Fin­cen (The U.S. Finan­cial Crimes Enforce­ment Net­work) as an unse­cured cred­i­tor, mean­ing it hadn’t paid the record $10 mil­lion penal­ty (the largest the agency ever levied on a casi­no) for what FINCEN called  “mon­ey laun­der­ing fail­ures.” . . . .”

Lesser’s son Craig was involved with the Mar­cos for­tune, derived from the Gold­en Lily loot com­piled by the fas­cist Japan­ese in World War II: ” . . . . In the late 1980’s Louis Lesser’s son Craig became part­ners in real estate with Imel­da Mar­cos, fronting for the real prin­ci­pals, Louis Less­er and Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. On an out­ing with Imel­da and a mil­i­tary con­tin­gent, Craig Less­er  helped uncov­er part of the fabled cache of gold buried by the Japan­ese in the Philip­pines at the end of Word War II.

 In Gold War­riors (2002), Ster­ling and Peg­gy Sea­grave detail a “great for­tune dis­cov­ered by U.S. intel­li­gence ser­vices in 1946 … $13-bil­lion in war loot amassed by under­world god­fa­ther Kodama Yoshio who, as a rear admi­ral in the Impe­r­i­al Navy work­ing with Gold­en Lily in Chi­na and South­east Asia, was in charge of plun­der­ing the Asian under­world and rack­e­teers. He was also in charge of Japan’s wartime drug trade through­out Asia

Craig Less­er sent back a sol­id gold antique vase to his father, which took sev­er­al men to lift, and which was dis­played on the man­tle at Louis Lesser’s man­sion, once the largest pri­vate res­i­dence in Bev­er­ly Hills.

Until TV pro­duc­er Aaron Spelling built “The Manor,” a home that rivals a mid-sized hotel in square footage, Louis Less­er lived in the largest house in Bev­er­ly Hills. In fact, his house at 1156 Shad­ow Hill Way was used exten­sive­ly dur­ing pro­duc­tion of Bev­er­ly Hills 90210.

Its cur­rent occu­pant, Pearla­sia Gam­boa, is a Fil­ipino-Amer­i­can busi­ness woman who’s been involved in mas­sive fraud, and was the pres­i­dent of a “micro-nation” called theDomin­ion of Melchizedek, an atoll in the South Pacif­ic which lies under­wa­ter at high tide,  used as a front for fraud­u­lent crim­i­nal activ­i­ty.

Bank of Eng­land offi­cials raid­ed the Lon­don premis­es of a com­pa­ny which offered get-rich-quick invest­ment schemes backed by a pho­ny bank ”reg­is­tered” in Melchizedek. ”It appears to exist main­ly so that mon­ey can be whisked through shell banks,”reported the Wash­ing­ton Post. . . .”

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  • Trump’s flip­ping of a Palm Beach lux­u­ry home to Russ­ian mob­ster Dim­it­ry Rybobolev.
  • Imel­da Mar­cos’s asso­ci­a­tion with Trump asso­ciate Adnan Khashog­gi.
  • Trump’s links to Joseph McCarthy attor­ney Roy Cohn, and the lat­ter’s links to mob fig­ures.
  • Louis Lesser’s asso­ci­a­tion with the Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter and Ronald Rea­gan milieux.

1. The first of Daniel’s arti­cles high­lights mob influ­ence in Don­ald Trump’s var­i­ous projects. In this con­text, we should note that both real estate and gam­bling casi­nos are fre­quent (and ide­al) vehi­cles for laun­der­ing mon­ey.

 “Don­ald Trump and the Palm Beach Homies” by Daniel Hop­sick­er; Mad Cow Morn­ing News; 3/9/2016.

Don­ald Trump’s his­to­ry with the Mob—beginning with ear­ly busi­ness part­ners in Atlantic City who were ‘dese dem & dose’ guys with crooked noses who knew where Jim­my Hof­fa was real­ly buried —is a vir­tu­al trav­el­ogue through 30 years of ever-more sophis­ti­cat­ed orga­nized crime.

Rely­ing on the Mob for sup­port in Atlantic City and dur­ing con­struc­tion of his sig­na­ture New York projects is cer­tain­ly lam­en­ta­ble. But Trump’s ques­tion­able ear­ly part­ners are only half of the sto­ry.

At a moment when Amer­i­cans have begun reg­is­ter­ing their anger at hav­ing been swin­dled finan­cial­ly, Trump’s ‘homies’ in Palm Beach, whose exploits have vic­tim­ized entire nations, could pro­voke real out­rage. If, that is, they ever receive expo­sure.

There’s a cor­rupt nurs­ing home mag­nate, at least one Russ­ian Mob­ster, and a ser­i­al thief who may have “hid­den out on a Trump prop­er­ty in Palm Beach” while INTERPOL was look­ing to serve a crim­i­nal war­rant for loot­ing a big bank in Thai­land.

There’s Trump bud­dy, and favorite for a Cab­i­net post  in a Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, shady financier Carl Icahn, whose check­ered career may final­ly get the atten­tion it deserves.

Exam­ple: Icahn made a $100 mil­lion invest­ment in a bogus St. Peters­burg Flori­da com­pa­ny whose only “prod­uct” turned out to be 5.5 tons of cocaine bust­ed on a com­pa­ny plane. The plane, a DC‑9, was also used to give ille­gal free rides dur­ing the 2000 elec­tion to soon-to-be Flori­da Sen­a­tor and lat­er nation­wide GOP Cam­paign Finance Chair Mel Mar­tinez.

And there’s Sau­di wheel­er-deal­er Adnan Khashog­gi, who sold Trump his yacht at a bar­gain-base­ment price, win­ters in Palm Beach, and is sim­i­lar­ly fab­u­lous.

While Khashog­gi spe­cial­izes these days in rob­bing banks from the inside, (PDF, pg 8), and evad­ing INTERPOL arrest war­rants, he peri­od­i­cal­ly rapes the Amer­i­can finan­cial sys­tem for hun­dreds of mil­lions  of dollars—with STOCKWALK, for exam­ple, a scam that cost Deutsche Bank $278 mil­lion in fines.

Trump’s Palm Beach homies may be slight­ly more gen­teel… But they’ve stolen far more mon­ey than Trump’s Mob part­ners back in Jer­sey ever dreamed pos­si­ble.

The sub­ject sur­faced thanks to some inar­tic­u­late heavy breath­ing recent­ly by Sen. Ted Cruz, who spec­u­lat­ed last week that Trump hasn’t released his tax returns because they show ties to the Mob.

Then on Sun­day Cruz dou­bled-down, accus­ing the media of know­ing all about it, but wait­ing for just the right time. “The media is sit­ting on ‘bomb­shell’ expos­es on Don­ald Trump,” he said, “but won’t pub­lish it until the tycoon is the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.”

When a tak­en-aback Chuck Todd asked Cruz if he had any basis to sug­gest Trump has mob ties, he replied: “Oh sure. ABC, CNN, mul­ti­ple news reports have report­ed about his deal­ings with… ‘Fat Tony’ Saler­no, who is a mob­ster who is in jail. And that has been report­ed in mul­ti­ple media out­lets.”

Ted Cruz’ state­ment seems, for him,  to be only slight­ly more than typ­i­cal­ly-inac­cu­rate.

One-line memo to Cruz:  Fat Tony Saler­no isn’t in jail. He’s been dead since 1992.

But first, because its col­or­ful, and because it goes to the heart of his claim that he would be the best Pres­i­dent for Amer­i­ca because he’s the best nego­tia­tor, a brief recap of Trump’s ear­ly Mob ties:

Before becom­ing big enough to rub elbows with the beau­ti­ful peo­ple who “win­ter” in Palm Beach and their friends from transna­tion­al orga­nized crime, Don­ald Trump had to make his bones the same place almost every­one else does: In Jer­sey.

It’s July 16, 1985…  Light­ning strikes four golfers mak­ing a dash for the club­house dur­ing a storm in Michi­gan…  Heli­copter assault teams launch air­borne mar­i­jua­na-erad­i­ca­tion raids in Cal­i­for­nia (which in hind­sight look like a ridicu­lous­ly-huge waste of tax­pay­er mon­ey)…

And in Atlantic City New Jer­sey a crowd gath­ers at the launch of  New Jersey’s glitzi­est new hotel/casino, “Harrah’s Trump Plaza” to hear the Gov­er­nor and Atlantic City’s May­or heap praise on Don­ald Trump for invest­ing in the future of Atlantic City.

Trump wasn’t a tycoon yet, just a bud­ding real estate wun­derkind. But already he was a show­man. 30 years before the cur­rent Pres­i­den­tial brouha­ha, his bom­bas­tic style and tone were ful­ly in place.

“Don­ald Trump was ecsta­t­ic,” report­ed Ovid Demaris, in “The Board­walk Jun­gle.”

“I think this is going to be an incred­i­ble build­ing!” Trump enthused at the rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mo­ny.  “I think its going to be the largest and one of the most spec­tac­u­lar hotels any­where in the world. It’s mag­nif­i­cent! Three blocks long! A megas­truc­ture! Its incred­i­ble. The largest casi­no in the world! The tallest build­ing in Atlantic City! It just dom­i­nates!”

“I stand in front of you as the new­ly-elect­ed may­or of a city which will be the recip­i­ent of the largess of two fine orga­ni­za­tions, Trump and Harrah’s,” gushed the new May­or.

The new Mayor’s enthu­si­asm may have been the after­math of adren­a­line over not being indict­ed for tak­ing bribes from one of Don­ald Trump’s part­ners on the very project being launched that day, as the pre­vi­ous May­or had.

The heavy bur­den of sus­pi­cion

The land where Trump Plaza stands in Atlantic City was owned at the time by sev­er­al Trump part­ners. One, Dan Sul­li­van,   was a Team­sters offi­cial and friend of Jim­my Hof­fa whose arrest record, accord­ing to “Board­walk Jun­gle” by Ovid Des­maris, includ­ed “imper­son­at­ing a police offi­cer, lar­ce­ny, grand lar­ce­ny, felo­nious assault and pos­ses­sion of a dan­ger­ous weapon.”

Sul­li­van was also famous, at least in cer­tain cir­cles (see clip­ping below) as the last per­son to have seen a dis­si­dent Team­ster lawyer named Abra­ham Bau­man alive. “Bau­man dis­ap­peared after speak­ing with Sul­li­van,” read a Casi­no Gam­ing Com­mis­sion report. “Nei­ther he nor his body were ever found.”

“Nei­ther he nor his body.” 

Mankind is grate­ful New Jer­sey state troop­ers nev­er found one with­out find­ing the oth­er, mak­ing it clear that one big rea­son for Trump’s envi­able suc­cess there is that state offi­cials were—and, prob­a­bly, still are—morons.

Being the last per­son seen with a guy every­one pre­sumes is dead can be quite a bur­den.

Dan Sul­li­van shoul­dered it man­ful­ly. He was a use­ful per­son to know, with excel­lent con­nec­tions on the labor nego­ti­a­tion front. He had influ­ence with Mob-run unions like the Team­sters; Labor­ers Inter­na­tion­al; and Hotel & Restau­rant Employ­ees.

So on a build­ing project expe­ri­enc­ing bar­gain­ing prob­lems with the hotel and restau­rant work­ers union, Trump arranged for Sul­li­van to be hired as a labor nego­tia­tor.

“Trump advised [the FBI] that [Sul­li­van] is involved as a labor con­sul­tant to their firm,” not­ed a Sep­tem­ber 1986 FBI memo.

The role of “labor con­sul­tant,”  some­one spe­cial­iz­ing in pro­duc­ing “labor peace” on large con­struc­tion projects, can be fraught with dan­ger.  But the FBI showed itself to be under­stand­ing of peo­ple whose jobs involve poten­tial­ly ques­tion­able activ­i­ties.

“They are aware that it is a very rough busi­ness and that [Sul­li­van] knows peo­ple, some of whom may be unsa­vory by the sim­ple nature of their busi­ness,” stat­ed the FBI memo.

“By the sim­ple nature of their busi­ness.”

How Trump and Sul­li­van first met was a ques­tion of some inter­est to New Jer­sey offi­cials.

Trump told the New Jer­sey Casi­no Com­mis­sion he met Sul­li­van “prob­a­bly at one of the clos­ings or dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions, let’s say, and then ulti­mate­ly at the clos­ings for Hol­i­day Inn’s par­cel. He had the mid­dle par­cel. With­out that piece in the  mid­dle the deal wouldn’t have worked.”

For his part, Sul­li­van con­firmed to The Casi­no Com­mis­sion that he hadn’t met Trump until their nego­ti­a­tions for the land beneath Trump Tow­ers. But a smirk­ing Sul­li­van lat­er called Trump “an old friend from New York.”

“It’s nice being friends with a mil­lion­aire,” he added.

As Trump’s Tow­er and Casi­no was open­ing, two of his part­ners in the ven­ture were under a cloud for brib­ing Atlantic City May­or Michael Matthews, who at his sen­tenc­ing uttered the immor­tal phrase, “Greed got the best of me.”

Trump part­ner Dan Sul­li­van was “an unin­dict­ed co-con­spir­a­tor,” while a sec­ond Trump part­ner, Ken­neth Shapiro, was less lucky.

Shapiro, known as the “bag man” for Philly crime boss Nicky Scar­fo, was indict­ed for mak­ing the pay­offs.

“Croc­o­dile Dundee, meet Gui­do; Gui­do, meet Croc”

A year lat­er Aus­tralian offi­cials con­duct­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s suit­abil­i­ty to oper­ate a casi­no in Syd­ney were giv­en access to FBI sur­veil­lance tran­scripts of con­ver­sa­tions between Trump and Antho­ny “Fat Tony” Saler­no.

The phone con­ver­sa­tion was enough to con­vince Aus­tralian offi­cials to turn his bid down. In addi­tion to being a capo in the Gen­ovese Mafia fam­i­ly, “Fat Tony” owned a con­crete com­pa­ny doing a lot of work, as might be expect­ed, for Don­ald Trump.

The FBI report indi­cat­ed Trump met Saler­no through noto­ri­ous attor­ney Roy Cohn, who rep­re­sent­ed both men.

Cohn had been red-bait­ing U.S. Sen­a­tor McCarthy’s right-hand man in the 50’s.  He was famous for once telling a client,” Don’t tell me what you’re charged with. Just tell me who the Judge is.”

In addi­tion to being Don­ald Trump’s sta­ble­mate in Roy Cohn’s client ros­ter, Fat Tony Saler­no won the title of “rich­est and most pow­er­ful gang­ster in Amer­i­ca” in a 1986 arti­cle in For­tune mag­a­zine.

Saler­no earned tens of mil­lions from loan shark­ing, For­tune report­ed, skim­ming at Neva­da casi­nos and charg­ing New York City con­struc­tion projects  a “Mafia tax.”  Con­vict­ed in 1988 for pay­offs on con­crete in 16 Man­hat­tan build­ings, includ­ing the Jacob Jav­its Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, he was sen­tenced to 70 years in prison, where he died 4 years lat­er.

Sail­ing “The Octo­pussy” with anoth­er “vul­gar­i­an-at-large”

Fast for­ward to 2006. Trump did a deal in Palm Beach that illus­trates the bet­ter class of crook with whom he was now con­sort­ing.

At a bank­rupt­cy auc­tion, Trump bought Mai­son de L’Amitie, sit­u­at­ed on one of Palm Beach’s largest prop­er­ties.

Its pre­vi­ous own­er was a man one reporter called “nurs­ing home mag­nate and vul­gar­i­an-at-large Abe Gos­man,” whose career offers ample clues to what hap­pens when Medicare mon­ey goes miss­ing.

Gos­man went bel­ly up after Fed­er­al audi­tors began prob­ing his nurs­ing home chain. In time-hon­ored tra­di­tion, he parked his assets in his wife’s name.

So far, so good. How­ev­er, Lin Gos­man, Abra­ham Gosman’s new wife, had not yet been divorced before the two love­birds staged a big “theme” wed­ding aboard “The Octo­pussy,” Gosman’s lux­u­ry yacht, and a fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy judge ruled he wasn’t legal­ly mar­ried.

That’s right. The Octo­pussy.

When Gos­man died, Lin was not men­tioned in the fam­i­ly obit­u­ary notice. In 2009, she was charged with bank­rupt­cy fraud, mort­gage fraud and oth­er charges, pled guilty, and was sen­tenced to house arrest.

Good-by, Mai­son de L’Amitie. Adieu, Octo-Pussy.

A ‘cos­met­ic upgrade’ from gang­ster to ‘busi­ness­man’

After a cos­met­ic upgrade, Trump sold the water­front man­sion for a then-record $100 mil­lion to Russ­ian “busi­ness­man” Dmit­ry Rybolovlev.

Dozens of news reports trum­pet­ed Trump’s big sale—everywhere from the Wall Street Jour­nal to Enter­tain­ment Tonight. But although The Jour­nal called Rybolovlev “one of Russia’s rich­est and most dis­creet busi­ness­men, no U.S. news out­let (except the Mad­Cow­Morn­ingNews, which hard­ly counts) saw fit to men­tion Palm Beach’s newest resident’s promi­nent “ties” to the Russ­ian Mafiya, which were hid­ing in plain sight.

Instead they focused on bil­lion­aire mogul Trump’s mas­sive wind­fall in scoop­ing it up for a bar­gain-base­ment price of just $40 mil­lion before flip­ping it for a report­ed $100 mil­lion, one of the high­est prices ever paid for a home in the Unit­ed States.

Offi­cial Russ­ian news agency TASS had report­ed that Russ­ian law enforce­ment author­i­ties had accused Rybolovlev of being behind the mur­der of his chief rival for con­trol of Russia’s lucra­tive fer­til­iz­er busi­ness, a man who had been “shot five times at the entrance to his apart­ment in Perm, a region­al cen­ter in the Urals.”

On the day after the mur­der, TASS called the mur­der a “con­tract killing.” The sus­pect­ed mur­der­ers and orga­niz­ers of the crime, includ­ing the head of the FD-Kred­it Bank, Dmit­ry Rybolovlev, have been arrest­ed,” TASS report­ed.

It wasn’t as if the U.S. news media was igno­rant of what is going on in Rus­sia, which was being described as “a klep­toc­ra­cy from top to bot­tom;” and a “semi-crim­i­nal state.”

Russia’s own Inte­ri­or Min­istry esti­mat­ed two-thirds of the Russ­ian econ­o­my was under the sway of orga­nized crime, which enjoyed pro­tec­tion from the rul­ing oli­garchy dur­ing Yeltsin’s long drunk­en twi­light dur­ing the late 90’s.

Today two hun­dred of Russia’s largest crime gangs are glob­al con­glom­er­ates.

“The Art of the Deal”

When sur­vey­ing the “art” of Don­ald Trump’s deals, the ques­tion is whether he’s the deal­mak­er of the cen­tu­ry, or… were invis­i­ble forces involved?  If the man who authored “The Art of the Deal” was secret­ly get­ting a big hand up from his bud­dies in orga­nized crime, that would be rel­e­vant to claims Trump’s been mak­ing dur­ing the cam­paign.

What fol­lows is pub­lic record.

News­day report­ed that no oth­er com­mer­cial devel­op­er had ever received a tax abate­ment from the city, yet Trump was award­ed a 40-year tax abate­ment on the Grand Hyatt Hotel which saved him $3 mil­lion a year. The Wall Street Jour­nal called it “the tax deal of the cen­tu­ry.”

Yet local activists com­plained Trump that despite the huge tax breaks he got in Atlantic City, he gave noth­ing back to the city. All that mon­ey went some­where. But where?

When Trump Plaza final­ly closed amid Atlantic City’s crum­bling casi­no scene, the hotel “The Don­ald” built for $250 mil­lion back in 1984, couldn’t fetch $20 mil­lion at auc­tion.

That giant suck­ing sound. Again.

Is this the ‘giant suck­ing sound” third par­ty can­di­date Ross Per­ot warned about back in 1992?  Let’s take a quick look.

Trump begun buy­ing prop­er­ties in Atlantic City in the ear­ly 1980s, but didn’t build a casi­no until he had a part­ner, Hol­i­day Inn, which already owned Harrah’s Casi­nos, that was a lock to win reg­u­la­to­ry approval from New Jer­sey offi­cials.

In fact, Don­ald Trump built Trump Plaza only after Hol­i­day Inn secured financ­ing of $250 mil­lion. Trump had no pre­vi­ous track record of suc­cess­ful large devel­op­ment. But the young entre­pre­neur was lucky enough to get to build a big build­ing with oth­er people’s mon­ey. Good for him.

Then I read some­thing I couldn’t believe.  Don­ald Trump also got to put his own name on it?  It wasn’t called Hol­i­day Inn-World or Har­rahs-Land? Adding insult to injury:

Hol­i­day Inn had secured $250 mil­lion to finance the build, but Trump Plaza only cost $220 mil­lion to erect. Trump and com­pa­ny, who didn’t risk a dime, pre­sum­ably made $30 mil­lion on con­struc­tion.

Trump also got to take home half the take from the glitzy, new, and already paid for casi­no. He even got a clause hold­ing him harm­less for casi­no loss­es for five years. If some­body walked in and placed 37 win­ning bets in a row on ‘black’ at roulette while let­ting the win­nings ride each time, it wasn’t Trump who was then forced to eat tuna fish out of cans for a month.

What I was look­ing at was not just the deal of the cen­tu­ry. It was the great­est deal since the Uni­verse began.

Lat­er, when just a few a years after it opened, Harrah’s Trump Plaza became “Trump Plaza Casi­no and Hotel,” and Trump pur­chas­es the near­by Hilton Hotel and Casi­no because the chain is denied a casi­no license… the ques­tion aris­es:  Where can an ambi­tious young man go to get a deal like that? Where indeed?

“If you have to ask,” goes the short answer, “you prob­a­bly don’t qual­i­fy.”

2. Fur­ther devel­op­ing the Trump nar­ra­tive, Daniel notes the web of asso­ci­a­tions sur­round­ing Trump and the his­to­ry of those asso­ci­a­tions.

“Don­ald Trump, Dirty Mon­ey, & The Filthy Rich in Palm Beach” by Daniel Hop­sick­er; Mad Cow Morn­ing News; 3/17/2016.

 Is he real­ly doing it with­out dirty mon­ey?

When asked to describe what they like most about Don­ald Trump, sup­port­ers usu­al­ly say “He’s been doing it all with­out dirty mon­ey.”  They mean his cam­paign is self-fund­ed, and takes no mon­ey from lob­by­ists, spe­cial inter­ests, and Repub­li­can Par­ty king­mak­ers.

But what if Trump’s own mon­ey is dirty? Could a siz­able chunk of Trump’s net worth come from sell­ing real estate to drug lords, mob­sters, and inter­na­tion­al finan­cial crim­i­nals?

The answer is: There’s no way to tell. Secre­cy hides the iden­ti­ty of the crooked, vio­lent and cor­rupt who invest cash in U.S. real estate through shell com­pa­nies reg­is­tered in Delaware, man­aged by a bank in the Grand Cay­mans for a trust in Guernsey. And its all per­fect­ly legal.

Even Swiss banks these days have to know who their cus­tomers are. Not Amer­i­can real estate devel­op­ers. There’s no legal require­ment what­so­ev­er that U.S. real-estate devel­op­er Don­ald Trump know who his clients are. Prob­a­bly, he couldn’t care less. Or even worse, he’d rather not know.

The Great Cir­cle of Life,” Trump-Style

A clos­er look at Trump reveals names which recur with his—and with each other—in odd and unex­pect­ed places. It’s as if Trump belongs to the “Great Cir­cle of Life” from a “Lion King” movie shot in an alter­na­tive Uni­verse.

From Palm Beach, win­ter home to well-known and well-heeled scam­mers from around the world, here’s a thumb­nail sketch of “The Great Cir­cle of Life,” Trump-Style.

Don­ald Trump has repeat­ed­ly tak­en advan­tage of this huge loop­hole in Amer­i­can law, nev­er more bla­tant­ly than when he made a cool $90 mil­lion dol­lar prof­it on a Palm Beach man­sion he sold to a man who some­one must have worked real­ly hard to con­vince the Amer­i­can main­stream media to iden­ti­fy as a “Russ­ian busi­ness­man,” or “Russ­ian fer­til­iz­er oli­garch.”

He wasn’t. Dmit­ry Rybolovlev is a Russ­ian Mob­ster, who was indict­ed for rub­bing out his chief busi­ness rival in what Russ­ian news agency TASS called a “con­tract hit.”  

Yet the Don­ald was pock­et­ing $90 mil­lion of dirty cash from the Russ­ian Mob at the same time a minor politi­cian in Cal­i­for­nia was tak­ing tons of heat for accepting—from that same Russ­ian Mobster—a $400 pen.

For his part, Rybolovlev liked the U.S. media’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of him as a Russ­ian “busi­ness­man” so much that four years ago he splurged on the most expen­sive con­do­mini­um ever sold in Man­hat­tan ($88 mil­lion).

As for Trump, there’s no way of know­ing if he’s used any dirty mon­ey from the Russ­ian Mob to fund his cam­paign. In fact, there’s no way of know­ing so much about Don­ald Trump’s busi­ness career that the best way to get a clear­er pic­ture of who he is may be to check out who he does busi­ness with.

How Don­ald Trump became Don­ald Trump

For any­one lucky enough to have nev­er seen an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” here’s a quick reminder of how Don­ald Trump became Don­ald Trump.

Long before becom­ing a Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Trump was a famous icon from an espe­cial­ly ques­tion­able time in Amer­i­ca, the “go-go” ‘80’s,” when rob­ber barons walked the earth unafraid, while on TV a British twit named Robin Leach rhap­sodized about them between com­mer­cials.

It was a time when things—at least law enforcement-wise—were clear­ly well out of hand. The enor­mous amount of cocaine mon­ey slosh­ing around the bank­ing sys­tem in Mia­mi made some banks there seem to bulge out­wards over the side­walk and dri­ve-through win­dow.

In the Amer­i­can econ­o­my in the 1980’s, drug mon­ey was as vis­i­ble as an alli­ga­tor in the Ever­glades slid­ing down the throat of a Burmese python.
Trump and Ivana were the first cou­ple of the Greed Decade.  Trump was Gats­by with weird hair. His Daisy was a for­mer Czech Olympian ski­er. A blond girl from the South with a syrupy smile wait­ed in the wings. Gold fix­tures every­where. Every­thing was “real class.”

“In a decade of glitz, they were the glitzi­est; in a decade of greed, they were the greed­i­est,” report­ed Peo­ple mag­a­zine, lay­ing it on a lit­tle thick. “The scrap­py investor wheel­ing and deal­ing his way to a for­tune… And an out­sider charm­ing and claw­ing her way into New York’s most refined social cir­cles.”

Being a big-time real estate devel­op­er was nev­er more fun. Roman­tic three-day week­ends in your many-splen­dored man­sion by the sea in Palm Beach. Danc­ing in the dis­co in your design­er art deco hotel in South Beach.

That was then, this is now. See any dif­fer­ence?

In “Stash Pad” in New York Mag­a­zine, Andrew Rice report­ed, “The New York real-estate mar­ket is now the pre­mier des­ti­na­tion for wealthy for­eign­ers with rubles, yuan, and dol­lars to hide.”

Imag­ine what Flori­da must be like…  Today in Mia­mi, ris­ing  above miles of strip malls,  con­ve­nience stores, pawn shops, and gas sta­tions,  is a row of sky­scrap­ers so baroque that they con­jure up only one man: Don­ald Trump.

Three Trump Tow­ers, and three oth­er Trump-brand­ed prop­er­ties in Sun­ny Isles, includ­ing the Trump Inter­na­tion­al Beach Resort, loom over beach­front Collins Avenue, where they are a favorite home away from home for Russ­ian Mob­sters.

Sun­ny Isles has numer­ous real estate agen­cies owned by Rus­sians that cater heav­i­ly to East­ern Euro­pean clients, among them Exclu­sive­ly Bara­noff Real­ty, which oper­ates from an office in the lob­by of the Trump Inter­na­tion­al Beach Resort. Thanks to its heavy Russ­ian pres­ence, Sun­ny Isles has acquired the nick­name “Lit­tle Moscow.”

In a pro­file in The Nation mag­a­zine called “Mia­mi: Where Lux­u­ry Real Estate Meets Dirty Mon­ey” Ken Sil­ver­stein writes:

“One night I had din­ner and felt like I’d been trans­port­ed into a Russ­ian ver­sion of Good­fel­las. A Russ­ian singer per­formed on a stage with dis­co lights while cus­tomers ordered skew­ered stur­geon, and clinked forks on glass­es to announce toasts before down­ing shots of vod­ka. A man who looked 70 spoke in Russ­ian to his wife, who appeared at least 40 years younger. At anoth­er table,  a man about the same age was seat­ed with a young woman in blue jean shorts, a hal­ter top and cow­boy boots.”

Trump welcome mat out for international grifters

Just how easy does Don­ald Trump make it for for­eign rep­re­sen­ta­tives of orga­nized crime to buy real estate from him? Sil­ver­stein writes:

“She took me to see a unit on the thir­ty-eighth floor of Trump Palace, which looked out on the turquoise waters of the Atlantic and was on the mar­ket for $2.3 mil­lion. “Liv­ing in a Trump prop­er­ty is like liv­ing in a hotel,” she told me, as we stood on a bal­cony. The unit was attrac­tive­ly priced, she said cheer­ful­ly, and all the more so as the own­er, a Russ­ian look­ing to buy a big­ger con­do else­where in the area, had spent at least $350,000 on improve­ments.

Lat­er that day, I obtained the prop­er­ty records for the con­do. The legal own­er is a com­pa­ny reg­is­tered in Belize, an off­shore haven where, accord­ing to a gov­ern­ment web­site, there “is no require­ment to file annu­al returns or pub­lic dis­clo­sure of direc­tors, share­hold­ers, charges, loans or agree­ments.”

In oth­er words, the true own­er of the Trump Palace unit is untrace­able.

Even the New York Post, which could be excused for being sen­si­tive to talk about lax immi­gra­tion let­ting in the world’s rich­est unde­sir­ables, chimed in.” New York’s swanki­est sky­scrap­ers have become the new Swiss banks for the world’s rich­est unde­sir­ables.”

“Today, Switzer­land has cleaned up its act and the “filthy” rich have turned to New York City, turn­ing it into a secre­cy haven to stash their cash through the use of shell com­pa­nies.”

Don­ald Trump called him “The Leg­end.”

Instead of one of the many famous names in Trump’s “Great Cir­cle,”  let’s begin with some­one who’s no longer well-known. Louis Less­er was once as big a name in real estate devel­op­ment as Don­ald Trump’s, but by the time he died he had become a for­got­ten man.

Less­er (third from right in pic) was once the biggest devel­op­er in the his­to­ry of the west­ern U.S., devel­op­ing hous­ing  for mil­i­tary per­son­nel dur­ing World War II, then grew wealthy devel­op­ing, own­ing and leas­ing prop­er­ties to the U.S. mil­i­tary dur­ing the Cold War, lock­ing up numer­ous con­tracts under Kennedy and John­son for devel­op­ments for mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex clients.

Louis Less­er was a part­ner with Syn­di­cate leg­end Mey­er Lan­sky and Kirk Kerko­ri­an in buy­ing up Las Vegas hotels and casi­nos. He had exten­sive ties with Howard Hugh­es. He devel­oped, owned, and leased many prop­er­ties to Hugh­es’ Air­craft, includ­ing a mas­sive project in New­port Beach.

Less­er helped Hugh­es buy up hotels and casi­nos in Las Vegas. When Less­er sold his Fron­tier Hotel and Casi­no to Hugh­es, it was the begin­ning of Hugh­es’ take-over there. In an exam­ple of Trump’s syn­er­gis­tic Great Chain of Life, years lat­er, Don­ald Trump erect­ed the Trump Hotel Las Vegas on a por­tion of the prop­er­ty.

Louis Less­er, when he resigned as chair­man of Louis Less­er Enter­pris­es in 1967, was replaced by an asso­ciate of Hen­ry Sal­va­tori, who the L.A. Times called a “GOP King­mak­er.”

In 1964, Sal­va­tori chaired Bar­ry Goldwater’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in Cal­i­for­nia. He con­vinced Gold­wa­ter to allow Ronald Rea­gan to give a tele­vised fundrais­ing speech enti­tled “A Time for Choos­ing,” which launched Reagan’s polit­i­cal career. Sal­va­tori became a promi­nent mem­ber of Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cab­i­net.”

Trump’s “Great Cir­cle” bud­dy Louis Less­er (cont.)

Louis Less­er sold his Taj Mahal Hotel and Casi­no in Atlantic City to Don­ald Trump.

Lat­er, when the casi­no went bank­rupt, a court fil­ing in the bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ings revealed Trump’s Taj Mahal Casi­no list­ed Fin­cen (The U.S. Finan­cial Crimes Enforce­ment Net­work) as an unse­cured cred­i­tor, mean­ing it hadn’t paid the record $10 mil­lion penal­ty (the largest the agency ever levied on a casi­no) for what FINCEN called  “mon­ey laun­der­ing fail­ures.”

What fol­lows is  an exam­ple of how Trump asso­ciates blend into each oth­er, and man­age to stay just a step or two in front of the law.

In the late 1980’s Louis Lesser’s son Craig became part­ners in real estate with Imel­da Mar­cos, fronting for the real prin­ci­pals, Louis Less­er and Philip­pines dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. On an out­ing with Imel­da and a mil­i­tary con­tin­gent, Craig Less­er  helped uncov­er part of the fabled cache of gold buried by the Japan­ese in the Philip­pines at the end of Word War II.

In Gold War­riors (2002), Ster­ling and Peg­gy Sea­grave detail a “great for­tune dis­cov­ered by U.S. intel­li­gence ser­vices in 1946 … $13-bil­lion in war loot amassed by under­world god­fa­ther Kodama Yoshio who, as a rear admi­ral in the Impe­r­i­al Navy work­ing with Gold­en Lily in Chi­na and South­east Asia, was in charge of plun­der­ing the Asian under­world and rack­e­teers. He was also in charge of Japan’s wartime drug trade through­out Asia

Craig Less­er sent back a sol­id gold antique vase to his father, which took sev­er­al men to lift, and which was dis­played on the man­tle at Louis Lesser’s man­sion, once the largest pri­vate res­i­dence in Bev­er­ly Hills.

Until TV pro­duc­er Aaron Spelling built “The Manor,” a home that rivals a mid-sized hotel in square footage, Louis Less­er lived in the largest house in Bev­er­ly Hills. In fact, his house at 1156 Shad­ow Hill Way was used exten­sive­ly dur­ing pro­duc­tion of Bev­er­ly Hills 90210.

Its cur­rent occu­pant, Pearla­sia Gam­boa, is a Fil­ipino-Amer­i­can busi­ness woman who’s been involved in mas­sive fraud, and was the pres­i­dent of a “micro-nation” called theDomin­ion of Melchizedek, an atoll in the South Pacif­ic which lies under­wa­ter at high tide,  used as a front for fraud­u­lent crim­i­nal activ­i­ty.

Bank of Eng­land offi­cials raid­ed the Lon­don premis­es of a com­pa­ny which offered get-rich-quick invest­ment schemes backed by a pho­ny bank ”reg­is­tered” in Melchizedek. ”It appears to exist main­ly so that mon­ey can be whisked through shell banks,”reported the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Is it odd­ly telling, or mere hap­pen­stance, or just anoth­er illus­tra­tion of Trump’s “Great Cir­cle of Life,” that Trump busi­ness asso­ciate Louis Less­er, who had much to do with pro­vid­ing entree into the world of casi­no gam­bling, owns a home (he’s dead, his son Craig is still asso­ci­at­ed with the prop­er­ty) that’s a nexus for inter­na­tion­al finan­cial swindlers?

Time out for a lit­tle com­ic relief 

When Imel­da Mar­cos went on tri­al in New York in 1990 for laun­der­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars belong­ing to the peo­ple of the Philip­pines, her co-defen­dant was anoth­er close Trump asso­ciate, Adnan Khashog­gi.  (Both Mar­cos and Khashog­gi were acquit­ted.)

The first time I saw Don­ald Trump’s name linked with Adnan Khashoggi’s was in a wicked­ly fun­ny arti­cle from the ear­ly 90’s in Spy Mag­a­zine called  ”Who is America’s cheap­est zil­lion­aire?”

Spy mag­a­zine— cru­el, bril­liant, beau­ti­ful­ly-writ­ten, and feared by all—incorporated a com­pa­ny called the Nation­al Refund Clear­ing­house, gave it its own check­ing account, and zipped out refund checks to 58 “well-known, well-heeled Amer­i­cans” for $1.11 apiece.

Chortling, the magazine’s edi­tors set­tled back to see who cashed them.

26 fru­gal people—“The Bar­gain-Base­ment 26,” includ­ing Cher, Har­ry Helm­s­ley, Michael Dou­glas, Shirley MacLaine, Kurt Von­negut, and Don­ald Trump and Adnan Khashog­gi, who par­tied togeth­er in swank Palm Beach Florida—cashed their $1.11 checks.

Each then receive a sec­ond “Nation­al Refund Clear­ing­house” check,  for 64 cents,  half the amount of the first check as com­pen­sa­tion said a cov­er let­ter,  for ”a com­put­er error.’  Trump, Khashog­gi, and 11 oth­er extra­or­di­nar­i­ly cheap peo­ple each cashed checks for 64 cents apiece.

“The Chintzy 13” then each received a final check for 13 cents.

Don­ald Trump & Adnan Khashog­gi were the last men stand­ing. Trump, who the mag­a­zine called a “short-fin­gered-vul­gar­i­an,” and Khashog­gi, who per­son­al­ly endorsed his on the back, each cashed checks total­ing one dime and three pen­nies.

Whether by acci­dent, coin­ci­dence, or cos­mic design, over the next two decades Trump and Khashoggi’s names will be inex­tri­ca­bly linked.

 


Discussion

3 comments for “FTR #903 Daniel Hopsicker on Donald Trump and How He Is Going to Make America Great Again”

  1. Its nice to see Daniel back

    Posted by adam | May 10, 2016, 10:36 am
  2. Giv­en the mobbed-up nature of Don­ald Trump’s busi­ness part­ners Daniel Hop­sick­er has been cov­er­ing, and the obvi­ous­ly mas­sive oppor­tu­ni­ties for mon­ey-laun­der­ing and all sorts of oth­er shady busi­ness prac­tices that come with being a glob­al devel­op­er and real estate mag­net, the dis­clo­sure of a nice, clean set of tax returns would seem like the kind of thing the Trump cam­paign will obvi­ous­ly want to dis­close soon­er or lat­er. Of course, since this is the Trump cam­paign we’re talk­ing about, the dis­clo­sure sched­ule is look­ing like more like nev­er. So what’s tucked away in those mys­tery returns? We don’t get to know. But we do get to infer:

    The New York Times
    The Upshot

    What We Can Learn From Don­ald Trump’s Unre­leased Tax Returns

    Justin Wolfers
    MAY 11, 2016

    One of the con­stants of mod­ern elec­tions is that pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have released their recent tax returns. There is no law requir­ing this. This trans­paren­cy is based on a norm. It’s a norm that has per­sist­ed through all mod­ern elec­tions, even among can­di­dates who have suf­fered a degree of polit­i­cal embar­rass­ment.

    But Don­ald Trump has told The Asso­ci­at­ed Press that he does not expect to release his tax returns before the elec­tion, cit­ing a con­tin­u­ing audit. Despite ear­li­er assur­ances that he would release them, his stat­ed argu­ment is that “there’s noth­ing to learn from them.”

    There may indeed be noth­ing inter­est­ing to learn from Mr. Trump’s returns. But eco­nom­ic the­o­ry about the incen­tives for dis­clo­sure sug­gests that vot­ers may reach the oppo­site con­clu­sion. After all, choos­ing not to dis­close some­thing is an action that reveals some­thing.

    A thought exper­i­ment will help illus­trate why. Let’s say that you are run­ning for pres­i­dent, and your tax returns are the absolute classi­est tax returns imag­in­able. Your income is hon­est­ly earned, you pay an appro­pri­ate amount of tax, you don’t use ques­tion­able tax maneu­vers, and your returns show that you give gen­er­ous­ly to char­i­ties that do good work. In this sit­u­a­tion, you want to release your tax returns so that the vot­ers will think more high­ly of you.

    What if your tax returns are very classy, but not quite this classy? If you don’t release your returns, vot­ers will infer that they’re not the very best tax returns. And if that’s all they know, they’ll infer that you’re in the mid­dle of the pack of those who don’t dis­close — that they’re mere­ly pret­ty good. This means that if your returns are bet­ter than pret­ty good and you make your tax returns pub­lic, you’ll rise in the electorate’s esti­ma­tion. And so you vol­un­tar­i­ly reveal your returns, so that the vot­ers learn that you’re bet­ter than they would oth­er­wise think.

    O.K., now we’re in a world in which every­one with at least pret­ty good tax returns makes them pub­lic. What if yours are only mild­ly embar­rass­ing? If you don’t release them, the pub­lic will infer that your returns are def­i­nite­ly no bet­ter than “pret­ty good,” and per­haps much worse than that. But “mild­ly embar­rass­ing” isn’t so bad com­pared with the uni­verse of tax returns that are worse than “pret­ty good,” so you’re bet­ter off dis­clos­ing.

    This explains why can­di­dates like Mitt Rom­ney and Hillary Clin­ton were will­ing to release their returns, despite reveal­ing use­ful ammu­ni­tion for their oppo­nents. In each case, it was a savvy choice, because not reveal­ing would have led vot­ers to infer they were hid­ing some­thing worse.

    This incen­tive to dis­close keeps cas­cad­ing.

    Those with the clean­est tax returns dis­close, lead­ing those with the next clean­est returns to dis­close, so as to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from the dirt­i­er non-dis­closers. As more peo­ple dis­close, the remain­ing pool of non-dis­closers is even worse, and the least rot­ten among them will want to dis­close to escape the infer­ence that they have some­thing to hide.

    It’s dis­clo­sure all the way down.

    If you’ve got the sec­ond-worst tax return imag­in­able, and every­one who is clean­er than you dis­clos­es, the pub­lic will infer that you’ve either got the worst or the sec­ond-worst pos­si­ble return. Far bet­ter to clear up the con­fu­sion that you don’t have the most dis­hon­or­able tax return that’s pos­si­ble, and so you also choose to release your tax returns.

    Fol­low this log­ic, and you’re left to infer that the only per­son who won’t vol­un­tar­i­ly release their tax returns must have the most to hide. It doesn’t just say that Mr. Trump has more to hide than Mrs. Clin­ton; it says that he has more to hide than any oth­er can­di­date you could imag­ine.

    Think about it. The prob­lem for Mr. Trump is that the vot­ers don’t know if he’s Hon­est Don­ald or some oth­er Don­ald. But Mr. Trump knows. If he’s Hon­est Don­ald, he’ll release his tax returns to make sure that vot­ers know that he’s nei­ther dodgy nor deplorable. And if he’s dodgy, he will release his returns so that we know he’s not deplorable. Only Deplorable Don­ald — the worst pos­si­ble Trump — has no incen­tive to dis­close.

    By this log­ic, a can­di­date would hide tax returns only if they paint a ter­ri­ble pic­ture about finances and integri­ty. (If there were the risk that Mr. Trump’s returns would reveal com­mer­cial­ly valu­able infor­ma­tion, that would be a rea­son that he could be not-seedy yet still want to keep his returns pri­vate. He has yet to make this argu­ment, though.)

    ...

    There’s some­thing dis­tinct about infor­ma­tion: Refus­ing to share it doesn’t keep vot­ers in the dark. If they think about why, the choice not to reveal it is very reveal­ing.

    “Fol­low this log­ic, and you’re left to infer that the only per­son who won’t vol­un­tar­i­ly release their tax returns must have the most to hide. It doesn’t just say that Mr. Trump has more to hide than Mrs. Clin­ton; it says that he has more to hide than any oth­er can­di­date you could imag­ine.”
    Yep. It’s pret­ty bad. But then again, being a bad boy is basi­cal­ly Trump’s brand. So who knows, maybe his refusal to release any­thing will just add to his mys­tique. He could be like Bruce Wayne and secret­ly financ­ing the Bat Cave for some sort of secret vig­i­lante work. A secret Bat Cave would cre­ate all sorts of tax com­pli­ca­tions.

    But also note that he did dan­gle the pos­si­bil­i­ty of releas­ing his returns after the elec­tion. If he los­es he obvi­ous­ly won’t release them, but if he does become pres­i­dent it’s still going to be very inter­est­ing to see those 2016 tax returns even if it’s too lit­tle, too late. Why? To com­pare to Trump’s 2017 tax returns after the Great Trumpian Tax Break of 2017 slash­es tax­es on the super-rich:

    The New York Times
    The Upshot

    Don­ald Trump’s Plan to Raise Tax­es on Rich: Just Kid­ding

    Peter Eav­is
    MAY 11, 2016

    The 1 per­cent can breathe a small col­lec­tive sigh of relief.

    Hillary Clinton’s plat­form con­tains many new tax­es for the wealthy, and in recent days it seemed that Don­ald J. Trump might be mov­ing in the same direc­tion. When asked Sun­day on “Meet the Press” about tax­ing the rich, Mr. Trump said: “For the wealthy, I think, frankly, it’s going to go up. And you know what? It real­ly should go up.”

    He now says he wasn’t talk­ing about the cur­rent income tax rate for peo­ple in the high­est brack­et, which is 39.6 per­cent. If he had been, it would have been a big move for Mr. Trump, the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, to push that rate high­er. His offi­cial tax plan envi­sions a top rate of 25 per­cent.

    In a phone inter­view on Mon­day, I sought clar­i­fi­ca­tion from Mr. Trump on his remarks about rais­ing tax­es on the rich. I asked him whether the high­est earn­ers would be pay­ing more than 39.6 per­cent if he were pres­i­dent.

    “No, in fact, you’d be low­er than that,” Mr. Trump said.

    But how, giv­en that he had said that tax­es would be going up for the wealthy? Mr. Trump explained that he meant he might have to accept a top tax rate that is high­er than the 25 per­cent his plan calls for. To get his tax plans through Con­gress, he would prob­a­bly have to com­pro­mise, but even after such con­ces­sions, the top rate would be low­er than it is now, he said.

    ...

    Mr. Trump’s tax cuts may help win over vot­ers who are con­cerned about his oth­er ideas or the tone of his cam­paign.

    Still, some of his sup­port comes from peo­ple whose eco­nom­ic prospects have dimmed as the wealthy have got­ten rich­er. And accord­ing to tax ana­lysts, the rich would have a big­ger tax wind­fall than the mid­dle class under Mr. Trump.

    The Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter, a joint project of the cen­ter-left Urban Insti­tute and Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion, cal­cu­lates that Mr. Trump’s poli­cies would on aver­age give the top 1 per­cent of tax­pay­ers a fed­er­al tax cut of $275,000, or 17.5 per­cent of their after-tax income, while mid­dle-income house­holds would get a $2,700 tax cut, equiv­a­lent to 5 per­cent of their after-tax income.

    So, I asked Mr. Trump, why not tax the rich at high­er rates than they are sub­ject to today?

    “I real­ly want to keep tax­es for every­body as low as pos­si­ble,” he said. “When you start mak­ing them too high, you are going to lose peo­ple from the coun­try, and often­times these are the peo­ple who cre­ate the jobs.”

    Mr. Trump’s tax plans could leave him vul­ner­a­ble on anoth­er front. Bud­get ana­lysts say that slash­ing tax­es by the amounts he envi­sions would lead to a sharp drop in rev­enue. The Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter esti­mates a drop in rev­enue of $9.5 tril­lion over 10 years. To put that sum in per­spec­tive, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment took in rev­enue of $3.2 tril­lion last year. If spend­ing were not cut in response, and a much faster-grow­ing econ­o­my did not pro­vide a lot more rev­enue, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment would have to bor­row to cov­er the short­fall, push­ing up the nation­al debt.

    These pre­dic­tions of a big short­fall allow Mrs. Clin­ton to pro­mote her­self as a sound fis­cal man­ag­er, which could help in her efforts to attract mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans put off by Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton’s tax increas­es would in the­o­ry most­ly off­set her spend­ing, accord­ing to a study by the Com­mit­tee for a Respon­si­ble Fed­er­al Bud­get, a bipar­ti­san pol­i­cy orga­ni­za­tion.

    Mr. Trump, for his part, dis­putes the notion that steep declines in rev­enue would result from his tax cuts. “Those num­bers are crazy,” he said, not­ing that the econ­o­my grew strong­ly after the big Rea­gan tax cuts. (It’s worth not­ing that the econ­o­my also grew strong­ly after tax increas­es by Bill Clin­ton.)

    And what if Mrs. Clin­ton says she is the fis­cal con­ser­v­a­tive and he is not? “But she’s not going to get the econ­o­my going,” Mr. Trump said.

    By focus­ing her tax increas­es almost entire­ly on the wealthy, Mrs. Clin­ton says she does not have to squeeze more from the mid­dle class. That stance helps her strike a chord with vot­ers who are con­cerned about income inequal­i­ty and, if she locks up the nom­i­na­tion, could help her pull in Bernie Sanders sup­port­ers in Novem­ber.

    In Mrs. Clinton’s tax plan, a large chunk of the extra rev­enue would come from lim­it­ing how much high earn­ers can deduct from their tax­able income. Peo­ple would pay an extra 4 per­cent of tax on income over $5 mil­lion. And those with income over $1 mil­lion would face a min­i­mum tax of 30 per­cent, called the Buf­fett Rule. Mrs. Clinton’s pro­posed changes to estate tax­es would also lead to the rich pay­ing more.

    Mr. Trump, in addi­tion to cut­ting income tax­es for the rich, intends to get rid of the estate tax alto­geth­er.

    ...

    “The Tax Pol­i­cy Cen­ter, a joint project of the cen­ter-left Urban Insti­tute and Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion, cal­cu­lates that Mr. Trump’s poli­cies would on aver­age give the top 1 per­cent of tax­pay­ers a fed­er­al tax cut of $275,000, or 17.5 per­cent of their after-tax income, while mid­dle-income house­holds would get a $2,700 tax cut, equiv­a­lent to 5 per­cent of their after-tax income.”
    Well, while we don’t know what Trump’s tax returns are this year, we do know that they’ll be a lot nicer for Mr. T in 2017. And then the nation­al deficit and debt explodes and the estate tax goes away. It’s all a reminder that the con­tents of The Don­ald’s tax returns, while poten­tial­ly rel­e­vant to vot­ers for assess­ing his char­ac­ter, aren’t near­ly as rel­e­vant to vot­ers as his declared plans for every­one’s tax­es.

    Still, it would be fun to learn more about what’s in those returns.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 11, 2016, 3:01 pm
  3. It looks like Don­ald Trump’s polit­i­cal brand as the guy that does­n’t owe any­one any­thing because he has all the mon­ey he needs to run a major polit­i­cal cam­paign on his own is get­ting a few aster­isks:

    The New York Times

    Shel­don Adel­son Is Poised to Give Don­ald Trump a Dona­tion Boost

    By JONATHAN MARTIN
    MAY 13, 2016

    The casi­no mag­nate Shel­don G. Adel­son told Don­ald J. Trump in a pri­vate meet­ing last week that he was will­ing to con­tribute more to help elect him than he has to any pre­vi­ous cam­paign, a sum that could exceed $100 mil­lion, accord­ing to two Repub­li­cans with direct knowl­edge of Mr. Adelson’s com­mit­ment.

    As sig­nif­i­cant, Mr. Adel­son, a bil­lion­aire based in Las Vegas, has decid­ed that he will sig­nif­i­cant­ly scale back his giv­ing to con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans and direct most of his con­tri­bu­tions to groups ded­i­cat­ed to Mr. Trump’s cam­paign. The two Repub­li­cans famil­iar with Mr. Adelson’s plans spoke anony­mous­ly because they were not autho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly.

    Mr. Adelson’s pledge to Mr. Trump, the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, comes at an oppor­tune time. Mr. Trump has relied on a mix of his own wealth and small-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions to finance his pri­ma­ry effort and lacks the sort of major donor net­work need­ed to sus­tain him in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Mr. Trump has said that he may need $1 bil­lion for the cam­paign but has only recent­ly begun sched­ul­ing fund-rais­ers and hir­ing finance staff mem­bers. Many of the Repub­li­can Party’s wealth­i­est con­trib­u­tors, includ­ing the bil­lion­aire broth­ers Charles G. and David H. Koch, have indi­cat­ed they are unlike­ly to give to his can­di­da­cy.

    What remains unclear is how Mr. Adel­son plans to con­tribute his mon­ey to Mr. Trump. He will give the max­i­mum allowed to Mr. Trump’s cam­paign and the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee, but to spend the amount he con­tem­plates would require donat­ing through a “super PAC,” able to accept unlim­it­ed dona­tions.

    Accord­ing to the Repub­li­cans famil­iar with Mr. Adelson’s plan­ning, he and his advis­ers are still uncer­tain about which super PAC to use as their vehi­cle for the bulk of the con­tri­bu­tions. They are wary of some of the cur­rent groups that pur­port­ed­ly exist to help Mr. Trump, who has been clear that he is uneasy with out­side enti­ties pro­mot­ing his can­di­da­cy. At ral­lies, he has con­sis­tent­ly crit­i­cized oppo­nents who relied on super PACS, say­ing they were being bought by wealthy donors.

    Mr. Adel­son, 82, the chief exec­u­tive of Las Vegas Sands, is among the world’s wealth­i­est indi­vid­u­als and has giv­en hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to Repub­li­can can­di­dates and caus­es over the years. In 2012, he con­tributed at least $98 mil­lion to Repub­li­can efforts, accord­ing to a study by ProP­ub­li­ca. But that mon­ey went to 34 sep­a­rate cam­paigns and groups.

    Mr. Adel­son is frus­trat­ed by con­gres­sion­al grid­lock and believes the only way to affect the country’s polit­i­cal sys­tem is to ensure a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent is elect­ed, say the Repub­li­cans famil­iar with his think­ing.

    While he may help some local or guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­dates, he is not plan­ning to give much to con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates or super PACs ded­i­cat­ed to keep­ing Repub­li­can con­trol of the House and Sen­ate, a sub­stan­tial blow giv­en the largess he has show­ered on them in recent elec­tions.

    ...

    Mr. Trump assured the Adel­sons that he was ded­i­cat­ed to pro­tect­ing Israel’s secu­ri­ty, an issue about which the cou­ple are pas­sion­ate.

    The Adel­sons con­tributed to Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz of Texas dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­maries, but kept a far low­er pro­file than they had in 2012, when Mr. Adel­son was a major bene­fac­tor of Newt Gin­grich. Mr. Trump tar­get­ed Mr. Adel­son on Twit­ter in Octo­ber, writ­ing that Mr. Adel­son want­ed to make Sen­a­tor Mar­co Rubio of Flori­da “his per­fect lit­tle pup­pet.”

    But Mr. Adel­son was plain­ly not both­ered — or he at least for­gave Mr. Trump. He told reporters last week he would get behind Mr. Trump and wrote an op-ed arti­cle in Friday’s Wash­ing­ton Post extolling his fel­low casi­no own­er.

    “He is a can­di­date with actu­al CEO expe­ri­ence, shaped and mold­ed by the com­mit­ment and risk of his own mon­ey rather than the public’s,” Mr. Adel­son wrote, adding that Mr. Trump “has cre­at­ed a move­ment in this coun­try that can­not be denied.”

    “The Adel­sons con­tributed to Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz of Texas dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­maries, but kept a far low­er pro­file than they had in 2012, when Mr. Adel­son was a major bene­fac­tor of Newt Gin­grich. Mr. Trump tar­get­ed Mr. Adel­son on Twit­ter in Octo­ber, writ­ing that Mr. Adel­son want­ed to make Sen­a­tor Mar­co Rubio of Flori­da “his per­fect lit­tle pup­pet.”
    Wow, this is turn­ing into quite the casi­no can­di­da­cy. When Josh Mar­shall recent­ly joked that “the Unit­ed States is not a strug­gling casi­no” in response to Don­ald Trump’s sug­ges­tion that he could reduce the nation­al debt by ask­ing hold­ers of US Trea­suries to just accept a “hair­cut”, it appears that com­ment was­n’t cyn­i­cal enough. With a casi­no mag­net like Adel­son emerg­ing the over­whelm­ing­ly largest sup­port­er of Trump’s cam­paign, it’s look­ing like the US is pos­si­bly going to be run as a strug­gling casi­no by a casi­no own­er as the pup­pet of an ever rich­er casi­no own­er.
    In relat­ed news, if Don­ald Trump should become pres­i­dent, the laws regard­ing mon­ey-laun­der­ing charges relat­ed to casi­nos oper­at­ing in, let’s say, Macau, are prob­a­bly going to be near the top of the list for high-pri­or­i­ty reg­u­la­to­ry over­hauls. At the same time, the US gov­ern­men­t’s ties with at least some Chi­nese lead­ers could improve in unex­pect­ed ways. Per­haps not desir­able ways or offi­cial lead­ers, but they could improve.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 14, 2016, 4:28 pm

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