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FTR #936 The Making of Donald Trump (Top Banana Republic), Part 5

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

making-of-trumpthinkbignkickassIntroduction: In the aftermath of the ascension of Donald Trump to the Presidency, we are doing something unprecedented in the long history of For The Record. Earlier in 2016, award-winning journalist David Cay Johnston published a very well-written and researched, yet relatively short and compact biography of Donald Trump–The Making of Donald Trump (Melville House [HC]; copyright 2016 by David Cay Johnston; ISBN 978-1-61219-632-9.)

For some weeks, we have been–and will be–reading most of the book into the record, to provide people with a measure against which to evaluate not just “The Donald,” as his first wife Ivana called him, but our society, its institutions and its citizens. We can’t recommend strongly enough that listeners buy this book, read it and use whatever means available to spread the word about it. (We note that neither Mr. Emory nor any of the stations that air this program get money from this book, its publisher or author.)

Although we originally planned to read the whole book into the record, the acceleration of events demands coverage and we will be turning to as much of those developments as we can highlight, under the circumstances.

The broadcast begins with another reading of the poem Be Angry at the Sun by Robinson Jeffers.

“Be Angry at the Sun” by Robinson Jeffers

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante’s feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

This fifth and final installment of the series references the substance of an article that embodies the enormous and fundamental flaw in our political and civic process: a poll shortly before the election found that most of the prospective voters polled felt that Trump was more honest and trustworthy than Hillary Clinton. As our reading of Johnston’s excellent book unfolds, the grotesque, spectacularly fallacious character of this perception will become uncomfortably clear. Donald Trump is currently tracking as the more honest of the two presidential candidates in a poll, although fact-checking of his statements during the campaign have shown he’s lied several times. The latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll reports that 46 percent of likely voters believe he is the more honest and trustworthy candidate, while 38 percent believed it was Hillary Clinton. This marks the biggest gap between the two candidates in five ABC News/Washington Post polls that asked the question, beginning in May.”

In the previous program, we opined that we all, in a sense, are enrolled in Trump University. By the same token, we could all be said to be playing the board game Trump: The Game. ” . . . . Then there’s his Monopoly-like board game. When Trump and executives from Milton-Bradley introduced Trump: The Game in 1989, the developer surprised everyone by declaring those royalties would go to charity, too. Milton-Bradley took Trump at his word. It also figured it might improve sales, which were weak, if people realized their purchases would not enrich a presumed billionaire but go to charity. Its television ads told potential buyers: ‘Mr. Trump’s proceeds from Trump: The Game will be donated to charity.’ . . . Trump has said he made $808,000 and that the money was donated to his Donald J. Trump Foundation. . . . At the time, I spent a day calling New York and New Jersey charities trying to find any disclosures of gifts made by Trump. . . . But call after call produced nothing. . . .”  (The Making of Donald Trump; p. 17.)

Trump appeared to have won over a majority of voting military veterans and a poll of active-duty service members indicated that most preferred Trump. Trump himself avoided military service during the Vietnam War. ” . . . . Donald turned eighteen in 1964, when the death toll in Vietnam was rising fast. He got four student deferments and one medical deferment, after his doctor wrote that he had a bone spur in his foot. Which foot? a journalist asked years later. Trump said he could not recall. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; pp. 131-132.)

In the fall of 2015, Trump boycotted a GOP primary campaign debate because Megyn Kelly was to be the on-air host. Trump instead went to an event on the Battleship Iowa museum to what he misrepresented as a major veterans organization. ” . . . . Trump instead went to the Battleship Iowa, now a museum at anchor in Long Beach, California, to deliver what his campaign said would be a major address on national defense. Trump praised the sponsor of the event, Veterans for a Strong America, and told the audience that ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people belonged to the organization. There were evidently two related organizations, both nonprofits, though Trump and his host never made that clear to the audience on the ship or watching on television. One was a charity, the other one of those dark money political groups that have expanded since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, enabling money from undisclosed sources to influence elections. A quick internet check would revealed to the Trump campaign that the IRS had revoked the nonprofit status of Veterans for a Strong America due to their failure to file required disclosure reports. A charity disclosure organization, Guidestar, reported that it had no record of any board of directors, Every indication pointed to Veterans for a Strong America being a one-man enterprise run by a South Dakota lawyer named Joel Arends, whose operation was under investigation for suspected election improprieties in Arizona and Texas. Reporters later learned the organization had thirty dollars in the bank and debts ten times that size. None of this was in line with Trump’s promotion of the group’s immense size, influence, and good works. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; pp. 135-136.)

Next, the program highlights how Trump promotes himself and his projects using The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. Trump, his daughter Ivanka, his son Donald, Jr., the chief operating officer of the Trump Organization (Donald Calamari) and Trump’s butler Anthony Senecal are major figures in this organization. The main figure in the organization is Joseph Cinque, aka “Joey No Socks” or “The Preppy Don.” ” . . . If those sound like names that might be associated with a figure involved in organized crime, it’s because they are. New York police with a search warrant knocked on the door of Cinque’s Park Avenue South apartment in 1989. Cinque declined to let them in. The police applied a battering ram. Inside the apartment they found a trove of stolen art, including two Marc Chagall prints valued at $40,000. they had been taken in an art gallery heist. Cinque made a deal to plead to a misdemeanor, but prosecutors scrapped the plea bargain after Cinque was seen talking to John Gotti, the ‘dapper don’ who became head of the Gambino crime family by arranging the murder of his predecessor Paul Castellano–one of the secret owners of the company that supplied concrete for many Trump buildings.

“Gotti told Cinque that he would ‘take care of the DA,’ an apparent reference to Anne Heyman, the prosecutor who had offered the plea bargain. . . . Heyman ordered a more thorough investigation of Cinque. She alleged that the investigation showed that Cinque ‘was dealing drugs out of his apartment and fencing stolen art-work.’ Heyman also said that Cinque’s apartment on Central Park South appeared to be a retail outlet for stolen clothing, including Armani suits and silk shirts. In 1990, Cinque pleaded guilty to a felony: receiving stolen property. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; p. 158.)

Another interesting, close associate of Donald Trump was Felix Satter, who changed the spelling of his name, adding an extra “T” to avoid being recognized on internet searches. ” . . . ‘Satter’s’ name appears with just one ‘T’ in a host of places. There’s the deed to his home for example. It is also spelled with only one ‘T’ on New York State court papers from his 1991 felony conviction for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass. The name Sater with one ‘T’ also appears on federal court papers in a $40 million organized crime stock swindle he confessed to in 1998, a scheme that benefited him as well as the Genovese and Gambino crime families. The stock swindle involved fake stock brokerage firms using high-pressure tactics to get naive people to buy worthless shares from Sater and his mob friends. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; p. 162.)

Trump’s close associate Felix was able to escape serious legal retribution by going to work for the CIA. ” . . . . There is every indication that the extraordinarily lenient treatment resulted from Sater playing a get-out-of-jail free card. Shortly before his secret guilty plea, Sater became a freelance operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. One of his fellow stock swindlers, Salvatore Lauria, wrote a book about it. The Scorpion and the Frog is described on its cover as ‘the true story of one man’s fraudulent rise and fall n the Wall Street of the nineties.’ According to Lauria–and the court files that have been unsealed–Sater helped the CIA buy small missiles before they got to terrorists. He also provided other purported national security services for a reported fee of $300,000. Stories abound as to what else Sater may or may not have done in the arena of national security. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; p. 165.)

The last text reading concludes with discussion of Trump’s unsavory real estate deals. Luring unwary buyers in with the prestigious Trump brand name, ‘The Donald” left a great many of them high and dry when the truth emerged about what was really going on. In this sense, too, we are ALL investors in the Trump brand name, and likely to receive the same treatment as his unwary real estate customers.

A Baja California (Mexico) project is typical of Trump’s methodology and operations in this regard. ” . . . . A June 2007 newsletter notified buyers that construction was underway. The next month, the Trump Baja News reported, ‘our new and excited homeowners now are part of an elite group of vacation homeowners who own property developed by one of the most respected names in real estate, Donald J. Trump.’ Three months later, in October, when Wall Street crashed under the weight of the toxic mortgages and other Baja real estate projects faltered, the same newsletter carried a message ‘From the desk of Ivanka Trump.’ Ivanka assured the buyers that their investment was sound. ‘Though it may be rue that some of Baja’s developments could slow down, these market conditions simply do not apply to Trump Ocean Resort–or any other Trump development,’ she wrote.

“Two months later, in December 2007, the newsletter advised buyers of newly discovered geological problems afflicting the building site. A few months later, in March 2008, anxious buyers received calls or letters. Construction loans had been approved, would be funded shortly, and work would be underway. This was nine months after buyers had been told in writing that construction had already begun. Still, construction did not proceed.

“All of these promotions, sales pitches, and newsletter updates created the impression that Trump was the builder and the developer, words he used. The buyers later said they bought in because Trump was the developer or builder. That understanding then changed abruptly.

“The worst news arrived two before Christmas 2008. What had been described as a partnership between ‘the Trump Organization, Donald J. Trump,’ and the other people and companies involved was described in a new way. Neither Trump nor the Trump Organization were investment partners in the Trump Ocean Resort. They were not the developers, either. They had merely licensed the use of the Trump name. . . .” (The Making of Donald Trump; pp. 169-170.)

It is gruesomely ironic that the bulk of Trump’s scamming revolves around his real estate empire. It was, of course, the collapse of the real estate market that led to the financial collapse of 2008.

 

Discussion

4 comments for “FTR #936 The Making of Donald Trump (Top Banana Republic), Part 5”

  1. Since ‘conflicts of interest’ is already one of the main themes of the Trump administration, it’s probably worth noting that if any Trump properties end up getting an award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences (AAHS), there’s a conflict of interest involved. As far as Trumpian conflicts of interest go at this point it’s one of the least important conflicts of interest we can imagine. And yet, unlike most of Trump’s conflicts of interest that he doesn’t seem ashamed of at all, Donald Trump doesn’t appear to be very open about the conflicts of interest with the AAHS. In fact, whenever you mention the AAHS he suddenly goes all senile and forgets almost all of his ties to the organization. How odd. Maybe that has something to do with the mob ties:

    Yahoo News

    A convicted felon handed Donald Trump a ‘one-of-a-kind bronze eagle award’ on New Year’s Eve

    Hunter Walker, National Correspondent
    January 3, 2017

    When Donald Trump addressed revelers at the annual New Year’s Eve bar at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Saturday, he was standing next to Joe Cinque, a convicted felon with rumored Mafia ties. Video published by the Palm Beach Daily News showed Cinque beaming as the president-elect gave brief remarks about his agenda.

    “Your taxes are coming down, regulations are coming off, we’re going to get rid of Obamacare,” Trump said as Cinque pumped his fists in the air.

    Cinque is the president and CEO of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, an organization that hands out Star Diamond awards to restaurants, hotels and businesses. The organization has extensive links to Trump.

    According to the AAHS Facebook page, Cinque was at Mar-a-Lago to present Trump with “a One-of-a-Kind bronze Eagle award.” Pictures on the group’s page showed Trump being given a large statue of a flying eagle as Cinque stood by his side.

    Prior to his work in the hospitality industry, Cinque had colorful past. In 1995, he was profiled by New York magazine. That article, which was written by John Connolly, said that Cinque had been “shot three times and left for dead” in 1980, in an incident Cinque described as a “robbery.” In the story, Connolly wrote that unnamed officials said it was “more likely a hit.” Connolly also noted that Cinque “used to be friends with John Gotti” and was known by the nicknames “Joey No Socks” and “the Preppy Don.” The New York article also chronicled how, in 1989, “Cinque was arrested on felony charges; police had retrieved a gallery’s worth of stolen art from his apartment.” Cinque later pleaded guilty to felony charges in that case. Cinque was also accused of criminal behavior in excerpts of a rambling, novelistic memoir published on a personal website by Richard Lawrence Dombroff, a former high profile plastic surgeon who was convicted of defrauding patients in 1987 and was convicted on fraud charges again in 2003 for allegedly operating a financial scam.

    Yahoo News reached out to Cinque, the AAHS and Trump’s presidential transition team for this story. None of them responded to our requests for comment.

    The AAHS has described Cinque as a fixture at Trump’s annual Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve fetes.

    Yahoo News reported on Cinque’s relationship with Trump in May of last year. The article highlighted a 2015 blog post on the Star Diamond website that said Cinque “has been attending Mr. Trump’s party for the past 16 years” and “has become dear friends with the Trump family.” That blog post has since been deleted. The Star Diamond site also featured pictures of Cinque standing next to Trump in Mar-a-Lago’s ballroom and on stage at the Florida club presenting the future president-elect with another trophy in 2014.

    Despite their clear connections, Trump denied being familiar with Cinque when speaking in May to Yahoo News.

    “I don’t know him. I just find him to be a very nice man, and I don’t know his background. I really don’t,” Trump said of Cinque.

    He repeatedly stressed that he didn’t know Cinque “well.”

    Trump previously held one of the top three positions on the AAHS’ board of trustees. Archived versions of the organization’s Web page show that Trump was listed as its “ambassador extraordinaire” from at least 2013 until June 2015,, when he launched his presidential campaign. But Trump told Yahoo News he “wasn’t involved” with AAHS and implied his title was largely ceremonial.

    “I think I might have been on something, ambassador extraordinaire, you know. I never went to a meeting or anything,” Trump said.

    However, Trump’s ties to Cinque’s group didn’t end with his title. Members of Trump’s family and multiple executives at his real estate company, the Trump Organization, have also been listed on the academy’s board of trustees, which selects award winners. AAHS gave Star Diamond awards to many Trump properties.

    Handing out these Star Diamond awards, which the academy has called the “most prestigious emblem of achievement and true quality in the world today,” is the organization’s central activity. As “ambassador extraordinaire,” Trump’s signature adorned the Star Diamond plaques along with two other board members, Cinque and travel agent Bill Fischer.

    ““I don’t know him. I just find him to be a very nice man, and I don’t know his background. I really don’t,” Trump said of Cinque.”

    LOL! Oh look, another individual with mob ties that Trump just sort of kind of knows, but doesn’t really know that well…despite celebrating New Years Eve with the guy. And despite once holding the number three position on the AAHS board of trustees. And despite his family and employees also serving on the board. This Joe Cinque must be some sort of recluse….just hanging out at home with stolen art all day or something.

    Still, you would think Trump would know Cinque a little better than he claimed to know him. After all, it’s not like Cinque hasn’t been attending Trump’s New Years Eve parties since 1999:

    Yahoo News

    How a convicted felon nicknamed ‘Joey No Socks’ covered Donald Trump in stars

    Hunter Walker, National Correspondent
    May 20, 2016

    It’s about as Trump as a moment gets. There was the Donald at his new golf club in the rolling Scottish dunes. He was holding a massive, gleaming, gold-colored plaque the venue “The Best Golf Course Worldwide.” Trump, the real estate mogul and now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wore a hat with his name on it and a massive grin.

    The gaudy plaque Trump carried that day in 2013 was a Star Diamond award distributed by the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences — a group that turns out to have extensive ties with Trump.

    Joseph Cinque, the academy’s president and CEO, personally presented the award to Trump in Scotland. It was one of many similar honors Cinque has bestowed upon him in the past decade. Cinque, who has been described by the academy as one of Trump’s “dear friends,” is also a convicted felon who reportedly survived a murder attempt, was associated with the infamous mob boss John Gotti and went on to earn the nicknames “Joey No Socks” and “the Preppy Don.”

    Trump recently held one of the top three slots on the organization’s board of trustees, with the ostentatious title of “Ambassador Extraordinaire.” Members of Trump’s family and multiple executives at his company, the Trump Organization, have also sat on the academy’s board of trustees, which selects award winners. Cinque runs the academy out of his apartment on Central Park South in Manhattan, just blocks from Trump Tower.

    In a conversation with Yahoo News on Thursday morning, Trump denied he had any involvement with the ratings group, which has bestowed numerous five- and six-star ratings on his properties.

    “I mean, I receive awards from different places sometimes, but I’m not involved in it. How am I involved in it?” said Trump.

    Trump indicated he didn’t know much about the academy’s board of trustees — on which he, two of his sons and multiple members of his organizations have served. He also claimed he doesn’t know Cinque well.

    “He may have set up a board of trustees. I don’t know. I don’t know that my sons are involved with that, actually,” Trump said, adding, “But he’s a very nice man. I don’t know him well. I don’t know him well, but I have found him over the years to be a very nice man.”

    The academy’s central activity is handing out Star Diamond awards, which it has called the “most prestigious emblem of achievement and true quality in the world today.” Trophies are given out to a wide variety of businesses and individuals, with a focus on luxury travel and restaurants. Presenting plaques and holding awards ceremonies are the only activities described on the organization’s web site, which boasts that its awards give “a visual seal of approval by accredited institution.” The academy site brags that the Star Diamond is a “handcrafted plaque” that “denotes quality and luxury” and that patrons to a business will “notice” when one is “prominently displayed.”

    The academy is one of many players in what industry experts describe as a crowded landscape of travel ratings agencies with questionable standards and methods.

    In addition to the plaques, the academy also offers Star Diamond “desk plates,” “lapel pins” and “cufflinks.” And it boasts of other “benefits” promised by the foundation, such as sending out a press release announcing the award, to generate media coverage. The academy also publishes a magazine and a directory that promotes the winners.

    Even though a major function of the academy is to generate press for award recipients, the organization is currently in media blackout mode. Yahoo News called the academy’s headquarters at Cinque’s apartment. A woman who answered said, after realizing she was on the phone with a reporter, that Cinque would “not comment” on any story. She said she didn’t want to know any more about the reason for the call and suggested contacting the academy’s lawyer.

    In an angry email response, academy attorney Andrew Langsam threatened Yahoo News with legal action if it were to discuss decades-old news reports detailing accusations about the academy’s ratings practices, Cinque’s criminal record and his alleged ties to the mob.

    “We are not amused by this clear attempt to sully the Academy, Mr. Cinque and any of his friends or contacts. You will be held fully liable for any consequences,” Langsam wrote.

    For his part, Trump said he would “understand” if the academy, a nonpolitical group, had to cut ties with him. At the same time, he repeatedly stressed that he “wasn’t involved” with the group and suggested that his title was largely ceremonial.

    “I think I might have been on something, Ambassador Extraordinaire, you know. I never went to a meeting or anything,” Trump said.

    Langsam, the academy’s attorney, wrote:“I do not believe that Mr. Trump has any current relationship to The Academy.”

    In addition to his past role at the academy, Trump has had a long personal relationship with Cinque. One post on the Star Diamond website features an article on a party Trump held at his Mar-A-Lago club on the last night of 2014.

    “Joseph Cinque, President of The AAHS, has been attending Mr. Trump’s party for the past 16 years,” the article said. “It is somewhat of a new Years Eve tradition for him and of course, he has become dear friends with the Trump family.”

    Cinque presented Trump with a Star Diamond “lifetime achievement award” at that bash. The article features multiple photos of Cinque beaming alongside Trump and his family. Trump regularly has Cinque present him with awards at his events. Multiple photos on the academy site show Trump proudly awarding and receiving Star Diamond plaques. An academy promotional video features a clip of Trump, one of his buildings and a shot of Cinque standing in front of one of Trump’s private planes.

    “It’s a great honor for me to welcome you to the Star Diamond award,” Trump declares in the clip.

    Another Trump event with a Cinque ceremony was a birthday party the real estate mogul held for himself at one of his fading Atlantic City casinos in 2006. Trump and Cinque flashed smiles as they stood between guests, press and a bank of new Playboy slot machines. They were accompanied by actress Pamela Anderson.

    While the academy generally hands out five-star awards, at least two of Trump’s properties, the Scottish golf course and Mar-a-Lago, have been awarded six-star honors by the academy.

    In his email to Yahoo News, Langsam, the academy’s attorney, declined to reveal the criteria the organization uses to determine an institution has earned six rather than five stars. However, he stressed that the distinction is meaningful and employed all-caps lettering to emphasize this point.

    “There is a definite difference between FIVE STAR DIAMOND AWARD and SIX STAR DIAMOND AWARD, not the least of which is a star,” Langsam wrote. “The internal considerations and deliberations of the Academy are highly confidential and not ‘news.’ This is not the public’s nor your business.”

    The academy clearly keeps a tight lid on its inner workings.

    ““Joseph Cinque, President of The AAHS, has been attending Mr. Trump’s party for the past 16 years,” the article said. “It is somewhat of a new Years Eve tradition for him and of course, he has become dear friends with the Trump family.””

    Huh. And note that this is from an article put out by the AAHS in reference to the 2014 party, implying that Cinque has been attending this annual event since 1999. But Trump apparently doesn’t know him very well:


    In a conversation with Yahoo News on Thursday morning, Trump denied he had any involvement with the ratings group, which has bestowed numerous five- and six-star ratings on his properties.

    “I mean, I receive awards from different places sometimes, but I’m not involved in it. How am I involved in it?” said Trump.

    Trump indicated he didn’t know much about the academy’s board of trustees — on which he, two of his sons and multiple members of his organizations have served. He also claimed he doesn’t know Cinque well.

    “He may have set up a board of trustees. I don’t know. I don’t know that my sons are involved with that, actually,” Trump said, adding, “But he’s a very nice man. I don’t know him well. I don’t know him well, but I have found him over the years to be a very nice man.”

    Keep in mind that Trump was issuing these denials to Yahoo News back in May. And then, of course, he invited Cinque to the 2016 New Years party only to deny this relationship again in early 2017. So it looks like denying knowledge of Trump’s ties to Joey “No Socks” Cinque is going to be a fun new New Years tradition for the Trump family. And America.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 9, 2017, 7:55 pm
  2. Someone leaked two pages of Donald Trump’s 2005 tax returns to David Cay Johnston. While it demonstrated that Trump had to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax that year – the tax set up to ensure the wealthy can’t use tax loopholes to pay almost nothing in taxes – other than that we didn’t really learn much from the leak. And that immediately raised the same question in a number of different quarters: Did Donald Trump just leak his own tax return?:

    CNN

    Did Donald Trump leak his own tax return?

    By Z. Byron Wolf and Josiah Ryan
    Updated 12:12 PM ET, Wed March 15, 2017

    (CNN)Who knows who leaked two pages of Donald Trump’s tax return.
    But the leak, such as it is, does no harm to the President. It shows he actually paid income taxes — at least in 2005. Whether the President had paid income taxes recently had actually been something of an open question.

    The journalist that published two pages from Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return says he doesn’t know who provided the documents; he got them in the mail.

    “Yes,” Pulitzer Prize-winner David Cay Johnston replied when CNN anchor Poppy Harlow asked him if he thought the two pages, which show Trump paid $38 million in taxes on more than $150 million in income that year, could have been sent by the President himself.

    “Donald has a long history of leaking things about himself and doing it indirectly and directly,” Johnston told Harlow and Chris Cuomo. “So it’s a possibility.” He published the returns on his website DCReport.org

    The White House has hit back hard against the publication, calling it illegal in a pre-emptive statement Tuesday night. Then President Trump himself weighed in Wednesday morning on Twitter, suggesting Johnston wasn’t being forthright.

    “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mailbox’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!” tweeted the President.

    Leak leaves many questions about Trump’s income sources

    Trump didn’t mention that The New York Times, when it reported Trump claimed $916 million in losses in 1995, which could have sheltered him from tax bills for many years, similarly received those more politically damaging documents in the mail.

    The tax shelter created by those losses could create for some interesting return if Trump officially or the mysterious leaker were to provide return for other years. Additionally, the details of Trump’s return would be instructive, too, answering questions about his charitable giving, if any, specifics about the losses he claimed — $105 million in 2005 despite his tax bill, and more.

    It is clear from evidence in lawsuits that there are years in which Trump paid no federal income taxes — something he bragged about during a debate with Hillary Clinton.

    “That makes me smart,” he said on the debate stage, although he later clarified to CNN’s Jim Acosta that he had paid income taxes.

    Trump had long said he wouldn’t release his income taxes because he is under some kind of long-standing federal audit. More recently, aides have said he might not release them at all. After all, he won the election.

    But as Jeffrey Toobin pointed out on CNN Tuesday night, the questions about Trump’s tax return have only grown more fascinating as questions have arisen about his campaign and business ties to Russia. Trump has denied current business connections to Russia, but he also denied the campaign aides had any contact with Russians in the lead-up to the campaign.

    Convenient timing

    News of the tax return and the fact that he did pay millions in taxes also provided a detour from questions about ties to Russia, the fragile health reform legislation he has pushed with House Speaker Paul Ryan, but which is in deep peril on Capitol Hill and scrutiny of his stunning claims that former President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign.

    Another interesting element of the story is that Trump has listed large-scale tax reform as one of his major legislative priorities. Republicans are supposed to take up that issue after passing the first leg of their Obamacare repeal plan — assuming they can pass it.

    Repealing or fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax is sure to be on the table as Republicans go about their goal of lowering tax rates for most Americans. That’ll be a more comfortable conversation for Trump to have with everyday Americans now that he can say he’s paid the tax, too.

    And it’s a big reason whey Democrats, who have called repeatedly in the past for the release of Trump’s rax returns, have warned the release of these two pages is a distraction from more important matters.

    “Donald has a long history of leaking things about himself and doing it indirectly and directly,” Johnston told Harlow and Chris Cuomo. “So it’s a possibility.” He published the returns on his website DCReport.org”

    Did Trump really leak his own not-too-horrible tax returns to David Cay Johnston? If so, he must have been filled with extra levels of mischievous glee after doing that and then calling Johnston a reporter “who nobody ever heard of” and suggesting the whole thing was “Fake News!”:


    The White House has hit back hard against the publication, calling it illegal in a pre-emptive statement Tuesday night. Then President Trump himself weighed in Wednesday morning on Twitter, suggesting Johnston wasn’t being forthright.

    “Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mailbox’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!” tweeted the President

    So that’s all part of why there’s so much speculation that Trump leaked his own returns. But note the possible downside of doing so: the one big thing we learned from the returns is that without the Alternative Minimum Tax Trump would have paid almost nothing. And repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax is very much on the Trumpian agenda:


    Another interesting element of the story is that Trump has listed large-scale tax reform as one of his major legislative priorities. Republicans are supposed to take up that issue after passing the first leg of their Obamacare repeal plan — assuming they can pass it.

    Repealing or fixing the Alternative Minimum Tax is sure to be on the table as Republicans go about their goal of lowering tax rates for most Americans. That’ll be a more comfortable conversation for Trump to have with everyday Americans now that he can say he’s paid the tax, too.

    So will the Trump/GOP plans to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax go more smoothly if Trump can say that he himself has paid the tax? Maybe, although is seems like it might not actually be super helpful for that upcoming Alternative Minimum Tax repeal debate for Trump to point out that without the AMT he would have paid almost nothing in taxes in 2005. Especially since, as the article below points out, another part of Trump’s tax reform package involves slashing taxes on “pass through” income and it was the heavy use of “pass through” income that would have made Trump’s tax bill for 2005 so very, very low if it wasn’t for the Alternative Minimum Tax Trump wants to eliminate:

    Vox

    Donald Trump’s tax plan would’ve nearly wiped out his 2005 tax burden

    Updated by Dylan Matthews
    Mar 14, 2017, 11:20pm EDT

    The two pages of Donald Trump’s 2005 tax return released by veteran tax journalist David Cay Johnston and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow leave a lot of questions unanswered. But there are two things the document makes clear:

    1. Trump was able to claim huge amounts of “negative income,” which substantially reduced his ordinary income tax burden.
    2. He paid $38 million in total federal income taxes on an income of $153 million only because of the alternative minimum tax, a tax provision Trump now wants to repeal as president.

    Trump lists about $152.7 million in income for the year, most of it real estate income, business income, and capital gains, on the 1040 tax form. Less than $1 million of his income came in the form of ordinary wages. But under “other income” he lists $103.2 million in negative income — that is, money he lost in that year or past years on business ventures.

    Trump’s companies are “pass-throughs” that don’t pay corporate income tax and whose income is instead dispersed to shareholders, who are in turn taxed on it. So carrying forward business losses or depreciating assets would affect Trump’s personal returns.

    If Trump were allowed to use all this negative income to offset his $152.7 million in income, his tax bill would’ve been a mere $5.3 million, for an effective tax rate of less than 3.5 percent. That’s a really shockingly small tax bill, and a symptom of how investors with lots of pass-through income can face much lower tax bills than people with ordinary wage income.

    However, Trump wasn’t allowed to claim all that negative income. That’s because of the alternative minimum tax, a provision that has existed in some form since 1969 and is meant to limit the use of deductions, exclusions, credits, and other provisions by wealthy taxpayers to reduce their tax burden. The AMT added $31.3 million to his total tax bill, bringing his overall effective tax rate to about 25 percent.

    We don’t exactly know why the AMT hit him so hard. The White House said in a statement that the negative income was due to “large scale depreciation for construction.” The AMT has different depreciation rules than the regular income tax code, which in some cases can reduce the amount you can deduct.

    Putting all that together, there’s still a lot we don’t know. But one thing is clear: TTrump has proposed a tax plan that would have made his tax bill much, much lower.

    Trump has a lot to gain from his own tax plan

    Trump, like most Republicans, wants to eliminate the AMT altogether. The tax tends to hit rich, but not uber-rich, people hard (think families making around $400,000 a year), and that’s a constituency the GOP cultivates assiduously. But Trump is an unusual uber-rich person, with a huge AMT liability. This proposal would have given him, personally, $31.3 million in 2005 alone.

    Just as crucially, Trump has proposed dramatically slashing taxes on pass-through income, even more than he wants to cut income taxes in general. Rather than subjecting this income to current income tax rates, or even the lower individual tax rates that Trump proposed, his first tax plan proposed to set the same rate that he’d have corporations pay: a mere 15 percent.

    Given that the top personal tax bracket in 2005 was 35 percent, Trump’s plan would’ve halved his marginal tax rate that year and then some. People with income from wages, or capital gains, wouldn’t have gotten a break this large. It was reserved for people with companies structured like the Trump Corporation.

    In mid-September, sources at the campaign suggested they were abandoning this plan. That made sense; the cut cost $1 trillion over 10 years, and served no obvious policy purpose other than personally enriching Donald Trump. But at the same time, the campaign was also telling a small-business group, the National Federation of Independent Business, that the pass-through cut was still a go, earning NFIB’s endorsement in the process. When the New York Times’s Binyamin Appelbaum reached out to the Trump campaign, they were vague but suggested that the pass-through cut was there to stay.

    Trump isn’t alone on this plan, either. House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady haven’t proposed a rate as low as 15 percent, but they have said they want a top rate of 25 percent on pass-through income, which also would’ve been a substantial tax cut for Trump in 2005. Their tax plan would also eliminate the AMT.

    All of which is to say that the return unveiled on The Rachel Maddow Show suggests Republican tax reform efforts won’t just benefit Donald Trump the way they benefit all rich people. He would be helped an unusual amount, owing to the particulars of his tax situation, with his high AMT burden and large amount of pass-through income.

    “All of which is to say that the return unveiled on The Rachel Maddow Show suggests Republican tax reform efforts won’t just benefit Donald Trump the way they benefit all rich people. He would be helped an unusual amount, owing to the particulars of his tax situation, with his high AMT burden and large amount of pass-through income.

    So that all points towards one possible angle Trump could use to sell the public on his tax plan: Sure, he’s going to slash tax on the rich but the biggest tax cuts, at least in terms of cuts in the rates paid, aren’t going to “the rich”, in general. The biggest tax cuts are going to Donald Trump. So don’t worry your little prole noggin about those Trump tax cuts. That’s just more aw-shucks fun that comes with Trump being Trump!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 15, 2017, 2:18 pm
  3. While it would be understandable if one assumed that Kellyanne Conway is married to an alternative version of reality, it turns out she actually has a husband. And it sounds like he might be getting a new job and quite an important one too: #DrainTheSwamp:

    The New York Times

    Kellyanne Conway’s Husband Is Trump’s Choice for Key Justice Post

    By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
    MARCH 18, 2017

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump has selected George T. Conway III, the husband of his counselor Kellyanne Conway, to head the civil division of the Justice Department, people familiar with the decision said on Saturday, placing him in charge of a crucial office charged with defending Mr. Trump’s contentious travel ban and lawsuits alleging that his business activities violate the Constitution.

    Mr. Conway, 53, would lead a department of about 1,000 lawyers that has vast reach across the government, handling issues like national security and consumer protection and enforcing federal programs and the actions of the president himself.

    A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on a personnel matter, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests. The people familiar with Mr. Trump’s decision confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt an impending announcement. The choice was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

    If confirmed, Mr. Conway would immediately be in charge of representing Mr. Trump in the legal challenges — which are widely expected to reach the Supreme Court — over his executive order barring people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

    It would also fall to Mr. Conway to oversee Mr. Trump’s defense in a pending lawsuit charging him with violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans federal officeholders from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments, because of the profits his hotels and resorts receive from foreign officials who are customers.

    Before he was inaugurated, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-market-value transactions,” like paying for hotel rooms. But the lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group on government corruption, contends that the clause does bar such transactions.

    It is likely that Mr. Trump will face additional legal challenges regarding possible conflicts of interest stemming from his vast real estate and business empire, from which he has refused to divest.

    Installing Mr. Conway to lead the civil division means that defending the president from such challenges will become a family affair for the Conways. Ms. Conway, a staunch loyalist who ran the final months of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has been a frequent presence on television news programs promoting the president’s agenda and dismissing criticism of his style and record.

    Her zeal on Mr. Trump’s behalf has sometimes landed her at the center of controversy, such as when she claimed that the White House was entitled to put forward “alternative facts” about the crowd size at his inauguration, and in a separate interview a few weeks later, referred to a terrorist attack in Bowling Green that never occurred. Last week, she appeared to suggest that President Barack Obama might have spied on Mr. Trump through a microwave. Ms. Conway later clarified that she was speaking in general about possible means of surveillance, not about Mr. Obama, and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said she had been joking.

    Mr. Conway had been a contender for the job of solicitor general for the Trump administration, but Mr. Trump announced this month that the job would go to Noel J. Francisco.

    While there is a law against nepotism in government, it would not affect the Conways. It says that no public official can hire a family member — including one related by marriage — to serve in an agency or office over which he or she has authority. Ms. Conway would have no direct authority over her husband were he to be confirmed, nor would the reverse be true.

    Installing Mr. Conway to lead the civil division means that defending the president from such challenges will become a family affair for the Conways. Ms. Conway, a staunch loyalist who ran the final months of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has been a frequent presence on television news programs promoting the president’s agenda and dismissing criticism of his style and record.”

    Oh goodie. The family that brought us “alternative facts” is going to be heading up the government’s campaigns to divorce us from reality in the defense of everything from the Muslim ban(s) to the Trump’s mountain of conflicts of interest:


    If confirmed, Mr. Conway would immediately be in charge of representing Mr. Trump in the legal challenges — which are widely expected to reach the Supreme Court — over his executive order barring people from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

    It would also fall to Mr. Conway to oversee Mr. Trump’s defense in a pending lawsuit charging him with violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bans federal officeholders from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments, because of the profits his hotels and resorts receive from foreign officials who are customers.

    Before he was inaugurated, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-market-value transactions,” like paying for hotel rooms. But the lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group on government corruption, contends that the clause does bar such transactions.

    It is likely that Mr. Trump will face additional legal challenges regarding possible conflicts of interest stemming from his vast real estate and business empire, from which he has refused to divest.

    So which alternative fact is going to be the alternative-fact-of-choice for George Conway when defending the inevitable Trump conflicts-of-interest lawsuits requires burying reality under a pile of alternative reality? That there’s no conflict of interest? That it’s complete legal even if there is a conflict of interest (sadly, that one isn’t as alternative as one might hope)?

    How about “What’s good for General Motors Trump is good for America, so any Trumpian conflicts of interest are actually in American interests.” That’s the kind of alternative reality that could come in extremely handy. Handy for the lawsuits, but also justifying the Trump policy agenda in general.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2017, 2:01 pm
  4. You know how Donald Trump was all excited about how he found that legal loophole that means the President can’t have a conflict of interest. Yeah, it looks like Ivanka found a loophole of her own…along with a new office in the West Wing. And a security clearance. And while the White House is admitting that this new arrangement does nothing to absolve her the many inherent conflicts of interest that come with this new arrange, she totally promises not to abuse it. So it’s totally ok. Yep:

    Politico

    Ivanka Trump set to get West Wing office as role expands

    The first daughter will not, however, become a government employee, raising ethics questions.

    By Annie Karni

    03/20/17 05:56 PM EDT

    Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington saying she would play no formal role in her father’s administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House.

    The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing’s second floor — a space next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was recently promoted to a position on the National Security Council. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.

    In everything but name, Trump is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father’s administration, with a broad and growing portfolio — except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said.

    Trump’s role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women’s empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor’s first official visit to Trump’s White House.

    As her role in the White House grows — a role that comes with no playbook — Trump plans to adhere to the same ethics and records retention rules that apply to government employees, Gorelick said, even though she is not technically an employee. But ethics watchdogs immediately questioned whether she is going far enough to eliminate conflicts of interest, especially because she will not be automatically subjected to certain ethics rules while serving as a de facto White House adviser.

    “Having an adult child of the president who is actively engaged in the work of the administration is new ground,” Gorelick conceded in an interview on Monday. “Our view is that the conservative approach is for Ivanka to voluntarily comply with the rules that would apply if she were a government employee, even though she is not.” A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump said her role was signed off on by the White House counsel’s office, and the conflict issues were “worked through” with the office of government ethics. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the unique arrangement.

    People close to Ivanka Trump said that she sees nothing unusual about the arrangement — it’s simply how she has worked with her father for years, as a senior official at the Trump Organization and as Donald Trump’s partner on “The Apprentice.”

    But in the White House, the unprecedented arrangement for a child of the president has raised new questions about potential conflicts of interest — and about why Ivanka Trump can’t simply join the administration as a government employee. Her husband, Jared Kushner, serves as an official senior adviser in the White House and was sworn in, but his hiring also raised questions of whether it violated anti-nepotism laws. The Justice Department ruled that those laws applied only to agency appointments.

    Ivanka Trump still owns her eponymous fashion and jewelry brand, even though she stepped down from her position at the company ahead of her father’s inauguration. She is also publishing a book, “Women Who Work,” which is due out in May.

    “I will continue to offer my father my candid advice and counsel, as I have for my entire life,” Trump said in a statement. “While there is no modern precedent for an adult child of the president, I will voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees.”

    The arrangement, however, was greeted with more questions about what freedoms Trump was trying to preserve for herself — and why.

    “They’re not saying she’s going to voluntarily subject herself to ethics rules to be nice,” said Norm Eisen, the former ethics czar in the Obama administration. “There’s recognition that they’re in very uncertain territory here. The better thing to do would be to concede she is subject to the rules. It would create some outside accountability, because if she can voluntarily subject herself to the rules, she can voluntarily un-subject herself to the rules.”

    Under the new rules, Trump has divested her common stock, tech investments, investment funds — and they will all appear on Kushner’s 278 financial disclosure form, required by all Cabinet nominees. Bloomberg News reported on Monday afternoon that Trump and Kushner sold as much as $36.7 million in assets to comply with federal ethics rules, according to the Office of Government Ethics.

    But when it comes to divesting from her business, however, Gorelick admitted there is no way to make it a conflict-free zone.

    “The one thing I would like to be clear on: we don’t believe it eliminates conflicts in every way,” Gorelick said. “She has the conflicts that derive from the ownership of this brand. We’re trying to minimize those to the extent possible.”

    Gorelick argued that the area is murky because outstanding contracts with third party vendors mean that Ivanka Trump cannot simply close her business — those vendors could continue using her brand. She also can’t sell the business, her attorney argued, because the buyer would have the right to license her name and potentially create other ethical issues.

    Instead, Trump will be distancing herself, as much as possible, from the day-to-day operations of the Ivanka Trump brand and convey her interests to a trust.

    The trust, Gorelick said, will be controlled by her brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and her sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer, who will be prohibited from entering the brand into any agreements with foreign countries or agencies. Ivanka Trump has appointed Abigail Klem to serve as president of her company, overseeing the day-to-day operations, and prohibited the company from using her image to sell the brand. The first daughter, however, will retain veto power to kill any deals that would be “unacceptable from an ethics perspective.”

    Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, will also serve as the outside ethics adviser to the trustees. The business will also be prohibited from using her image to market the brand.

    Under the trust, her attorneys said, Ivanka Trump will receive only the information she needs for disclosure requirements and to facilitate compliance with conflict of interest and impartiality rules.

    As for the money she will make from her book, Trump is planning to donate the royalties and net proceeds to charities that focus on women in the workforce, with the help of a donor-advised fund.

    “Trump’s role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women’s empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor’s first official visit to Trump’s White House”

    Looking like a clan of sleazy kleptocrats is apparently worth it so Ivanka can be the “eyes and ears” from her dad. And now any government or private lobbyist who wants to influence Donald Trump officially knows that Ivanka can not only potentially relay the messages to her dad but also has the personal influence to potentially persuade her dad and can do so without violating ethics rules (apparently). And sure, it was obvious before this recent arrangement that Ivanka was a path to Trump. It just wasn’t obvious if going through Ivanka to lobby Trump would put Ivanka in some sort of conflict of interest situation. Well, that’s all cleared up now, isn’t it?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 21, 2017, 2:33 pm

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