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

For The Record  

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

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained HERE. The new drive is a 32-gigabyte drive that is current as of the programs and articles posted by early winter of 2016. The new drive (available for a tax-deductible contribution of $65.00 or more.) (The previous flash drive was current through the end of May of 2012.)

WFMU-FM is podcasting For The Record–You can subscribe to the podcast HERE.

You can subscribe to e-mail alerts from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to RSS feed from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to the comments made on programs and posts–an excellent source of information in, and of, itself HERE.

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 Sater, 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 Sater 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

9 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
  5. Check out the new Trumpian innovation on the classic “shakedown”. As one might expect, Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric had a lot of foreigners interested in immigrating to the US concerned that the doors would be shutting soon if he came to power. And this included wealthy foreigners who would be able to access the existing US policies that essentially allow someone to buy citizenship to the US in exchange for large investments in the US (it’s suppose to create jobs). Well, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. But in this case it’s the threat of that immigration door closing that’s opening up a whole new door of opportunity. Specifically, an opportunity for the Kushner clan to make rather shady sales pitch to potential investors: if you invest in the Kushner family projects, you’re totally going to be guaranteed the right to purchase US citizenship. And who knows when Trump is going to suddenly reverse that immigration loophole so you better act [invest in Kushner clan projects] soon!:

    The Washington Post

    In a Beijing ballroom, Kushner family pushes $500,000 ‘investor visa’ to wealthy Chinese

    By Emily Rauhala and William Wan
    May 6, 2017

    BEIJING — The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

    That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Kushner Meyer to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

    Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.

    The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.

    The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

    And the highlight of the afternoon was Meyer, a principal for the company, who was introduced in promotional materials as Jared’s sister.

    The event underscores the extent to which Kushner’s private business interests have the potential to collide with his powerful role as a top official in his father-in-law’s White House, particularly when it comes to China, where Kushner has become a crucial diplomatic channel between Beijing and the new administration.

    While Kushner has reported divesting from elements of the family business, including the specific project that his sister pitched in Beijing, the session Saturday demonstrated that the company is perceived as enjoying close ties to the Trump administration. Ethics laws prohibit government officials from profiting personally from their public-sector work.

    Watchdogs and ethics experts on Saturday criticized the Beijing event as an attempt to cash in on Kushner’s newfound proximity to power.

    “It’s incredibly stupid and highly inappropriate,” said Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration, who has become a vocal critic of the Trump administration. “They clearly imply that the Kushners are going to make sure you get your visa. … They’re [Chinese applicants] not going to take a chance. Of course they’re going to want to invest.”

    Among the wealthy elites in China, family, business and politics are all deeply intertwined. Every branch of the Communist Party, every province and city often operate as a fiefdom for those in power, allowing leaders special, lucrative access to policy, land and government contracts. There is even a name for second-generation sons and daughters of wealthy business executives and government officials — such as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — who have access to power through family ties. They are called “fuerdai.

    The EB-5 immigrant investor visa program that Meyer discussed Saturday allows rich foreign investors who are willing to plunk down large investments in U.S. projects that create jobs to apply to immigrate to the United States.

    Bloomberg News reported in March 2016 that the program has been used to the benefit both the Trump and Kushner family businesses. Before joining the White House, as chief executive of his family’s real estate company, Jared Kushner raised $50 million from Chinese EB-5 applicants for a Trump-branded apartment building in Jersey City, according to the report.

    Blake Roberts, an attorney at the WilmerHale law firm who serves as Kushner’s personal counsel, said: “Mr. Kushner divested his interests in the One Journal Square project by selling them to a family trust that he is not a beneficiary of, a mechanism suggested by the Office of Government Ethics. As previously stated, he will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program.”

    The EB-5 program has been criticized by members of Congress from both parties who have said the program in essence sells visas to the wealthiest foreigners.

    The program has been extremely popular among rich Chinese, who call it the “golden visa” and are eager to get their families — and their wealth — out of the country. The fact that some use it to move their money out illegally, however, has made the program unpopular with the Chinese authorities.

    The program was launched with the goal of securing investment and creating jobs. But instead, in recent years, many real estate developers have used the program as a source of cheap financing by using foreign investors, especially from China, for flashy projects in Manhattan and other city centers.

    A Government Accountability Office repor in 2015 found the EB-5 program carried a high risk of fraud, was rife with counterfeit documentation and had “no reliable method to verify the source of the funds of petitioners.”

    Since Donald Trump became president, rumors have circulated among the wealthy of the world about the future of the EB-5 program, given Trump’s repeated vows to crack down on immigration and the increased congressional scrutiny of EB-5s. That has sent many high-rolling foreigners flocking to apply.

    The program, however, is especially popular in China, with estimates in recent years showing that more than 80 percent of EB-5 visas were issued to Chinese investors.

    Saturday’s event in Beijing was hosted by the Chinese company Qiaowai, which connects U.S. companies with Chinese investors. Qiaowai is working with the Kushner company to secure funding for Kushner 1, the New Jersey project presented to investors, also known as One Journal Square. Promotional materials tout the buildings’ proximity to Manhattan and note that the project will create more than 6,000 jobs.

    “This project has stable funding, creates sufficient jobs and guarantees the safety of investors’ money,” one description reads.

    Although there was no visible reference to Trump, the materials noted the Kushner family’s “celebrity” status.

    Kushner’s personal financial disclosure form reflects that he divested his interest in K One Journal Square LLC. The form described the asset as undeveloped real estate in Jersey City. Because the asset was already divested, Kushner’s filing does not reflect its estimated value. But he did report between $1 million and $5 million in income connected to the project.

    At Saturday’s event, attendee Wang Yun, a Chinese investor, said the Kushner family’s ties to Trump were an obvious part of the project’s appeal.

    “Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s family, of course it is still affiliated,” Wang said.

    Wang reasoned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the presidency goes well but could be disastrous if it does not: “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most likely to be impeached president in American history. That’s why I doubt this project.”

    Many of the people who attended the event declined to be interviewed, citing privacy concerns, or were blocked by organizers from speaking to the news media.

    Although the event was publicly advertised in Beijing, the hosts were exceptionally anxious about the presence of reporters.

    Journalists were initially seated at the back of the ballroom, but as the presentations got underway, a public-relations representative asked The Washington Post to leave, saying the presence of foreign reporters threatened the “stability” of the event.

    At one point, organizers grabbed a reporter’s phone and backpack to try to force that person to leave. Later, as investors started leaving the ballroom, organizers physically surrounded attendees to prevent them from giving interviews.

    Asked why reporters were asked to leave, a PR person who declined to identify herself said simply, “This is not the story we want.”

    “Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.”

    It looks like we can add “selling American citizenship for private profits” to the list of Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. Of course, we can remove it from the list if Trump does actually reverse the “EB-5” citizenship program that makes this possible. But given all the money the Trump/Kushner clans can make, why would Trump reverse the EB-5 program? It’s part of what makes the shakedown technique so interesting with respect to Trump’s nativist base: As long as wealthy foreigners take the Kushners up on their “do this soon before the policy is reversed!” offer, there’s no incentive for Trump to reverse the policy and restrict immigration which make it one form of corruption Trump’s base might actually care about:


    The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.

    The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”

    And the highlight of the afternoon was Meyer, a principal for the company, who was introduced in promotional materials as Jared’s sister.

    Since Donald Trump became president, rumors have circulated among the wealthy of the world about the future of the EB-5 program, given Trump’s repeated vows to crack down on immigration and the increased congressional scrutiny of EB-5s. That has sent many high-rolling foreigners flocking to apply.

    “The potential investors were advised to invest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change under the Trump administration. “Invest early, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speaker said.”

    The clock is ticking! That’s the message from the Kushners to wealthy Chinese investors and it appears to be a message they’re taking seriously. And as long as they keep taking the threat seriously that clock is likely going to continue ticking. Money winds the clock.

    And while we only have reports of solicitations like this to Chinese investors, as Josh Marshall notes below, perhaps the biggest angle if this entire story is that we can be pretty damn sure that the Trump/Kushner clans are well aware that the clock is ticking on their giant opportunity to make as much money from the Trump presidency as possible and therefore, while we only have reports about sales pitches like this going on in China, it’s undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg:

    Talking Points Memo
    Editor’s Blog

    A Few Thoughts on the Trump/Kushner Families’ Presidency Cash Bust Out

    By Josh Marshall
    Published May 8, 2017 10:26 am

    You’ve probably heard that the Kushner family was caught over the weekend literally selling visas to immigrate to the United States in exchange for funding a $150 million dollar New Jersey real estate project. The sale itself is actually legal. It’s part of a highly controversial and widely abused program which provides visas to foreign nationals in exchange for $500,000 investments in US projects which by certain standards are judged to create jobs in impoverished or economically distressed parts of the United States. It’s become a widely abused vehicle for real estate developers looking to fund luxury development projects.

    Setting that controversy aside, what sets this apart of course is that Jared Kushner is the most senior advisor to the President of the United States, as well as being the President’s son-in-law. While nominally stepping aside from his family business, his family is in China openly trading on the Kushner family’s ties to President Trump to rake up money. As much and as quickly as possible. Kushner’s sister Nicole actually led the presentation. Reporters from the Times and the Post were on hand at the presentation in Beijing (where they were able to get in) and at a second in Shanghai (where they weren’t.)

    Trump – as well as the Kushner family’s connection to him – was explicitly invoked as the “key decision maker” in getting the visas. A Times reporter posted this picture of  the presentation to Twitter, which I’ve marked up to identify the people in the slide …

    [see amusingly annotated pic]

    This is needless to say, the most open and flagrant kind of monetizing of the Presidency – as bad as anyone could have imagined from the conjoined Trump/Kushner families. The fact that this ‘nationalist’, ‘crack down on illegal immigration’ White House is connected to cash for visas activities like this just adds a layer of oily crust to the corruption.

    The most important part of this story, however, is what’s not stated. The Post and the Times caught wind of this event and sent reporters. Do we think this is the only case of the Trump and Kushner families doing this? I think we can fairly assume that the effort to cash in is underway and in overdrive in numerous countries around the world and in every way possible. We see hints and shreds of evidence popping up – Ivanka Trump securing numerous trademarks for her company in China. Even more revealing, many of the hints emerge first in the foreign press or by chance in indiscreet bragging on social media. This tells us that the US press is hard pressed to monitor it – understandably, it’s a large world! With zero disclosure, private meetings and a whole world to rake money, inevitably most of it is taking place outside of our view.

    “The most important part of this story, however, is what’s not stated. The Post and the Times caught wind of this event and sent reporters. Do we think this is the only case of the Trump and Kushner families doing this? I think we can fairly assume that the effort to cash in is underway and in overdrive in numerous countries around the world and in every way possible. We see hints and shreds of evidence popping up – Ivanka Trump securing numerous trademarks for her company in China. Even more revealing, many of the hints emerge first in the foreign press or by chance in indiscreet bragging on social media. This tells us that the US press is hard pressed to monitor it – understandably, it’s a large world! With zero disclosure, private meetings and a whole world to rake money, inevitably most of it is taking place outside of our view.”

    Yes, it seems like a safe bet that the Trump/Kushner clans’ efforts to cash in is underway and in overdrive in numerous countries around the world and in every way possible. A very safe bet. And that leads us to another interesting twist in this Trumpian ‘bust out’: As we saw one potential Chinese investor remark in the above article, investing in a Trump family project is clearly appealing as long as Trump has a successful presidency. But if it gets impeached or is otherwise a disaster? Well, those investments might be so tempting anymore:


    At Saturday’s event, attendee Wang Yun, a Chinese investor, said the Kushner family’s ties to Trump were an obvious part of the project’s appeal.

    “Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s family, of course it is still affiliated,” Wang said.

    Wang reasoned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the presidency goes well but could be disastrous if it does not: “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most likely to be impeached president in American history. That’s why I doubt this project.”

    “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most likely to be impeached president in American history. That’s why I doubt this project.”

    So as we can see, when Donald Trump straight up asserted that presidents can’t have a conflict of interest and the “foreign emoluments clause” of the constitution doesn’t apply to him, he wasn’t simply protecting himself from potential impeachment while sending an “I’m open for business” signal to the world. He was also sending another important signal: “I’m open for business, and my openness for business isn’t going to be bad for your business when you invest in my business.” Impeachment closes a lot of doors of business opportunity when the primary product you’re selling is an open door to power.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 8, 2017, 7:28 pm
  6. The disastrous and cruel federal cleanup effort (or lack of effort) in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria appears to have experienced a new disaster. Or, at least, there are “significant concerns” about a possibly disastrous contract signed to restore electricity to the island after almost all power was knocked out and remains knocked out a month later.

    What’s the new possible disaster? Well, unlike the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, which was largely blamed on a lack of action by FEMA under the George W. Bush administration, the significant concerns about the disaster response this time are actually being expressed by FEMA…and a whole lot of other people: So it turns out that the $300 million contract to restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was awarded an obscure Montana-based utility company, Whitefish Energy, that just so happens to be owned by a number of big Trump donors and just so happens to be based in Whitefish, Montana, the home town of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

    Also, Whitefish energy is a two year old company that had two employees before getting the contract. So it’s basically a middle-man that appears to server no purpose other than to skim profits from this massive rebuilding operation and this egregious contract is for one of the most important elements of the rebuilding effort: electricity. Hence the concern from FEMA and basically anyone else who has heard about this contract and isn’t pro-corruption:

    Talking Points Memo
    Livewire

    FEMA Has ‘Significant Concerns’ About $300 Million Deal With Utility Company

    By Nicole Lafond
    Published October 27, 2017 10:40 am

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is looking into how a contract between Puerto Rico and a tiny power company — whose CEO and partner are friendly with the Trump administration — was procured, according to a statement.

    A small utility company in Montana signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to restore electricity to the U.S. territory. The deal raised eyebrows after the Weather Channel reported that the company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, is reportedly financed by major donors to President Donald Trump and has ties to the Trump administration.

    In its statement Friday, FEMA clarified that it was not involved in hiring the company to restore power to the island and hasn’t provided any reimbursement to the PREPA yet for its contract with Whitefish.

    “Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns about how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable,” the statement said. “FEMA is presently engaged with PREPA and its legal counsel to obtain information about the contract and contracting process, including how the contract was procured and how PREPA determined the contract prices were reasonable.”

    Whitefish Energy is based in Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s hometown, and Zinke is friendly with the company’s CEO. A partner at Whitefish was also a major Republican donor. He gave a total of $74,000 to various Trump groups and another $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Daily Beast reported.

    Both the governor of Puerto Rico and the mayor of the U.S. territory’s capitol city have spoken out about the contract, with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz calling for an investigation into the contract, sparking a Twitter war with the company, which later apologized for its comments.

    Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Wednesday asked the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to conduct a review of the contract procurement and told ABC News there would be “hell to pay” if any corruption is uncovered in the audit.

    Just two years old, Whitefish only had two full-time employees before being awarded the contract, ABC News reported.

    FEMA statement on Whitefish Energy: "FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract" pic.twitter.com/rMHkzDxqKS— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 27, 2017

    ———-

    “FEMA Has ‘Significant Concerns’ About $300 Million Deal With Utility Company” by Nicole Lafond; Talking Points Memo; 10/27/2017

    Whitefish Energy is based in Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s hometown, and Zinke is friendly with the company’s CEO. A partner at Whitefish was also a major Republican donor. He gave a total of $74,000 to various Trump groups and another $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Daily Beast reported.

    Whitefish just happens to be the Interior Secretary Zinke’s home time, the CEO is friendly with Zinke, and is also a major GOP donor. And it had just two employees before getting the contract and had only existed for two years:


    Just two years old, Whitefish only had two full-time employees before being awarded the contract, ABC News reported.

    Oh what a coincidence.

    It’s also worth noting that white nationalist White House advisor Stephen Miller also calls Whitefish his home town, which might actually be a coincidence although it probably didn’t hurt the deal’s chance.

    Given all that, there’s bound to be some sort of audit of Whitefish Energy’s contract. So what might auditors find? Fortunately we already know because a copy of the deal was obtained by a reported. And, lo and behold, the contract prohibits the government from reviewing labor costs or profits related to the company’s relief efforts. Yep, a no-audit rule is what the auditors are going to find:

    The Hill

    Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal

    By John Bowden – 10/27/17 08:48 AM EDT

    A deal reached between the government and a small Montana energy company located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown prohibits the government from reviewing labor costs or profits related to the company’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico, according to a leaked copy of the contract.

    A copy of the deal obtained by reporter Ken Klippenstein reveals that the government isn’t allowed to “audit or review the cost and profit elements” under the agreement, allowing the company greater discretion and secrecy for how it spends the $300 million to restore power to the island. Puerto Rico is rebuilding after two major hurricanes wiped out most of the island’s electrical grid.

    Whitefish contract states, "In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements." Wow. pic.twitter.com/dIyQXb6AK0— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 27, 2017

    Whitefish signed the deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which also prohibits the government from making “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work.”

    Incredible: Whitefish contract states Puerto Rican govt "waives any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work." pic.twitter.com/k4wWxrLFq2— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 27, 2017

    Whitefish has been the target of heavy criticism over questions as to why the small company, which only had two full-time employees when the storm struck, was selected for such a lucrative government contract to help clean up the island.

    Two House committees and a federal watchdog have all opened investigations into the deal. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has called for the deal to be voided and investigated after representatives for the company feuded with her on Twitter and asked her if she wanted them to stop working.

    “We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?” Whitefish Energy tweeted to the mayor Wednesday.

    “They are threatening not to do their job which frankly is quite irregular for a company hired to the work for the public sector,” she tweeted in response.

    “The contract should be voided right away and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place,” Cruz added in comments to Yahoo News.

    Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee have also raised questions about the scope of the deal.

    “The size and terms of the contract, as well as the circumstances surrounding the contract’s formation, raise questions regarding PREPA’s standard contract awarding procedures,” Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) wrote Thursday.

    Whitefish said Thursday that it welcomes the investigations.


    ———-

    “Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal” by John Bowden; The Hill; 10/27/2017

    “Whitefish said Thursday that it welcomes the investigations.”

    You have to love that: Whitefish said it welcomes investigations into the contract that systematically blocked audits. They clearly have nothing to hide.

    And you also have to love this provision: the government can’t do anything if the work isn’t done on time:


    Whitefish signed the deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which also prohibits the government from making “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work.”

    Well, given the “no-audit” rule, a rule seemingly designed to make sure Whitefish can make as much profit as possible, it does seem pretty reasonable to assume that there’s going to be delays. So it makes sense to include a provision that prohibits the government from making “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of work.” At least, it makes sense if you’re a horribly corrupt person who is actively planning on keeping a devastated island in the dark for as long as possible to make as much money as possible.

    So what has Interior Secretary Zinke said about this? Pretty much what you would expect: that he had nothing to do with the awarding of this contract and that “attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract” are “completely baseless”. In other words, this is all a massive coincidence according to Zinke.

    And while it is technically true that Puerto Rico’s public utility is the entity that made the actual decision to hire Whitefish – they say that Whitefish’s lack of a demand for a downpayment helped them get the deal because the utility is current bankrupt – it’s also basically a slap in the face of all the people who voted for “Draining the swamp” to act like the company’s ties to Zink and the GOP wouldn’t have influenced this decision. That’s how ‘The Swamp’ works. But that’s the story – that this is all a coincidence and Whitefish got the contract on the merits of its bid – and we’re all expected to believe it.

    #DrainTheSwamp

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 27, 2017, 3:08 pm
  7. Check out President Trump’s latest shiny object he’s decided to start playing with in public: threatening (once again) to change the libel laws to make it easier for him to sue news outlets over negative coverage:

    USA Today

    Trump puts federal libel law on 2018 agenda, escalating complaints against media

    Gregory Korte and David Jackson,
    Published 1:04 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2018 | Updated 5:06 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2018

    WASHINGTON — President Trump renewed his call for a federal libel law on Wednesday, saying people who are subject to false and defamatory accusations should have “meaningful recourse” in federal courts.

    “Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace, and do not represent American values or American fairness,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, saying the issue was on his administration’s 2018 agenda. “You can’t say things that are false — knowingly false — and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.”

    It’s not a new proposal for the president, who threatened to “open up our libel laws’’ during his campaign for president as he pushed back against unfavorable stories. This time, the proposal comes a week after the publication of a tell-all book about the White House that portrayed Trump in unflattering terms.

    Trump’s private lawyers have threatened lawsuits, sending cease-and-desist letters to the book’s author and publisher — and to former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who cooperated with author Michael Wolff, who was previously a columnist for USA TODAY.

    In the United States, libel and defamation are largely governed by state law, but within the restrictions of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public figures — like the president — must clear a high hurdle in order to prove defamation.

    At the cabinet meeting Wednesday, Trump also complained about television news coverage of his negotiations with members of Congress on Wednesday. He claimed that network news anchors were complimentary of his handling of the meeting — even sending Trump letters telling him so — before network bosses weighed in.

    ———-

    “Trump puts federal libel law on 2018 agenda, escalating complaints against media” by Gregory Korte and David Jackson; USA Today; 01/10/2018

    “”Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace, and do not represent American values or American fairness,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, saying the issue was on his administration’s 2018 agenda. “You can’t say things that are false — knowingly false — and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.””

    “We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that.” That was Trump’s very, very confused look at the topic of changing libel laws. And it was far from his first look at this topic so you would think that someone would have informed him at this ponteding that libel and defamation are largely governed by state law:


    In the United States, libel and defamation are largely governed by state law, but within the restrictions of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public figures — like the president — must clear a high hurdle in order to prove defamation.

    But that doesn’t mean the libels laws can’t be changed. It just means that Trump himself can’t do it. He either needs the Supreme Court to do it by reinterpreting the First Amendment of the Constitution, or he needs all the states to get together and do it with a Constitutional amendment:

    The New York Times

    Can Libel Laws Be Changed Under Trump?

    By SYDNEY EMBER
    NOV. 13, 2016

    When Donald J. Trump said in February that he would “open up our libel laws” if he became president to make it easier to sue news organizations for unfavorable coverage, the declaration sent shock waves through the media world.

    But could he actually do it?

    The simple answer is yes, but it would be complicated. And assuming the established procedures to change laws hold, it would also be extremely difficult.

    Libel is a matter of state law limited by the principles of the First Amendment. Presidents cannot directly change state laws, so Mr. Trump would effectively have to seek to change the First Amendment principles that constrain the country’s libel laws. There are two potential ways he could do this, according to legal experts. One route is through the Supreme Court. The other is through the Constitution itself.

    The Supreme Court established the First Amendment principles that govern the country’s libel laws in 1964, with its unanimous decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. In that ruling, the court said that public officials had to prove that false statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning news organizations had to have knowingly published a falsehood or published it with “reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

    The standard, later extended to include public figures, set a high bar for libel and meant that people like Mr. Trump — both a public figure and soon-to-be public official — would have a very, very difficult time winning a libel lawsuit.

    If Mr. Trump were to seek to change the libel laws, he would have to get the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling in Times v. Sullivan and subsequent cases built on it, or at least chip away at either the definition of “actual malice” or the characterization of a public official or public figure, said Sandra S. Baron, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project and former executive director of the Media Law Resource Center.

    “A change in those laws would require the Supreme Court of the United States taking a new look at what it previously decided and making changes,” Ms. Baron said. “I think there’s very little, quite candidly, he could do short of getting the Supreme Court to overrule New York Times v. Sullivan.”

    The Supreme Court could overturn the ruling, but it would not be easy. For one thing, libel and the protection of free speech are not, by nature, liberal versus conservative issues. Even if Mr. Trump appoints a conservative justice (or two) who support modifying First Amendment principles, these justices would not necessarily find themselves in the majority.

    The conservative chief justice William H. Rehnquist, for instance, wrote the decision in a case in 1988 that extended rules protecting criticism of public figures as free speech. In the case, the Supreme Court overturned an award in favor of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a well-known preacher, who had sued Hustler magazine over a parody ad that portrayed him as having taken part in a drunken tryst with his mother.

    Short of overturning Times v. Sullivan completely, the Supreme Court could roll back related decisions. The court, however, has not shown much interest in libel law in a long time, legal experts say.

    “There has been no active effort by the conservative wing of the Supreme Court to overturn the principles of New York Times v. Sullivan,” Ms. Baron said. “The court has not taken a libel case in a very long time, and there did not appear to be a majority of the court, and that includes the conservatives, who were actively seeking to overturn the principles of New York Times v. Sullivan.”

    Mr. Trump could also try to change libel laws by seeking to amend the Constitution itself. Altering the Constitution, which is rarely attempted, would be arduous, certainly, but not impossible.

    “It’s hard to imagine that gaining a lot of traction,” Ms. Baron said. “But you know, we live in unpredictable times.”

    Of course, Mr. Trump has been underestimated before, so it is possible that he could muster the support to change libel laws. But even if Mr. Trump were able to have Times v. Sullivan overturned, states, particularly those with a major media presence like New York and California, could effectively make the protection available as a matter of state law.

    The question is whether Mr. Trump would benefit from changing libel laws. Filing a lawsuit would open him up to discovery, which could lay bare details he might rather keep private. It should be noted, however, that Mr. Trump has a history of filing libel lawsuits, though he has never won in public court, according to a recent report. (Even if the libel laws do not change, Mr. Trump could continue to threaten news organizations with lawsuits.)

    There is also the possibility that loosening libel laws could affect him in unexpected ways.

    “Changing the laws to make it easier to sue would essentially be used to harm him,” said George Freeman, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and a former assistant general counsel of The New York Times. “He’s more likely to be a libel defendant than a libel plaintiff.”

    ———-

    “Can Libel Laws Be Changed Under Trump?” by SYDNEY EMBER; The New York Times; 11/13/2016

    “Libel is a matter of state law limited by the principles of the First Amendment. Presidents cannot directly change state laws, so Mr. Trump would effectively have to seek to change the First Amendment principles that constrain the country’s libel laws. There are two potential ways he could do this, according to legal experts. One route is through the Supreme Court. The other is through the Constitution itself.”

    Changing either the interpretation of the Constitution or the actual wording of the Constitution. That’s what would be required to protect Trump’s ego from negative words.

    Are such herculean changes possible? Yes, it’s possible, just not very likely. Because even if Trump managed to appoint a bunch of new conservative justices, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be on board with Trump’s view on libel law :


    If Mr. Trump were to seek to change the libel laws, he would have to get the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling in Times v. Sullivan and subsequent cases built on it, or at least chip away at either the definition of “actual malice” or the characterization of a public official or public figure, said Sandra S. Baron, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project and former executive director of the Media Law Resource Center.

    “A change in those laws would require the Supreme Court of the United States taking a new look at what it previously decided and making changes,” Ms. Baron said. “I think there’s very little, quite candidly, he could do short of getting the Supreme Court to overrule New York Times v. Sullivan.”

    The Supreme Court could overturn the ruling, but it would not be easy. For one thing, libel and the protection of free speech are not, by nature, liberal versus conservative issues. Even if Mr. Trump appoints a conservative justice (or two) who support modifying First Amendment principles, these justices would not necessarily find themselves in the majority.

    And note that the one far-right Supreme Court Justice Trump has already appointed, Neil Gorsuch, doesn’t appear to share Trump’s views on libel.

    So Trump would need like some sort of Supreme Court mass exodus at this point to pull this off from the courts. But even if the Supreme Court did reverse its earlier Times v. Sullivan ruling, that would still leave it to the states to decide the issue. And it’s hard to imagine states like California and New York suddenly adopting a Trumpian view on these matters:


    Of course, Mr. Trump has been underestimated before, so it is possible that he could muster the support to change libel laws. But even if Mr. Trump were able to have Times v. Sullivan overturned, states, particularly those with a major media presence like New York and California, could effectively make the protection available as a matter of state law.

    That just leaves changing the constitution itself. And it would have to be a change that prevents states from having a say in the matter:


    Mr. Trump could also try to change libel laws by seeking to amend the Constitution itself. Altering the Constitution, which is rarely attempted, would be arduous, certainly, but not impossible.

    “It’s hard to imagine that gaining a lot of traction,” Ms. Baron said. “But you know, we live in unpredictable times.”

    Yeah, it is indeed pretty hard to imagine a request by Trump to change the constitution to amend the First Amendment to make it harder to criticize him is going to gain a lot of traction.

    But let’s not forget something rather important about any conversation about amending the US Constitution: radically amending the Constitution has been a far-right goal for years and they are steadily getting closer and closer to getting the chance to do exactly that:

    AlterNet

    We Are Now One State Closer to Having a Corporate-Dominated Constitutional Convention

    With the addition of Wisconsin, right-wingers promoting a Constitutional Convention have 28 states; they only need six more.

    By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet
    November 9, 2017, 11:28 AM GMT

    While Democrats on Wednesday were feeling encouraged and empowered by Tuesday’s coast-to-coast rejection of Trumpism, Republican legislators who control Wisconsin did what the GOP does best in elections: voted to rig the system to favor their agenda. Only this time the target wasn’t voter suppression; it was the U.S. Constitution.

    On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to call for what’s known as an Article V constitutional convention, becoming the 28th state to do so in recent years. Thirty-four states are needed, according to the nation’s founding document, to launch a process that would open up the foundation of American’s rights and laws to revision.

    “Sadly, this is not fake news,” said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn. “The specter of an Article V convention to rewrite the Constitution remains one of the most alarming threats to our democracy that nobody has ever heard of before.”

    “The deep-pocketed special interest groups behind this effort to call a convention are not likely to stop with a single amendment when there are no rules to prevent opening up the Constitution to a full rewrite in a runaway convention,” Flynn explained. “The effort to call the convention is funded by wealthy special interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council that have long pushed for a broad legislative agenda in the states, and it is hard to imagine then not foisting that agenda on the Constitution itself through unelected and unaccountable delegates to the convention.”

    Revising the U.S. Constitution is not the only big idea that has surfaced following 2017’s Election Day. On Wednesday morning, the New York Times endorsed the national popular vote compact, where states agree to award all of their Electoral College votes for the next president to whoever wins the national popular vote. (In 2016, that was Hillary Clinton, by nearly 3 million votes. So far, 10 states and the District of Columbia have signed on, pledging 165 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed.)

    Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig, who dubiously called for an Article V convention a half-dozen years ago to reform the nation’s campaign finance system, has another big idea that would shake up the electoral process in unpredictable ways. His non-profit, EqualCitizens.US, has sued to reallocate Electoral College votes by congressional district instead of the current winner-take-all system that exists in 48 states. (Maine and Nebraska split up their Electoral College votes.)

    But an Article V convention is closer to reality than either the national popular vote or Lessig’s Electoral College reshuffling (even though two states, Minnesota and Virginia, saw lawmakers introduce 2017 legislation to reapportion these votes; both stalled). In the past three years, 12 red-run states have called for an Article V convention (Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas and Missouri). Meanwhile, four blue states (Delaware, New Mexico, Maryland and Nevada) that previously voted for a convention, under the assumption it would only be concerned with balancing the federal budget, rescinded that earlier vote because of fears a convention would become a runaway train.

    These offensive moves by the right and defensive moves by the left show the prospect of an Article V convention is not just another fanciful idea, but is moving closer to something the nation may eventually face. Before 2017’s Election Day, the next six states targeted by proponents were Kentucky, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Common Cause’s background memo. Virginia’s election of a Democratic governor, and the partisan majority of its lower House of Delegates still unknown (due to ballots that are still being counted), dampens the nearer-term possibility of reaching 34 states.

    But no one should underestimate the Republicans. The GOP, more so than Democrats, have kept their eyes on longer-term political prizes. They did that with partisan gerrymanders in 2011 to lock down red supermajority legislatures and U.S. House delegations. The Supreme Court is now reviewing a challenge to Wisconsin’s extreme gerrymander. It’s no coincidence that it voted Tuesday to call for a federal constitutional convention. (In New York State on Tuesday, voters rejected a call for a state convention to revise the state constitution, but approved a proposal to seize pensions from corrupt politicians.)

    The rhetoric from those calling for a federal convention is simplistic, given the stakes, complexity and chaos of the consequences. From the mid-1970s until three or four years ago, the call for a convention was to rein in federal spending via a balanced budget amendment, said Jay Riekenberg, a campaign strategist at Common Cause. But today, proponents are talking about more sweeping reforms, which becomes an open-ended invitation to revise the Constitution to accommodate virtually every right-wing goal that cannot be adopted through state legislatures or Congress.

    “The messaging change we are seeing coming out of the convention of states [the main advocacy group] is forcing the conservatives to talk differently about this,” Riekenberg said. “The convention of states folks talk about how simple this is; this is all about taking back power from Washington.”

    “The conservative movement has basically made this a long-term strategy,” he continued. “They had a lot of momentum between 2011 and maybe Monday night. They need six states… Four are firmly in Republican hands.”

    Virginia and in Minnesota are the likely near-term exceptions, where Democrats either gained power on Tuesday or may do so in 2018. But as far-fetched as an Article 5 convention sounds, the unknowns associated with it should prompt notice. It could be a runaway convention. It could be a bonanza for special interests. There are no certain convention rules laid out in the Constitution or a ratification process. There’s no guarantee participants would be representative of the electorate.

    Republicans have done many things to rig the rules of elections this decade, from gerrymandering to a deep catalog of voter suppression tactics. While Democrats and Independents were voting Tuesday to reject Trumpism, the GOP in Wisconsin intentionally ignored the public and moved to rewrite the Constitution. Take heed.

    ———-

    “We Are Now One State Closer to Having a Corporate-Dominated Constitutional Convention” by Steven Rosenfeld; AlterNet; 11/09/2017

    “On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to call for what’s known as an Article V constitutional convention, becoming the 28th state to do so in recent years. Thirty-four states are needed, according to the nation’s founding document, to launch a process that would open up the foundation of American’s rights and laws to revision.

    28 states down, 6 to go. That’s the status of the right-wing drive to open up the US Constitution to a “convention of the states”. A convention that could allow for ANY changes to the Constitution.

    So would the people behind the convention of the states drive actually want a big change to the libel laws too? Well, ask yourself this: would the Koch brothers and other far-right oligarchs backing the American right-wing be interested in stronger libel laws? It seems like the answer is an obvious “YES!!!!! Of course they would!!!!” Well, those are the people backing this drive:


    The deep-pocketed special interest groups behind this effort to call a convention are not likely to stop with a single amendment when there are no rules to prevent opening up the Constitution to a full rewrite in a runaway convention,” Flynn explained. “The effort to call the convention is funded by wealthy special interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council that have long pushed for a broad legislative agenda in the states, and it is hard to imagine then not foisting that agenda on the Constitution itself through unelected and unaccountable delegates to the convention.”

    And note now active this drive is today. 12 GOP-run states have called for such a convention in the past three years alone:


    But an Article V convention is closer to reality than either the national popular vote or Lessig’s Electoral College reshuffling (even though two states, Minnesota and Virginia, saw lawmakers introduce 2017 legislation to reapportion these votes; both stalled). In the past three years, 12 red-run states have called for an Article V convention (Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas and Missouri). Meanwhile, four blue states (Delaware, New Mexico, Maryland and Nevada) that previously voted for a convention, under the assumption it would only be concerned with balancing the federal budget, rescinded that earlier vote because of fears a convention would become a runaway train.

    These offensive moves by the right and defensive moves by the left show the prospect of an Article V convention is not just another fanciful idea, but is moving closer to something the nation may eventually face. Before 2017’s Election Day, the next six states targeted by proponents were Kentucky, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Common Cause’s background memo. Virginia’s election of a Democratic governor, and the partisan majority of its lower House of Delegates still unknown (due to ballots that are still being counted), dampens the nearer-term possibility of reaching 34 states.

    And note how the backers for this are increasingly talking about “sweeping reforms”, which is EXACTLY the kind of situation where something like a libel law change could be snuck in without too much attention because it will just be one of many ‘sweeping reforms’ freaking everyone out. A massive Constitutional overhaul done by and for the billionaires running the GOP is a key element of the far-right’s long-term strategy for maintaining a grip on power, and it’s hard to imagine a few amendments that make it harder to say anything negative about the oligarchy isn’t part of the that strategy:


    The rhetoric from those calling for a federal convention is simplistic, given the stakes, complexity and chaos of the consequences. From the mid-1970s until three or four years ago, the call for a convention was to rein in federal spending via a balanced budget amendment, said Jay Riekenberg, a campaign strategist at Common Cause. But today, proponents are talking about more sweeping reforms, which becomes an open-ended invitation to revise the Constitution to accommodate virtually every right-wing goal that cannot be adopted through state legislatures or Congress.

    “The messaging change we are seeing coming out of the convention of states [the main advocacy group] is forcing the conservatives to talk differently about this,” Riekenberg said. “The convention of states folks talk about how simple this is; this is all about taking back power from Washington.”

    “The conservative movement has basically made this a long-term strategy,” he continued. “They had a lot of momentum between 2011 and maybe Monday night. They need six states… Four are firmly in Republican hands.”

    Virginia and in Minnesota are the likely near-term exceptions, where Democrats either gained power on Tuesday or may do so in 2018. But as far-fetched as an Article 5 convention sounds, the unknowns associated with it should prompt notice. It could be a runaway convention. It could be a bonanza for special interests. There are no certain convention rules laid out in the Constitution or a ratification process. There’s no guarantee participants would be representative of the electorate.

    “The conservative movement has basically made this a long-term strategy…They had a lot of momentum between 2011 and maybe Monday night. They need six states… Four are firmly in Republican hands.”

    28 down, 6 states to go, with 4 of those 6 states firmly in GOP hands. THAT’s the reality when it comes to assessing the feasibility of Trump’s libel law change, along with any other Constitutional change he might fancy.

    So while Trump’s public rambling about changing the libel laws might be the latest shiny object he threw out there for us all to marvel at, it’s the kind of shiny object that could easily become one of the shiny bullets in a hail of bullets the right-wing is getting ready to fire at any of the Constitutional protections the American public has left. It’s a remind that Trump’s seemingly insane ramblings are sometimes relatively sane within the context of our utterly insane political context.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 10, 2018, 4:20 pm
  8. Following the surprise announcement by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy that he would be retiring next month, one of the immediately questions is what exactly motivated Justice Kennedy to make a move that basically becomes his legacy. Especially after he said his reason was to “spend more time with his family,” which is pretty much the default reason given in these situations when you don’t want to give the real reason. And if you’re a member of Supreme Court who voluntarily steps down when someone like Trump is president who is guaranteed to replace you with a far right ideologue, that becomes your legacy.

    So what was it that motivated Anthony Kennedy to choose to hitch his legacy to Trump? Well, as the following article describes, it turns out the Trump family has been cozying up to Kennedy from the beginning of Trump administration and the Trump and Kennedy families actually have a history with each other. Specifically, it turns out that Anthony Kennedy’s son, Justin, spent over a decade at Deutsche Bank and eventually became Deutsche Bank ’s global head of real estate capital markets. And it was during Justin’s time at Deutsch Bank that the bank became the key lender for Trump after US banks started shunning him. Justin also reportedly worked closely with Trump on his real estate projects during his time at Deutsche Bank. That’s right, Anthony Kennedy’s son was basically Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank:

    The New York Times

    Inside the White House’s Quiet Campaign to Create a Supreme Court Opening

    By Adam Liptak and Maggie Haberman
    June 28, 2018

    WASHINGTON — President Trump singled him out for praise even while attacking other members of the Supreme Court. The White House nominated people close to him to important judicial posts. And members of the Trump family forged personal connections.

    Their goal was to assure Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that his judicial legacy would be in good hands should he step down at the end of the court’s term that ended this week, as he was rumored to be considering. Allies of the White House were more blunt, warning the 81-year-old justice that time was of the essence. There was no telling, they said, what would happen if Democrats gained control of the Senate after the November elections and had the power to block the president’s choice as his successor.

    There were no direct efforts to pressure or lobby Justice Kennedy to announce his resignation on Wednesday, and it was hardly the first time a president had done his best to create a court opening. “In the past half-century, presidents have repeatedly been dying to take advantage of timely vacancies,” said Laura Kalman, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    But in subtle and not so subtle ways, the White House waged a quiet campaign to ensure that Mr. Trump had a second opportunity in his administration’s first 18 months to fulfill one of his most important campaign promises to his conservative followers — that he would change the complexion and direction of the Supreme Court.

    When Mr. Trump took office last year, he already had a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, the one created by the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But Mr. Trump dearly wanted a second vacancy, one that could transform the court for a generation or more. So he used the first opening to help create the second one. He picked Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who had served as a law clerk to Justice Kennedy, to fill Justice Scalia’s seat.

    And when Justice Gorsuch took the judicial oath in April 2017 at a Rose Garden ceremony, Justice Kennedy administered it — after Mr. Trump first praised the older justice as “a great man of outstanding accomplishment.”

    “Throughout his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said, “Justice Kennedy has been praised by all for his dedicated and dignified service.”

    That was an overstatement. Justice Kennedy is reviled by many of Mr. Trump’s supporters for voting to uphold access to abortion, limit the death penalty and expand gay rights. Conservatives have called for his impeachment. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, once called Justice Kennedy “the most dangerous man in America.”

    Mr. Trump himself said he wanted to appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion. Justice Kennedy has voted to reaffirm Roe’s core holding. And Mr. Trump has not hesitated to criticize far more conservative members of the Supreme Court, notably Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

    “Justice Roberts turned out to be an absolute disaster, he turned out to be an absolute disaster because he gave us Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said in 2016, presumably referring to Chief Justice Roberts’s votes to sustain President Barack Obama’s health care law.

    Then, after Justice Gorsuch’s nomination was announced, a White House official singled out two candidates for the next Supreme Court vacancy: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati.

    The two judges had something in common: They had both clerked for Justice Kennedy.

    In the meantime, as the White House turned to stocking the lower courts, it did not overlook Justice Kennedy’s clerks. Mr. Trump nominated three of them to federal appeals courts: Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scudder, both of whom have been confirmed, and Eric Murphy, the Ohio solicitor general, whom Mr. Trump nominated to the Sixth Circuit this month.

    One person who knows both men remarked on the affinity between Mr. Trump and Justice Kennedy, which is not obvious at first glance. Justice Kennedy is bookish and abstract, while Mr. Trump is earthy and direct.

    But they had a connection, one Mr. Trump was quick to note in the moments after his first address to Congress in February 2017. As he made his way out of the chamber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the justice.

    “Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.”

    Mr. Trump was apparently referring to Justice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, eventually rising to become the bank’s global head of real estate capital markets, and he worked closely with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer, according to two people with knowledge of his role.

    During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most important lender, dispensing well over $1 billion in loans to him for the renovation and construction of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago at a time other mainstream banks were wary of doing business with him because of his troubled business history.

    About a week before the presidential address, Ivanka Trump had paid a visit to the Supreme Court as a guest of Justice Kennedy. The two had met at a lunch after the inauguration, and Ms. Trump brought along her daughter, Arabella Kushner. Occupying seats reserved for special guests, they saw the justices announce several decisions and hear an oral argument.

    Ms. Trump tweeted about the visit and posted a photo. “Arabella & me at the Supreme Court today,” she wrote. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach her about the judicial system in our country firsthand.”

    If the overtures to Justice Kennedy from the White House were subtle, the warnings from its allies were blunt. Last month, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program to issue an urgent plea..

    “My message to any one of the nine Supreme Court justices,” he said, was, “‘If you’re thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday.’”

    Mr. Grassley said speed was of the essence in light of the midterm elections in November. “If we have a Democrat Senate,” he said, “you’re never going to get the kind of people that are strict constructionists.”

    Intermediaries pressed the point with Justice Kennedy privately, telling him that Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, would in all probability leave after the midterms. Mr. McGahn has been a key architect Mr. Trump’s successful efforts to appoint wave after wave of conservative judges, they said, and his absence would complicate a Supreme Court confirmation.

    There is nothing particularly unusual in urging older justices to retire for partisan reasons. During the Obama administration, prominent liberals called for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire so that Mr. Obama could name her successor.

    Justice Kennedy waited until the last day of the term to announce his retirement. The move disappointed liberals who had hoped that he would not want Mr. Trump to name his successor. But the justice, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family, betrayed no hesitation.

    His departure is a triumph for Mr. Trump, who has taken particular satisfaction in his judicial appointments. Naming justices and judges is easier than forging legislative compromises, and Mr. Trump understands that his judicial appointments represent a legacy that will long outlast his presidency.

    Replacing Justice Scalia with another conservative did not alter the basic ideological balance of the court. But replacing Justice Kennedy, who for decades held the decisive vote in many of the court’s closely divided cases, would give Mr. Trump the opportunity to move the court sharply to the right.

    Justice Kennedy visited the White House on Wednesday to tell Mr. Trump of his retirement and to deliver a letter setting out the details. Its warm opening words — “My dear Mr. President” — acknowledged a cordial relationship between the two men, as well as the success of the White House’s strategy.

    ———-

    “Inside the White House’s Quiet Campaign to Create a Supreme Court Opening” by Adam Liptak and Maggie Haberman; The New York Times; 06/28/2018

    “Their goal was to assure Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that his judicial legacy would be in good hands should he step down at the end of the court’s term that ended this week, as he was rumored to be considering. Allies of the White House were more blunt, warning the 81-year-old justice that time was of the essence. There was no telling, they said, what would happen if Democrats gained control of the Senate after the November elections and had the power to block the president’s choice as his successor.”

    Yep, convincing Justice Kennedy to step down has apparently been a Trump project from the very beginning of the Trump administration:


    There were no direct efforts to pressure or lobby Justice Kennedy to announce his resignation on Wednesday, and it was hardly the first time a president had done his best to create a court opening. “In the past half-century, presidents have repeatedly been dying to take advantage of timely vacancies,” said Laura Kalman, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    But in subtle and not so subtle ways, the White House waged a quiet campaign to ensure that Mr. Trump had a second opportunity in his administration’s first 18 months to fulfill one of his most important campaign promises to his conservative followers — that he would change the complexion and direction of the Supreme Court.

    When Mr. Trump took office last year, he already had a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, the one created by the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But Mr. Trump dearly wanted a second vacancy, one that could transform the court for a generation or more. So he used the first opening to help create the second one. He picked Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who had served as a law clerk to Justice Kennedy, to fill Justice Scalia’s seat.

    And when Justice Gorsuch took the judicial oath in April 2017 at a Rose Garden ceremony, Justice Kennedy administered it — after Mr. Trump first praised the older justice as “a great man of outstanding accomplishment.”

    “Throughout his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said, “Justice Kennedy has been praised by all for his dedicated and dignified service.”

    The lobbying even started before the Trump administration, with Ivanka Trump visiting the Supreme Court as a guest of Justice Kennedy a week before Trump’s inauguration:


    About a week before the presidential address, Ivanka Trump had paid a visit to the Supreme Court as a guest of Justice Kennedy. The two had met at a lunch after the inauguration, and Ms. Trump brought along her daughter, Arabella Kushner. Occupying seats reserved for special guests, they saw the justices announce several decisions and hear an oral argument.

    Ms. Trump tweeted about the visit and posted a photo. “Arabella & me at the Supreme Court today,” she wrote. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach her about the judicial system in our country firsthand.”

    The lobbying also included choosing people who had clerked for Justice Kennedy for federal court positions, as well as two of the people on Trump’s list of candidates to replace Kennedy on the Supreme Court:


    Then, after Justice Gorsuch’s nomination was announced, a White House official singled out two candidates for the next Supreme Court vacancy: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati.

    The two judges had something in common: They had both clerked for Justice Kennedy.

    In the meantime, as the White House turned to stocking the lower courts, it did not overlook Justice Kennedy’s clerks. Mr. Trump nominated three of them to federal appeals courts: Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scudder, both of whom have been confirmed, and Eric Murphy, the Ohio solicitor general, whom Mr. Trump nominated to the Sixth Circuit this month.

    But perhaps the most significant source of the Trump family’s influence with Justice Kennedy comes from the fact that Kennedy’s son, Justin Kennedy, was Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank:


    One person who knows both men remarked on the affinity between Mr. Trump and Justice Kennedy, which is not obvious at first glance. Justice Kennedy is bookish and abstract, while Mr. Trump is earthy and direct.

    But they had a connection, one Mr. Trump was quick to note in the moments after his first address to Congress in February 2017. As he made his way out of the chamber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the justice.

    “Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.”

    Mr. Trump was apparently referring to Justice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, eventually rising to become the bank’s global head of real estate capital markets, and he worked closely with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer, according to two people with knowledge of his role.

    During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most important lender, dispensing well over $1 billion in loans to him for the renovation and construction of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago at a time other mainstream banks were wary of doing business with him because of his troubled business history.

    “Say hello to your boy…Special guy.”

    Yeah, Justin Kennedy is indeed a “special guy”. He was apparently Trump’s banker, or at least “worked closely” with Trump. That’s ‘special’, in its own way.

    But that’s not the only financial tie between Justin Kennedy and the Trump clan. After Kennedy left Deutsche Bank in 2009 he went on to become co-CEO LNR Property LLC. And it turns out that LNR Property saved Jared Kushner’s 666 Fifth Avenue property back in 2011:

    Medium

    The Kennedy, Kushner, and Trump Connection: A Curious Conversation and A Business Deal

    by C’Zar Bernstein & Gabe Rusk
    Oxford University
    March 1st, 2017

    A few moments after his first address to Congress on February 28th, President Donald J. Trump left the podium and began to work the crowd as he left the House Chamber. The President made his way to the five members of the United States Supreme Court in attendance. Seated by seniority, Trump began with Justice Kagan on the right and eventually made his way to Justice Anthony Kennedy. A curious and concise conversation took place between the two. To the best of our abilities, here is a transcript of the conversation picked up on camera:

    Kennedy: [Inaudible]

    Trump: Very nice, thank you, and coming from you. And say hello to your boy. Special guy.

    Kennedy: Your kids have been very nice to him.

    Trump: Well, they love him and they love him in New York. He’s a great guy. (Pointing to Chief Justice Roberts) Good swearing-in. You’ve got a good guy.

    [Link to video.. Readers can listen for themselves at 5:15 remaining]

    Quickly after the twenty-second exchange was caught via CSPAN a few #appellatetwitter detectives began to speculate what relationships Kennedy’s children and Trump’s might have. Was this a “colloquial” back and forth or was there more of a history between the two families? This was not the first time that Justice Kennedy and the Trumps had interacted. Just last week at the invitation of Justice Kennedy, Donald Trump’s daughter and former businesswoman Ivanka Trump visited the High Court with her daughter to attend a Supreme Court argument. According to reports, Kennedy and Ivanka had met at the congressional lunch after the inauguration. Once again many in the community were intrigued at the gesture and speculated that the move might have an underlying meaning beyond mere kindness. Virtually everyone agreed that the latter was sure to be true. A simple answer to a simple question. Last night’s brief exchange between Kennedy and POTUS reignited those conversations. This time we discovered that there is more to the story: There may be a Kennedy, Kushner, and Trump business connection.

    Justice Kennedy has two very successful sons in their own right, Gregory and Justin Kennedy. Gregory Kennedy, a Stanford Law graduate (a Stanford man like his father), was named CEO of Disruptive Technology Advisers in October of 2016. According to his LinkedIn page: Disruptive Technology Advisors is a “Los Angeles based merchant bank with an exclusive focus on mid to late stage growth companies.” While Gregory Kennedy is likely based out of New York City, at first glance, there is no public, professional, or personal connection between him or his company and any of the Trumps or their holdings. The same might not be said of his brother Justin.

    Justin Kennedy, a graduate of UCLA and Stanford(again like his father), has spent his career in the world of banking, investment, and, interestingly, real estate. In particular, from 2010–2013 Justin Kennedy was the co-CEO of LNR Property LLC with Tobin Cobb. In the world of high-stakes NYC real estate it would be fairly improbable that the Trump or Kushner groups, monoliths in their own right, would not have mingled or done business with the LNR at some point in time. We were not surprised, therefore, to discover that there is a likely connection. Here’s what we know:

    According the New York Times, in 2007 Kushner Companies purchased “an aluminum-clad office tower in Midtown Manhattan, for a record price of $1.8 billion.” At the time the NYT wrote that this deal was “considered a classic example of reckless underwriting. The transaction was so highly leveraged that the cash flow from rents amounted to only 65 percent of the debt service.” The Times continues:

    “As many real estate specialists predicted, the deal ran into trouble. Instead of rising, rents declined as the recession took hold, and new leases were scarce. In 2010, the loan was transferred to a special servicer on the assumption that a default would occur once reserve funds being used to subsidize the shortfall were bled dry. But the story may yet have a happy ending for Kushner, a family-owned business that moved its headquarters from Florham Park, N.J., to 666 Fifth, its first major acquisition in Manhattan.”

    Who came to the rescue? None other than LNR Property, the company whose CEO at the time was Justin Kennedy. According to the NYT and the Real Deal, Mr. Kushner and LNR “reached a possible agreement with LNR Property, a firm specializing in restructuring troubled debt and which oversees the mortgage, that would allow him to retain control of the tower by modifying the terms of the $1.2 billion mortgage tied to the office portion of the building.” A spokesman for Mr. Kushner told the Wall Street Journal in March of 2011 that “[t]he Kushner’s are ready and willing to invest more money into the property as soon as they can come to mutually satisfactory terms with the servicing agent.” In that same article Kushner’s father-in-law and the future President commented on the negotiations with Justin Kennedy’s company. Speaking about the deal, Trump told the WSJ that Kushner is “a very smart young man…I think it (loan renegotiations) will come out well for him and everybody.” At this point there is no doubt that there was a direct business relationship between LNR and Kushner Companies at the time Justin Kennedy and Jared Kushner were both CEO. Even the future President was aware of the deal and commented on its respective merits. (That being said, it is not impossible that Jared Kushner and Justin Kennedy did not meet in connection with the specific deal in question; however, given the stakes involved it does seem more than likely that the two CEO’s would have interacted as negotiations were being conducted.)

    The connections between Kushner, Kennedy, and Trump do not end there. Coincidentally, in 2011, the year in which some of these negotiations took place, Justin Kennedy for the first time was ranked on the New York Observer’s 100 Most Powerful People in New York Real Estate at #36. Donald Trump clocked in at #12. The New York Observer was owned at the time by none other than Jared Kushner himself.

    All of this is to say there is a possible web of personal and professional relationships between the Trump family and the Kennedy family. To our knowledge, Justin Kennedy has never donated to the Trump campaign, but we know that he is often a loyal Republican donor like his brother Gregory. According to FEC disclosures, Justin Kennedy has donated generously to the presidential campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio. Trump, to our knowledge, is noticeably absent. Despite the fact that we found no obvious public political support by Justin Kennedy for the President, there are questions left for us to answer. The Justices and their families are now often under strict public scrutiny in terms of how they might influence politics outside of the High Court. Just this month Justice Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas faced backlash for apparent political organizing on behalf of the President. During the campaign, Justice Ginsburg’s fervent negative comments about then-candidate Trump were perceived as partisan and unacceptable by journalist, jurist, and politician alike. The actions of the Justices and their respective families remain important balancing tests for the public in terms of the relationship between the Court and the rest of government. What does this potential and curious connection mean for that conversation?

    The ostensible relationship between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Kennedy would explain the exchange between President Trump and Justice Kennedy. It would, for example, explain why, in the words of the President, ‘they love him.’ It would also further explain why Justice Kennedy invited Ivanka Trump to the Supreme Court. After all, Justice Kennedy himself acknowledged that the President’s ‘kids have been very nice’ to his son. Obviously, therefore, there is some kind of friendly relationship. Questions abound. We know what the Justice’s son may have done for Mr. Kushner, but what did the President’s children do for Justin Kennedy? How have they been nice to him? Evidently Justice Kennedy knows, and this may have had an impact on his opinion of the Trumps in general and the President in particular. This is perhaps a significant cause of concern for those who hope that Justice Kennedy will try and hold out until after Trump is replaced by a Democrat. Time will tell.

    ———-

    “The Kennedy, Kushner, and Trump Connection: A Curious Conversation and A Business Deal” by C’Zar Bernstein & Gabe Rusk; Medium; 03/01/2017

    “Justin Kennedy, a graduate of UCLA and Stanford(again like his father), has spent his career in the world of banking, investment, and, interestingly, real estate. In particular, from 2010–2013 Justin Kennedy was the co-CEO of LNR Property LLC with Tobin Cobb. In the world of high-stakes NYC real estate it would be fairly improbable that the Trump or Kushner groups, monoliths in their own right, would not have mingled or done business with the LNR at some point in time. We were not surprised, therefore, to discover that there is a likely connection. Here’s what we know:”

    Yep, not only was Justin Kennedy Trump’s lead banker at Deutsche Bank, but he went on to basically save Jared Kushner in 2011 when LNR property came to the rescue of Kushner’s troubled 666 Fifth Avenue property. And Justin Kennedy just happened to be CEO of LNR at the time:


    According the New York Times, in 2007 Kushner Companies purchased “an aluminum-clad office tower in Midtown Manhattan, for a record price of $1.8 billion.” At the time the NYT wrote that this deal was “considered a classic example of reckless underwriting. The transaction was so highly leveraged that the cash flow from rents amounted to only 65 percent of the debt service.” The Times continues:

    “As many real estate specialists predicted, the deal ran into trouble. Instead of rising, rents declined as the recession took hold, and new leases were scarce. In 2010, the loan was transferred to a special servicer on the assumption that a default would occur once reserve funds being used to subsidize the shortfall were bled dry. But the story may yet have a happy ending for Kushner, a family-owned business that moved its headquarters from Florham Park, N.J., to 666 Fifth, its first major acquisition in Manhattan.”

    Who came to the rescue? None other than LNR Property, the company whose CEO at the time was Justin Kennedy. According to the NYT and the Real Deal, Mr. Kushner and LNR “reached a possible agreement with LNR Property, a firm specializing in restructuring troubled debt and which oversees the mortgage, that would allow him to retain control of the tower by modifying the terms of the $1.2 billion mortgage tied to the office portion of the building.” A spokesman for Mr. Kushner told the Wall Street Journal in March of 2011 that “[t]he Kushner’s are ready and willing to invest more money into the property as soon as they can come to mutually satisfactory terms with the servicing agent.” In that same article Kushner’s father-in-law and the future President commented on the negotiations with Justin Kennedy’s company. Speaking about the deal, Trump told the WSJ that Kushner is “a very smart young man…I think it (loan renegotiations) will come out well for him and everybody.” At this point there is no doubt that there was a direct business relationship between LNR and Kushner Companies at the time Justin Kennedy and Jared Kushner were both CEO. Even the future President was aware of the deal and commented on its respective merits. (That being said, it is not impossible that Jared Kushner and Justin Kennedy did not meet in connection with the specific deal in question; however, given the stakes involved it does seem more than likely that the two CEO’s would have interacted as negotiations were being conducted.)

    And that is going to be Justice Kennedy’s ultimate legacy: bailing out the Trump clan. Or at least that should be his legacy since whatever good he did on the court is about to get wiped out by his replacement.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 29, 2018, 2:41 pm
  9. This is one of those ‘birds of feather’ kinds of stories: It turns out Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, might actually have a more scandalous history of grifting employees and business partners than President Trump. Maybe. That’s a tough competition. Still, whether or not Ross is bigger grifter than Trump, the fact that we even have to wonder is an indication that the US commerce secretary is a world class grifter:

    Forbes

    New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting

    Dan Alexander
    Forbes Staff
    Aug 7, 2018, 06:00am

    A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been quietly making its way through the New York State court system over the last three years, pitting a private equity manager named David Storper against his former boss: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, eventually at the firm, WL Ross & Co.—where, Storper later alleged, Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a trial with $4 million on the line, Ross and Storper agreed to a confidential settlement, whose existence has never been reported and whose terms remain secret.

    It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet’N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales “petty nonsense,” and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.

    There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

    Not that he sees himself that way. “The SEC has never initiated any enforcement action against me,” Ross said in a statement, failing to mention the $2.3 million fine it levied against his firm in 2016. The commerce secretary also noted that one lawsuit against him got dismissed, without saying it is currently going through the appeals process. Ross confirmed settling two other cases, including the recent one against Storper, but declined to offer additional details.

    Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: “He’s a pathological liar.”

    Wilbur Ross figured out at some point that money, or the aura of it, translates into power. Forbes has previously documented how Ross seemingly lied to us, over many years, launching himself onto, and then higher on, our billionaire rankings, at one point even lying about an apparent multibillion-dollar transfer to family members to explain why his financial disclosure report showed fewer assets than he claimed. “What I don’t want,” Ross said, “is for people to suddenly think that I’ve lost a lot of money when it’s not true.”

    From Ross’ vantage point, Trump offered the perfect exit. The future cabinet secretary’s private equity funds were underperforming—one on track to lose 26% of its initial value and another two dribbling out mediocre returns—and the accusations were starting to pile up. Roughly two months before the 2016 presidential election, the SEC announced WL Ross was paying a fine and refunding $11.9 million it allegedly skimmed from its investors, including interest. The scheme was complex. Like other private equity firms—including several that coughed up money to the SEC around the same time—WL Ross derived much of its revenue from management fees charged to its investors. With funds as large as $4.1 billion, management fees of 1.5% could alone bring in more than $60 million a year for Ross’ firm—serious money.

    But WL Ross promised that it would give its investors something like a rebate. For example, when Ross and his colleagues got certain fees for working on deals, they were supposed to give at least 50% of that money back to investors. But, according to SEC investigators, the firm gave back less than it suggested it would and pocketed the difference, leading the feds to conclude Ross’ firm broke laws that prohibit defrauding and misleading clients. WL Ross paid the big settlement but never admitted guilt.

    According to the feds, WL Ross charged some of those inappropriate fees in the years before the commerce secretary sold his firm to Invesco for $100 million up front and the possibility of another $275 million down the road. That meant that when Ross cashed out, he presumably did so at bigger valuation than he deserved. In a statement, Ross suggested that Invesco never clawed any of that money back. “The terms of the sale of my business in 2006 remain unchanged,” he said. Invesco declined to comment.

    There is more to the story. According to five former WL Ross employees and investors, the firm was also charging its investors on money that it had lost. Here’s how it worked: If WL Ross made an investment of, say, $100 million that declined dramatically, in the final years of the fund the firm was supposed to charge management fees on the actual value of the investment, not the $100 million starting point. However, WL Ross allegedly continued collecting fees on the amount invested, taking more than it deserved. WL Ross was allegedly even charging fees on one investment that was essentially worthless. When approached about the discrepancy, Wilbur Ross initially insisted his firm was calculating the fees correctly, according to someone familiar with those discussions. “There are all sorts of fee issues,” says an investor, “but it was just the most egregious that I’ve seen.”

    Ross also allegedly skimmed money by serving on corporate boards of his firm’s portfolio companies. Again, the rule was that a portion of the fees that WL Ross employees got for serving on such boards was essentially supposed to be handed back to investors as rebates. Instead, Ross’ firm did not give back enough, according to ex-colleagues. Ross “was like a kid in a candy store,” says one of his former employees. “He pilfered it.”

    Ross is now attempting to distance himself from the management fee issues. “No regulatory agency has ever asserted such charges or any other charges against me and there is no basis for any such allegations,” he said in a statement.

    Eight former employees and investors, however, said Ross presumably knew about the issues. And former WL Ross employees add that the costs were far greater than the $14.2 million announced by the Securities & Exchange Commission. A 2015 annual report for Invesco, WL Ross’ parent company, disclosed that the company had paid another $43 million over the last two years in reimbursements and regulatory expenses connected to its private equity business. Secretary Ross has largely avoided scrutiny around those payments because the report does not explicitly tie them to his former firm. Four former employees who worked there, however, told Forbes the $43 million was connected to WL Ross.

    With the investors’ claims apparently behind him, Ross now faces a lineup of allegations from his former colleagues, who say he robbed them of money as well. Such accusations are nothing new for Ross. In 2005, former WL Ross vice chairman Peter Lusk sued the future commerce secretary for $20 million, ultimately alleging that he had tried to cut him out of his interests. The executives reached a settlement in 2007, which former WL Ross employees say cost roughly $10 million. Asked to comment on the suit, Ross responded, “The Lusk case ended with mutual confidentiality requirements.”

    Three years ago, Storper launched what became a $4 million lawsuit against both his former employer, WL Ross, and former boss, the commerce secretary, alleging that Ross stole his interests. Attorneys for Ross admitted in court filings that one of his companies took Storper’s interest and reallocated part of it to the commerce secretary. But Ross’ lawyers also insisted all of that was allowed under internal agreements. “Simply put,” they wrote, “this lawsuit is a personal vendetta against Mr. Ross.” After a judge rejected attempts to prevent the case from going to trial, just days before the jury selections the two sides agreed to settle.

    What makes it all more than a typical “he-said, she-said” dispute is the number of similar complaints against Ross. A third former WL Ross employee, Joseph Mullin, filed a $3.6 million lawsuit in December 2016, saying WL Ross funds “looted” his interests “for the personal benefit of Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.—and attempted to conceal their misconduct through opaque and misleading tax statements and disclosures.” A New York State court dismissed that case in February on technical grounds, saying Mullin, who left WL Ross in 2007, waited too long to file it. He is now appealing.

    Storper and two other former high-ranking executives at WL Ross filed yet another lawsuit against the commerce secretary in November, alleging that he and his firm charged at least $48 million of improper fees, then pocketed the money. It was a slow siphoning rather than a one-time heist, according to the lawsuit. Private equity firms typically collect management fees—those 1.5% charges—only from their outside clients. But the lawsuit alleges that Ross and his firm seemingly charged current and former company executives as well. It would be like a restaurant owner telling his employees that they can eat for free—while taking the meal money out of their paychecks. In a statement to Forbes, Ross called the case “without merit.” He moved to dismiss it in February, but the suit remains active.

    A look at old versions of WL Ross’ website reveal the magnitude of the turmoil. Of the top seven firm leaders listed on the 2006 website, none of them have the same roles today. Ross is now leading the commerce department, Wendy Teramoto serves as his chief of staff and Stephen Toy is the new co-head of WL Ross. Meanwhile, the majority—consisting of Storper, Mullin, David Wax and Pamela Wilson—are all actively waging legal battles against their former boss, Wilbur Ross.

    In a presidential cabinet plagued by ethical problems, it can be easy to forget about Wilbur Ross. Most of the attention tends to center around obvious abuses, like Scott Pruitt getting a $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office or Tom Price wasting $341,000 on jet travel. But while Ross’ antics are more complicated, they involve far more money.

    On November 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn document, attesting that he had divested all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The commerce secretary in fact still owned somewhere between $10 and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month later, banking at least $1.2 million more than he would have if he sold in May, when he initially promised to divest. By falsely claiming he gotten rid of the shares earlier, Ross also put himself in legal jeopardy, since it is a crime to lie to federal officials. Representatives for Ross, a sophisticated investor, claimed the commerce secretary did not lie but instead failed to realize he owned the shares.

    Ross also said he did not know he had a $73,000 stake in a company named Air Lease, which he finally sold in June—more than a year after he promised he would. And he admitted to shorting stock of Sun Bancorp, saying he hoped to cancel out an interest he mistakenly thought he owned but in fact did not. “For any head of any private equity firm that I know of, including like [Carlyle’s David] Rubenstein or [Blackstone’s Stephen] Schwarzman—these guys know what they own. It’s their whole business. It’s their whole life,” says an investor in WL Ross’ funds, terming the commerce secretary’s explanation “ridiculous.”

    A top official in the federal Office of Government Ethics scolded Ross in a letter last month, saying that his failure to divest corroded public trust. According to the letter, another ethics official searched Ross’ calendars to see if the commerce secretary broke the law by taking actions to benefit his personal holdings, finding no evidence that he had. One day later, however, Forbes revealed that Ross had previously dined, in the White House, with the CEO of a business in which the commerce secretary secretly held an interest. After the report, Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, asked the inspector general of the Commerce Department to take a second look.

    Thune is not the only senator making noise about Ross’ finances. In June, two senators and a congressman asked the Securities & Exchange Commission to launch an insider trading investigation of Ross, based on revelations that Ross shorted at least $100,000 in Putin-linked Navigator Holdings, soon after being told about a forthcoming exposé on his connection to the company. The minuscule scale—the trade seemingly bolstered Ross’ wallet by $3,000 to $10,000—makes the blunder that much more vexing.

    Fourteen Democratic Congressmen have also called on the inspector general to investigate Ross’ potential conflicts of interest. After assuring senators during his confirmation hearing that he would be overly cautious on ethical matters, Ross spent the majority of his first year in office as a business partner to the Chinese government, while he negotiated U.S.-China trade relations. He also waited to get rid of a stake in a Cypriot bank reportedly tied up in the Robert Mueller investigation. And he took months to divest an interest in a foreign car parts manufacturer whose industry he is now investigating.

    The central matter in all of Ross’ legal issues is his own credibility. “Lying on an ethics disclosure form, to Congressional and Senate committees, and falsely reporting compliance with an ethics plan, is neither ‘commonplace’ nor part of the accepted rough-and-tumble world of politics,” David Storper, Ross’ former right-hand man, argued in a court filing. “They are just lies.” Adds another onetime colleague: “This is a public servant who can’t tell the truth.”

    ———-

    “New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting” by Dan Alexander; Forbes; 08/07/2018

    “It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet’N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales “petty nonsense,” and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.”

    Yes, it’s difficult to imagine the possibility that a man as wealthy as Wilbur Ross would be accused by so many people of scamming them. Unless you’ve heard enough stories about Ross. Or Donald Trump. Or any of the other wealthy grifters associated with with Trump administration who seem to lack the ability to not try to extract as much wealth was possible from everyone around them at every opportunity (Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, etc). After you’ve heard the many other stories about this administration’s grifters, the story of Wilbur Ross becomes not just believable but to be expected at this point.

    Although, even by Trump team standards, the story of Ross is a doozy:

    There’s the accusations by David Storper, a private equity manager who used to work for Ross, that Ross stole Storper’s interest in the private equity fund for himself. An accusation that was quietly settle with a confidentiality settlement a couple of weeks ago. and that was just one of the many accusations discovered by Forbes that puts the total grift at somewhere around $120 million:


    A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been quietly making its way through the New York State court system over the last three years, pitting a private equity manager named David Storper against his former boss: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, eventually at the firm, WL Ross & Co.—where, Storper later alleged, Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a trial with $4 million on the line, Ross and Storper agreed to a confidential settlement, whose existence has never been reported and whose terms remain secret.

    There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

    Not that he sees himself that way. “The SEC has never initiated any enforcement action against me,” Ross said in a statement, failing to mention the $2.3 million fine it levied against his firm in 2016. The commerce secretary also noted that one lawsuit against him got dismissed, without saying it is currently going through the appeals process. Ross confirmed settling two other cases, including the recent one against Storper, but declined to offer additional details.

    Forbes also discovered that the many people they interviewed who have worked with Ross consider him to be a a man obsessed with money and with only a loose relationship to facts. This is both totally unsurprising given the array of accusations against him, and thematically appropriate given who Ross currently works for:


    Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: “He’s a pathological liar.”

    Wilbur Ross figured out at some point that money, or the aura of it, translates into power. Forbes has previously documented how Ross seemingly lied to us, over many years, launching himself onto, and then higher on, our billionaire rankings, at one point even lying about an apparent multibillion-dollar transfer to family members to explain why his financial disclosure report showed fewer assets than he claimed. “What I don’t want,” Ross said, “is for people to suddenly think that I’ve lost a lot of money when it’s not true.”

    But in addition to scamming his co-workers, there’s also all the investors he apparently scammed. In fact, it was just two months before Trump’s election that Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Ross’s company, WL Ross, had to pay a fine and refund $11.9 million it allegedly skimmed from investors. And because some of this scamming happened before Ross sold his firm to Invesco and the scamming made WL Ross look more profitable than it actually was, this scam of the WL Ross investors doubled as a scam against Invesco. It’s productivity from the grifter perspective:


    From Ross’ vantage point, Trump offered the perfect exit. The future cabinet secretary’s private equity funds were underperforming—one on track to lose 26% of its initial value and another two dribbling out mediocre returns—and the accusations were starting to pile up. Roughly two months before the 2016 presidential election, the SEC announced WL Ross was paying a fine and refunding $11.9 million it allegedly skimmed from its investors, including interest. The scheme was complex. Like other private equity firms—including several that coughed up money to the SEC around the same time—WL Ross derived much of its revenue from management fees charged to its investors. With funds as large as $4.1 billion, management fees of 1.5% could alone bring in more than $60 million a year for Ross’ firm—serious money.

    But WL Ross promised that it would give its investors something like a rebate. For example, when Ross and his colleagues got certain fees for working on deals, they were supposed to give at least 50% of that money back to investors. But, according to SEC investigators, the firm gave back less than it suggested it would and pocketed the difference, leading the feds to conclude Ross’ firm broke laws that prohibit defrauding and misleading clients. WL Ross paid the big settlement but never admitted guilt.

    According to the feds, WL Ross charged some of those inappropriate fees in the years before the commerce secretary sold his firm to Invesco for $100 million up front and the possibility of another $275 million down the road. That meant that when Ross cashed out, he presumably did so at bigger valuation than he deserved. In a statement, Ross suggested that Invesco never clawed any of that money back. “The terms of the sale of my business in 2006 remain unchanged,” he said. Invesco declined to comment.

    Beyond that, WL Ross was apparently charging its investors on money that it lost due to bad investments:


    There is more to the story. According to five former WL Ross employees and investors, the firm was also charging its investors on money that it had lost. Here’s how it worked: If WL Ross made an investment of, say, $100 million that declined dramatically, in the final years of the fund the firm was supposed to charge management fees on the actual value of the investment, not the $100 million starting point. However, WL Ross allegedly continued collecting fees on the amount invested, taking more than it deserved. WL Ross was allegedly even charging fees on one investment that was essentially worthless. When approached about the discrepancy, Wilbur Ross initially insisted his firm was calculating the fees correctly, according to someone familiar with those discussions. “There are all sorts of fee issues,” says an investor, “but it was just the most egregious that I’ve seen.”

    Then Ross neglected to refund the portion of his management fees that he was supposed to give back to investors from the money he earned while serving on the corporate boards of WL Ross’s portfolio companies:


    Ross also allegedly skimmed money by serving on corporate boards of his firm’s portfolio companies. Again, the rule was that a portion of the fees that WL Ross employees got for serving on such boards was essentially supposed to be handed back to investors as rebates. Instead, Ross’ firm did not give back enough, according to ex-colleagues. Ross “was like a kid in a candy store,” says one of his former employees. “He pilfered it.”

    Ross is now attempting to distance himself from the management fee issues. “No regulatory agency has ever asserted such charges or any other charges against me and there is no basis for any such allegations,” he said in a statement.

    Eight former employees and investors, however, said Ross presumably knew about the issues. And former WL Ross employees add that the costs were far greater than the $14.2 million announced by the Securities & Exchange Commission. A 2015 annual report for Invesco, WL Ross’ parent company, disclosed that the company had paid another $43 million over the last two years in reimbursements and regulatory expenses connected to its private equity business. Secretary Ross has largely avoided scrutiny around those payments because the report does not explicitly tie them to his former firm. Four former employees who worked there, however, told Forbes the $43 million was connected to WL Ross.

    And then there’s the rest of the allegations by his former colleagues: There’s former WL Ross vice chairman Peter Lusk who sued Ross after alleging Ross tried to cut him out of his interests in addition to the lawsuit by Storper who also alleges Ross stole his interests:


    With the investors’ claims apparently behind him, Ross now faces a lineup of allegations from his former colleagues, who say he robbed them of money as well. Such accusations are nothing new for Ross. In 2005, former WL Ross vice chairman Peter Lusk sued the future commerce secretary for $20 million, ultimately alleging that he had tried to cut him out of his interests. The executives reached a settlement in 2007, which former WL Ross employees say cost roughly $10 million. Asked to comment on the suit, Ross responded, “The Lusk case ended with mutual confidentiality requirements.”

    Three years ago, Storper launched what became a $4 million lawsuit against both his former employer, WL Ross, and former boss, the commerce secretary, alleging that Ross stole his interests. Attorneys for Ross admitted in court filings that one of his companies took Storper’s interest and reallocated part of it to the commerce secretary. But Ross’ lawyers also insisted all of that was allowed under internal agreements. “Simply put,” they wrote, “this lawsuit is a personal vendetta against Mr. Ross.” After a judge rejected attempts to prevent the case from going to trial, just days before the jury selections the two sides agreed to settle.

    What makes it all more than a typical “he-said, she-said” dispute is the number of similar complaints against Ross. A third former WL Ross employee, Joseph Mullin, filed a $3.6 million lawsuit in December 2016, saying WL Ross funds “looted” his interests “for the personal benefit of Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.—and attempted to conceal their misconduct through opaque and misleading tax statements and disclosures.” A New York State court dismissed that case in February on technical grounds, saying Mullin, who left WL Ross in 2007, waited too long to file it. He is now appealing.

    And those are just two of the many former colleagues waging legal battles against Ross:


    Storper and two other former high-ranking executives at WL Ross filed yet another lawsuit against the commerce secretary in November, alleging that he and his firm charged at least $48 million of improper fees, then pocketed the money. It was a slow siphoning rather than a one-time heist, according to the lawsuit. Private equity firms typically collect management fees—those 1.5% charges—only from their outside clients. But the lawsuit alleges that Ross and his firm seemingly charged current and former company executives as well. It would be like a restaurant owner telling his employees that they can eat for free—while taking the meal money out of their paychecks. In a statement to Forbes, Ross called the case “without merit.” He moved to dismiss it in February, but the suit remains active.

    A look at old versions of WL Ross’ website reveal the magnitude of the turmoil. Of the top seven firm leaders listed on the 2006 website, none of them have the same roles today. Ross is now leading the commerce department, Wendy Teramoto serves as his chief of staff and Stephen Toy is the new co-head of WL Ross. Meanwhile, the majority—consisting of Storper, Mullin, David Wax and Pamela Wilson—are all actively waging legal battles against their former boss, Wilbur Ross.

    Oh, and then there’s all the grifting he did after become commerce secretary. Like promising he was divest assets and not doing it:


    In a presidential cabinet plagued by ethical problems, it can be easy to forget about Wilbur Ross. Most of the attention tends to center around obvious abuses, like Scott Pruitt getting a $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office or Tom Price wasting $341,000 on jet travel. But while Ross’ antics are more complicated, they involve far more money.

    On November 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn document, attesting that he had divested all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The commerce secretary in fact still owned somewhere between $10 and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month later, banking at least $1.2 million more than he would have if he sold in May, when he initially promised to divest. By falsely claiming he gotten rid of the shares earlier, Ross also put himself in legal jeopardy, since it is a crime to lie to federal officials. Representatives for Ross, a sophisticated investor, claimed the commerce secretary did not lie but instead failed to realize he owned the shares.

    Ross also said he did not know he had a $73,000 stake in a company named Air Lease, which he finally sold in June—more than a year after he promised he would. And he admitted to shorting stock of Sun Bancorp, saying he hoped to cancel out an interest he mistakenly thought he owned but in fact did not. “For any head of any private equity firm that I know of, including like [Carlyle’s David] Rubenstein or [Blackstone’s Stephen] Schwarzman—these guys know what they own. It’s their whole business. It’s their whole life,” says an investor in WL Ross’ funds, terming the commerce secretary’s explanation “ridiculous.”

    A top official in the federal Office of Government Ethics scolded Ross in a letter last month, saying that his failure to divest corroded public trust. According to the letter, another ethics official searched Ross’ calendars to see if the commerce secretary broke the law by taking actions to benefit his personal holdings, finding no evidence that he had. One day later, however, Forbes revealed that Ross had previously dined, in the White House, with the CEO of a business in which the commerce secretary secretly held an interest. After the report, Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, asked the inspector general of the Commerce Department to take a second look.

    Thune is not the only senator making noise about Ross’ finances. In June, two senators and a congressman asked the Securities & Exchange Commission to launch an insider trading investigation of Ross, based on revelations that Ross shorted at least $100,000 in Putin-linked Navigator Holdings, soon after being told about a forthcoming exposé on his connection to the company. The minuscule scale—the trade seemingly bolstered Ross’ wallet by $3,000 to $10,000—makes the blunder that much more vexing.

    And then there’s the fact that Ross remained a business partner of the Chinese government while he negotiated US-China trade relations:


    Fourteen Democratic Congressmen have also called on the inspector general to investigate Ross’ potential conflicts of interest. After assuring senators during his confirmation hearing that he would be overly cautious on ethical matters, Ross spent the majority of his first year in office as a business partner to the Chinese government, while he negotiated U.S.-China trade relations. He also waited to get rid of a stake in a Cypriot bank reportedly tied up in the Robert Mueller investigation. And he took months to divest an interest in a foreign car parts manufacturer whose industry he is now investigating.

    The central matter in all of Ross’ legal issues is his own credibility. “Lying on an ethics disclosure form, to Congressional and Senate committees, and falsely reporting compliance with an ethics plan, is neither ‘commonplace’ nor part of the accepted rough-and-tumble world of politics,” David Storper, Ross’ former right-hand man, argued in a court filing. “They are just lies.” Adds another onetime colleague: “This is a public servant who can’t tell the truth.”

    “This is a public servant who can’t tell the truth.”

    Yep, this is a public servant who can’t tell the truth and can’t stop grifting everyone around him acting as the commerce secretary for a boss who can’t tell the truth and can’t stop grifting everyone around him. It would be the perfect position for Ross if, like so many grifters assume, life is just a joke and a race to grab as much as you can and nothing actually matters.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 8, 2018, 2:56 pm

Post a comment