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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be Angry at the Sun” by Robinson Jeffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another interesting, close associate of Donald Trump was Felix 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

6 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

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