From Russia with Donald Trump

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As of 2018, we don’t know whether the Trump campaign willingly colluded with Russia in its efforts to undermine the 2016 election. But we do know that Russia hacked into DNC emails and spread fake news propaganda on social networks to help Donald Trump. We know the Russians wanted Trump to win and did whatever they could to accomplish that. We know the Trump campaign was at least okay with the Russian hacking and efforts. Hell, one Trump campaign official even drunkenly bragged about the Russians hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails. And we know that several Trumpworld figures have corresponded with Russian hackers, Russian oligarchs, and people with ties to the Russian government. Furthermore, Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speeches, even when he’s every opportunity to criticize the Kremlin dictator. Though collusion hasn’t been proven, what we do know of Trumpworld’s connections with Russia gives us a reasonable case for Robert Mueller to investigate.

On November 9, 2016, just a minutes after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, a man named Vyacheslav Nikonov made a very unusual statement in the Russian State Duma. “Dear friends, respected colleagues!” he said. “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections, and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America, and I congratulate you on this.” Since Nikonov is the leader of the pro-Putin United Russia Party, his announcement that day was a clear signal that Trump’s victory was a victory for Putin’s Russia.

Longtime journalist Craig Unger has attempted to gather all the evidence we have of Donald Trump’s connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative in his book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia. Though the book claims to tell the “untold story,” it’s not entirely unclear of how much is new. Because like a lot of the skeletons in Trump’s gilded closet, one of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. In fact, so much evidence hides in plain sight, and somehow that’s made it more difficult to accept. In his book, Unger names 59 Russians as Trump business associates and follows the purported financial links between them and the Trump Organization, going back decades. Many of them are quite shady. Although Unger doesn’t provide any evidence that Trump gave Russia anything concrete in return for their help, the case he makes for how much potential leverage the Russians have over Trump is damning. In fact, Unger thinks Russia’s use of Trump constitutes “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history,” as he puts in his book.

As Craig Unger claims. what most Americans don’t understand is that the Russian mafia is different from the American mafia. While American crime syndicates are often targets for FBI investigation, the mafia is essentially a state actor in Russia. When asked about the mafia, former KGB Russian counterintelligence operations Gen. Oleg Kalugin told Unger, “Oh, it’s part of the KGB. It’s part of the Russian government.” In Russia, there’s no Wall Street or anything like Goldman Sachs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, rich gangsters and government officials were able to privatize and loot state-held assets in coal, oil, minerals, and banking. In Vladmir Putin’s Russia, criminal syndicates have become increasingly intertwined with its intelligence services, blurring the line between mafia dons and spies. In fact, Russia expert Mark Galeotti would agree with Unger since he wrote in his book, The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia that Putin’s Kremlin consolidated power by “not simply taming, but absorbing, the underworld.” Putin didn’t care what these gangsters did as long as they strengthened his power and personal financial interests. Since the 1990s, its estimated that some $1.3 trillion has flowed out of Russia.

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Semion Mogilevich is one of the richest and most influential gangsters in the world. Known as the ultimate Russian mob boss, he may not have any direct connection to Donald Trump. But many of his associates and underlings do.

One of the key mob bosses is the squat Ukranian Semion Mogilevich. In Russia, he’s a big time Russian crime boss with a multibillion empire and a wide range of crimes that will make Al Capone look like an inept convenience store robber. According to the FBI, Mogilevich started out as the key money-laundering contact for the Solntsevskaya Bratva, or Brotherhood, one of the richest criminal syndicates in the world. Craig Unger believed that he could’ve been the CEO of Goldman Sachs if he was born in America. The FBI considers Mogilevich the “boss of bosses” of the Russian mafia who’s even feared by his fellow gangsters as “the most powerful mobster in the world.” He’s run drug trafficking rings at an international scale. He’s used a jewelry business in Moscow and Budapest as a front for art that Russian gangsters stole from museums, churches, and synagogues all over Europe. He’s even been accused of selling $20 million in stolen weapons to Iran. From what the FBI has on him, Mogilevich has laundered money through more than 100 front companies around the world and held bank accounts in at least 27 countries. Mogilevich is famous for designing elaborate financial schemes that are extremely difficult, even possible to detect. Since the planning and setup can take years and involve a wide range of people in various positions of power whose roles/identities are sometimes never discovered. In Russia, his influence reaches all the way to the top. Ex-Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko said in an interview with investigators in 2005, “Mogilevich have good relationship with Putin since 1994 or 1993.” A year later Litvinenko was dead, suspiciously poisoned by Kremlin agents. Many of the Russian mobsters who bought units from Donald Trump have ties to this man.

According to Craig Unger, it probably all began as a money-laundering operation with the Russian mafia. After all, anyone who’s known about Donald Trump for a long time knows that he likes doing business with gangsters. Partly because they pay top dollar and loan money when traditional banks won’t. Essentially, for more than 30 years Trump was working with the Russian mafia. He profited from them. They rescued and bailed him out, taking him from being $4 billion in debt to becoming a multibillionaire again. And they fueled his political ambitions. And since Trump had worked with the Russian mafia, he was in bed with the Kremlin as well, whether he knew it or not.

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This is a chart of the Russian-linked and notorious criminals who lived and worked at Trump Tower. Since the place has been the HQ for money laundering operations and more. Helps that during the 1980s, it was the only high-rise to accept anonymous buyers.

To Craig Unger’s knowledge, the very first documented episode he could find was in 1984 when a man named David Bogatin met with Donald Trump in Trump Tower right after it opened since it was the only high-rise in New York City at the time to accept anonymous buyers. Now Bogatin is a Russian mobster, convicted gasoline bootlegger, and close ally of major Russian mob boss and king of money launderers Semion Mogilevich. Anyway, Bogatin came to that meeting prepared to spend $6 million which is equivalent to $15 million today. At that meeting, he bought 5 condos, which the Kremlin later seized on claims they were used to launder money for the Russian mob. We don’t exactly know what was in Trump’s head at the time or what he knew. But Unger has documented 1,300 transactions of this kind with Russian mobsters. These real estate transactions were all cash purchases made by anonymous shell companies that were obviously fronts for criminal money-laundering operations. By the early 2000s, 1/3 of the buyers of Trump Tower’s most expensive condos were either Russia-linked shell companies or individuals from the former Soviet Union. In Florida, about 63 Russian buyers spent at least $98 on Trump properties while another 1/3 of the units were bought by shell companies. Since this represents a large chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, it’s difficult to argue he had no idea what was going on. Aside from Bogatin, there’s his brother Yakov, who was involved in an elaborate stock fraud with Mogilevich. Two of Trump’s Sunny Isles buyers Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall were convicted of taking part in a massive international gambling and money laundering syndicate run out of the New York Trump Tower.

Another Trump buyer was an Uzbek mob-connected diamond dealer named Eduard Nektalov. At the time, Nektalov was under investigation by a Treasury Department task force for mob-connected money laundering. He bought a condo in midtown Manhattan’s Trump World Tower on the 79th floor, directly below Kellyanne Conway. A month later, he sold his unit for $500,000 profit. The next year after rumors circulated of him cooperating with federal investigators, Nektalov was gunned down on Sixth Avenue.

In 1991, Semion Mogilevich paid a Russian judge to spring fellow mob boss Vyachelsav Kirillovich Ivankov, from a Siberian gulag. In Russia, Ivankov was infamous for torturing his victims and boasting about murders he arranged. After his release, Ivankov headed to New York City on an illegal business visa. Once there, he bought a Rolls Royce dealership to use “as a front to launder criminal proceeds.” One of Ivankov’s partners in the operation was Felix Komarov, an upscale art dealer who lived in Trump Plaza on Third Avenue. After receiving a briefcase filled with $1.5 million in cash, over the next 3 years, Ivankov oversaw the mob’s growth from a local extortion racket to a multibillion dollar enterprise. According to the FBI, he recruited 2 “combat brigades” of Special Forces veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan to run the mafia’s protection racket and kill his enemies. Feds later found out that Ivankov made frequent visit to Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Russian gangsters routinely laundered huge sums of money. So much that it was repeatedly cited by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for having inadequate money-laundering controls. And in 2015, was fined $10 million and admitted for having “willfully violated” anti-money-laundering regulations for years. The also found that he lived in a luxury condo at Trump Tower. Though despite being Donald Trump’s neighbor, there’s no evidence they knew each other personally. But the fact a top Russian mafia boss lived and worked in Trump’s building shows just how much high-level Russian gangsters saw Trump’s properties as a home away from home.

Then there’s Russian mob leader Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov who ran an entire gambling and money-laundering network out of Unit 63A at Trump Tower (which is 3 floors below Donald Trump’s residence). In fact, Tokhtakhounov was a VIP attendee at Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow just 7 months after the FBI busted his gambling rings and rounded up 29 suspects. The operation, which prosecutors called “the world’s largest sports book,” was run out of Trump Tower condos, including the building’s whole 51st floor. In addition, Unit 63A served as “sophisticated money-laundering scheme” moving an estimated $100 million out of the former Soviet Union, through shell companies in Cyprus, and into investments in the United States. According to the federal indictment, the money launderers paid Tokhtakhounov $10 million. A decade earlier, Tokhtakhounov was indicted for conspiring to fix the ice-skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics and was the only suspect to avoid arrest.

Russian mobsters and oligarchs also had ties to some of Donald Trump’s other properties outside the United States. In November 2017, NBC News reported Trump’s Panama hotel had ties to organized crime. While a Russian state-owned bank under US sanctions helped finance the construction of the 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. And in December 2016, Jared Kushner met with that bank’s CEO. Since this represents a large chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, it’s difficult to argue he had no idea what was going on.

But how did Donald Trump become a “person of interest” to the Russians over 30 years ago, before his ascent to the presidency was even fathomable? It’s actually not as strange as it seems. First of all, Russians have always wanted to align with certain powerful businessman. Nor was Trump the only guy they targeted. For the Russians have a history going back to the American businessman Armand Hammer during the 1970s-80s who they turned into an asset. In fact, Russia had hundreds of agents and assets in the US. According to Gen. Kalugin, the US was a paradise for spies and they had recruited roughly 300 agents and assets in the country. Trump was one of them.

Nor were Russian operations just limited to money laundering for there was a parallel effort to seduce Donald Trump. Sometime in 1986, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Yuri Dubinin visited Trump in Trump Tower, said that his building was “fabulous,” suggested that he should build one in Moscow, and they arranged for a trip to the Russian capital. According to Gen. Kalugin, this was likely the first step in the process to recruit and compromise Trump, which they probably succeed with flying colors. Since Trump is a sucker for flattery. So we shouldn’t be the least surprised if the Russians have compromising materials on Trump’s Moscow activities. Since they’re very good at acquiring compromising stuff on just about anyone. Not that it would be hard for them.

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Here’s a picture of Donald Trump with Tevfik Artif and Felix Sater. Artif would be busted for running a prostitution ring on his boat in Turkey. While Sater served as an informant while doing his Russia-linked dirty deeds to avoid prison time for racketeering.

Though we don’t have evidence whether such compromising material on Donald Trump’s Moscow activities exists and Craig Unger has tried but couldn’t find any corroboration from several people who assured him it does. But that’s all beside the point. Since Unger believes that the real evidence is already out there in the form of the Bayrock Group, a real estate development company located on Trump Tower’s 24th floor. The founder was a Kazakh man named Tevfik Arif while the managing director was Felix Sater. In 2005, Bayrock proceeded to partner with Trump and helped him develop a new business model he desperately needed. Because Trump was $4 billion in debt after his Atlantic City casinos went bankrupt that he couldn’t get a bank loan from anywhere in the West. Bayrock came in with a new business model that says, “You don’t have to raise any money. You don’t have to do any of the real estate development. We just want to franchise your name, we’ll give you 18 to 25 percent royalties, and we’ll effectively do all the work. And if the Trump Organization gets involved in the management of these buildings, they’ll get extra fees for that.” Apparently, Trump found the idea fabulously lucrative. Meanwhile, the Bayrock associates (particularly Sater) operated out of Trump Tower as well as constantly flew back and forth to Russia. In his book, Unger detailed several channels through which various people at Bayrock have close ties to the Kremlin. While he talked about Sater’s trips to Moscow even as late as 2016, hoping to build Trump Tower there.

Yet, Bayrock and its deals became quickly mired in controversy. First, Forbes and other publications reported that the company was financed by a notoriously corrupt group known as the Trio. In 2010, Turkish prosecutors arrested Tevfik Arif on charges of setting up a prostitution ring after found aboard his boat with 9 young women, 2 of whom were 16 years old. He was later acquitted since the women refused to talk. That same year, 2 former Bayrock executives filed a lawsuit alleging Artif started a firm “backed by oligarchs and money they stole from the Russian people.” In addition, the suit alleged Bayrock “was substantially and covertly mob-owned and operated.” According to them, the company’s real purpose was to develop expensive properties bearing the Trump brand and use the projects to launder money and evade taxes. Though the suit doesn’t claim that Donald Trump was complicit in the scam, The Financial Times found that Trump SoHo had “multiple ties to an alleged international money-laundering network.” In one case, a former Kazakh energy minister is being sued in federal court for conspiring to “systematically loot hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets” before purchasing three condos in Trump SoHo to launder his “ill-gotten funds.”

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Donald Trump has often denied his association with Felix Sater. Yet, in reality, the two have been quite close as this business card shows.

During his collaboration with Bayrock, Donald Trump became close to the man who ran the firm’s daily operations, Felix Sater. Sater had numerous ties to Russian oligarchs and Russian intelligence. His father was a boss for Semion Mogilevich who was convicted for extorting local restaurants, grocery stores, and a medical clinic. Sater tried making it as a stockbroker. But his career came to an end in 1991 when he stabbed a Wall Street foe in the face with a broken margarita glass during a bar fight, opening wounds requiring 110 stitches. He then lost his trading license over the attack and served a year in prison. In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering on grounds of operating a “pump and dump” stock fraud partnership with alleged Russian mobsters that bilked investors of at least $40 million. To avoid prison time, Sater turned informer. But according to documents from the lawsuit against Bayrock, he also resumed “his old tricks.” By 2003, the suit alleges, Sater controlled the majority of Bayrock shares and proceeded to use the firm to launder hundreds of millions of dollars while skimming and extorting millions more. In addition, the suit claimed that Sater committed fraud by concealing his racketeering and that he threatened “to kill anyone at the firm he thought knew of the crimes committed there and might report it.”

By Felix Sater’s account in sworn testimony, he was very tight with Donald Trump. He flew to Colorado with him. He accompanied Donald Jr. And Ivanka on a trip to Moscow at Trump’s invitation. And he met with Trump’s inner circle “constantly.” In Trump Tower, he often dropped by Trump’s office to pitch business ideas. Trump and his lawyers claim he wasn’t aware of Sater’s checkered past when he signed on to do business with Bayrock. This is plausible since Sater’s plea deal in the stock fraud was kept secred due to his role as an informant. But even after The New York Times revealed Sater’s criminal record in 2007, Sater kept using office space provided by the Trump Organization. In 2010, he received a Trump Organization business card reading: FELIX H. SATER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP. As of 2017, Sater apparently remains close to Trump’s inner circle. One week before National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was fired for failing to report meetings with Russian officials, Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen hand-delivered a “back channel plan” for lifting sanctions on Russia to Flynn’s office. According to the Times, the co-author was Felix Sater.

Nonetheless, like many of Donald Trump’s business projects, his deals with Bayrock didn’t bear fruit. International projects in Russia and Poland never materialized. A Trump Tower being built in Ft. Lauderdale ran out of money before completion, leaving behind a massive concrete shell. Trump SoHo was ultimately foreclosed and resold. But Trump’s Russian investors left him with a high-profile property he could leverage since he and Ivanka are still listed as managers. And it’s said he made $3 million from it in 2015.

But is there any evidence that Donald Trump actively sought out Russian money by making clear that his businesses could be used to hide ill-gotten gains? According to Craig Unger, it’s difficult to say. Because he’s not sure if Trump had to. From how the Russian mob transactions took place, Trump didn’t have to say anything. After all, the Trump Organization was desperate for money and knew the caliber of people they were dealing with. So they were either okay with this or deliberately chose not to do their due diligence. Other real estate developers may do this as well, but they usually don’t become president of the United States.

Donald Trump seems much more motivated by money than political ideology. But was his drift into politics in any way influenced by his financial entanglements? There’s no clear answer. Yet, Craig Unger told Vox one weird anecdote about Trump’s first wife, Ivana, whom he married in 1977. Apparently, Czech secret police had started following her and her family in the late 1980s and one of their files said that Trump was being pressured to run for president. But what does that mean? Who was pressuring him and why? How were they applying the pressure? And did it have anything to do with potentially compromising materials the Russians had on Trump during his 1987 trip to Moscow? What we do know is that when Trump returned from his first Moscow trip, he took out full-page ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Globe which pushed anti-European and anti-NATO views that were aligned with the Soviet plan to destroy the Western alliance. Whether he always believed such things or not, it’s worth noting.

Now Craig Unger didn’t go to Russia for obvious reasons given how Vladimir Putin tends to murder critical reporters. But most of what he found out came from public sources, which is stunning. One of his sources tipped him off on the high-ranking Russian mob boss Semion Mogilevich, whom he had never heard of before. He’s even been accused of selling $20 million in stolen weapons to Iran. Anyway, that led Unger to an online database revealing home ownership in the state of New York, along with purchases and sales. So he went to the Trump properties. Every time Unger found a Russian name, he’d research it. He’d take their name and Mogilevich in Google and as he told Vox, “it was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine, time after time after time.” Among the Russians Unger found on the Trump property listings, there were countless people either indicted on money laundering or gunned down on Sixth Avenue. He also found a huge percentage with criminal histories, which sort of got him started. He also had a research assistant who spoke Russian and helped him break the language barrier for him.

But does Craig Unger’s book about Donald Trump and Russia offer anything new? Well, the insights Unger gained from Gen. Kalugin were completely new. Yet, most of what he did was compile what was out there but haven’t been pieced together. For instance, he found a lot of the Russian-connected stories published in the crime pages of the New York Post and the New York Daily News. These were just straight-up crime stories you’d see in a tabloid. After all, Americans don’t think crime stories involving the Russian mob would have any geopolitical implications or forces behind it. Nevertheless, many of these seemingly random Russian crime stories appearing in the tabloids again and again was connected to a much larger operation ensnaring Trump and the people around him.

Still, even if Donald Trump has no idea how many deals he and his businesses made with Russian investors, he certainly didn’t “stay away” from Russia. After all, he and his organization have aggressively promoted his business there for decades, seeking to entice investors and buyers for some of his most high-profile developments. Whether he knew it or not, Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs used his properties not only to launder vast sums of money from extortion, drugs, gambling, and racketeering, but even as a base for their criminal activities. In the process, they propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, Trump wouldn’t be president of the United States.

However, if Donald Trump is a Russian asset, he’s not the only one targeted. During the 1980s and 1990s, the US government saw a pattern by which criminals used condos to launder money. As former Clinton official Jonathan Winer told The New Republic, “It didn’t matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them.” One of the things Craig Unger’s book shows is that there’s a new kind of global war going on in which the weapons are information, data, social media, and financial institutions. The Russian mafia is only one weapon in this global conflict and the Russians have been smartly fighting it since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians start businesses and front companies and commodities firms appearing legitimate but essentially work to advance the Russian state’s interests. Many of today’s Russian oligarchs seek to portray themselves as unremarkable businessmen, preferring that their life-and-death struggles for riches in the 1990s fade into history. Yet, as their influence in the west grows, it becomes more important to understand any links to the authoritarians and kleptocrats back home. The Russians are very good at getting people financially entangled and then using that leverage to get what they want. This appears what the Russians have done with Trump and now he’s president. As former top official Elsie Bean told The Financial Times, “Russia has long been associated with dirty money. Anyone getting substantial funds originating in the former Soviet Union should have known that the funds were high risk and required a careful due diligence review to ensure the money was clean.”

Nonetheless, the most troubling part of all this is that the Russians simply exploited our own corrupt system. The studied our pay-to-play culture, found its weak spots, and very carefully manipulated it. As long as our culture remains unchanged, we should expect this kind of exploitation. Sometimes the worst part about a scandal is what’s legal. The Russians studied our campaign system and campaign finance law and masterfully exploited it. They’ve used pharmaceutical companies, energy companies, and financial institutions to pour money into politics. And we really have no idea the extent of their influence. Vladimir Putin may be right in his insistence that American democracy is also corrupt while he’s showing us exactly how screwed up it is. Donald Trump is just the most glaring example. But there are others, most of who we don’t know anything about.

Whether you believe Donald Trump is owned by the Russian mob or not, Craig Unger presents a compelling case in his book. Though some of his statements in issues might read like conspiracy theories, but so much of it makes a lot of sense. Besides, Unger isn’t the only guy who thinks the Russian mafia owns Trump. Nor Trump is the only prominent figure with shady Russian ties as you can see within his administration. Nor is the Trump Organization the only entity. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen had an uncle who owned a Brooklyn catering hall called El Caribe, which “for decades was the scene of mob weddings and Christmas parties,” and housed offices of “two of New York’s most notorious Russian mobsters.” Then there’s the matter with the NRA receiving money from 23 Russian donors during the 2016 campaign. Not to mention, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher was considered “Putin’s favorite congressman” long before Trump ran for president and was instrumental in killing some critical anti-Russian legislation. Thankfully, he’s lost to a Democrat this year. We may not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or the full extent of the Trump-Russian relationship. But as with many aspects of Trump’s business practices, what we know is damning. There is no doubt that Trump has taken Russian money. And when Trump receives millions of dollars from someone, he’s more likely to be beholden to them. But that doesn’t mean Trump is loyal to them, because he’s just as likely to drop his Russian backers once they prove no longer useful. Since Trump’s true loyalty is only to himself. So we must be concerned.

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Donald Trump of Mar-a-Lago

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From the moment in 1985 when Donald Trump decided to make Mar-a-Lago his personal castle, he has shattered the Palm Beach, Florida old-money conventions with the same thin-skinned, sue-you-in-a-heartbeat, self-congratulatory ethos which has made him such a mesmerizing character akin to a derailed train you want to ignore but can’t look away. As we’ve learned since 2015, you can’t write too much about Trump since he’s a narcissistic sociopath with no moral scruples and way more scandals than Henry VIII. Whether you like him or hate him, you can’t write too much about Trump since he’s an inexhaustible source of good stories.

The last of Palm Beach’s estates to stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway, Mar-a-Lago was a single-family of grand design. This Mediterranean-Revival style mansion had 118 rooms, including 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 35 dining rooms, a ballroom, a theater, a 6 car garage, a 9-hole golf course, 3 bomb shelters, and a 75ft tower you could see for miles. Built in 1927 for cereal heiress and richest woman in America at the time, Marjorie Merriwether Post, she willed it to the federal government for use as a winter White House for American presidents after her death in 1973. Though the home became a National Historic Landmark, presidents didn’t use it while the federal government became sick of paying $1 million a year to maintain it. So the federal government gave the estate back to the Post Foundation who put up for sale for $20 million.

At the time, Donald Trump was a hotshot 39-year-old real estate developer who had opened his 58-story signature Trump Tower skyscraper in Manhattan. Eager to get the Florida mansion off their hands, the Post Foundation agreed to a bargain $10 million sale- $7 million for the property and $3 million for the furnishings and in a contract requiring Trump to only put down $2,812 of his own money. A Palm Beach County property appraiser later wrote in a court brief that anyone buying a “rabbit warren condo” in a lower-middle class neighborhood would’ve had to put more money down than Trump did. Nonetheless, Trump listed his purchase of Mar-a-Lago as an example of his deal-making prowess writing in The Art of the Deal, “I’ve been told the furnishings in Mar-a-Lago alone are worth more than I paid for the house.” Mar-a-Lago was “as close to paradise as I’m going to get.” Palm Beach County agreed by assessing Mar-a-Lago’s property at $11.5 million, which was 64% than he paid for it. This left Trump in a tough position of politically bragging about getting his spare mansion in Palm Beach for a bargain, while privately arguing in court filings he should get a tax deduction. He testified, “I paid the highest price for a piece of land that’s costing $2 or $2 ½ million a year to maintain. Maybe the tax assessment will force us to develop the land, which I’m sure won’t make the town very happy.” Except he didn’t. Furthermore, a 1988 Associated Press article depicts how Trump fought against a $200,000 property tax bill, which he claimed should’ve been half. Nonetheless, back in the 1980s, this was the kind of brash talk Palm Beach’s old-money aristocrats feared from Trump. Since he wasn’t the sort of genteel patrician Palm Beach’s Social-Index Directory favored. In fact, some regarded him as a gated community barbarian as well as a hustler too eager to impress. While his threat of chopping up Mar-a-Lago was an open of some rough relations on the horizon.

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While Donald Trump was trying to acquire Mar-a-Lago, he launched another real estate venture called Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches. However, he ended up selling about 100 out of 221 condo units as well as borrowed $60 million which he couldn’t pay back. In the end, Trump lost his financial stake in the project and the bank took over.

While his Mar-a-Lago investment was in doubt, Donald Trump launched another local real estate venture across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach. The property was an ailing 33-story, twin tower complex that a Palm Beach developer had lost in foreclosure. In 1986, Trump bought it for $40 million cash which was $3.2 million less than what the Bank of New York paid to reclaim the property at a public foreclosure auction. And like Mar-a-Lago, it was becoming a deal he couldn’t afford. Trump then renamed the West Palm Beach condo project after himself while spending millions to spruce up the Trump of the Palm Beaches’ public areas and advertise the sale of its luxury condos in Northeastern newspapers. Trump said at the time, “This is not a very large deal for me, but it’s a quality deal. We expect a lot of people in Palm Beach to be buying apartments for family, et cetera.” But after 4 years of heavy promoting, he only managed to sell 100 of the 221 units, which was less than half. In addition, Trump borrowed $60 million from the Marine Midland Bank of New York to pay for the project, which he couldn’t pay back. In 1991, 2 months before filing for corporate bankruptcy on his Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Trump turned over the Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches to Marine Midland Bank of New York for his $14 million personal guarantee on the loan. The bank unloaded the unsold units in a fire-sale auction accepting bids of $75,000 for units previously priced as high as $470,000. Yet, because he can’t admit to personal failure, Trump took a victory lap saying, “It’s great for me because I get off a guarantee. Only because of the success of the development could I have done that.”

However, Donald Trump was still trying to find a way to salvage his Mar-a-Lago deal. So he didn’t want to give his Palm Beach neighbors the notion he was really drowning in debt. So after the bank sold off units from Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches, Trump took out a full-page ad in The Palm Beach Daily News, which read: “This is an advertisement to explain the great success of a development, Trump Plaza of the Palm Beaches, which many people, until recently, had not been fully aware. When I look at Trump Plaza from Mar-a-Lago, I am proud that even in the horrendous real estate market of the early 1990s, I was able to rescue this previously troubled and unsold development, add management, construction expertise and the name Trump … and make it into one of Florida’s greatest success stories.” It didn’t mention that he completely lost his financial stake in the condos or how the project actually achieved full occupancy. So basically, Trump took an ad bragging about his “success” of his Palm Beach condo project, which was actually a total failure that he lost to the bank. Nor did that “success” change the fact that Trump still couldn’t afford Mar-a-Lago as a single-family home. And nobody was coming along to relieve him from the deal on “paradise” he had made.

Donald Trump’s proposed solution was to chop his National Historic Landmark into something he called the Mansions of Mar-a-Lago. This was a development that would put a public road running through the middle of the estate, leading to the 10 mini-mansions he’d build on the property, including one on the front lawn. But the Palm Beach Town Council shot down all of Trump’s proposed changes to the property, even when he reduced his mini-mansion plans from 10 to 7. Instead, they encouraged Trump to find a buyer if he couldn’t afford to keep the estate intact. After all, New York packaging magnate, Nelson Peltz had spent $21 million to buy Palm Beach oceanfront estate Montsorrel, 2 years after Trump bought Mar-a-Lago. So the town council advised Trump to just buy another Nelson Peltz to take the estate off his hands. However, as we all know, Donald Trump didn’t act on the Palm Beach council’s advice. In fact, when the town government refused to bend to his demands, he sued. The lawsuit against the Town of Palm Beach would eventually cause his neighbors to lawyer up against him. One of these lawyers told The Palm Beach Post at the time, “There are rules around here, and those rules apply to everyone, whether or not you have a famous name.”

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When Donald Trump’s Mansions of Mar-a-Lago plan fell through, he decided to turn it into a private club it is today. Naturally, the Palm Beach Town Council took him on it since it was an all around win-win situation.

After Palm Beach rejected his Mansions of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump found another way to salvage his stake in his property. He offered to drop his lawsuit if council members allowed him to convert his estate into a new private club on the island. Since so much of Palm Beach social life was dictated by club memberships, this was a tempting offer. This was especially since there hadn’t been a new club on the island for a quarter century. In the deal, the town would get to have Mar-a-Lago remain in appearance it was in the Merriwether Post days. While Trump could unburden himself of its expenses by selling off memberships while maintaining his property ownership. Membership would be capped at 500, not including spouses and children. The initiation fee would be $50,000 with $3,000 annual dues (fee is now $200,000 with $14,000 in annual dues and charges $2,000 for meals). Members would get to dine, swim in the pool, and attend private parties and special events with world-class singers, lecturers, and entertainers. The town eventually approved the club.

But many Palm Beachers were still reluctant to trust Donald Trump. Socialite Tamara Newell said at the time, “A lot of people like to think Palm Beach is a little more genteel and old money. This is a new-money idea at an old-money location.” And approval of the club only gave them more reasons to peck at him. Now a lot of these disputes in the 2016 Politico article I read about his war with Palm Beach consist of a lot stupid shit like wedding fireworks, attendance limits to an Elton John AIDS concert, or changing the coat of arms to put Trump as an advertising ploy. While Trump is known for being notoriously petty, Palm Beach is filled with petty rich people and a town government that once banned shirtless joggers for tackiness and scented its sewer water with lilac and honeysuckle fragrances. Such petty disputes between Trump and the rich set of Palm Beach don’t seem to interest me much. Mostly because I care more about Trump deliberately screwing people out of their money or using intimidation tactics to get his way.

Yet, there is a telling incident in the 2016 Politico article on Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago that’s very telling, especially on his insatiable appetite for self-promotion and the media’s role should be. In the first January after his divorce from his first wife Ivana was final, Trump’s publicist called all the local TV news and newspaper outlets in Palm Beach County to say that Trump was about to hold the party of all parties for that Winter’s Palm Beach social season. The publicist explained that one reporter from each news outlet would be allowed to attend this party-of-the-year to mingle with a guest list of invited celebrities such as Tom Selleck, Slyvester Stallone, and football star Herschel Walker. Frank Cerabino was on the guest list to cover the event for the Palm Beach Post. But it turned out his role at the party was far more complex than he imagined. Writing for Political in 2016, he recalled, “As the real guests arrived, which included busloads of fashion models from Miami, I was part of a local media contingent who wasn’t allowed to actually come into the party, but instead would form a visual tableau of over-eager reporters playing the role of gate crashers to those who would see us as their cars drove up to the portico of the mansion.” He continued, “Trump left us standing in his driveway in a little cluster. We were unaware, at first, of our role. But he couldn’t help coming over to wring out every last drop of publicity for the night.” In other words, Cerabino and the local reporters were at Mar-a-Lago to make him and his party look good as props. Going out of his way to show that he was winning divorce (like you can even do that), Trump invited a national TV reporter Judd Rose and his crew from ABC’s Prime Time Live show, into his home as guests for the weekend. Rose and his crew eventually filmed the money shot of the invitees, but shunned the local reporters yelling across the driveway to Trump to let them in. While Trump made a shooting gesture as if to wave them off and later described the reporters in the driveway as those who invited themselves to the party. Over the years, Cerabino has learned that Trump admires or despises journalists based on how useful they are to him while his sense of humor doesn’t include anything directed to him.

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One of the biggest Donald Trump disputes of legend at Mar-a-Lago was when he put up an oversized American flag on a tall pole at the resort. This incident would later be lampooned on The Colbert Report.

In 2006, without getting a permit and variance, Donald Trump put up an 80ft tall flag pole with a 15 x 25ft flag flying from it on his Mar-a-Lago resort. Since Palm Beach restricts residents flying flags no bigger than 4 x 6ft and on pole no higher than 42ft, he knew he was plainly inviting a lawsuit by out-flagging his neighbors. Taking the bait, the town council cited the oversized pole and flag as town code violations and fined Trump $250 for every day the display remained on his estate. In retaliation, Trump responded, “The town council of Palm Beach should be ashamed of itself. He went on Nancy Grace’s TV show to complain about Palm Beach’s lack of patriotism. Then, ignoring the town’s violations, which grew into a $120,000 fine and counting as of 2016, he filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach for $25 million in damages to what he called an abridgement to his constitutional right of free speech. Trump eventually dropped his flag lawsuit white town waived its fines. As terms of a court-ordered mediation, he’d file a permit and be allowed to keep an oversized pole on Mar-a-Lago that was 10ft shorter and on a different lawn spot. He was also called to donate $100,000 to veterans’ charities.

Tucked into Donald Trump’s patriotic posturing was a completely unrelated legal but more important matter: a complaint about the town code requiring large commercial enterprises to be “town serving.” Under this ordinance, Palm Beach requires proof from local businesses that local residents contribute at least 50% of their business to them. For instance, when Neiman Marcus opened in Palm Beach, the town allowed it as long as it only advertised in the local newspaper, and not in publications to shoppers not living on the island. For Trump, eliminating the “town serving” requirement would mean he could offer more memberships to his Mar-a-Lago social club to people with no Palm Beach connections, making it easier for him to keep his club full. Creating a distraction on the flag issue to pursue some other angle is a classic Trump move. Though he has yet to get this particular exemption waived, Palm Beach knows that Trump’s lawsuits never get settled, they just become dormant. While one of his Palm Beach lawyers told Politico in 2016, that the “town serving” issue is still unresolved and ripe for more litigation.

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Also in West Palm Beach is the Trump International Golf Club. Donald Trump got this made out of a dispute with the county airport. Though he wanted the jail moved, which he obviously didn’t get.

While playing defense against Palm Beach’s constant attempts to rein him in, Donald Trump went on the attack against the county and its airport. Airlines routinely used a flight path in and out of Palm Beach International Airport in nearby West Palm Beach that brought the planes directly over Mar-a-Lago. This didn’t sit well with Trump, arguing that the noise and fumes were ruining his investment, and that the decent thing for the county to do was to move the airport farther west. Actually Trump had been arguing that for years, to no avail. Acting like a spoiled brat not getting his own way, he called airport director, Bruce Pelly, among other things, a “moron” and “the worst airport director in the country.” It turned out to be a useful gripe for Trump, which he could turn into a new business opportunity. For just south of the airport was a 214 acres of vacant scrub land owned by Palm Beach County, which he wanted. So like any rich spoiled adult, he sued the county for over $75 million over the airport noise. Only to negotiate to drop that lawsuit in exchange for the county giving him a 75-year lease on the nearby property for $438,000 a year. That land became the Trump International Golf Club, a $40 million, 18-hole, Jim Fazio-designed course that imported nearly 2 million cubic yards of dirt to transform the flat scrub into hilly terrain with waterfalls, rock formations, a clubhouse 4 stories above sea level. While planning to open the course with initiation fees starting at $100,000, Trump wanted the county to do one more thing for him: move the jail. Because no matter how much landscaping he brought to the course, there was no way disguising the 12-story Palm Beach County Jail towering over the course’s north side and was visible from some of the holes. So as he had done with the airport, Trump asked the county to move the jail. Naturally, they refused, while the sheriff found the idea amusing.

Yet, Donald Trump’s war with the Palm Beach International Airport hasn’t quelled. When the airport considered expanding by adding another runway, Trump threatened another lawsuit. Though the expansion never came, Trump sued the airport again in 2016 for $100 million from county taxpayers for the sooty residue left by planes flying over Mar-a-Lago. Still, perhaps his actions aren’t about the airport, which he’s using for leverage to get what he wants but can’t have at the moment. Because Trump is always at war and woe to those who stand in his way.

Over the years, Palm Beach has gradually come to accept Donald Trump’s outsized personality along with his private club as more of an asset than a potential source of trouble. Mar-a-Lago has hosted many glittering social events, charity balls, and political fundraisers. As a concert hall, it has housed Palm Beach Opera shows and performances from top-notch entertainers like Celine Dion and Tony Bennett. As town officials moved on, their successors gradually loosened their tight reins on the club, easing the restriction on the numbers of outdoor beach barbecues it would allow, permitting the construction of an outdoor pavilion, and allowing the club to build a 14,000 sq. ft. kitchen on the grounds so waiters don’t have to use golf carts for hauling food inside and outside the mansion. Trump has also figured how to pay less taxes on Mar-a-Lago. By giving up development rights on the land to the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation, it eliminated the county property appraiser’s ability to tax the place on the “highest and best use” standard that contemplated the estate can be still chopped up into lots and sold off. Yet, while Trump has become a Palm Beach fixture, it would be wrong to say he’s mellowed for he never does.

But that doesn’t mean Donald Trump’s presence hasn’t disrupted Palm Beach life in recent years. In fact, since his election to the presidency, his stays at Mar-a-Lago have raised issues not seen since he was a private citizen. Since they involve security and the impact his visits have on people and businesses in Palm Beach. Nowadays, whenever Trump resides in the Palm Beach region, the area becomes a zone of temporary flight restrictions affecting flights and other air operations within a 30 nautical mile radius. Coast Guard and Secret Service secure the 2 waterway approaches, ocean and lake. While the Secret Service cordons off streets to Mar-a-Lago. At Latana’s Palm Beach County Park Airport, the situation is dire. Whenever Trump is at Mar-a-Lago, Federal Aviation Administration restrictions ban all flights out of that airport, which is one of the busiest of its size in the country. It doesn’t help that the airport receives most of its business on weekends and holidays, particularly during the winter at peak snowbird season, when Trump would most likely be there. For instance, by the third weekend of February 2017, the Palm Beach County Park Airport had been shut down for 3 consecutive weekends, accumulating significant financial losses for multiple businesses. So to put it this way, as president, Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago during the winter have basically costs Palm Beach County millions of dollars in lost revenue from tourism. The county is also worried about the police overtime it’s racking up, which could be $60,000 a day.

While Donald Trump may give plenty of things for Palm Beach locals to talk about, there are other aspects we should discuss. First, since Trump became president, his visits have cost taxpayers millions of dollars for federal security detail, which has gone to the Trump Organization’s coffers. But it’s very clear that he’s making money off his presidency. Nonetheless, Mar-a-Lago club members enjoy the fact having Trump president gives them personal access to political power during his visits. In fact, since his inauguration, guests have been flocking to Mar-a-Lago to catch a glimpse of him. But the fact access to a president can be bought for thousands of dollars at his private club should worry every American. And it should make it alarmingly clear that Trump is a man of and for the 1%. Already, ProPublica claimed that a trio of ultrawealthy Mar-a-Lago members are effectively running the Department of Veterans Affairs in influencing policy and making personnel decisions. In fact, a veterans’ group has sued the VA over it.

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Here is Donald Trump with Melania and Barron posed with Mar-a-Lago’s employees. Most of them have HB-1 visas despite that Palm Beach locals were perfectly willing to do those jobs.

Second, despite Donald Trump’s self-promotion as a “champion” for US workers (which he isn’t), Mar-a-Lago has consistently hired a predominantly foreign workforce. He claims the local workforce is unwilling to do the work and that his foreign employees are best suited for the jobs. Except that’s not true. In 2016, The New York Times reported that over 200 locals had applied to work as cooks, waiters, and housekeepers since 2010. Only 17 of them were ever hired. Also, as with many Trump enterprises, there are plenty of wage theft complaints from contractors and employees. Given that foreign workers are easier to exploit since they can be threatened with deportation if they don’t toe the line, perhaps that’s why Trump prefers to employ them over locals.

Furthermore, The Palm Beach Post reported that Trump scored visas to hire 70 foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago for the 2017-18 tourist season. Third, in January 2017, Mar-a-Lago’s kitchens were hit with 13 health and safety violations, including 3 that were called “high priority.” Inspectors claimed that meat wasn’t properly refrigerated and could be unsafe for consumption, undercooked or raw fish that hadn’t undergone proper parasite destruction, and not maintaining coolers in proper working order. Another inspection in November resulted in 15 more health citations, according to the Miami Herald. In January 2018, Mar-a-Lago was cited for maintenance violations which could’ve posed a threat to public health, safety, and welfare like broken staircases, improper food storage, and inadequate smoke detectors.

Then there’s Mar-a-Lago’s security and cybersecurity woes. In recent years, Gizmodo reported that hackers found 3 of its networks as so weak that they could’ve breached the systems within 5 minutes. The 3 hackers behind the article claim they made the discovery using a 2ft wireless antenna from on board a 17ft motor boat parked offshore. Though Donald Trump’s company has expressed confidence in its cybersecurity as spokeswoman Amanda Miller told Gizmodo, “Our teams work diligently to deploy best in class firewall and anti-vulnerability platforms with constant 24/7 monitoring.”

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In April 2017, we have Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe receiving news of North Korea launching a nuclear missile in Japan’s direction. Note the classified information being shown in the cell phone screen.

Speaking of security breaches, Donald Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago afford an unprecedented opportunity for eavesdropping and building dossiers on his routines and habits along with those in his inner circle around him. Add that with each repeated visit, the security risk escalates. As former Obama official David Kris told TIME, “The president is the biggest, richest intelligence target in the world, and there is almost no limit to the energy and money an adversary will spend to get at him.” According to former Secret Service agents, the security setup at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s other private clubs presents challenges to the agency wasn’t built to deal with. Since the Secret Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices. Not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep, and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in. White House visitors must go through a rigorous background screening before they’re let in the door. Agents scan every visitor’s full name, birth date, Social Security number, city of residence, and country of birth. Gaining entry at Mar-a-Lago doesn’t require that degree of disclosure. Sure guests entering the club have to pass multiple security checkpoints staffed by Secret Service agents looking for weapons or other immediate threats. But there’s only one requirement to produce a photo ID, while the club doesn’t ask guests to provide their names or other information as they enter through the main wrought-iron gated door. At public events, attendees are only asked to provide their name. Since has Trump has become president, the lax security measures can make Mar-a-Lago a free-for-all for spies.

Hell, spies don’t even need to go to Mar-a-Lago to do their work. In early 2017, lists of the club’s nearly 500 exclusive dues-paying members were leaked to the news media, giving foreign intelligence names of potential targets for surveillance, bribes, or blackmail that could help them get closer to Donald Trump. In addition, a page on Mar-a-Lago’s website (which is accessible to the public with just a little search engine sleuthing), reveals the names, work email addresses, and phone numbers for more than a dozen critical club employees, including the managing director, the housekeeping director, the official in charge of food and beverage services, and the chief of security. All would be obvious targets for operatives trying to get information on Trump or others in his entourage.

Mar-a-Lago may be a winter White House for Donald Trump. But since his inauguration, it has become another political arena where one with wads of cash can have access to political power. Indeed, plenty of these guests are rich people from old money. Though others can be politicians, foreign dignitaries, and corporate heads wanting something in exchange for their service. This can be donations, but it can also be policy that could affect our lives and not for the better. Yet, it’s another arena that can be prone to spy infiltration from eavesdroppers listening into conversations which can compromise our national security. Since it’s already happened in 2017. Nonetheless, we must be wary when Trump goes there since his visits are marketing events and he’s used his trips to make money off the presidency, which is a very clear conflict of interest.

 

Born in a Golden Cradle

We all know full well how Donald Trump repeatedly paints his start in business as an up-by-the bootstraps, riches-to-slightly-more-riches tale. He’s cast himself as a New York real estate Oliver Twist with only his name and a $1 million loan from his dear old dad to keep him company. Only to become a self-made billionaire real estate mogul. Trump not only used this description to promote his image as a skilled businessman, but also portray himself as a “self-made man” during his presidential candidacy.

Despite the image Donald Trump projects to his base at his ego boosting rallies, he has actually spent 5 decades pretending not only that his father never rescued him from financial dire straits, but played a minimal role in his business success. When he said that Fred only gave him a $1 million loan, Trump glossed over how central his dad was to his career. When Trump entered the Manhattan real estate business in the mid-1970s, Fred cosigned bank loans for tens of millions of dollars. These loans made it possible for Trump to develop early projects like the Grand Hyatt hotel. When he targeted Atlantic City’s casino market, Fred loaned him about $7.5 million to get started. When he floundered there during the 1990s, Fred sent a lawyer to a Trump casino to buy $3.5 million in chips so his son can use the funds for a bond payment and avoid filing for corporate bankruptcy. In other words, Trump’s wealth has always been “deeply intertwined with, and dependent on” on his father’s wealth.

On Tuesday, October 2, 2018, the New York Times published investigation results into Donald Trump’s wealth and tax practices. They revealed a pattern of tax evasion and business practices that allowed him to receive at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father. According to the report, Trump and his siblings got hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s money from their dad’s real estate empire, starting from their childhoods. As they write:

“Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.”

In sum, Donald Trump’s parents transferred more than $1 billion to their children and paid about $52.2 million in taxes. Given the relevant tax rates on gifts and inheritances, they should’ve paid $550 million, which is 10 times more. The IRS didn’t really notice it. While the Times didn’t see Trump’s own tax returns, their reporting was based on documents, records, and interviews pertaining to Fred Trump’s financial empire. These included, “tens of thousands of pages of confidential records — bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices and canceled checks” along with more than 200 tax returns from Fred and various companies and trusts he set up. Even though he can’t be prosecuted for them due to statute of limitations expiration, evidence suggests that Donald’s actions on paying taxes weren’t always above the fray.

When Donald Trump’s finances were “crumbling” during the 1980s and 1990s, Fred Trump’s companies increased distributions to him and his siblings. From 1989-1992, Fred created 4 entities paying Donald $8.3 million in today’s money. When Donald’s finances were at their worst in 1990, Fred’s income shot up $49,638,928 and earned him a $12.2 million tax bill. According to the New York Times report, there are indications Fred, “wanted plenty of cash on hand to bail out his son if need be.” A former Trump Organization told Tim O’Brien in 2005, “We would have literally closed down. The key would have been in the door and there would have been no more Donald Trump. The family saved him.” Of course, it wasn’t really Trump’s family who saved him from personal bankruptcy, it was his dad. On another occasion, Trump allegedly gave his dad a $15.5 million share of the Trump Palace condo skyscraper in New York to square off some debts with his loans. But Fred then sold the shares back to his son for $10,000, making the whole exchange of $15.49 a taxable gift. Fred never declared it as such.
But it wasn’t always rich dad bailing out his son. Fred and Donald Trump worked together. As the elder man aged, his kids had to continue the tax schemes their parents put in place. In 1997, Donald and his siblings gained control of most of their dad’s empire. They significantly undervalued the properties, claiming they were worth $41.4 million and selling them off for 16 times the amount.

Nonetheless, the wealth transfer between Fred Trump and Donald Trump (along with his siblings) was a lifetime affair. As the New York Times notes:

“By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.”

As the Times writes, there’s a fine line between tax evasion and tax avoidance. Rich people employ all kinds of tricks to lower their taxes all the time. But since Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns, these journalistic investigations raise questions of what he’s hiding in his finances. For what the publication doesn’t have is what the American people have become accustomed to getting from their presidents like recent tax returns. Instead, the Times gave close scrutiny Fred Trump’s businesses which reveal the range of apparent illegal activity. Yet, everything the Times has is fairly old since Fred passed nearly 20 years ago while his years in business ended before that. So they no longer reflect the current state of Trump’s financial affairs. Furthermore, any illegal activity the Times sources revealed in this article can’t be prosecuted due to statute of limitations expiration.

The New York Times’ investigation is exhaustive and, to some extent, defies summary. But it’s worth recounting the most egregious thing they found as an illustrative example of the scope of crimes that serious forensic accounting can reveal. Basically, this was a 2-scams-for-the-price-of-one-caper, in which Fred Trump formed a shell company his children secretly owned. The company pretended to perform useful services for rent-stabilized buildings Fred owned, allowing to gift money to his children without paying a gift tax. Then, its bogus accounting was used to justify rent increases to regulators. As the Times wrote:

“The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.”
This is a particularly shocking crime because of the way it was used to defraud thousands of tenants as well as tax authorities. But this wasn’t the only time Fred cheated the public. After all, he got his start in profiteering in millions from programs to help returning GIs receive housing, prompting President Dwight D. Eisenhower to throw a fit. In 1954, he was called before the Senate to testify about how he overcharged the federal government by inflating costs associated with a taxpayer-subsidized housing development in Brooklyn. As a result, Fred was banned from bidding on federal housing contracts. So he focused on state-subsidized projects. However, in 1966, Fred was called before a state investigations board to sit through embarrassing public hearings exploring how he overbilled New York State for equipment and other costs. These hearings essentially marked the end of Fred’s career as a major developer in public subsidized housing. Donald Trump would say that the government essentially reached in and took his dad’s business away from him. But this explanation ignores the fact that Fred’s business wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without government subsidies in the first place.

However, in terms of Donald Trump cheating on his taxes, it’s far from unique. In 1983, he’s admitted to sales tax fraud. He’s lost 2 income tax civil fraud trials. Hell, his own tax lawyer testified that Trump’s 1984 tax return was fraudulent. More strikingly, even before the Times’ investigation, we had numerous examples of Trump operating as a habitual criminal. While Trump would like to American people to forget about this, he got his start as a celebrity after the New York Times published an article detailing federal housing discrimination charges brought against him and his father. Ultimately, the charges were settled without admission of fault, which would be a pattern for Trump over the years. Even so, the fact his first foray into the real estate business involved criminal acts didn’t stop him from continuing in that business. When Trump branched out into casinos, he got caught accepting an illegal loan from his dad to stay afloat and got off with a slap on the wrist. He was even allowed to continue with the business as well.

From empty-box tax scam to money laundering at his casinos, racial discrimination in his apartments, Federal Trade Commission violations for his stock purchases, and Securities and Exchange Commission violations for his financial reporting, Donald Trump has spent his entire career breaking various laws, getting caught, and then essentially plowing ahead unharmed. Caught engaging in illegal racial discrimination to please a mob boss? Paid a fine. There was no sense this was a repeated pattern of violating racial discrimination law (despite being caught before in a housing discrimination case by the federal government). Nor there was certainly any desire to take a closer look at Trump’s various personal and professional connections to the Mafia. In New York, Trump Tower’s construction employed hundreds of undocumented Polish immigrants, paid them laughably low wages, and worked them beyond legal limits. Though Trump denied knowledge of the situation, a judge said his testimony wasn’t credible. Court records show that Trump and his children misled investors in failed condo projects in Baja California and Florida. Even as late as the post-election transition, Trump was allowed to settle a lawsuit about defrauding customers at his fake university for $25 million rather than truly face the music like a potential prison term. But he still insisted he did nothing wrong despite evidence to the contrary.

One of Donald Trump’s real insights in life was to see a bug in the system. When it comes to these white-collar crimes, it’s typically the government officials’ interest to agree to a settlement giving them positive headlines, raise some cash, and move on to the next investigation. But while these decisions can make sense individually, they let serial offenders repeat their crimes over and over again. After all, you wouldn’t want police to solve other crimes this way. Meanwhile, throughout the decades of Trump’s rise, the legal climate has only gotten more permissive.

The fact that Donald Trump appears to have been involved in serious financial crimes in the past is the most likely reason for his unprecedented lack of transparency. He didn’t magically stop committing them in the mid-1990s. Rather he’s just been getting away with it in an era of reduced law enforcement and fears his documents wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. As a candidate, Trump promised to release his tax returns. Now that he’s in office, he has refused to do so. In response to the Times’ investigation, the White House released a statement full of bluster about the “wonderful” things Trump has achieved as president. But it didn’t deny any of the alleged facts. Instead, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders merely observed that “many decades ago the IRS reviewed and signed off on these transactions.”

It’s not entirely clear if the IRS reviewed all of these transactions. But it’s unquestionably true that Donald Trump got away with it. Because lots of people get away with a lot of crimes and that doesn’t make it okay. The IRS is no more perfect in its work than any other law enforcement agency. To make matters worse, the IRS has been starved of resources, making it even harder to catch rich tax cheats. To be clear, this wasn’t caused by austerity by budgetary necessity. Based on macroeconomic estimates, the IRS believes that business owners like Donald Trump underpay their taxes by $125 million a year. Investing more in catching these tax cheats would pay off easily. But congressional Republicans haven’t wanted to do it because they think it’s good that rich business owners can get away with cheating on their taxes. Yet, this also gives tax-cheating businesses a very good reason to fear transparency and disclosure. While the IRS is relatively unlikely to get a hard, rigorous look at any particularly rich person’s complicated tax submissions. But since Trump is president, he’d find Congress and the press heavily scrutinizing his finances. Trump got away with tax evasion during an era of generally more rigorous enforcement. It’s very unlikely that he simply stopped doing it during the more recent years when enforcement got laxer. If he disclosed his tax returns, we’d find out about the scams he’s running. Because that’s why Trump doesn’t want us to see them. And why we absolutely need to. We won’t really know why Donald Trump hides his tax returns until he stops concealing them. But the New York Times’ investigation sends a clear message that he’s got a track record of doing illegal stuff with his taxes.

However, though Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns as president, Congress can make him. But congressional Republicans have steadfastly refused to do so. Nonetheless, the American people have a right to know whether or not the man in the White House is a crook. Though the case for oversight became stronger once Trump became president, Republicans who once distanced themselves from him became uniformly devoted to covering up for him. In addition, Republicans have totally resisted Democratic efforts to force disclosure.

While congressional Republicans may tell themselves these returns are no big deal, they have no idea how serious the crimes are they’re helping Donald Trump hide. Mostly because Republicans decided it’s good when rich people cheat on their taxes despite that it’s not. In fact, cheating on taxes contributes to inequality, higher interest rates, weaker public services, and a range of social news. And despite the Republicans’ best efforts, it’s still illegal. Though the tax code currently has minimal taxes on inheritances and gifts as well as large loopholes for the wealthiest of the wealthy. The New York Times investigation into the Trump family’s wealth demonstrates how wealthy families wiggle out of taxes through licit and illicit means. Thus, starving the government of tax revenue, making the tax code less progressive than it’s designed to be, and effectively increasing the tax burden on low-income families and their businesses. The richer the family, the more likely they engage in tax evasion. In fact, one study shows that the richest .01% were shown to evade 25% of taxes, several times the rate seen among the general public. Because Trump is president, we need to know if he’s been breaking the law. All we need to do is have a congressional committee vote. But to get it, we need a new Congress.

Of course, since I’ve conducted extensive research on Donald Trump since he ran for president, the fact he’s not the self-made man he portrays himself to be doesn’t surprise me. I long knew that he never would’ve become what he is today if he hadn’t been born into wealth and privilege. And I knew about his dad vouching for him on his early projects and helping him out of his financial problems. Yet, millions of Americans still believe Trump as a modern Midas who’d lift them out of hard times as the super-rich flourish while everyone else’s incomes remain mostly flat. But the truth is that the man in the Oval Office isn’t the wealth-building entrepreneur he claims to be. In fact, he’s a financial vampire extracting cash from enterprises while leaving behind unpaid workers, vendors, and governments. And if you want to know what that will lead to, just take a visit to Atlantic City.

How Donald Trump Makes Money Off the Presidency

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Among the barrage of Donald Trump’s scandals, legislative failings, and Twitter tantrums, that appear in the news with constant regularity, there are plenty that seem to fall through the cracks. One of these concerns Trump’s businesses and his holding power as president. Despite promising to divest himself from his businesses while in office (he hasn’t), Trump is actively profiting from the presidency, which the founders never intended. While we still don’t have his tax returns to shed light on whether his behavior benefits his business’ ledgers, we know taxpayer money has been flowing to some of his businesses like Mar-a-Lago. However, despite the public seeing their tax dollars flow directly to the Trump Organization every time he goes golfing at his resorts and the rules being laid out in the Constitution, nobody has tried to stop this.

Previous presidents have disclosed and divested, so this hasn’t been a problem. After all, the Founding Fathers wrote protections into the US Constitution with emoluments clauses making it illegal for presidents to receive gifts from foreign governments or federal and state governments. Now Donald Trump did promise to release his tax returns during the campaign, and divest himself from his business while in office to avoid conflict of interests. After all, he promised to “drain the swamp” which his supporters think it meant that he’d stop corruption in Washington DC like limiting access to lobbyists, curbing deals with foreign governments, and refusing to profit from the White House. Yet, unlike his predecessors, he’s does nothing more than the legal minimum required.

However, we must understand that corruption and egregious abuses of power makes Donald Trump who he is. In fact, since he came to Washington DC, the United States has seen an unprecedented attack on presidential ethics. Trump campaign donors have gotten cushy White House jobs. Goldman Sacks bankers wrote the GOP tax plan. But most importantly, Trump hasn’t divested and most likely had no intention to in the first place. He doesn’t care about conflicts of interest. So he’s still making money.

First of all, the Trump Organization is huge private company with properties and business interests all over the world. But we don’t have a clear picture of exactly how big and valuable it is. According to a February 2018 Forbes report, Donald Trump rakes in at least $175 million a year from commercial tenants like the state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. But it’s impossible to say which companies pay him and how much because federal disclosure laws don’t require an accounting of where his businesses get their money. So we don’t know where the money’s coming from and how much he’s getting. Since he hasn’t released his tax returns either. And that’s a big problem since Trump probably has many conflicts of interest that could influence public policy. As Forbes noted, “Take any hot-button issue of the past year, and there’s a good chance Trump’s tenants lobbied the federal government on it, either in support of or in opposition to the administration’s position.” In fact, according to Forbes, at least 3 dozen Trump tenants have “meaningful relationships with the federal government, from contractors to lobbying firms to regulatory targets.”

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Here’s a CREW timeline of Trump trademark approval actions by governments overseas. Not the ones coming from China.

In addition, foreign governments have been quick to figure out how to get on Donald Trump’s good side. According to a January McClatchy article, they’ve “donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.” The Chinese government has granted Trump at least 39 trademarks since he took office while his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka has received 7 since she joined the administration.

Then there’s the fact the Trump Organization still sells real estate. Last summer, a USA Today investigation found that during the last year Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, “70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.” According to the paper, overall in 2017, Trump’s companies, “sold more than $35 million in real estate … mostly to secretive shell companies that obscure buyers’ identities.” So since Trump became the Republican nominee and later president, mysterious investors have poured millions of dollars into his coffers.

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Since Donald Trump became president, the Trump International Hotel has become the go-to place for foreign visitors and anyone else wanting to curry favor with the White House. Not to mention, the GOP holds a lot of activities there. The lighting above the arch is by an anti-Trump protester.

Of course, the most obvious Donald Trump uses his position as president to promote his own business interest is through mixing and matching his presidential activities with his own properties while charging Secret Service and transportation costs to taxpayers. As Washington University professor Kathleen Clark told ProPublica, “Trump appears to be commandeering federal resources in order to maximize revenues at Trump properties, and he does this by visiting properties close to the White House. And when he travels to the golf courses in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey, other agencies that are involved in supporting the president end up spending money.” In fact, he spent 1/3 of his first year in office visiting his own commercial properties. Every Trump appearance at his properties is a marketing event. According to financial disclosures, Trump hotel revenue soared over the past few years. In 2015, records show just $16.7 million in hotel and resort revenues. In 2016, that income more than doubled to $33.8 million. Since Trump moved into the White House, Trump hotel income jumped about 80%, reaching $60.8 million in 2017. Sure in late 2016, Trump opened the Old Post Office Hotel in Washington DC despite the clear guideline that, “No elected official of the Government of the United States…shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease.” Since then, it’s become the go-to hotel for any foreign visitor looking to win favors from the Trumps as well as headquarters to GOP activity in DC.

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TIME magazine has a good cover for Donald Trump’s DC hotel. Funny how they call it “The Swamp Hotel” since Trump promised to “drain the swamp.” Though I think he might’ve meant the Everglades than Washington.

But what the public doesn’t know is that Donald Trump wasn’t the only political and/or business figure to visit his properties. According to a January 2018 report by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, during Trump’s first year in office, his properties hosted more than 100 executive branch officials, 30 members of Congress, and more than a dozen state officials. Trump’s properties also hosted events held by at least 40 special interest groups. At least 11 foreign governments and 6 foreign officials have appeared on Trump properties since 2017. The Kuwaiti Embassy held a National Day celebration in 2017 and 2018 at Trump’s D.C. hotel. While one Asian diplomat told the Washington Post shortly after Trump’s election that going to his D.C. hotel makes perfect sense, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?'” In the business sector, USA Today found that executives from 50 government contractors and 21 lobbyists hold Trump club memberships.

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This is a CREW graph on top campaign spenders at Trump properties. You can see Trump’s top the list. But Republican governors and politicians aren’t far behind.

The Center of Responsive politics sorted the spending of political committees at Trump properties with Donald Trump’s own campaign events topping the list. In 2017 alone, Trump’s 2020 campaign spent $760,064 at buildings he owns. And since Trump still owns these properties, he and his family make extra money every time he holds a fundraiser. Since Trump’s DC Hotel is only a block away from the Justice Department and close to the White House, anyone who wants to make a contribution to Trump’s pockets simply books events there. Same goes for New York’s Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago. In 2016, the RNC spent $146,521 at Trump properties and $173,416 in 2017.

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Here’s a CREW map of members of Congress who’ve visited a Trump property. Kind of surprised to see Ted Cruz on there given what Donald Trump put him through. Yet, I don’t see Devin Nunes for some reason since he was on Trump’s transition team.

Before assuming office, Donald Trump vowed to donate his DC hotel profits from foreign governments to the US Treasury. However, to no one’s surprise months later, the Trump Organization admitted that tracking all foreign government money was “impractical.” But it promised to donate profits from guests self-identifying as foreign government representatives. Yet, in early 2018 the Trump Organization announced that it had donated profits from “foreign government patronage” after all but declined to disclose specifics like as the Washington Post speculated, “How much was donated? Which Trump properties were included in this accounting? Which foreign entities had paid money to Trump’s businesses?”

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Here’s a CREW map of foreign governments that have paid a Trump-owned entity since the inauguration. Includes China, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey, and Malaysia.

Furthermore, neither Donald Trump nor his team have shied away from promoting his brand. After the 2016 election, Trump signaled he’d spend a great deal of time at his Mar-a-Lago in Florida. In turn, the club doubled its membership fees to $200,000 before taxes and charged $175 more to $600-$750 for its New Year’s Eve party. From January to August 2017, 2/3 of the 50 executives and lobbyist club members played golf on days Trump was. White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway promoted Ivanka brands on Fox News for God’s sake. During his first year in office, Trump mentioned his private businesses at least 35 times according to CREW estimates. Overall, their report found that political groups spent over $1.2 billion at Trump properties during his first year in office, after never having spent more than $100,000 “in any given year going back to at least 2002.” CREW chair and former Obama ethics czar Noah Eisen tweeted that the group’s report described Trump as “the most unethical presidency,” adding, “Year two has been even worse—& it’s just getting started.” In the fall of 2017, the Trump Organization debuted Trumpstore.com where you can buy all other-than-made-in-the-USA #MAGA gear, which is just another Trump family cash grab.

Nor is Donald Trump the only one in his family profiting from the presidency. In June 2018, the Washington Post reported: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, brought in at least $82 million in outside income while serving as senior White House advisers during 2017, according to new financial disclosure forms released Monday. Ivanka Trump earned $3.9 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, while Kushner reported over $5 million in income from Quail Ridge, a Kushner Cos. apartment complex acquired last year in Plainsboro, New Jersey. The filings show how the couple are collecting immense sums from other enterprises while serving in the White House, an extraordinary income flow that ethics experts have warned could create potential conflicts of interests.” Allowing Ivanka and Kushner retain their outside income sources is remarkable since Cabinet officials are required to divest themselves from their holdings or abide by strict rules imposed by a blind trust. Shortly after the inauguration, the State Department’s web page promoted Melania’s jewelry line. The Secret Service has even provided protection for Trump’s family as they go on business trips as well, with their expenses being paid on the taxpayer dime.

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Here’s a small snapshot of Donald Trump’s and his administration’s over 500 conflicts of interest. You many not be able to read everything on here. But it’s truly staggering.

So why is all this a problem? Because it’s against the rules at a constitutional scale. The presidency shouldn’t be a get-rich-quick scheme. No president or First Family member should use the Oval Office to enhance their wealth. With his business interests on his mind, Donald Trump is making decisions as a country’s leader and under the guise of what’s best for the nation. But since he won’t be in office forever, he’s possibly putting Trump Organization interest before public interest. As CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder put it, “Every decision President Trump makes in the course of his job is followed by the specter of corruption. Because of his steady stream of conflicts, we have to question whether each decision he makes was made in the best interest of the American people or the best interest of his bottom line.” CREW estimates that Trump has over 500 conflicts of interest, which a clear picture of a presidency being used to turn a profit and his businesses serving as access points to corridors of power. Bookbinder adds, “Just as we feared, President Trump is not only making money in spite of his official position, in many cases, he’s making money because of it.”

Of course, the courts need to hash out this though with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court almost a done deal, does this harm the public? (Absolutely). Is there any proof Trump’s violating the Constitution? (Yes, the Emoluments Clause which forbids the president from accepting money from foreign governments). Fortunately, the apparent Emoluments Clause violations haven’t gone unnoticed as several lawsuits work their way through the courts. It appears quite serious as Trump businesses are subpoenaed and ordered to preserve documents. 3-4 suits have been filed so far. Naturally, the Trump administration asked that they’d be thrown out. Again, a judge will decide if Donald Trump’s broken the law. As of March 2018, one suit has been thrown out in December while the others endure and may be gaining traction.

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Donald Trump doesn’t see anything wrong with profiting from the presidency. Since he sees himself having the right to the spoils. Nonetheless, making the presidency for sale greatly undermines our democracy.

So how is Donald Trump’s legal team defending profiting off the presidency? For one, despite how rich he is, we taxpayers are paying for lawyers to argue that Trump has a right to profit from his presidency. And according to a USA Today article, it all boils down to this: “The taxpayer-funded lawyers are making the case that it is not unconstitutional for the president’s private companies to earn profits from foreign governments and officials while he’s in office.” Further, “The government lawyers and Trump’s private attorneys are making the same arguments — that the Constitution’s ban on a president taking gifts from foreign interests in exchange for official actions does not apply to foreign government customers buying things from Trump’s companies. The plaintiffs, including ethics groups and competing businesses, argue the payments pose an unconstitutional conflict of interest.” Or to quote Trump before he took office, “The president can’t have a conflict of interest.” However, we must keep in mind that Donald Trump doesn’t see himself as constrained to any norm, rules, or even laws. He was born into wealth and privilege and sees himself exempt from certain restraints that get in his way that would land the average person in jail. Profiting off the presidency is political corruption at its finest and not at all normal. Yet, like any con artist businessman, Trump sees profit as natural and immediate spoils of office.

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This is a map of where Donald Trump owns property outside the United States. You can see that Russia is in bright yellow since it interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

Whether you can agree or disagree with Donald Trump’s actions, it’s very obvious he’s at least violating the spirit of the law. After all, he promised to step away from his interests but didn’t, implying he knew he should’ve before taking office. But it’s still hard to say whether or not a court will throw the book at him since there’s not much legal precedent here. However, since presidential ethics laws never foresaw a businessman president who wouldn’t follow political norms of divesting himself from his businesses, disclosing his taxes, and generally trying to avoid conflicts of interests, much of this may be legal.

Nonetheless, it’s more than just making sure that a president acts in good faith while in office. The real issue here is establishing precedent moving forward. While Capitol Hill seems fine letting Donald Trump get away with anything he wants including Emoluments violations, what can we expect from future presidents? While it’s a test for the courts, it’s also one for how much the public is willing to put up with from our elected officials. If we don’t put our foot down now, what happens when another more competent president goes out of bounds?

But what’s certain is that each day he occupies the White House, Donald Trump continues to profit from the presidency and possibly because he’s the man in the Oval Office. By promoting his business in an official capacity without shame and by offering access and influence to his businesses’ patrons, Trump sends a message to special interests and foreign government that his administration is for sale. This is no message an American president should send to the world since it shows that Trump’s support can be bought with patronage. While most Americans can’t even afford to stay at any of his resorts or visit his golf courses. This isn’t how American democracy should function. Nonetheless, the remaining years of the Trump administration are unlikely to be any different unless the American people and their Congressional representatives demand better.

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How Donald Trump Tried to Evict Rent-Controlled Tenants

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This is 100 Central Park South, which Donald Trump bought in 1981. During the 1980s, he had plans to demolish it for a tower of luxury condos. Unfortunately for him,, a group of rent controlled tenants lived there.

Donald Trump may be elected president thanks to receiving about 60 million votes, the Electoral College, and help from the Russians back in 2016. But in his hometown in New York City, he is almost universally loathed. The city may be a haven for liberals and elites but remember it’s the same place who elected Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. Yet, Trump has been disliked in NYC for decades that Sesame Street parodied him as a sleazy villain since the late 1980s. Since he and his dad were indicted by the Justice for housing discrimination in the 1970s, the people of New York City have witnessed Trump concoct his dastardly and often at their expense. Over the years, Trump has preyed on them with false promises, exploited them, scammed them, and abused them for his own enrichment. He’s even inflamed racial tensions for his own benefit like his page long ad calling for the executions of the Central Park Five. At best, New Yorkers see him as a sleazy con artist who’s not to be trusted. At worst, they see him as a nightmare. If the people of New York City despise Trump, it’s not because the politics. It’s because they know exactly who he is and why he should’ve never become president.

At 35 years old, Donald Trump was the epitome of American business bravado. He had cut multi-million land deals, saved a blighted midtown Manhattan subway hub by overhauling a building near Grand Central Station that would become the Grand Hyatt New York, and was in the process of erecting the black-framed glass behemoth, the 68-story Trump Tower. After he destroyed the old Bonwit Teller Building including the Art Deco sculptures he promised not to. And with the labor of undocumented Polish workers who were paid less than $5 an hour and lived in squalid conditions.

In 1981, Donald Trump bought the Barbizon Plaza Hotel and a neighboring 14-story apartment building on prime real estate facing New York City’s Central Park. Addressed at 100 Central Park South he paid $13 million for, he had plans to tear down the buildings and replace them with luxury condos. It would be an audacious project and on one of New York City’s most desirable blocks. Two months later, he applied for a demolition permit to blow it up.

But there was one problem. In 60 of 100 Central Park South’s 80 apartments, rent-stabilized tenants already lived Central Park South building. Donald Trump describes renters as privileged, rich “yuppies” who unfairly benefitted from rent-control, claiming the rent he collected barely covered expenses. That’s why he installed cheaper lightbulbs to cut back. As he claimed, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the rich, it’s that they have a very low threshold for even the mildest discomfort.” To be fair, a low rent home a short walk away from Broadway theaters and Carnegie Hall is a pretty sweet deal. Dentist Dr. Michael Richman paid $700 a month for his apartment. Fashion designer Arnold Scaasi paid $985 for his mind-blowing, 6-bedroom with killer views of Central Park. B-movie actress and original Rockette Suzanne Blackmer paid $203.59 month for her 2-bedroom unit which wasn’t her primary residence. A 3-room apartment in the building overlooking the part could be as low as $436 a month. In New York City this was the stuff of legend.

In reality, while rich people did inhabit a share of these apartments, most of the tenants were either working people or middle class retirees living on fixed incomes and Social Security who’ve resided there for over 20 years. None epitomizes this like B-movie Suzanne Blackmer who’d many would think was living quite extravagantly. But that wasn’t the case for she was only living on $10,000 a year from Social Security, occasional acting gigs, and a pension from the Screen Actors Guild she earned by appearing in
over 60 films. Sure she may have had multiple residences, but she kept that apartment as a place to stay for her job.

Donald Trump often demonized the tenants as freeloading millionaires as a way to justify his harassment against the tenants at 100 Central Park South. It didn’t matter who they were. It was about getting the New York City public on his side. After all, New Yorkers would hate rich people getting very good deals on prime real estate given how expensive the city rents are. And it helped that a noted fashion designer, an architect, and a B-movie actress had units there for cheap rents. As Trump stated in The Art of the Deal, “Rent control is a disaster for all but the privileged minority who are protected by it. As much as any other single factor, rent control is responsible for the desperate housing crisis that has plagued NYC for the past 20 years.” Ironically, we should keep in mind that Trump has amassed his fortune thanks in large part to government handouts.
So in order to get his luxury condos, Donald Trump wanted to get them out. After applying for the demolition permit, he fired the building manager and replaced him with Citadel Management. According to The Art of the Deal, Trump claimed he chose a company that “specialized in relocating tenants.” While most landlords commonly try buying tenants out, Trump and Citadel Management tried to get the job done for free. At first, Citadel hired agents to constantly call tenants constantly, asking to show them other properties and convincing them that they’d have to move regardless. Most tenants refused for obvious reasons.

In the meantime, they did the bare minimum one could legally get away with in terms of upkeep. These included things like removing light covers, not cleaning up the lobby, ignoring repairs and maintenance, barring doormen from carrying up packages, and putting up aluminum foil on windows facing Central Park to give the building a run down appearance. Garbage filled the hallways and elevators as rats began to swarm. And tenants weren’t even allowed to erect a Christmas tree in the lobby. According to their 1982 lawsuit, tenants claimed that Donald Trump had cut their hot water and heat during New York’s freezing winters and stopped all building repairs. One said he allowed “a rodent infestation of the premises.” Another stated he imposed burdensome new rules in an attempt to force them out. However, building superintendent Anthony Ramirez, swore in court that Trump’s building managers gave him explicit instructions. “They didn’t want any repairs done. No cleaning. No accepting of packages.” As a result of the lack of maintenance, fashion designer Arnold Scaasi’s luxurious apartment was plagued by water leaks. One imperiled his art collection that included a 1926 Picasso and works of art by Claud Monet. And he wasn’t the only one. A 10 month water leak in Apartment 14B got so nasty that 2 brothers who grew up there saw brown and white mushrooms sprouting from their bedroom carpet. One told CNN Money, “It felt like we were under attack. Trump did his best not to repair anything.” Yet, Donald Trump refused to do anything about it.

On one occasion, when Donald Trump’s new building manager reported a burglary, dentists with apartment offices were ordered to send patients to a garbage-filled service elevator. Dr. Michael Richman refused to comply, complaining in court documents that Trump “mounted a campaign of harassment.” He then added, “Mr. Trump is willing to resort to any device or tactic to drive out the tenants from the building.” Trump’s lawyers fought back, questioning whether the dentist’s office even qualified for rent control.

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This is what the eviction threat from Donald Trump looks like. And he sent this to an elderly couple, by the way.

On New Year’s Eve, several tenants received “lease violation” warning letters. The previous owners had permitted renters to knock down walls and renovate their apartment units at least 10 to 20 years prior. He reversed the exception and gave renters only 12 days to rebuild the walls or face eviction. Another time, Donald Trump sued tenant Andersen Clipper for not paying rent despite that he actually did. New York City Judge Jay Dankberg dismissed the case as “spurious and unnecessary,” as well as blasted Trump for trying to “harass” Clipper and forced the huckster to refund 5% of his rent. He then wrote, “To most landlords happiness is having tenants who pay the rent each month without prodding or litigation. However, [Trump] is apparently searching for double happiness.” According to his estranged wife Nancy who remembers the lawsuits and the refusal to fix things, “It was really a horrible experience.” She then described Trump as “insensitive, rude, and just a generally nasty man. I would never have considered him presidential.”

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This is real estate lawyer David Rozenholc who represented the tenants at 100 Central Park South. Due to his aggressive litigation nature, he’s kind of like a Michael Avenatti in the real estate world. Also, Donald Trump sued his firm in retaliation for $150 million on corruption charges.

The renters weren’t going anywhere. After all, most of them were senior citizens on rent-control and with no other place to go. In response, they hired a particularly aggressive real estate lawyer named David Rozenholc and sued Donald Trump and his company, Park South Associates. New York state judges stepped in to put Trump’s lease violation notices on hold on at least 2 occasions. Since Rozenholc took advantage of a legal flaw to block Trump’s application to begin construction. He also sued Trump for harassing his clients and having management instruct the superintendent to spy on them. In return, Trump sued Rozenholc’s firm in a federal suit for racketeering and sought $105 million in damages, which was later dismissed since it was stupid.

In 1982 and 1983, Donald Trump put out newspaper advertisements offering to shelter homeless people offering them a dozen or so free apartments with “beautiful views.” But seeing how Trump often does seemingly charitable things on selfish motives, tenants saw the move as a ruthless attempt to drive them out. Trump denied it, telling the New York Times, “Some people think I’m just doing a number on the people in the building. That’s not true. I just want to help with the homeless problem. It’ll take two or three years to get everybody out, and in the meantime I’ll have more and more vacant apartments for the indigent.” He even offered to pay for nurses and medical supplies to treat the homeless. But New York’s Human Resources deputy administrator Robert Trobe told the Times that Trump’s offer did “not seem appropriate.” In end the city declined, questioning the wisdom of moving homeless people into a building headed for demolition. Though not without a refugee charity suggesting he house Polish refugees which Trump balked at saying his offer was only for those “live in America now, not refugees.”

Alleged spying took place, too. According to superintendent Anthony Ramirez, Donald Trump’s building manager told him monitor, “the personal habits of the tenants” and “keep a list on the tenants’ activities.” While Ramirez defend Trump on maintenance issues, spying went too far. He told the manager, “Sir, I have too many things on my conscience at this late stage in life, and I don’t need anymore headaches. I’m here to do my job and to do repairs to the building.” Apparently, Trump wanted to spy on the tenants in an attempt to dig dirt on them to use as blackmail or get them evicted. Trump denied this in a sworn 1985 affidavit. First, he claimed he didn’t directly run building owner Park South Associates (despite that corporate documents show he owned 60% of the company and was the only listed officer). Second, he swore he kept the building in tip-top shape with a previous New York housing agency inspection to back it up, finding that “all public areas were clean.”

However, the same state agency, the New York’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal went after Donald Trump, too. They sued, charging him of harassing tenants after the tenants sent a barrage of complaints alleging harassment, “drastic decreases in essential services,” and “persistent delay in repairing defective conditions with life-threatening potential.” Several even went on a rent strike. The New York City filed a similar suit months later, mentioning daily harassment, “wrongful acts and
omissions”, bogus nonpayment notices, and utilities that were turned off, by Trump’s agents. The city lost the injunction in September 1985 with the state Supreme Court justice stating, The danger of irreparable harm to the tenants seems to be minimal now that the challenged activities of the defendants are under the scrutiny of the various departments of the City of New York.

Yet, there was a glimmer of peace in 1985. According to court documents, Donald Trump and the tenants’ association leader discussed a potential deal. The renters planned to team up and buy the building for $15 million to free themselves from their dreaded landlord. You’d think Trump would accept this deal and everyone would live happily ever after. But no. Instead, he used that opportunity to accuse the tenants shady behavior like using harassment lawsuits to cover their real motivations. As his attorneys claimed, tenants were “waging a ceaseless guerrilla-type war… to coerce a bargain sale of the building,” He then sued them for $150 million, escalating the legal battle. In a 1985 New York Times editorial, Sydney Schanberg called Trump a “slumlord.” Trump’s lawyers responded in an op-ed attacking Schanberg, Rozenholc, New York City, and called it a “political maneuver in a mayoral election year.”

By 1986, Trump had spent over $1 million fighting the tenants and only $160,000 on repairs. Thankfully, he finally settled with the tenants’ association that year. He then cut his attorneys a $550,000 check and agreed to let the housing agency monitor repairs for 5 years. The tenants could stay in their apartments paying their preexisting rents. As Tony Schwartz detailed in a 1985 New York Times article, “how a bunch of rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants in an old building… have managed to do what city agencies, courts, colleagues, competitors, and the National Football League have never been able to do: successfully stand in the way of something Donald Trump wants.” He described Trump as “fugue of failure, a farce of fumbling and bumbling.”

However, the harassment still didn’t stop. Donald Trump may have gave up demolition, but he decided to renovate and later convert the building into condos instead. Elderly couple Alvin and Catalina Meyer, the wife plagued with emphysema and dying of cancer. So it was a particularly rude awakening when Trump’s construction workers woke Catalina up at 7 a.m. by drilling holes in the ceiling above her bed. The construction crew also set up a workstation in the apartment next door. Mrs. Meyer complained about the dust in the air. According to court papers, she claimed, “I am a very sick woman battling for my life. I have begged for reasonableness. The landlord will not be reasonable.” After nearly a decade of nonstop fighting, tenants started turning on one another. Trump told them he couldn’t fix the building’s heating system because Mrs. Meyer didn’t give construction workers access to their apartment. Fellow tenants told Meyer to back down while her lawsuit fizzled out when her own attorney left her.

The fighting died down in the 1990s, only to pop up again in 2000 when 72-year-old Carmel Rheingold sued Donald Trump in a New York State court for overcharging her $40,000 in rent over 4 years. He paid that money back. In 1998, Trump struck a deal with the building’s remaining inhabitants allowing them to either buy their apartments at a markdown or keep renting without further pressure to leave.

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A 1988 Sesame Street episode when Oscar the Grouch signs on with Ronald Grump is said to be based on this 1980s tenant dispute.

In the end, no judge ever ruled that tenants were being harassed. After all, Donald Trump settled but he didn’t get his way. The building remains in place to this day. According to city records, Trump’s company owns 18 units and his son Eric has an apartment on the top floor. At least 2 renters actually bought their apartments. But most died or moved away. Nonetheless, as of 2016, there are still tenants who still pay rent-control rates. Meanwhile the 106 Central Park South next door offers a glimpse of what Trump would’ve built at 100 Central Park South if he had the chance: largely luxury developments sitting mostly vacant accruing value for their super wealthy owners.
Donald Trump’s dispute with the tenants of 100 Central Park South remains a defining moment that shows his character in the minds of many New Yorkers. As New York journalist and author of Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, Wayne Barrett told CNN Money, “This was a concrete choice he made, knowing he would disrupt the lives of many middle income, elderly people. He has absolutely no excuse.” In 1987, Suzanne Blackmer said of Trump, “He has such an ego. He wants to be Jesus. He wants to be Hitler. He wants to be the most powerful thing in the world.”

Looking back, you can see Trump waging a different sort of campaign but with many of the same tactics he deployed during the 2016 campaign and his presidency like the threats, theatrics, and penchant for hyperbole. David Rozenholc said of Trump in 2016, “He knows how to negotiate, he knows how to use leverage and he’s very perceptive about his opponent’s vulnerabilities. It didn’t work against me, but when you deal with Putin and Iran, these could be useful qualities.” In The Art of the Deal, Trump acknowledged that he deliberately tried driving out tenants, but claimed most of them were exploiting undeserved government subsidies. He recalled getting rid of free telephone in the building’s lobby which he claimed tenants were using, “to call their friends in Gstaad and St. Moritz.” Yet, tenant Madelyn Rubenstein and 2 other residents at the time could only remember a pay phone in the building. Nor has Trump admitted defeat as he told The New York Times, “It was a long battle, but it was a successful battle. As usual, I came out on top.” Some may think that Trump’s slumlord past has little to do with his presidency, but the episode reveals Trump’s character as a man who sees dollars and cents over people’s lives. While his callous attitude has made him a marketplace success drawing fans from all walks of life, he’s profoundly unsuited for a very humanistic job of holding the American people’s best interests.

But more importantly, Donald Trump’s clash with the 100 Central Park South tenants shows that he’s not invincible. And he can be stopped. The rent-controlled tenants at 100 Central Park South fought hard to keep their homes for years and won. They hired attorneys. They took their cause to the media. They went on rent strikes. They applied pressure to state institutions into taking action. In the end, Trump had give up his plans to demolish the building and settle with them. If we band together in solidarity and resist Trump’s monstrous presidency and his unpopular, repressive policies. We may not be able to remove him from office, but we don’t have to let him get his way. In the name of freedom and democracy, let us all unite as Americans and stop this unrespectable man. once and for all.

A Profile in Courage or Cowardice

On Wednesday, September 5, 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed by an anonymous senior official in the Trump administration under the headline “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump White House.” The official writes that they’re one of many “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [President Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.” To put it in other words, “don’t worry because we Trump appointees are working from the inside to stop Trump from fulfilling parts of his agenda we disagree with.” The author’s motives were immediately questioned and reasonably so. But you have to wonder why this person just doesn’t quit. Is it good for people aware of Donald Trump’s dangers to stay inside the administration in an attempt to undermine it from within?

The op-ed’s major problem is with its lack of accountability. The “senior official in the Trump administration” raises a serious question on whether Donald Trump is fit to be president (oh, hell no) before slipping past any follow-up responsibility. Instead of leading a public debate of possible 25th Amendment invocation to remove Trump from office, the writer encourages Americans to trust the administration officials in the background. The author claims, “it’s okay, we got this.” For they‘ll thwart his “misguided impulses until he is out of office.”

But how much credibility should Americans give to someone who takes shots from a secret hideaway? The alleged presence of secret saviors shouldn’t surprise anyone. Every White House adviser should see it as part of their job to smother bad ideas and save the president from misguided impulses. But anonymously bashing one’s boss is disloyal and more likely makes everyone in the organization paranoid than fix anything. Though knowing the kind of boss Donald Trump is, I can hardly blame the writer for bashing him. Yet, unlike what Donald Trump states in his outbursts, it’s not treason in the slightest. Apparently, this Trump official wants a paper trail to show the world in case things go south.

The op-ed tells us nothing that we already know. It’s already established that Donald Trump is morally bankrupt, has no coherent worldview outside the primacy of his own ego and interests, and moves from objective to objective. How many times a week do news outlets and comedians broadcast his tweets? The op-ed depicts Donald Trump as anti-trade and anti-democratic while characterizing his leadership style as “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.” According to the writer, Trump goes on long, repetitive rants and makes “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions.” Yet, you can easily see this whenever you tune on the news. But don’t worry, these “unsung heroes” will protect America from Trump’s “erratic behavior.” If they really feel the need to subvert Trump to protect the country, why not go all the way and get that fucking piece of shit out of the White House.

The piece suggests that the United States is currently under a “two-tier” presidency. If Donald Trump wants to do something his underlings like, they go along with it. If he wants to do something they don’t, they find ways around it. This is consistent with Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear where he describes senior officials taking things off Trump’s desk to prevent him from seeing them. However, make no mistake that those working for the Trump administration and carrying out any part of his agenda are enabling him for their own benefit, not undermining him. If Trump is so incompetent that his most trusted advisers have to play peekaboo for national security’s sake, they should work to get him out of office. Not sparing us from his cruelest instincts isn’t enough, especially if they involve sabotaging Obamacare, separating families at the border, pandering to white supremacists, being way too friendly to authoritarian dictators like Vladimir Putin, getting rid of essential regulations to satisfy major corporations, and neglecting Puerto Rico and Flint. Furthermore, Trump believes that the Justice Department should allow his allies get way with crimes but prosecute his enemies maliciously for whatever’s under the sun. Like any dictator, he thinks it should be illegal to criticize or read any criticism of him. And he believes that ethnic and religious minorities he’s bound to respect. Not to mention, Trump has nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the US Supreme Court and will very well be confirmed. Yet, Kavanaugh could bring Trump’s authoritarian agenda to fruition. More importantly, Kavanaugh believes that Republican presidents are above the law and won’ answer basic questions about conversations he’s had regarding the special counsel investigation. While the Kavanaugh nomination may be less fun and dramatic than the anonymous op-ed from the White House, it will have a far greater impact on American life.

Alas, these Trump officials are cowards too afraid of facing the consequences. While they hand-wave the notion, thus: “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.” How is utilizing the 25th Amendment cause a constitutional crisis while admitting to subvert a so-called democratically elected president wouldn’t? The truth is Republicans like the “two-track” arrangement and don’t want Trump out of office. Because they’re advancing a right-wing economic agenda that any other batshit Republican president would’ve championed while preserving the popularity of Trump’s base. Everyone who works for Trump and his Republican allies knows he’s dangerously unfit for to be president. Yet, they’re willing to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities, sacrifice democratic principles, sell their souls, and leave their conscience at the door in a Faustian exchange for upper-income tax cuts, starving the social safety net, or solidifying a right-wing federal judiciary. Furthermore, the fact the author defends Trump’s policy agenda of “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more,” illustrating their conservative leanings. The writer even notes in the beginning that “ours is not the popular ‘resistance’ of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.” That’s not a voice of a resister, that’s an enabler. A resister like myself wants the Trump administration to go down in flames.

Nonetheless, the anonymous op-ed allows the author to have it both ways. If the Trump administration goes down in flames, they can claim to have heroically resisted the orange tyrant. If Donald Trump and his swamp toadies from the Washington cesspit triumph, they can claim to being a loyal caretaker to the conservative agenda Trump was “elected” to implement. Either way, while this self-serving cowardice might get the op-ed author off the hook, history will remember the Trump administration as a dumpster fire disaster. 2 years in, the Trump administration has led to has led to displacement and death of thousands of Americans in Puerto Rico, systematic abuse of children as immigration policy, arbitrary status revocation for black and Latino immigrants posing no threat to public safety, abdication of the federal government’s responsibility to defend the civil rights of racial and ethnic minorities, attempted subversion of federal law enforcement, and the enrichment of Trump and his affluent allies at taxpayers’ expense.
On the other hand, given the stakes up to including a literal nuclear war, there needs to be some people quietly working backstage to prevent the worst from happening. Perhaps, in the future, they will be in a position to do more when Republicans are willing to do something about Donald Trump. Of course, you can do something about that by voting straight Democrat at the polls come November. Also, you might want to call out your relatives and community for abandoning their souls to hateful and banal Trumpism and Fox News. But for now, a little resistance is better than no resistance at all.

Make no mistake that the root cause of this clusterfuck is that the Republicans chose to back an unfit and dangerous president for selfish and crass political reasons. After all, since they’re getting the policies they want, they see no reason to challenge him. Unless the Democrats sweep the 2018 midterms, there’s no reason to believe that one or several officials coming out and condemning the unrespectable Donald Trump as a threat to democracy will ever change the minds of any Republican who knows of Trump’s worst habits full well. This forces well-meaning Trump officials into a terrible choice. On one hand, they can stay and do their best to undermine him where they can. On the other hand, they could quit and potentially let Trump staff the White House with cronies and ass kissers. Choosing the latter could cause irreparable damage to American democracy, a major war, a global economic crisis, or all 3 at once.

Indeed, these Trump officials may be enablers but they’re not helping their boss implement terrible policies while trying to make them better on the margins. In fact, they’re actually blocking some of these policies from coming into existence, especially the worst ones. Not to mention, the United States is an advanced democracy with Donald Trump up for reelection within 2 years and may lose his congressional majority in 2 months. White House officials aren’t indefinitely helping an occupying power but holding the line until the legitimate political process has a chance to curb Trump’s excesses. Sure they haven’t always succeeded. And we’re not sure if the author or anyone else has even tried or wanted to try to do anything to help immigrants, refugees, Puerto Ricans, Obamacare enrollees, or any other groups of people whose lives the Trump and his administration has imperiled significantly.

Nonetheless, the vast swath of bureaucracy appears to be on the dissenting officials’ side. Since they have a real opportunity to the contain the last election’s consequences until they can be reversed. Yet, given the nearly unimaginable stakes here, it’s too dangerous for anyone of goodwill to quit. We need utilitarians around to mitigate the risks of a true disaster. Remember when Donald Trump spent the latter half of 2017 threatening Pyongyang with “fire and fury?” Well, Trump’s antics undercut then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s efforts. While the Defense Department had quietly ramped up preparations for war while Trump constantly brought up the idea of attacking North Korea in tweets and in meetings. It’s certainly apparent that a war between North Korea and the US would’ve cost millions of lives. Thankfully, we didn’t get that. Instead of a globally destructive conflict, we got a summit in Singapore and a sham deal between Trump and Kim Jong Un which seems to have moved us of the war footing for now. Sure, the summit was utterly embarrassing, but at least nobody got killed. Still, there are few practical checks to the executive branch’s ability to initiate force. If Trump decided to follow through with his “fire and fury” threats, he could’ve ordered a strike on North Korea’s nukes. But somehow, he changed his mind.

The op-ed author doesn’t go into detail on how they can assert various claims in their piece as well as they’ve personally stopped some of Donald Trump’s horrendous ideas. But a couple years of concrete reporting has uncovered concrete examples of Trump’s staff “thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses.” Last June, White House Counsel Don McGahn refused a direct order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller as well as cooperated with the Mueller investigation and sometimes didn’t tell his boss what he was doing. Then there’s White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly controlled the flow of information to Trump, blocking conspiracy theorists like Infowars’ Alex Jones or right-wing trolls like Chuck Johnson from getting into Trump’s ear. According to Bob Woodward, Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to convince Trump that trying to assassinate Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad was a bad idea. Since the move would’ve been arguably illegal and possibly set off a dangerous confrontation with Russia.

Another incident has National Economic Council chair Gary Cohn stopped Trump from withdrawing from the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement by stealing the letter that would’ve ordered withdrawal from his desk. Since withdrawing from that agreement would’ve wreaked havoc on the alliance and American businesses. If Trump had gotten his way in these cases, we would’ve had a constitutional crisis, war, and economic pain. If it weren’t for people who understood the potential consequences, everything could’ve been much worse. Of course, this doesn’t mean Trump’s staff doesn’t always succeed nor that Donald Trump’s worst policies have all been stopped. We still got the travel ban, family separations, withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, and pointless and dangerous undercutting of Obamacare, all of which has caused real pain. But as bad as things are, it’s easy to imagine them being much worse.

Some may argue that the anonymous op-ed writer identify, resign, and present evidence justifying an invocation of the 25th Amendment, impeachment, or the first necessary step toward either outcome or a Democratic Congress after the November elections. This might be noble in theory, there’s no evidence that congressional Republicans would go along with checking Donald Trump’s power. Since they went along with him knowing full well who he is. For one invoking the 25th Amendment is far more difficult than it sounds since it would require the vice president and the majority of the cabinet to decide whether Trump is fully incapacitated. But Trump could simply refuse to accept the outcome, which kicks the issue to the GOP-controlled Congress with 2/3 voting to agree to remove Trump from office. That’s not going to happen as long as Republicans dominate Capitol Hill. Then there’s the idea of a Mike Pence presidency which Democrats really don’t want at this point.

However, regardless of what some may think, what Trump officials are doing isn’t a coup but an extension of bureaucratic politics to extraordinary times. As political scientist Naunihal Singh told Vox, “This is an extreme form of things we see often, when cabinet secretaries or military officers attempt to steer policy ‘from below’ by limiting information flow to the President.” Besides, we’ve seen this before but mainly when presidents are incapacitated or physically ill. Since it can only be pulled off only when the center’s so weak that everyone grabs power. What different is that the United States is currently governed by a man so unfit for the office that his White House functions as if he’s in a hospital. But unlike previous presidents, Donald Trump isn’t going to die or get better. The constitutional remedies for such situation like the 25th Amendment or impeachment aren’t plausible options right now. So Trump aides recognizing the reality are stuck with a quiet resistance.

If anything, the most persuasive criticism of the op-ed isn’t the author doing something wrong in the White House. But rather going public in an op-ed endangers the quiet anti-Trump insurgency back stage. As Cato Institute scholar Julian Sanchez tweeted, “If you were really concerned about protecting the country from an erratic Trump — rather than, say, trying to pre-salvage your post-administration reputation — you probably wouldn’t write something like this given its predictable consequences. I can pretty much guarantee that this: (1) Triggers an epic tantrum and makes Trump even more paranoid than he already is, & (2) Sets off a mole-hunt that results in suspiciously competent persons being purged & replaced with loyalist nuts and/or Trump family members.” So writing it in a newspaper probably wasn’t a wise move. But since it has, we must hope that the author manages to rally other “resistance” members or even inspire other Trump officials to join. Sure it’s naïve and these quiet resistors aren’t the most reliable since they might sometimes enable their monstrous boss enact terrible policies they agree with. But in dark times, it makes sense to cling to whatever shred of hope we got.

When Donald Trump Screwed Atlantic City

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Amid the many Donald Trump scandals circulating in the news lately, whether it be on Russia, Stormy Daniels, his racist rhetoric, and anything else relating to his presidency, there is a strong tendency for the media to skirt many harrowing moments from his shockingly shady past. Now I get that it’s the media’s job to cover what’s currently going on in the world. Yet, that doesn’t mean many of these scandals don’t matter for a lot of them can tell us a lot about Trump’s character and abilities as well as what he really stands for. Nonetheless, Trump’s breadth of scandals is staggering with mafia tie allegations, unscrupulous business dealings, sexual assault allegations, racial discrimination, and alleged marital rape. All of which number in the thousands while spanning over 4 decades from the 1970s to the present day ranging from the trivial to the truly appalling.

Nevertheless, there are some Donald Trump scandals that are worth revisiting since they still carry negative repercussions to this day. In a time of obscene economic inequality, egregious corporate greed, rising costs of living, and diminishing labor power, Trump has styled himself in his 2016 presidential campaign as a successful businessman who many working class whites viewed as their champion despite the fact he’s neither. But none shows the negative effect Trump has had on many Americans than the debacles surrounding his casino empire in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the 1980s-2000s. In his career-long pursuit to increase his personal coffers, Trump has been involved with a wide range of businesses over the years. The sheer range of ventures may offer a superficial appearance of a broad array of mastery, that doesn’t mean he’s good at business. Since he wouldn’t be able to try his hand in multiple ventures if he wasn’t born wealthy to begin with. But like any expert con artist across industries, Trump has only mastered an essential skill of structuring deals financially beneficial for him regardless whether the underlying business succeeds and regardless what damage is done.

Nowhere else is this ability echoed than in his dealings regarding his casinos in Atlantic City when he was a chair of a publicly traded company. Since such role not only made him responsible for his own interests, but also those of his company’s shareholders. But rather than create wealth for business partners, Trump took advantage of investors who believed in him in order to benefit. As head of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, he ran the company to the ground, immiserating shareholders while walking away with enormous bags of cash. And he’s doing the same thing to the United States in the White House because his brand managed to impress over 60 million people willing to vote for him.

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Here are the remnants of Trump Plaza which closed in 2014. Without its glitzy lights, it seems like a rather basic abandoned building only taking up space in the city.

It’s not unusual for large business enterprises to be largely financed by people who didn’t found the company and don’t usually management. In fact, this is how many multinational corporations that shape our lives today get started in the first place. Yet, while starting and managing a successful company is one way to make a shitload of money, it’s not the only way. Another method is running a business that stays afloat for some years without being really profitable. You then treat yourself to a high salary and when it goes bankrupt, that’s the investors’ problem. While business failure is always a fact of life, giving oneself a cushy salary while everyone else suffers from their sins is a terrible way to do business. But it’s a scheme more common than people might think in a day of massive corporate debts, private equity, bailouts, and government subsidies for big businesses. We all remember how Wall Street bankers caused the 2008 Great Recession with their complicated financial schemes which ruined the lives of millions. People lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their life savings. Large financial giants like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns ended in bankruptcy. Yet, the bankers all gave themselves nice bonuses from their government bailouts while none of them received any prison sentence whatsoever. In fact, when a major business in America fails these days, it’s always the employees and communities who get screwed while the executives responsible for the company’s demise make out with the bag.

In any case, this is exactly what happened with Donald Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City. But unlike most capitalists in their business ventures, Trump focused more on personally profiting from his casino empire than building it into a successful business. And for that reason, the New York Times reported that Trump “was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing.” But they note, even as his companies floundered, he personally profited. According to the Times, “He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments. The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.” Not to mention, he extracted management fees from the companies he was involved with, which he handsomely profited from while his companies suffered. In fact, his casinos never made a profit. In other words, it had the makings of a major con job.

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Here are the remnants of Trump Taj Mahal. With an unsustainable debt, it would never really turn a profit and eventually had to close amid a strike in 2016. It has since been bought by Hard Rock in 2017.

While most people know Atlantic City for its casinos, but many people don’t know that some of the people who live and work there blame Donald Trump for ruining their hometown. Now home to many shuttered and struggling casinos, the Washington Post has noted, “The unemployment rate of the city is already 9.2%, nearly twice the national average, and Atlantic County, N.J., is the nation’s mortgage foreclosure capital, meaning that many workers whose homes are underwater won’t be able to afford to move somewhere else to seek new jobs.” Trump has said, “Atlantic City is a disaster, and I did great in Atlantic City. I knew when to get out. My timing was great. And I got a lot of credit for it.” He further stated he personally got out of the Atlantic City casino business before it entirely collapsed, and that the collapse had more to do with the spread of legal gambling in other East Coast locations than with anything particular with his properties there. While that may be part of the reason, Trump at least contributed to Atlantic City’s decline, if not precipitated its perils himself. The Washington Post blames him for the “orchestration of a casino-industry bubble,” which he accomplished by “flouting local regulation, building the Taj with $700 million in junk bonds at 14% interest, defaults, [and] bankruptcies.” As we see now things didn’t turn out well for his business or Atlantic City.

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Here’s a graph of Donald Trump’s casinos and their projected costs to build. I didn’t get into the Trump World’s Fair since it basically closed after 3 years so. Yet, they were all financed by debt which was why they never turned a profit and eventually closed due to financial difficulties.

Now Donald Trump’s casino failures were inevitable because of the way he built his business. As the New York times reads, “assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed.” Yet, he made money from his ventures through 2 primary means. One was extracting management fees from companies doing business with him. The other was transferring personal debt to companies he controlled. At a business standpoint, this smells of a racket to me.

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Built in partnership with Harrah’s in the 1980s, Trump Plaza was the first Trump Atlantic City Casino. It was the scene of a notorious baccarat session where Akio Kashiwagi lost $10 million. But once Trump Taj Mahal opened, its fortunes would decline and never recover.

Donald Trump’s very first Atlantic City casino, Trump Plaza, was a partnership with Holiday Inn-owned Harrah’s for which he was paid a $24 million management fee. The place cost $210 million to build. The relationship wasn’t a cordial one. Trump convinced Harrah’s to remove itself from the name and thwarted attempts to build a parking garage on land in front of the casino since he wanted to attract high-rollers, not day gamblers. A year after its 1984 opening, the Holiday Inn sued Trump. He countersued alleging that it had had “badly bloodied” the Trump name with their mismanagement. Eventually, Harrah’s got out of the deal, selling its Plaza share to Trump for $223 million. Like he did with purchasing his marina casino, Trump bought the stake with borrowed money. He then left his first wife, Ivana in charge who took the casino’s only suite for herself. By the early 1990s, it was already hemorrhaging cash that Trump filed for bankruptcy in November 1992. The banks took a 49% stake in the Plaza for more favorable terms on the $550 million in debt the building had on it. By the time he emerged, he was $900 million in personal debt. Announced its closure in 2014 while Trump sued to have his name removed from there.

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Trump Castle (later Trump Marina) was built in partnership with Hilton Hotel. But since Hilton couldn’t get a casino license, Trump assumed full ownership. Out of all the casinos, it’s the only one still open but as the Golden Nugget due to new ownership since 2011.

Trump Castle was built in partnership with Hilton that cost $310 million to build. But when the New Jersey Casino Control Commission denied Hilton’s casino license application, it was forced to sell. Donald Trump took the offer. In the early 1990s, Donald Trump’s father Fred sent his lawyer there to buy $3.5 million worth of casino chips without playing them, in what amounted to an immediate cash infusion. State regulators later fined the casino $30,000 for it, but allowed the business to keep the money. As Trump Marina in 2011, it was sold for about a tenth its original worth under new management as the Golden Nugget.

In 1986, using borrowed money again, Donald Trump bought 10% of Bally Manufacturing. Bally sued him within days on accusations of antitrust and securities law violations. Trump countersued. In February 1987, Bally settled its litigation with Trump by buying back his stock at an inflated price and paying him a $6.2 million fee to go away to 10 years. Trump’s gross profit from the suit was $21 million. Since New Jersey law limited casino ownership to 3, Bally could block a takeover by buying a second gambling hall. So the company bought the Atlantic City Golden Nugget from Steve Wynn for a wildly inflated price of $440 million. Bally’s spendthrift reaction to Trump’s raid left the company drowning in red and unable to effectively compete in Atlantic City (or Nevada). And the raid compelled Wynn to leave town. Still, this shows that Trump’s casino scandals didn’t just affect his own.

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Financed by junk bonds at 14% interest under Donald Trump’s ownership, Trump Taj Mahal’s money woes would plague his casino empire to no end. A year after its 1990 grand opening, it was bankrupt due to unsustainable debts. During Trump’s ownership, it also had allegations of money laundering and links to Asian organized crime.

Trump Taj Mahal was built in partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel which had already sunk $500 million in its construction and hadn’t come close to finishing it. Donald Trump opened the casino using $675-900 million in patently unsustainable junk bonds at 14% interest. As David Clay Johnston wrote, “The shortage of funds was obvious inside the building. The long second-floor hallways leading to the New Delhi Deli and ballrooms were supposed to have marble columns. Instead, they were hastily covered with pink wallpaper. Many rooms were a mess, with hanging rods laying on closet floors, curtains that would not close and keys that did not match the doors weeks after the grand opening.” In addition to unsustainable debt, the casino was slapped with fines for “significant and longstanding” money laundering and had ties to Hong Kong organized crime. Unable to keep up with high interest payments, Trump Taj Mahal bankrupted within a year in 1991 which resulted in Trump losing half his interest in the casino and had to sell his yacht and airline. His creditors even put him on a budget of $5.4 million for a $65 million bailout per approval by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
Only 4 months after Trump Taj Mahal’s opening, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission reported that 253 Atlantic City-area subcontractors hadn’t been paid either in full or on time for the project. Trump owed $69.5-72 million, mostly to small family businesses. They had worked they hadn’t been paid for and they negotiated very small amounts to get paid. When Trump’s company declared bankruptcy in 1991, many small companies went out of business.

In 1995, the company Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts staged an IPO but began using some of the almost $300 million it had raised to clear Donald Trump’s personal loans, which amounted to $916 million due to his early 1990s bankruptcies. THCR’s sole asset at the time was the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino which was already debt he personally guaranteed. Thus, not only did the company have debt from its own operations it had to pay, but also Trump’s personal debts. For a public company to have debt isn’t
unusual. But here you see Trump socializing his debts by making his personal debts his company and shareholders’ problem. And to a certain extent, the people of Atlantic City.

Yet, such leveraging off burdened THCR with millions of unsustainable debt.
In addition, $140 million of that money came from what Vox calls, “mom-and-pop investors” who’d later lose nearly everything for putting their confidence in him. Since stocks in the 1990s were the hot asset class that got so hot to increasingly attract naïve middle-class investors hoping to make a quick buck and unscrupulous financial racketeers hoping to make a quick buck off of them, Trump saw this mania as a perfect opportunity to escape from the legacy from his disastrous investments from the early 1990s. Since mom-and-pop investors don’t know shit about real estate tax law, they made the perfect suckers.

In 1996, THCR casino workers were encouraged to invest their 401(k) savings directly into Trump stock. By late 2003, the pool of employee retirement accounts held at 1.1 million in company stock. But shortly before THCR’s 2004 bankruptcy, the company’s retirement fund committee voted to sell the remaining shares in bulk to Merrill Lynch. More than 400 employees still held Trump stock when the force sale arrived and were sold at an average of $.57 per share. For an employee who put $1000 into a retirement account in 1997 when shares averaged $9.65 apiece, those savings had dwindled to $59. Three weeks after the forced sale and 2004 THCR bankruptcy filing, the share price was up to $2.04. None of the employees were able to profit from the gain.

Also inn 1996, THCR sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds to offset Donald Trump’s personal debt and buy 2 more ill-fated Atlantic City casino properties. In 1997, Donald Trump sold off Trump Castle to THCR for $490 million which according to the Times was “was based on optimistic profit projections and was about $100 million too high” while paying himself $888,000 for the deal. A Wall Street Journal report from 1997 describes Trump’s obscene pay package:

“Donald J. Trump received a $7 million pay package in 1996, including a $5 million bonus and a 71% salary increase, despite a more than 70% drop in the shares of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. from their high last year.

“In addition to his bonus, Mr. Trump, the company’s chairman, received a salary of $1 million and another $1 million to cover services rendered by Mr. Trump’s privately held companies to Trump Hotels, according to the company’s recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

THCR’s price dropped because it was unprofitable due to assuming $1.7 billion in debt thanks to the Trump Castle acquisition. Essentially Donald Trump had been paying a high salary for himself for running a company whose main purpose was taking enormous debts off of his personal balance sheet and shift them over to the company. He told the Journal, “Other than the stock price, we’re doing great.” The stock price would begin a long decline from which it never recovered. Nonetheless, this echoes how many Wall Street executives received generous pay packages following the 2008 crash that kickstarted the Great Recession despite how poorly their banks did that they were begging for government bailouts. While everyone else suffers the consequences from their greed.

In addition to assuming Trump’s personal debts and paying him an exorbitant salary, THCR also heavily purchased services from Trump’s privately-held companies, which doesn’t happen in most diversified enterprises. Normally, a company would buy the tie-ins at a discount and promote them for the customers. At least what I think. As the Washington Post reported:

“As the company spiraled downward, it continued to pay for Trump’s luxuries. Between 1998 and 2005, it spent more than $6 million to “entertain high-end customers” on Trump’s plane and golf courses and about $2 million to maintain his personal jet and have it piloted, a Post analysis of company filings shows.

“Trump also steered the company toward deals with the rest of the Trump-brand empire. Between 2006 and 2009, the company bought $1.7 million of Trump-brand merchandise, including $1.2 million of Trump Ice bottled water, the analysis shows.”

The Post then stated that a shareholder who bought $100 in DJT stock could sell them for about $4, which is a 96% loss. While investing that same amount of money to MGM Resorts would’ve yielded a $600 or 6 times the initial investment. Trump’s casinos even paid an annual $300,000 for the right to use his jet for transporting celebrities to gigs.

Nonetheless, the company went bankrupt in 2004 with $1.8 billion in debt. Shareholders saw their remaining stake’s value further reduced as creditors seized a large equity share. As a major shareholder, Trump lost out in the bankruptcy with his share reduced to 28%. But since unsustainable debts had previously been owed to him personally, it was a huge net win for him as his investors took further losses. THCR then changed its name to Trump Entertainment Resorts.

In 2009, Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for bankruptcy with $1.2 billion in debt after bondholders rejected Donald Trump’s last-ditch effort to retake control. He resigned from the board and ended up with just 10% of the company’s share after it emerged. He sold his remaining share to Carl Icahn who bought the casino out of its final bankruptcy in 2014 along with the other casinos under TER (or at least their debt anyway). Amid a strike by the casino’s union UNITE HERE Local 54 went on strike in 2016, Icahn closed the Taj before selling it to Hard Rock for $50 million the next year.

Newsweek Money Graph

This is a graph of Atlantic City casinos from 1999 to 2010. As you can see, while all Atlantic City casinos have suffered in recent years, Donald Trump’s have fared the worst. The green lines highlight the years the casinos filed for bankruptcy.

Based on these reports, what Donald Trump didn’t do was run a successful business even when other Atlantic City casinos did quite well. From 1997-2002 as revenues from other Atlantic City casinos rose 18%, Trump’s fell by 1%. Had Trump’s revenues have grown at the same rate, his company could’ve made interest payments and possibly register a profit. In 2007, the New York Times reported: “Over all, an index of casino stocks is up 268% since June 1995. Trump investors lost 93%.” Instead of turning a profit, the public company left a trail of losses for shareholders and bondholders as well as unpaid bills to contractors and subcontractors. Each time Donald Trump’s casino companies appeared in bankruptcy court, he persuaded bondholders to accept less money while he still added debt to his businesses. Furthermore, he didn’t even try offering high-quality amenities or first-class service that could’ve attracted more tourists in Atlantic City. For according to Trump’s longtime investment bankers at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, “The Trump name does not connote high-quality amenities and first-class service in the casino industry.” Rather, the Trump name connotes “the failure to pay one’s debts, a company that has lost money every year, and properties in need of significant deferred maintenance and lagging behind their competitors.”

Still, we must understand that whatever mistakes he made in his business career, his THCR episode was a tour de force. The total money Trump netted from salary, fees, cash paid to his other businesses, canceled personal debts, and overpriced assets bought is incalculable. And though it wasn’t perfectly legal since there were money laundering fines, securities law violations, campaign finance laws, and others, it was legal enough to work. Trump is an unscrupulous businessman who talked people into
lending him money to run casinos. Though the fact he was bad running casinos is nobody’s problem but anyone he owed money from.

However, given that gambling isn’t a normal industry, New Jersey let Donald Trump’s shenanigans slide in Atlantic City as part of a larger economic development scheme aimed at creating a stable job base for the resort town. Essentially in principle, it meant licensed casino operations not supposed to be running with the kind of excessive debt levels Trump used to keep his scheme running. New Jersey regulators had extensive discretion which they used to let Trump do whatever he wanted. In fact, they seemed largely uninterested in exploring Trump’s varied business relationship with Mafia-tied front companies, so they probably let other practices slide as well. Atlantic City was also complicit in Trump’s predatory business scheme since the leaders saw casinos as a way to solve its financial woes, which seemed to work for awhile. Until a predatory vulture capitalist like Donald Trump showed up.

Newsweek Jobs Graph

Here’s a graph from Newsweek showing Atlantic City casino job rates from 1997 to 2010. While the casino business is always a gamble which hasn’t been doing well in recent years, Trump’s casinos cut far more jobs than every other casino there in that timespan.

Had Donald Trump really kept the interests of other people invested in or running his company, his casino empire might not have been so detrimental to Atlantic City. After all, Trump Castle had its own TV show at one point while Trump Plaza had a famous Japanese gambler losing $10 million there along with other events. Instead, Donald Trump used Atlantic City to privately enrich himself while his casinos floundered in unsustainable debt. With each bankruptcy, he was slowly forced out of the business as a result as he tried to hold onto his casino empire as late as 2009. Eventually management drove him out since he was failing long before Atlantic City itself went down. While Trump’s profitable business failures do indeed demonstrate his business prowess, provided if it’s a long shell game to make himself rich at others’ expense. But even the most successful cons will eventually be found out once the marks realize they’ve put in their fortunes for gains that will never materialize. Donald Trump may repeatedly deny that Atlantic City’s current failures have nothing to do with him since he’s gone. Yet, it was his gamble that blew the city to this degree in the first place. It was his promise that attracted thousands of workers and their families to this place, building developments, shopping malls, and schools to accommodate the new community that was to serve Trump’s personal seaside empire. People were beholden to him, manipulated by him, and played as cogs in his machine that would benefit nobody but himself in the end.

The casinos’ massive debts remained unmanageable as before that subsequent managers couldn’t manage them properly before they shuttered. When Donald Trump’s casinos eventually closed down so did the resort town’s lifeblood. Thousands were left without jobs and the city penniless. Today, Atlantic City remains neglected according to the New Yorker which, “has been attributed to a bloated municipal payroll,” to “the suffocating effect of the casinos, which are boxed off from the city and are designed to keep patrons inside losing money rather than outside spending it,” and to the “the thorny old problem of race or the dreary question of the structure of municipal government statewide.” Trump isn’t responsible for all these problems, but from his racism to profiting off unprofitable companies, he didn’t set a good example. But as one investor noted in The New York Times, Trump lent to companies the gilt sheen his name projected, yet ultimately, “drove these companies into bankruptcy by his mismanagement, the debt and his pillaging” of assets.