Friday Reads: Corruption Junction what’s Your Function?Posted: February 23, 2018
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I woke up to the news that a university where where I taught a few years while finishing up my doctorate experienced some shooting near its dorms. Thankfully, I’m on an on line campus of Purdue University where I mostly endure Dinah trying to eat my lunch and Temple trying to snooker me into a walk. I always kid them that they should be glad I get harassment training annually so the work place is safe for them. I think it’s okay to grab the pussies here since it’s a totally different behavior. Cats just adore being in the way and my keyboard is not exempt.
Through this administration and the election we’ve discovered there is no level of criminal enterprise too low for the TRump family crime syndicate. Mojo had a short exposition of some of them last summer. Ethics violations are low level for this crowd.
Trump’s own actions—and those of his family and close associates—suggest a president seeking to monetize his office. He spends nearly every weekend at a Trump-branded property such as Mar-a-Lago, which briefly had its own promotional page on the State Department website. Diplomats and industry leaders flock to his Washington hotel in hopes of winning his favor. On the day that Ivanka Trump and her father met with the Chinese president, China approved three of her company’s copyright requests. Kushner’s family firm has touted its ability to grab visas for wealthy Chinese investors. “The stars have all aligned,” Eric Trump recently said. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”t
To make matters worse, Trump and the Republican Congress have started rolling back the Obama administration’s efforts to combat corruption. In February, Trump signed the repeal of a key provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that had required US oil and gas companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. This doesn’t look so good when your secretary of state was the CEO of Exxon Mobil. The Department of the Interior has been backing away from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which also publicizes payments to governments by energy companies. The Trump administration has yet to say whether it will remain in the Open Government Partnership; if it leaves, the United States will join abstainers such as Russia and Angola.
And there are indications that Trump may try to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the crown jewel of anti-corruption laws. Even before he ran for president, Trump expressed hostility to the FCPA, which prohibits US companies from bribing foreign officials, saying it puts American businesses at a “huge disadvantage” and that it’s a “horrible law and it should be changed.” Part of this animosity may stem from his own experiences trying to take his brand global. A recent New Yorker investigation found that the Trump Organization may have violated the FCPA as part of a failed development deal in Azerbaijan, widely considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries. (A company lawyer dismissed this claim.)
It’s difficult to focus on any one aspect of any of this or the other variety of charges because it’s like juggling hot sticky tarballs while some one throws a few more at you every few minutes. It’s way too much for any one newsroom to keep track of let alone investigate completely. We’re getting some more information from the few of them dedicated to this today. This one is from The Intelligencer and Jonathan Chait at NYMag. Self dealing is a feature in their admnistration. “The Trump Administration Is a Golden Age for Corporate Crooks” pretty much sums it up.
The Republican Party’s main legislative achievement was to facilitate the direct transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars into the hands of business owners. (The proceeds of the Trump tax cuts are mainly going into stock buybacks, a simple windfall for owners of capital.) But a second, less visible channel is the Trump administration’s program of lax regulation. While the tax cuts spray money at business owners as a whole, weak enforcement of regulations confers a windfall targeted specifically at businesses that cheat their customers or break the law.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought dramatically fewer cases and lower penalties under Trump. From last February through September, the agency brought 15 cases and collected $127 million in civil penalties, in comparison with 43 cases and $702 million in penalties during a comparable period in 2016. Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency is collecting far less in penalties from polluters than it did under any of the previous three administrations:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to fill in a bare spot in the federal regulatory design: financial products, which are inherently complex and in need of regulation, had been marketed to largely unwitting customers with a minimal amount of oversight, resulting in endemic fraud. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the CFPB, has called the agency itself a “sick, sad joke.” Just how his vision would translate into practice has already become apparent.
Chris Arnold reports for NPR that Mulvaney forced the agency to drop a lawsuit against alleged loan-shark outfit Golden Valley Lending. Arnold found a Golden Valley victim named Julie Bonenfant, from Detroit, who needed money after a breakup and having her car stolen led to falling behind on rent. Over the course of a year, Bonenfant paid $3,735 to Golden Valley for a $900 loan. “A key backer of Golden Valley was recently convicted of racketeering charges in a case involving another online lender, according to court documents,” reports Arnold.
Zach Everson–writing for the Daily Beast–uncovers Trump’s pre-inaguration shenningan’s surrounding his hotel in Downtown Washington DC. Trump has a reputation for doing Dine and Dashes on jobbers.
In the days around Donald Trump’s inauguration, the hotel bearing his namein downtown Washington, D.C., quietly settled two liens totaling more than $3 million for allegedly unpaid construction work. In one case, a contractor reached an agreement after receiving a phone call from someone his attorney identified as “Trump.”
The liens had both been previously reported. But their settlements had not. And the fact that they were handled right around the time when Trump took office—perhaps even at the behest of the then-president-elect himself—underscores just how politically sensitive the management of the Trump International Hotel was and is to the current White House occupant.
The largest payment was made to Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc. The family-owned D.C.-based company had filed a lien for $2.98 million on Dec. 21, 2016, for “the unpaid balance for work done” on the hotel, dating from that day back through Sept. 9, 2014, according to court filings. Joseph J. Magnolia, Inc. had done “plumbing, mechanical, and HVAC work, along with the site sewer, water, storm, and water services” per the notice. It also provided the labor and materials required to complete that work.
The company had been featured in a Washington Post article about various liens against Trump’s hotel in D.C. that continues to garner a ton of social media notice. In a previous Post article, John D. Magnolia, the company’s president, noted that he had voted for Trump and felt the Trumps had been “decent people” to work with. But, he added, “Mr. Trump and Ivanka [Trump, who oversaw the hotel project] and so forth, they are I guess preoccupied by other matters now.”
Shortly after that interview, in which he noted that he had supported Trump, Magnolia’s company was finally paid. And it might have been at the behest of the soon-to-be-president himself.
Is that an odd situation or is it just me? Say nice things and you get paid? Vote for him and you get paid?
“The company and policy and government are completely separated,” Eric Trump assured the Washington Post last year. “We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two.”
The key word there was “unbelievable.” The president has never been willing to expend much effort on maintaining such a facade. In the first weeks after his election, Trump invited Eric and Don Jr. to a policy meeting with tech executives, met with his Indian business partners, and allowed his D.C. hotel to begin courting the patronage of foreign diplomats. In the first year after his inauguration, he mixed politics and business in ever more blatant ways.
But Don Jr.’s trip to India represents a kind of “coming-out party” for the Trumpist kleptocracy: According the the Washington Post, the manager of the president’s “blind trust” will travel to Mumbai this week to promote his family’s real-estate projects, sell access to himself for $38,000 a head, and give a foreign policy speech (ostensibly) on behalf of his father’s administration at a global business summit ..
Beginning Tuesday, Trump Jr. will have a full schedule of meet-and-greets with investors and business leaders throughout India, where the Trump family has real estate projects — Mumbai, the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon, the western city of Pune and the eastern city of Kolkata.
Indian newspapers have been running full-page, glossy advertisements hyping his arrival and the latest Trump Tower project under the headline: “Trump is here — Are You Invited?” The ads also solicited home buyers to plunk down a booking fee (about $38,000) to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.” Public relations executives working with two local developers arranging the Trump dinner declined to give specifics about the event.
During the visit, the 40-year-old Trump Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will take a break from his private promotional tour to give an address on “Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation” at a global business summit on Friday evening, co-sponsored by the Economic Times newspaper. [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi will also speak at the summit … Later this week, Trump Jr. will travel to Mumbai to open the demo unit at the golden-facade Trump Tower being built by the family development firm of Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a state legislator in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
To review: Donald Trump Jr. will be serving as a representative of both his father’s business and government during this week’s trip to India, and will be selling access to himself (and thus, ostensibly, to his father’s government) for roughly $40,000 a pop.
Michelle Goldberg–NYT–argues for and elucidates a “De-Trumpification Agenda” to clear out the obvious levels of corruption.
In January, the anti-corruption organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, released a detailed report on the historically unethical presidency of Donald Trump. By February, it was outdated, as Trump’s administration and family charted new frontiers in ethical transgression.
Just this week, Donald Trump Jr. traveled to India to promote his family’s real estate projects and give a foreign policy speech; ads in Indian newspapers offered dinner with the presidential scion in exchange for down payments on Trump-branded apartments. President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is reportedly demanding that he maintain his access to top-secret information despite his inability, after 13 months of serving in the White House, to pass an F.B.I. background check.
David Shulkin, the secretary of veterans affairs, remained defiant after revelations that his chief of staff altered a document to justify a government-funded trip to Europe for Shulkin’s wife, vowing to purge “subversion” at his agency. President Trump reportedly sought advice on gun control from members of Mar-a-Lago, the private club where a $200,000 initiation fee buys plutocrats privileged access to the president.
It’s impossible, in real time, to keep up with every new Trumpian advance in corruption and self-dealing, and Republicans in Congress aren’t even trying. True, they’ve been moved to act in a few high-profile cases — on Wednesday, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded documents about government-funded luxury travel by Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But overall, the administration enjoys a corrosive degree of impunity.
It’s really amazing we’re not seeing more FBI action on these other Trump Players but white collar crimes do not get the level of scrutiny of those accompanied by drugs and violence and minorities. It’s another bastion of White Male Privilege. But, some argue that Public Corruption Laws may be the ones that finally get the TRumpsters and TRump himself. This is from Margaret Carlson writing at the Daily Beast.
Of course, there’s no law against Trump liking Putin; unseemly yes, illegal, no. But a veteran Washington former federal prosecutor who served during both the Clinton and Bush administrations believes there is a strategy that Mueller is quietly pursuing and that explains his actions so far.
Seth Waxman, now a partner specializing in white-collar crime in Dickinson Wright’s Washington office, has a theory of Mueller’s case, which requires no novel reading of existing law to find Trump broke it. It employs the main weapon any federal prosecutor uses to police public corruption. It is Title 18 United States Code, section 201 that specifically makes it a crime for a public official to take “anything of value,” a bribe, in exchange for government action, which can be prospective.
Note that above I wrote “public official.” That’s because the law is generally wielded against public officials. Problem: Mueller is investigating conduct before Trump became one. Enter Waxman. He points out that in 1962, Congress extended the bribery law to cover activity prior to the assumption of office. It did so, he says, in order to close a “loophole” afforded those “who assume public office under a corrupt commitment.” The upshot? Trump became covered by 18 USC not when he was sworn in but as of July 21, 2016 when he became his party’s nominee in Cleveland, Ohio.
What we know of Mueller’s strategy so far is consistent with leveling charges under the bribery statute. This is not to say Mueller is going to indict Trump. He would need an exception from a Justice Department rule, which advises against it. But neither is he likely to send a report laying out grounds for impeachment as former independent counsel Ken Starr did against Bill Clinton relying solely on perjury and obstruction of justice without a finding of an underlying crime.
Again, it’s difficult to see T Jr. pull this one off without some kind of reaction. Zeeshan Aleem–writing for Vox–calls it “staggeringly corrupt.”
Donald Trump Jr. arrived in India on Tuesday for a week-long visit, and his trip has already revealed a couple of things.
First, it’s clear that the Trump administration is still embroiled in huge conflicts of interest. And second, it’s evident that the Trump brand, though toxic at home, commands surprising power in the world’s second most populous country.
President Trump’s eldest son will be spending his time in India promoting Trump-branded luxury apartments across the country. He’ll be meeting with real estate brokers and potential buyers throughout the week in his family business’s biggest market outside the US.
He’s also offering a special reward to Indians who buy property from him: He’ll join them for an intimate meal.
Indian newspapers have been running advertisements that promise homebuyers willing to pay a roughly $38,000 booking fee an opportunity to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.”
Government ethics experts in the US are appalled by that prospect, and say that the arrangement encourages Indians — especially those with ties to India’s government — to use purchases of Trump-branded property as a way to gain favor with the Trump administration.
“For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes,” Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Washington Post.
Trump Jr.’s India visit also highlights something else: While Trump’s polarizing presidency has put a dent in his domestic businesses, it doesn’t seem to have damaged his reputation in India. In fact, the Trump brand seems to be chugging along quite nicely there.
Trump’s business elsewhere is not thriving. Read more at that link. Let’s not forget he’s bilking us daily and with every trip to a Trump property. Hey Mister Mueller nab those big fat pussies!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?