Thursday Reads: The Trump Crime Family

The Basket of Apples, by Paul Cezanne, 1895

Good Afternoon!!

Remember when people used talk about the “Bush crime family?” Well, the Trump crime family makes the Bushes look like pikers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, The New York Times published a stunning 18-month report on Trump’s “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.” Of course that story has been buried in the rubble of the Kavanaugh hearings and more Trump criminal behavior, including his current efforts to cover up a murder perpetrated by the Saudis.

Now Trump, Inc. (at ProPublica) has released the results of an 8-month study of the Trump Organization’s business model, Pump and Trump.

Since Donald Trump’s fortunes came surging back with the success of “The Apprentice” 14 years ago, his deals have often been scrutinized for the large number of his partners who have ventured to the very edges of the law, and sometimes beyond. Those associates have included accused money launderers, alleged funders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a felon who slashed someone in the face with a broken margarita glass.

Trump and his company have typically countered by saying they were merely licensing his name on these real estate projects in exchange for a fee. They weren’t the developers or in any way responsible.

But an eight-month investigation by ProPublica and WNYC reveals that the post-millennium Trump business model is different from what has been previously reported. The Trumps were typically way more than mere licensors or bystanders in their often-troubled deals. They were deeply involved in these projects. They helped mislead investors and buyers — and they profited handsomely from it.

Autumn Patterns. Mary Gibbs. Watercolour.

Patterns of deceptive practices occurred in a dozen deals across the globe, as the business expanded into international projects, and the Trumps often participated. One common pattern, visible in more than half of those transactions, was a tendency to misstate key sales numbers.

In interviews and press conferences, Ivanka Trump gave false sales figures for projects in Mexico’s Baja California ; Panama City, Panama ; Toronto  and New York’s SoHo neighborhood . These statements weren’t just the legendary Trump hype; they misled potential buyers about the viability of the developments.

Another pattern: Donald Trump repeatedly misled buyers about the amount (or existence) of his ownership in projects in Tampa, Florida; Panama; Baja and elsewhere. For a tower planned in Tampa, for example, Trump told a local paper in 2005 that his ownership would be less than 50 percent: “But it’s a substantial stake. I recently said I’d like to increase my stake but when they’re selling that well they don’t let you do that.” In reality, Trump had no ownership stake in the project.

The Trumps often made money even when projects failed. And when they tanked, the Trumps simply ignored their prior claims of close involvement, denied any responsibility and walked away.

Read the rest and listen to the Trump, Inc. episode at the link.

At The New Yorker, Adam Davison summarizes the findings of the two studies and asks: Is Fraud Part of the Trump Organization’s Business Model?

It is becoming increasingly clear that, in the language of business schools, the Trump Organization’s core competency is in profiting from misrepresentation and deceit and, potentially, fraud. There are many ways to make money in real estate. The normal way is to identify a need in the market, raise money by convincing lenders or investors that your plan is sound, build the structure, then either profit through ongoing rent or by selling units. The key variables in such a business are what is known as product-market fit—the accuracy with which a developer understands the housing or commercial needs of a place—and the ability to execute well by keeping costs down without sacrificing the right level of quality. Perhaps more than anything, practitioners of a successful real-estate business obsessively focus on maintaining the ability to borrow money cheaply. The profit on many real-estate projects often comes down to simple math: the cheaper you can borrow money to build, the more money you make. The more trustworthy you are, through a long period of successful projects, the less interest banks will demand on their loans, so the more profit you can make, and the more successful you will be.

Autumn Still Life by Ruslan Smorodinov

Rather famously, Trump overinvested in luxury housing, spent too much on his casinos, and completely blew his brief foray into a regional airline. Far worse, Trump did the very opposite of insuring a long record of fiscal prudence that would allow him to borrow money cheaply. Despite the company’s mixed record, it has survived and grown. It’s doing something well, so what is it?

This month, two incredible investigative stories have given us an opportunity to lift the hood of the Trump Organization, look inside, and begin to understand what the business of this unusual company actually is. It is not a happy picture. The Times published a remarkable report, on October 2nd, that showed that much of the profit the Trump Organization made came not from successful real-estate investment but from defrauding state and federal governments through tax fraud. This week, ProPublica and WNYC co-published a stunning story and a “Trump, Inc.” podcast that can be seen as the international companion to the Times piece. They show that many of the Trump Organization’s international deals also bore the hallmarks of financial fraud, including money laundering, deceptive borrowing, outright lying to investors, and other potential crimes.

It’s still difficult to believe that the thug who head’s this crime family is currently the “president.”

We know that with Trump, everything is about his personal money and power, not the nation he supposedly leads. So what is this all about?

The Washington Post: Saudi Arabia transfers $100 million to U.S. amid crisis over Khashoggi.

The United States received a payment of $100 million from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeoarrived in Riyadh to discuss the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a State Department official confirmed Wednesday amid global calls for answers in the case.

Saudi Arabia publicly pledged the payment to support U.S. stabilization efforts in northeastern Syria in August, but questions persisted about when and if Saudi officials would come through with the money.

Autumn Still Life, William Merritt Chase

The timing of the transfer, first reported by the New York Times, raised questions about a potential payoff as Riyadh seeks to manage the blowback over allegations that Saudi agents were responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance. The State Department denied any connection between the payment and Pompeo’s discussions with Saudi officials about Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist.

Could there be a more obvious bribe? Yet the Trump thugs expect us to believe it’s just a coincidence.

“We always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame,” Brett McGurk, the State Department’s envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, said in a statement. “The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary’s visit.”

But, the WaPo continues,

Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich monarchy and staunch U.S. ally, has long relied on its financial largesse to persuade partners to support its foreign policy objectives. Western diplomats suspect that the kingdom will also compensate Turkey for its willingness to launch a joint investigation on Khashoggi’s disappearance — a payback that could come in the form of large-scale debt relief, strategic buyouts or other arrangements that boost Turkey’s ailing economy.

We’re most likely never going to get that audiotape from Turkey, folks.

Trump won’t even let Republicans in Congress know what’s happening with the murder cover up.

The Hill: Corker: Trump administration ‘clamped down’ on Saudi intel, canceled briefing.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday that the Trump administration is restricting access to information about a missing Saudi journalist, a move that comes as President Trump has publicly echoed denials of wrongdoing from top Saudi officials.

Joke Frima (b.1952) — On the Woodpile, 2010

Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Washington Post that the administration had “clamped down” on sharing intelligence about Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who has been missing for more than two weeks.

“I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia,” Corker told the Post.

According to Shane Harris at The Washington Post, the Trump administration is openly working with the Saudi’s to come up with a plausible cover story:

The Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — one that will avoid implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is among the president’s closest foreign allies, according to analysts and officials in multiple countries.

But it will be difficult for the young ruler to escape scrutiny, as mounting evidence points not only to the Saudi government’s knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate, but also to a connection by Mohammed to his disappearance.

U.S. intelligence reports, accounts from Khashoggi’s friends, passport records and social media profiles paint a picture of a brutal killing that at least had its roots in Mohammed’s desire to silence Khashoggi, a former palace insider turned critic of the government and the prince in particular.

The analysts and officials said it was inconceivable that such a brazen operation as the one alleged by Turkish officials, involving a team of 15 agents sent to Istanbul, who then killed and dismembered Khashoggi, could have been pulled off by a group of “rogue killers,” as President Trump speculated this week, moments after a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

Even one of the president’s closest advisers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said many senior members of the administration concluded more than a week ago that the Saudis had killed Khashoggi.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More stories on the Kashoggi murder:

NYT: Aide to Saudi Crown Prince, Suspect in Khashoggi Case, Is Shown Walking into Consulate.

NYT: U.S. Spy Agencies Are Increasingly Convinced of Saudi Prince’s Ties to Journalist’s Disappearance.

Ahval: Saudi suspect in Khashoggi disappearance reportedly dies in car accident – pro-gov’t Yeni Şafak.

The Washington Post: Secret recordings give insight into Saudi attempt to silence critics.

Nicholas Kristof at the NYT: A President Kowtowing to a Mad Prince.

One more Trump crime story before I call it quits for today, this time about the stolen election. 

The Guardian: Revealed: Russian billionaire set up US company before Trump Tower meeting.

A Russian billionaire who orchestrated the June 2016 Trump Tower meetingformed a new American shell company a month beforehand with an accountant who has had clients accused of money laundering and embezzlement.

The billionaire, Aras Agalarov, created the US company anonymously while preparing to move almost $20m into the country during the time of the presidential election campaign, according to interviews and corporate filings.

The company was set up for him in May 2016 by his Russian-born accountant, who has also managed the US finances of compatriots accused of mishandling millions of dollars. One of those clients has its own connectionto the Trump Tower meeting.

In June 2016, Agalarov allegedly offered Trump’s team damaging information from the Kremlin about Hillary Clinton, their Democratic opponent. The offer led Trump’s eldest son to hold a meeting at their Manhattan offices that is now a focus of the inquiry into Moscow’s election interference by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

Agalarov’s previously unreported shell company is another example of intriguing financial activity around the time of the Trump Tower meeting.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

Now, what stories are you following today?

34 Comments on “Thursday Reads: The Trump Crime Family”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    This is really scary. More right-wing efforts to control the SCOTUS

  2. dakinikat says:

    Every day we see headlines that you’d think would be unthinkable for this country. It’s relentless. Trump is like a freaking wrecking crew who comes in wrecks shit then vacuums up the money and suck up all the air. It’s just disgraceful how he’s handling the murder of a journalist. How is this different than the beheading of Daniel Pearl?

    • NW Luna says:

      The difference is the greedy treasonous president.* This country gets more fascist and autocratic by the day.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    I just reported this sickening tweet.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    The New York Post on the Saudi “traffic accident”

    One of the 15 Saudis who arrived in Turkey the same day Jamal Khashoggi disappeared has died in a “suspicious traffic accident” and the Saudi consul in Istanbul could be the “next execution,” according to Turkish media reports.

    Mashal Saad al-Bostani, 31, a lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Forces, was among the 15-member “hit team” that landed in Istanbul in two private jets from Riyadh on Oct. 2 and headed to the Saudi consulate.

    He died in a car crash in Riyadh, but few details have emerged, the newspaper Yeni Safak reported, adding that his role in the “murder” was not clear.

    The Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, who was heard on a video recording of Khashoggi being killed and dismembered in the consulate, could be the “next execution,” as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman “would do anything to get rid of the evidence,” the Hurriyet Daily News said Thursday.

    • NW Luna says:

      I’d imagine there are “no witnesses” to that traffic accident. No one is going to come forward — they’d meet an unpleasant end.

  5. bostonboomer says:

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Jared Kushner, moralist.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    I guess this post was a dud. But that’s OK. I just wanted to share that I’m reading Louise Penny, and it is making me very happy. I hope someone reads this.

    • lililam says:

      I don’t think it is a dud- it includes lots of information and references. It seems that many blogs are a bit slow today- waiting for the next shoe to drop? The horror has been overwhelming.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks, I was kidding. I posted the thing way too late, because I was struggling to deal with what’s happening in this country.

        • NW Luna says:

          I just got back from a day hiking. Clear, sunny, and cold weather, Mt Rainier has a fresh coating of snow, and I found some tasty hedgehog mushrooms! They have soft “spines” on the underside of their caps instead of gills, hence the common name. Also found a few angel-wing mushrooms and some yellow-foot chanterelles. All in all, a good day out of internet range.

    • Pat Johnson says:

      Not at all! It may be we are so saturated with the sh*tstorm known as Trump that it gets redundant after awhile to react.

      I have been reading a lot lately. A perfect escape from whatever law Trump has broken today, whoever he has insulted, whatever stupidity escapes from his twisted mouth, and the enablers who agree to sit before a camera and lie, lie, lie on his behalf.

      We have begun to stop any sense of outrage we may have expressed under another POTUS. Trump seems to have exhausted it from Day 1 with his insistence about the inauguration crowd size. Since then we have learned to duck each time the idiot sounds off as the GOP leadership goes AWOL in response.

      The only good thing happening is that the heat has finally dissipated and the Red Sox keep rolling along.

      In all my years on earth I have never seen anything like what Trump is getting away with unchecked. Somebody or something must hold him accountable but my inner cynic tells me differently.

      And BTW: you have yet to post a “dud”.

      • joanelle says:

        I’ve not seen any duds from you and I’ve been here since this Skydancing blog was born.
        I was absolutely delighted to be witness to its birth!
        Keep on, keeping on!

      • bostonboomer says:

        Pat, I fell asleep during the game last night and missed the dramatic ending. I woke up around 1:30 and saw the video on Twitter. I’m hoping I can stay awake tonight.

    • glen8eden says:

      It is always good to read Louise Penny.

    • quixote says:

      Hey, you have to give us West Coasters and Beyond time to absorb our morning coffee!

      And the only dud is in the White House. God help us.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Oh my God.

    • NW Luna says:

      …will then make a “very strong statement.”

      Uh huh. “Bad Saudis. Don’t do that again. Now about our hotel development…”

      Isis Astarte Kali Inanna deliver us.

  9. NW Luna says:

  10. NW Luna says:

    Can’t let something like murder and torture get in the way.

    Mnuchin still plans to attend Saudi meeting after Khashoggi disappearance

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has decided to take part in an anti-terror finance meeting with Saudi security officials and their Middle Eastern counterparts in Riyadh later this month, opting to attend despite growing global outrage over the suspected murder of a U.S.-based journalist at the hands of Saudi operatives, according to three people familiar with his travel plans.

    The security gathering next week is separate from a Riyadh financial summit that Mnuchin announced on Thursday he would not attend. Numerous other Western officials and corporations have pulled out of the “Davos in the Desert” financial summit because of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post.

    The event Mnuchin still plans to attend — a gathering of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh — would include participation by Saudi security services that are under scrutiny in Khashoggi’s death.

  11. NW Luna says:

    There is no level to their depravity and callousness.

    Conservatives mount a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump