Donald Trump and his family have brought a new business model to American government; a triple threat, one might say. This particular model consists of ethics violations, influence peddling, and an appetite for living large on other people’s money. As if the inherent dishonesty that drives this diseased culture were not bad enough, we now find that many cabinet appointees have joined Trump and his family in a feeding-frenzy assault upon public coffers. Indeed, the Trump Empire view on ethics and largesse has infected the upper echelons of government service. Many administrators in the Executive Branch are boldly flouting principles of ethics and demanding: “What’s in it for me?”
To get an understanding of how one lives large on other people’s money, review the private business model put on display when former Los Angeles Dodger baseball team owner Frank McCourt bought and ran his business.
McCourt purchased the Dodgers and nearby real estate in 2004 for 371 Million dollars. An extremely nasty divorce proceeding revealed that over the next eight years, McCourt and his wife Jamie diverted some 108 million dollars from team coffers to finance four mansions and various personal expenses―including $150,000 a year in haircuts and other items such as big salaries for their sons, who apparently were figureheads in the Dodger organization, and nothing more.
Due to the aforementioned frivolous personal expenditures, by 2011 the Dodgers were a staggering $433 million in debt. Independent analysis revealed that McCourt had put almost nothing into the purchase price, and further, was lacking in personal financial resources (unlike Trump, he had no daddy to bail him out). It naturally followed that McCourt was siphoning so much money out of the business that he had to take out loans on two separate occasions to meet the Dodger payroll. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig got wind of this and seized control of the team’s financial affairs. In 2012, the team was sold to a consortium of investors for 2 billion dollars.
Donald Trump views the presidential institution as just another investment item on the New York Stock Exchange. Attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed lawsuits against Trump for violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. The suits allege that Trump is receiving gifts and money from foreign governments without permission of Congress.
Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner recently provided a textbook example of influence peddling. According to the New York Times, the Kushner family real-estate business, Kushner Companies, received loans worth more than $500 million from Citigroup and the private equity firm Apollo Global Management after officials from those companies had multiple White House meetings with Kushner. In the same vein, some lawmakers want to know why the administration voiced support for a blockade of Qatar by its neighbors shortly after Qatar rejected a request from Kushner for financing on his troubled 666 Fifth Avenue property. Kushner was identified as the only advocate in the administration for the blockade.
Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump have been involved in too many frauds to list in a brief compendium. A Google search will provide one a field day in fraudulent adventure. In one such matter, Business Insider reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office dropped a criminal case against President Donald Trump’s two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, after Trump’s longtime personal lawyer made a hefty donation to the district attorney’s campaign, following a joint investigation by ProPublica, WNYC, and The New Yorker.
Putting aside indictments for criminal conduct and guilty pleas by members of the Trump election campaign, we can move on to examples of wholesale corruption by people selected by Trump to fill offices in the Executive Branch.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is under investigation for chartering unnecessary flights at taxpayer expense. Among other items, Zinke spent almost $40,000 of a wildfire preparedness fund to pay for flights and paid $6,000 for a helicopter trip to visit Vice President Mike Pence.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tried to use a government plane to fly him to Europe for his honeymoon. He also used a taxpayer-funded military plane to view a solar eclipse at Fort Knox.
Scott Pruitt, who runs the Environmental Protection Agency, makes a habit of dining with donors and lobbyists from industries his department is regulating. He also used public money to pay for a soundproof booth in his office and chartered private and military overseas flights.
Even a holdover from the Obama Administration decided the opportunity to swill from the public trough was too good to pass up. Secretary of Veterans Affairs director David Shulkin charged taxpayers for a trip to Europe that included stopovers at Wimbledon and Westminster Abbey, and a river cruise for him and his wife. He has since written a check to the government for the unauthorized expenditures (after the charges were exposed).
No one in their right mind could want to work in, or for, a White House where it is known that a personal lawyer and massive debt leading to a likely bankruptcy is a job requirement. Thus, the unifying motive for the larger portion of this slippery band of second-rate public servants is clear: they came into government service for the sole purpose of looting the public treasury. Given the environment they were entering, there was no reason to think different. It is time for America to fight back, beginning with legal action against Donald Trump.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 USC §1961-68) was promulgated with people like Donald Trump in mind. Under Title 18 of federal criminal code, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act punishes a “pattern (two or more prohibited acts) of criminal activity,” rather than single criminal acts. Thus, a defendant can be tried under the act for either ordering, or assisting in, a pattern of criminal acts. Money laundering is one of numerous specific acts prohibited by Section 1961 of the act. The crime is complete when any person uses an enterprise to commit two predicate acts (such as wire transfer of funds to a bank and wire or mail transfer of the deposit funds to the target account).
To convict a defendant under RICO, the government must prove that the defendant engaged in two or more instances of racketeering activity and that the defendant directly invested in, maintained an interest in, or participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
Trump’s liaisons with money launderers began as early as 1984, when David Bogatin walked into Trump’s office and plunked down cash for the purchase of five luxury condominiums in Trump Tower. This transaction was detailed by investigative reporter Craig Unger, in a revealing and explosive September, 2017 article for New Republic entitled “Trump’s Russian Laundromat.” This also seems to be the period during which Trump developed a certain fondness and admiration for individuals who participated in un-American activities. Unger reported that Bogatin had assisted North Vietnamese soldiers in shooting down American flyers over Hanoi during the conflict in Vietnam. This also explains how on several occasions a five-deferment draft dodger could stand before an admiring crowd and disparage a war hero like John McCain. Nothing more need be said about the character of the individuals who attended these rallies and applauded Trump’s un-American efforts.
A clandestinely exposed tax return for the year 1995 reveals that Trump mismanaged three Atlantic City casinos, lost money on an airline venture, and lost even more through an ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. The sum of his misadventures totaled 916 million dollars. At that time, his business empire was under water and he was insolvent; his liabilities far exceeded his assets. However, he had at his disposal a perfectly legal carryover tax credit relevant to the reported massive loss for each of the next eighteen years, which in effect amounted to an annual grant of nearly 50 million dollars from the public treasury. But he could not use the credit unless he found a way to generate business income.
Trump took dirty Russian money because it was the only money he could get; he had shafted bankers, contractors, business partners and even his lawyers. Add in several bankruptcies, and U.S. lenders appropriately considered him a toxic and uninsurable risk.
There can be no sympathy for those who served and are serving in the Trump administration. They came to serve themselves, and not the oath they took. Some of them will end up in jail, and many will be forced into bankruptcy. Trump and his family, to date, remain unscathed. Since Trump assisted in the population of his condos with laundered funds, it makes sense to prosecute him under racketeering law to at the very least recover the business carryover tax refunds he received from the treasury. Adding interest and treble charges to the settlement should appropriately place Trump in the same dire financial position as his minions.