Let's Fix This Country
ethics

For the Trump Family, Neither Laws Nor Morals Seem to Apply

Richard Nixon famously said, "I am not a crook". With Donald Trump, we have a president who cannot say that. Neither can his eldest sons and daughter.

After a 20-month investigation, the New York attorney general filed suit in mid-June against the foursome for alleged “persistently illegal conduct” at the president’s personal charity, the Trump Foundation, misappropriating its funds — mostly other people’s money, say tax records — to pay business and personal expenses and even presidential campaign bills. We dutifully say "alleged", but this case is built on the books and bank records of the "charity" so the defense
will find an alternate truth hard to come by.

The foundation was so questionable a charity that its board of directors hadn't met in 19 years and its treasurer was surprised to hear that he held that office. Trump himself hasn't contributed anything to the fund in 10 years.

Charitable foundations are required by law to disperse their funds for the public good. Yet twice, the suit tells us, did Donald Trump use the non-profit foundation's money to settle legal disputes of his for-profit businesses. The foundation paid $32,000 to a real estate management company covering what the Trump business organization owed, not the charity. And he had the foundation pay a total of $258,000 to settle legal problems of Trump's businesses — of which $100,000 went to a veterans charity, agreed to by the town of Palm Beach as a settlement of a fine levied on Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.

The foundation paid $10,000 for a portrait of himself that was found hanging in the bar at Trump’s Doral golf resort. And $20,000 for another larger portrait. There was $5,000 paid to a charity for an ad in its event program that promoted Trump hotels, not the charity. There was $25,000 donated to the reelection campaign of Florida attorney general, Pam Biondi, who would shortly thereafter call off an investigation into Trump's educational enterprise, Trump U. When that was exposed by The Washington Post, Trump had to reimburse the foundation but got away with only a miniscule fine. The foundation’s largest-ever gift — $264,631 — was to renovate a fountain in New York City, which happened to be in view through the windows of Trump’s Plaza Hotel.

Non-profit organizations such as the Trump Foundation are prohibited from participating in political campaigns. That's spelled out in documents Donald Trump knowingly and repeatedly signed.

In January 2016 candidate Trump held a fund raiser for veterans that raised millions, much of it deposited with the foundation. But the attorney general's complaint says that, after that, "the Foundation ceded control over the charitable funds it raised to senior Trump Campaign staff”, where campaign manager Corey Lewandowski decided which veterans organizations should receive money. But he then wanted to divert the charity money to pay expenses of an Iowa campaign rally, and to excuse that misstep, Donald Trump wrote a letter to New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to try to persuade her that the Iowa fundraiser was a charity event. Underwood wasn't buying. She called that "false".

IRS rules also prohibit tax-exempt foundations' involvement in political campaigns. “This statutory prohibition is absolute”. The suit notes that Mr. Trump himself signed annual IRS filings, under penalty of perjury, warranting that his foundation engaged in no political activity. The New York AG is referring the matter to both the IRS and the Federal Election Commission.

how dare we

How to explain a family that views itself so exempt from ethics and laws that it had the Trump Foundation issue a statement saying the lawsuit is “politics at its very worst”? How can we have elected a president who called the New York attorney general's office "sleazy New York Democrats" for coming after his sham charity that has used other people's money not for the general good but as his personal slush fund?

In Donald Trump's case the explanation is greed undisturbed by any grounding in morals. His lifelong habit was to sue whenever an outcome did not go his way, confident that the legal costs of confronting his wealth would usually deter anyone from fighting back. His conduct across decades shows a mentality that thinks all money should be his. In 2012 the Trump National Golf Club promised $1 million to anyone who shot a hole-in-one at a fund-raising tournament. It happened. The golfer, Martin Greenberg, had to sue for the money and caved to only a settlement for $158,000, and that paid to a foundation he runs, paid not by the golf club but by the Trump Foundation out of its mostly other people's money.

In the building of his casinos, Mr. Trump repeatedly claimed the likes of quality defects as grounds for not paying contractors and suppliers (all the while keeping and installing the work-product). In Atlantic City he tried to take the property of an elderly woman, saying eminent domain is "a necessity for our country", his necessity being a limousine parking lot for a casino. He hired 200 undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish the building that was to be replaced by Trump Tower in New York. They worked 12-hour shifts with inadequate safety equipment and were paid below standard — when and if paid. When they complained about non-payment, Trump, who had knowingly hired undocumenteds, now threatened to report them to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to have them deported. Something is missing in his psychological makeup. There is no concern for the damage done to those he has cheated and left with nothing.

disappearing act

That fund-raiser for veterans we mentioned? Trump staged the event to duck one of the Republican campaign debates; he was upset with Fox News over questions asked in the first debate. At the podium he proudly pledged a $1 million contribution. Four months later, The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold called around and couldn't find a single veterans charity that had received any money. Only when that story came out did Trump write a check:

"I will say, the press should have been ashamed of themselves. I send people checks of a lot of money…and instead of being like thank you very much Mr. Trump or Trump did a good job…you make me look very bad".

Trump hoped it would not be noticed that he wrote the checks just the day before.

That episode evidently piqued Fahrenthold's curiosity. He learned that Donald Trump made something of a habit of appearing at charity events to make the impression that he was a major benefactor of charitable organizations, except that those in attendance at such events noticed that he tended to leave without making or pledging a donation. That fit a pattern of promises never kept. Fahrenthold reported:

"Trump promised to give away the proceeds of Trump University. He promised to donate the salary he earned from 'The Apprentice'. He promised to give personal donations to the charities chosen by contestants on 'Celebrity Apprentice'. He promised to donate $250,000 to a charity helping Israeli soldiers and veterans.

The Post could not come up with proof that he followed through on any of these. Asked for details of his giving, candidate Trump demurred, saying that if it became known how much he donated, charities would hound him for more. “I give mostly to a lot of different groups”, Trump said in one interview. “Can you give us any names?” the reporter asked. "No, I don't want to", Trump answered. “I’d like to keep it private.” Fahrenthold relates this story:

In 1997, he was “principal for a day” at a public school in an impoverished area of the Bronx. The chess team was holding a bake sale, Hot & Crusty danishes and croissants. They were $5,000 short of what they needed to travel to a tournament. Trump had brought something to wow them.

“He handed them a fake million-dollar bill,” said David MacEnulty, a teacher and the chess team’s coach. The team’s parent volunteers were thrilled. Then disappointment.

Trump then gave them $200 in real money and drove away in a limousine.

…A woman read about Trump’s gift in The New York Times, called the school and donated the $5,000. “I am ashamed to be the same species as this man,” MacEnulty recalled her saying.

blank checks

Trump refuses to release his tax returns, so Fahrenthold had to spend months of dogged research to find out who had benefited from his professed largesse. He came up with only $7.8 million in charitable gifts since the early 1980s. Most — $5.5 million — went not to charities, but to his own Trump Foundation. It was Fahrenthold's exposé of how the foundation spent that money that led to the New York attorney general's investigation and law suit recounted above.

Fahrenthold contacted 420 charities to which a New York philanthropist would be likely to contribute. From 2008 until his story was published in the fall of 2016, Fahrenthold found only one gift — less than $10,000 given to the Police Athletic League. The Post published page after page of his handwritten list (found here, each sheet expandable for reading by a click).

The Trump campaign could only respond with a statement saying that Trump “has personally donated tens of millions of dollars ... to charitable causes” but when asked, could not produce any proof. His reporting, which detailed Trump's claims to be a fraud, earned Fahrenthold a Pulitzer.

school's out

The exposure of the Trump Foundation's lawbreaking misuse of other people's money wasn't needed to prove this president's larceny. For that we have Trump "University", where he was convincingly accused of swindling a few thousand people. Marketing materials had told them they'd be told Trump's "insider success secrets" by instructors "hand-picked by me". They would learn "the Trump process for investing in today’s once-in-a-lifetime real estate market” from "…terrific people, terrific brains … the best of the best”.

Newspaper ads and mailed invitations over Trump's signature offered free 90-minute workshop sessions held in 700 locations across the country. Their goal was to persuade attendees to sign up for three-day workshops with a $1,495 tuition that would be "all you need" to go forth on the road to riches. Well, not quite, as it turned out, because at this second tier, the playbook for the "mentors" — who were paid commissions, not a salary — was to "set the hook" in their pupils to sell them third-level programs costing from $9,995 to $34,995.

And sell they did. Court disclosures show that 80,000 attended the 90-minute sessions, close to 9,200 continued to the $1,495 three-day course, and some 800 took the bait for the up to $35,000 package.

Lawsuits were brought on both coasts — for $40 million in restitution by the New York attorney general, and in San Diego, where the presiding judge decided that, while some may have gotten more out of the courses than others, all were so uniformly bilked by content that did not live up to misleading advertisements that he allowed a class action with some 7,000 plaintiffs to go forward.

The president hired by Trump to run the university said in a pretrial deposition that “none of our instructors … were handpicked by Donald Trump” and that the course curriculum was written by an outside firm that develops materials for adult education courses as its business.

Trump himself was deposed. He could not explain some of the techniques that the marketing brochures pledged to teach, such as Trump's "foreclosure system" which the course writers had seemingly invented. Trump said he had personally approved the marketing materials but he had never reviewed the curriculum — the contents of the courses that supposedly divulged his proprietary arts of the deal. He was not even interested in what was being taught in his name. And the instructors were not successful real estate experts; they came from sales backgrounds. A couple of them had filed for personal bankruptcy.

Trump told the reporter from Time that “all money that I made was going to go to charity”. Court testimony and evidence say that checks or wire transfers totaling $5 million were sent him from the university because he wanted to make the charitable contributions from his personal accounts. From Fahrenthold's empty lists, we know that didn't happen; the man has no shame.

The case was about to go to trial in August 2016, less than three months before the election. Trump settled for $25 million to head off what would have been a media fandango. So he got away with it –at a discount, with an alleged $15 million that stayed in his pocket, never returned to students.

the art of the con

Time magazine interviewed a fellow named Bob Guillo who had gone for the whole Trump Gold Elite package:

“He’s the biggest phony in the world, yet people as gullible as me think he’s the greatest guy in the world. When I watch him on TV, … I think, ‘How can people believe in him?’ And I think, ‘Well, Bob, you believed in him in 2009. You gave him $35,000.’”

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1 Comment for “For the Trump Family, Neither Laws Nor Morals Seem to Apply”

  1. Bob

    Trump is basically an evil person. For him, the con is a contest between him and the gullible and he seldom loses. Morality is not a word in his vocabulary. He is despicable as they come. He has no shame.

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