In light of the upcoming presidential debates, here are some of the most important investigative pieces written about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump -- which debate moderators should read as part of their preparation. The articles examine possible conflicts of interests Trump could face with his businesses if elected president; look into his potential misuse of charitable funds; investigate debts he owes, including to China, which he has criticized on the campaign trail; and consider how Trump would implement his policies as president.
Newsweek Looked At Trump’s Business Interests All Over The World
Newsweek Headline: “How The Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security.” In an examination of the global dealings surrounding Trump’s conglomerate, the Trump Organization, Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald reported that the organization has “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals.” Eichenwald, looking at Trump’s business dealings in India, the Middle East, Russia and Ukraine, wrote that Trump has “contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” and that if elected president, “almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.” From the September 14 article:
Throughout this campaign, the Trump Organization, which pumps potentially hundreds of millions of dollars into the Trump family’s bank accounts each year, has been largely ignored. As a private enterprise, its businesses, partners and investors are hidden from public view, even though they are the very people who could be enriched by—or will further enrich—Trump and his family if he wins the presidency.
A close examination by Newsweek of the Trump Organization, including confidential interviews with business executives and some of its international partners, reveals an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals, although there is no evidence the Trump Organization has engaged in any illegal activities. It also reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled. If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.
Trump’s business conflicts with America’s national security interests cannot be resolved so long as he or any member of his family maintains a financial interest in the Trump Organization during a Trump administration, or even if they leave open the possibility of returning to the company later. The Trump Organization cannot be placed into a blind trust, an arrangement used by many politicians to prevent them from knowing their financial interests; the Trump family is already aware of who their overseas partners are and could easily learn about any new ones. [Newsweek, 9/14/16]
Wash. Post Investigation Found Trump Was Fined By The IRS After He Used Charity Money To Donate To Florida AG
Wash. Post: Trump Used Charity Money To Donate To Florida AG Considering Investigating Trump U. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that Trump was forced to pay a $2,500 fine to the IRS after the Post had revealed that Trump used money from his charity group, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, to donate to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The donation, wrote Fahrenthold, came as Bondi “was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University.” From the September 1 article:
Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.
The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.
In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money. [The Washington Post, 9/1/16]
Wash. Post Found Trump Used Charity Money To Help Pay Off His Business Obligations
Wash. Post: Trump Used $258,000 From His Charity To Settle Legal Problems For His Businesses. The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported that Trump “spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses.” Fahrenthold found that Trump had used charitable funds to pay off “$120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole,” had used charitable funds to settle a lawsuit regarding “one of Trump’s golf courses in New York,” had “used $5,000 from the foundation to buy advertisements touting his chain of hotels in programs for three events,” and had “spent $10,000 of the foundation’s money on a portrait of himself bought at a charity fundraiser.” The use of those funds, wrote Fahrenthold, could violate IRS rules. From the September 20 article:
Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.
Those cases, which together used $258,000 from Trump’s charity, were among four newly documented expenditures in which Trump may have violated laws against “self-dealing” — which prohibit nonprofit leaders from using charity money to benefit themselves or their businesses.
In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the height of a flagpole.
In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.
In another case, court papers say one of Trump’s golf courses in New York agreed to settle a lawsuit by making a donation to the plaintiff’s chosen charity. A $158,000 donation was made by the Trump Foundation, according to tax records.
The other expenditures involved smaller amounts. In 2013, Trump used $5,000 from the foundation to buy advertisements touting his chain of hotels in programs for three events organized by a D.C. preservation group. And in 2014, Trump spent $10,000 of the foundation’s money on a portrait of himself bought at a charity fundraiser.
If the Internal Revenue Service were to find that Trump violated self-dealing rules, the agency could require him to pay penalty taxes or to reimburse the foundation for all the money it spent on his behalf. Trump is also facing scrutiny from the New York attorney general’s office, which is examining whether the foundation broke state charity laws. [The Washington Post, 9/20/16]
NY Times Found Trump Has Millions In Debt
NY Times: Trump Has Millions In Debt And Has Chinese Loan. The New York Times reported that Trump’s companies “have at least $650 million in debt” and that his “fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one” -- China -- that “he has cited in attacks during his campaign.” The Times found that one of the buildings Trump partly owns “carries a $950 million loan” and that the Bank of China is one of its lenders. From the August 21 article:
But an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.
For example, an office building on Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, of which Mr. Trump is part owner, carries a $950 million loan. Among the lenders: the Bank of China, one of the largest banks in a country that Mr. Trump has railed against as an economic foe of the United States, and Goldman Sachs, a financial institution he has said controls Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, after it paid her $675,000 in speaking fees.
Real estate projects often involve complex ownership and mortgage structures. And given Mr. Trump’s long real estate career in the United States and abroad, as well as his claim that his personal wealth exceeds $10 billion, it is safe to say that no previous major party presidential nominee has had finances nearly as complicated.
Beyond finding that companies owned by Mr. Trump had debts of at least $650 million, The Times discovered that a substantial portion of his wealth is tied up in three passive partnerships that owe an additional $2 billion to a string of lenders, including those that hold the loan on the Avenue of the Americas building. If those loans were to go into default, Mr. Trump would not be held liable, the Trump Organization said. The value of his investments, however, would certainly sink. [The New York Times, 8/20/16]
New Yorker Examined Impact Of Trump Implementing His Policies As President
New Yorker: Trump’s Policies As President Could Cause Trade War And Violate Constitution. The New Yorker's Evan Osnos examined what a Trump presidency would look like if Trump tried to carry out his campaign promises, such as building a border wall, deporting undocumented immigrants, and banning Muslims. The piece quotes Trump adviser Roger Stone claiming Trump may ban people from Middle Eastern countries and notes that Trump “could retain as much control or ownership [over his businesses] as he wants, because Presidents are not bound by the same conflict-of-interest statute that restricts Cabinet officers and White House staff.” It also says that many of his actions could “‘violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution,’” that there could be a “surge of hostility” from America that would harm Mexican-American relations, and that his trade plan could “trigger a trade war that would put roughly four million Americans out of work.” From the September 20 article:
When Trump talks about what he will create and what he will eliminate, he doesn’t depart from three core principles: in his view, America is doing too much to try to solve the world’s problems; trade agreements are damaging the country; and immigrants are detrimental to it. He wanders and hedges and doubles back, but he is governed by a strong instinct for self-preservation, and never strays too far from his essential positions. Roger Stone, a long-serving Trump adviser, told me it is a mistake to imagine that Trump does not mean to fulfill his most radical ideas. “Maybe, in the end, the courts don’t allow him to temporarily ban Muslims,” Stone said. “That’s fine—he can ban anybody from Egypt, from Syria, from Libya, from Saudi Arabia. He’s a Reagan-type pragmatist.”
As for the Trump Organization, by law Trump could retain as much control or ownership as he wants, because Presidents are not bound by the same conflict-of-interest statute that restricts Cabinet officers and White House staff. Presidential decisions, especially on foreign policy, could strengthen or weaken his family’s business, which includes controversial deals in Turkey, South Korea, Azerbaijan, and elsewhere. Trump would likely face pressure to adopt an arrangement akin to that of Michael Bloomberg, who, when he became mayor of New York City, withdrew from most management decisions for his company. Trump has said only that he plans to turn over the Trump Organization’s day-to-day control to three of his adult children: Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric.
Some of Trump’s promises would be impossible to fulfill without the consent of Congress or the courts; namely, repealing Obamacare, cutting taxes, and opening up “our libel laws” that protect reporters, so that “we can sue them and win lots of money.” (In reality, there are no federal libel laws.) Even if Republicans retain control of Congress, they are unlikely to have the sixty votes in the Senate required to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
Any of those actions could be contested in court. The American Civil Liberties Union has analyzed Trump’s promises and concluded, in the words of the executive director, Anthony Romero, that they would “violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.”
For many years, Trump has expressed curiosity about nuclear weapons. In 1984, still in his thirties, he told the Washington Post that he wanted to negotiate nuclear treaties with the Soviets. “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” he said. “I think I know most of it anyway.” According to Bruce G. Blair, a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton, Trump encountered a U.S. nuclear-arms negotiator at a reception in 1990 and offered advice on how to cut a “terrific” deal with a Soviet counterpart. Trump told him to arrive late, stand over the Soviet negotiator, stick his finger in his chest, and say, “Fuck you!” Recently, a former Republican White House official whom Trump has called on for his insights told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”
Closer to home, Trump’s criticism of Mexico has fuelled the rise of a Presidential candidate whom some Mexicans call their own Donald Trump—Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a pugnacious leftist who proposed to cut off intelligence coöperation with America. In recent polls, he has pulled ahead of a crowded field. Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat, who served in the United States and China, warns that the surge of hostility from American politicians will weaken Mexico’s commitment to help the United States with counter-terrorism. “Post-9/11, the coöperation has gone on steroids,” Guajardo told me. “There have been cases of stopping terrorists in Mexico. Muammar Qaddafi’s son wanted to go live in Mexico, and Mexico stopped him. But people are saying, If the United States elects Trump, give them the finger.”
If Trump followed through on tariffs, the effects could be larger still. Mark Zandi, a centrist economist who has advised Republicans and Democrats and is now the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, a research firm, forecasts that Trump’s trade plan could trigger a trade war that would put roughly four million Americans out of work, and cost the economy three million jobs that would have been created in Trump’s absence. [The New Yorker, 9/20/16]
Huff. Post Found Overlap Between Trump Donation And Lawsuit Benefiting Him
Huff. Post: Trump Donated To New York State Official While Involved In Lawsuit That Official Played Role In Deciding. The Huffington Post's Christina Wilkie reported that Trump had donated “at least $45,000 to the campaign of” former New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi. At the same time, Trump had a “$500 million lawsuit …. filed against the city of New York in the hopes of reducing his property taxes,” and Hevesi “played a role in evaluating and settling legal claims against the city of New York.” From the September 20 article:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave at least $45,000 to the campaign of Alan Hevesi, a New York state comptroller who later went to prison for his role in a pay-to-play bribery scandal, according to a Huffington Post review of campaign finance records.
Trump’s donations coincided with a $500 million lawsuit he filed against the city of New York in the hopes of reducing his property taxes. As the city comptroller and later the state comptroller, Hevesi, a Democrat, played a role in evaluating and settling legal claims against the city of New York and its officials.
The bulk of Trump’s donations went to Hevesi’s campaign for state comptroller, a race Hevesi won in the fall of 2002. In the fall of 2003, by which point Trump had given Hevesi $35,000, the city settled Trump’s lawsuit, a decision that would have involved both the state comptroller ― i.e., Hevesi ― and the new city comptroller.
Trump had donated small amounts to Hevesi during the course of Hevesi’s decades-long career as an assemblyman and a comptroller. But the tens of thousands of dollars Trump gave between July 2002 and January 2004 had no precedent, and no postscript. According to finance records, after 2004, Trump never gave to Hevesi again.
The timing of Trump’s lawsuit coincides almost exactly with the donations to Hevesi. But Trump’s political contributions often overlap and intertwine with his business interests. For instance, in 2002 Trump also applied for (and received) $150,000 earmarked to help small companies recover from the Sept. 11 terror attacks. And he lobbied ferociously in 2002 and 2003 to block the expansion of Native American casinos in New York state because they drew customers away from his casinos in Atlantic City. [The Huffington Post, 9/20/16]