Republican Shock at the Trump FBI Raid Makes Sense If You Ignore His Entire Adult Life

·7 min read
Photo credit: James Devaney - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Devaney - Getty Images

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The American right has exploded in indignation at news the Republican Party's standard-bearer, one Donald Trump, was searched by the FBI on Monday. It was a grave abuse of power, they say, a Deep State conspiracy and/or anything else that does not involve the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump is crooked. Never mind that none of us know the details of the search beyond some news reports that it was related to Trump's handing of classified documents. These folks are ready to put themselves out on a limb to defend The Leader. Sen. Marco Rubio, who in 2016 called Trump a "con artist" who must be prevented from taking power, compared the federal cops showing up at Trump's door to the work of authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Sen. Rand Paul has, without evidence, floated the idea the Feds may have planted evidence.

It's worth keeping in mind, though, that Trump was away from Mar-a-Lago at the time at least in part because he was due to testify under oath Wednesday in an entirely separate investigation into his behavior: The New York attorney general deposed him as part of a civil probe into his business practices. In court filings, NYAG Letitia James has claimed the Trump Organization "used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions." Essentially, the idea is that when speaking to prospective lenders, Trump inflated the value of his assets; when speaking to the tax man, he undervalued them. (In a 2011 deposition, he admitted that his assessment of his net worth fluctuates in part based on his "feelings.") He has accused James of being "racist" against him as her motive for pursuing the investigation. Two of his kids, Junior and Ivanka, have already sat for depositions this week.

Trump released a statement Wednesday morning saying that he'd exercised his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination on the advice of his lawyers; and while that does not speak to guilt or innocence, Trump himself once said that pleading the Fifth is for mobsters.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney's office has pursued another separate—and criminal, rather than civil—probe into the Trump Organization. The firm and its longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, were charged with tax fraud offenses last summer, though Weisselberg will be in court this week seeking dismissal. There are 15 counts to the 2021 indictment that some have speculated is a vehicle to get Weisselberg to flip on Trump, who has not been charged.

On that point, two prosecutors working under Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg resigned in March over Bragg's refusal to press charges. One of them, Mark Pomerantz, issued a stinging resignation letter:

I believe that Donald Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations of the Penal Law in connection with the preparation and use of his annual Statements of Financial Condition. His financial statements were false, and he has a long history of fabricating information relating to his personal finances and lying about his assets to banks, the national media, counterparties, and many others, including the American people. The team that has been investigating Mr. Trump harbors no doubt about whether he committed crimes — he did.

In my view, the public interest warrants the criminal prosecution of Mr. Trump, and such a prosecution should be brought without any further delay. ... As to Mr. Trump, the great bulk of the evidence relates to his management of the Trump Organization before he became President of the United States.

Throughout the '80s, '90s and more recently, Trump has faced scores of allegations he refused to pay contractors and others whom he owed money for services provided. That is, breach of contract. A USA Today investigation identified more than 3,500 lawsuits over close to three decades, and many involved ordinary people running small businesses who allege Trump stiffed them: "A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others." He faced 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act between 2005 and 2016 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage. On just one project, the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, "at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing."

Photo credit: Jeffrey Asher - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeffrey Asher - Getty Images

Of course, things were starting to go south in the 1990s. In the first half of the decade, Trump sank almost $1 billion into debt, a Politico examination tells us, and three of his Atlantic City casinos filed for bankruptcy. (The banks wouldn't lend to him by this point, though they were so tangled up with him—and he owed them so much money—that he was "too big to fail.") He decided to throw some of these decaying assets into a new company vehicle, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc., and take it public. "Step right up, cries the barker with the jaunty derby and twirling cane," wrote Newsday's Sydney Schanberg in April 1995. "Donald Trump has a deal for you." By June, he was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, hawking his new publicly traded company under the stock ticker "DJT." He secured $140 million from a valuation of $14 a share, plus $155 million in 10-year junk bonds. Politico continues the story from there:

From that point until 2009, when Trump stepped down as the company’s chair, his Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts would pay him $44 million in salary and $82 million overall. The people who invested, who threw him that lifeline, didn’t do so well: The company lost $1.1 billion over that time, filing for bankruptcy twice. The stock price would peak at $35.50 in 1996—and ultimately fall to as low as 17 cents a share. “People who believed in him, that listened to his siren song,” the uber-investor Warren Buffett would say, “came away losing well over 90 cents on the dollar. They got back less than a dime.”

The new millennium did not see much in the way of a come-to-Jesus moment. Perhaps the peak of Trump's career as a snake-oil salesman came with Trump University, his 2000s-era plot to separate people seeking "secrets to success in the real-estate business" from their money. Trump eventually faced three different lawsuits alleging the enterprise engaged in deceptive practices, and he settled shortly after his 2016 election victory, agreeing to pay $25 million in damages. One attendee wrote on a feedback form at the time that "requesting we raise our credit limits on our credit cards at lunch Friday seemed a little transparent."

Then there are the numerous sexual misconduct allegations, the payoffs to mistresses that were structured illegally under campaign finance law, and the money his businesses continued to take—including from corporate and foreign interests who might have business before his administration—while he controlled the levers of power associated with the presidency. Actually, we've only compiled a brief survey here of his Totally Above-Board Conduct. OK, one more: A New York Times report found that Trump's massive inheritance was tied to a multigenerational tax fraud scheme.

The point of this exercise has been to illustrate the absurdity of his allies' reaction to the development that this man, Donald Trump, could be raided by the FBI. It's not just that he's currently under investigation for a bunch of different things at once, to the point that the main question on Monday night was what, exactly, the search was connected to. (In addition to the classified document probe and the investigations into possible financial crimes listed above, he's also subject to a federal inquiry into his behavior on and around January 6, and the Fulton County district attorney is digging into his attempt to pressure Georgia election officials to stuff the ballot box for him in that state.) It's also that this behavior has been a hallmark of his biography. Spare us the indignation at the notion he might, for once, have had an actual run-in with law enforcement. Let's wait and see if they found anything.

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