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In the final stretch of his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of corruption in our nation's capital. "I will Make Our Government Honest Again—believe me," he tweeted three weeks before Election Day. "But first, I'm going to have to #DrainTheSwamp in DC."
To hear him and his circle tell the story, his approach to the presidency was purely virtuous. "From a business standpoint, is the presidency beneficial?" Trump’s son Eric asked, rhetorically, in a 2017 Forbes interview. "If you're talking about existing assets, they're doing amazing. If you're talking about as a whole, we've made sacrifices in order to allow him—and he's made sacrifices in order to allow him—to take the biggest office in the world."
In mid-October of this year, Trump told reporters that leaving the business world for politics has cost him somewhere between $2 billion and $5 billion. There is no evidence that this math is accurate, and Bloomberg’s most recent estimate of his net worth, $3 billion, is actually up slightly from its 2015 estimate of $2.9 billion. Nevertheless, Trump says, it’s a price he is (hypothetically) happy to pay. “I don’t care,” he continued. “I’m doing this for the country. I’m doing it for the people.”
As it turns out, the same guy who stiffed curtain vendors and cabinet makers, scammed students with the now-defunct Trump University, and engaged in fraudulent tax schemes took a similar tack with the presidency. Throughout his tenure in the White House, Trump has leveraged the powers of his office—and the trappings associated with occupying it—to enrich himself at every opportunity. His properties are now the destinations of choice for anyone seeking to curry his favor, and the American taxpayer is among his businesses’ most dependable sources of income. At the same time, he has learned to abuse those powers to shield himself from accountability for his wrongdoing and attacked, bullied, and fired enemies both real and imagined with the imprimatur of the United States government.
During the Trump presidency, corruption has flourished in previously unthinkable ways, and at such a remarkable rate, that it's almost impossible to keep it all straight—here's what we know so far.
January 1, 2017
Mar-a-Lago, a Trump-owned private club that maintains a membership cap of 500, doubles its initiation fee to $200,000. The managing director states that the Florida club had planned the increase during the previous fall, but admitted that it had experienced “a sudden surge in requests” since the election of its chief brand ambassador as president of the United States.
January 9, 2017
Trump announces that his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a pair of wealthy real estate heirs with no relevant experience in government, politics, or public service, will accept senior West Wing positions in the new administration.
January 25, 2017
Trump unveils a first version of his long-promised Muslim ban. It tellingly excludes several majority-Muslim countries—including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—where Trump just so happens to have major business interests.
January 27, 2017
In a private dinner at the White House, Trump makes the unusual request of asking FBI director Jim Comey to pledge him his loyalty. Comey, who is the head of an independent law enforcement agency and not an enforcer for the mob, counters that he would promise his “honesty.” The two eventually settle on “honest loyalty,” a term that means nothing but that, as Comey would later testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, was at least sufficient to end a “very awkward conversation.”
January 30, 2017
After Acting Attorney General Sally Yates issues a letter declaring the Muslim ban unlawful and ordering Department of Justice attorneys not to defend it in court, Trump responds by firing her.
February 14, 2017
In the Oval Office, Trump asks Comey to close the investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who resigned after lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey says Trump told him, in the style of a Mafia boss calmly dangling a subordinate from a fifth-floor balcony. “He is a good guy, I hope you can let this go.”
February 24, 2017
A day after Trump referred to reporters as “fake,” “dishonest,” and the “enemy of the people,” the White House bars CNN, Politico, BuzzFeed News, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times from an informal press briefing to which other mainstream and conservative outlets were invited. The White House explains that it “decided to add a couple of additional people” to the reporter pool, but denies that its decisions are politically motivated. The Associated Press and TIME elect to skip the event in protest, and the nonpartisan Committee to Protect Journalists calls the exclusions a “terrible example for the rest of the world.”
February 28, 2017
The State Department spends more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at a new Trump-branded hotel in Vancouver, B.C., where several members of Trump’s family traveled to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
March 5, 2017
The White House demands a congressional investigation into Trump’s unfounded Twitter allegations that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
March 11, 2017
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announces on Twitter that the president has fired him. At the time of his termination, Bharara’s office was investigating Fox News’s handling of sexual harassment claims against its late executive, Roger Ailes; money-laundering allegations at Deutsche Bank, a key Trump financier; and insider trading allegations against Tom Price, Trump’s then we Secretary of Health and Human Services.
March 24, 2017
Despite Trump’s pledges to separate himself from his eponymous business as president, Eric Trump, whom Donald tapped to run the Trump Organization along with his brother, Don Jr., tells Forbes that they’ll provide their father with “probably quarterly” updates on the company’s financial performance. Two weeks later, ProPublica reports that Trump is able to withdraw money at any time from the trust his attorneys created—one that was supposed to keep his political interests and personal fortunes separate.
March 30, 2017
Trump asks Comey what the FBI could do to “lift the cloud” over the administration stemming from its alleged collusion with the Russian government in 2016.
April 4, 2017
A State Department–run website covering Trump’s meetings with foreign dignitaries at Mar-a-Lago refers to the property as the “Winter White House” and praises its “Venetian and Portuguese influences” and private “collection of antiques.” After Oregon Democratic senator Ron Wyden questions the use of taxpayer dollars to advertise “the President’s private country club,” the State Department deletes the article and apologizes for “any misperception” it may have created.
April 14, 2017
The White House announces that it will no longer publish its daily visitor logs, reversing an Obama-era transparency policy and allowing lobbyists, donors, and anyone else who has the president’s ear to speak with him without inviting further public scrutiny.
April 26, 2017
The White House releases an outline of a proposed tax-reform bill that, if enacted, would just happen to save Trump and his businesses tens of millions of dollars annually, according to a Washington Post analysis.
May 9, 2017
Trump fires Comey. In a letter, he claims that he did so at the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and that the grounds for Comey’s termination related to his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. In an Oval Office meeting the next day, Trump tells a group of high-level Russian officials that Comey was a “nut job,” and said firing him had relieved “great pressure because of Russia.” The day after that, Trump apparently forgets the excuse in public, too, admitting to Lester Holt that he had “this Russia thing” in mind when he fired Comey, and had already decided to do before Rosenstein and Sessions made their recommendations.
May 11, 2017
By executive order, Trump creates a commission to investigate “voter fraud,” which he claims was responsible for between 3 and 5 million illegal ballots in 2016 and cost him the national popular vote. In fact, a December 2016 Washington Post analysis found exactly four proven cases of voter fraud, leaving Trump’s claim between 2,999,996 and 4,999,996 ballots short.
Trump orders White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller just days after media outlets report that Mueller was looking at whether the president had obstructed justice by, among other things, firing Comey. Trump reversed course only after McGahn threatened to quit. Mueller’s final report, a redacted version of which was released in April 2019, noted that this attempted firing could be its own independent justice-obstructing act.
June 3, 2017
According to the New York Times, a wedding brochure distributed by Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ tells prospective clients that “if [Trump] is on-site for your big day, he will likely stop in & congratulate the happy couple.” (A spokesperson tells the Times that it has been discontinued.)
June 24, 2017
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin marries former actress Louise Linton in Washington. Many of the guests at the wedding of a Cabinet official are bussed by charter from the nearby Trump International Hotel in Washington.
July 8, 2017
Aboard Air Force One, Trump dictates a statement attributed to Donald Trump Jr. claiming that during a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, Don Jr. met with a Russian lawyer to “primarily” discuss U.S. adoptions from Russia. In fact, Trump Jr. took the meeting after he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump.
August 7, 2017
In an interview with the Washington Post, managers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington describe strategies to market the development’s accommodations and meeting spaces to Republican and conservative groups whose politics align with the president’s.
August 15, 2017
While discussing the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the death of counterprotestor Heather Heyer, the president promotes a Trump-branded winery in the area. “I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place,” he says. “I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.”
August 25, 2017
Trump pardons former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious xenophobe and early Trump supporter, who was convicted of criminal contempt in 2017 after defying a federal court’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
September 6, 2017
The New York Times reports that Trump stands to make about $14 million from the pending sale of Starrett City, a federally-subsidized housing complex in New Jersey of which Trump and his family are partial owners.
September 29, 2017
The U.S. Secret Service, which must provide security for the president during each of his taxpayer-funded weekend trips to properties that bear his name, signs an eight-month contract worth $61,960 to rent golf carts at the Trump International Golf Club in Florida.
October 11, 2017
In response to an NBC News story in which then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called Trump a “moron,” Trump calls the reporting “pure fiction” and threatens to “challenge their License.” (The Federal Communications Commissions does not “license” networks.)
November 15, 2017
According to USA Today, at least ten taxpayer-funded Department of Justice attorneys and paralegals are working to defend against lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s businesses earning profits from foreign governments during his presidency.
December 22, 2017
Hours after signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which reserved most of its “cuts” for wealthy Americans, a jubilant Trump tells a group of diners at Mar-a-Lago, “You all just got a lot richer.”
January 2, 2018
In a (what else?) early-morning tweet, Trump calls for the vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Huma Abedin, to face jail time for forwarding confidential and classified emails to personal devices. Former FBI director Jim Comey had previously defended Abedin, saying there was no criminal intent behind her actions; in the same tweet, Trump also directs the Department of Justice to investigate Comey.
January 4, 2018
The Trump administration rolls out a plan to open up 90 percent of the outer continental shelf of the United States for fossil fuel drilling. Five days later, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announces that he’s exempting Florida from the plan after its then-Republican governor, Rick Scott, complained about its impact. As New York Magazine notes, that’s not just partisan politics at work: “oil and gas exploration could hurt business at Mar-a-Lago,” also located in Florida.
January 12, 2018
The Wall Street Journal reports that a month before the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s top attorney, Michael Cohen, arranged to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about a previous sexual encounter with Trump. Whether or not Trump was aware of the arrangement is unclear…yet, anyway.
January 24, 2018
Trump intervenes to put a stop to the FBI’s long-planned relocation to the D.C. suburbs, pushing instead for a more costly proposal in which a new FBI headquarters would be constructed on the same plot of land—which just happens to be a short distance from a Trump Hotel. With the FBI staying put, hotel competitors can’t move in.
February 2, 2018
Trump authorizes the release of the “Nunes memo,” a wildly misleading document authored by a loyalist to the president, California congressman Devin Nunes, purporting to show a deep-state conspiracy against the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Reports soon emerge that Trump hoped the memo would help discredit the ongoing Mueller investigation. That clearly didn’t work out.
February 16, 2018
For The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow report on Trump’s extramarital affair with the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the “clandestine meetings, financial transactions, and legal pacts” designed to hide it. American Media, Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer and is run by Trump ally David Pecker, attempted to have McDougal’s tell-all swallowed up by the tabloid practice of “catch and kill”—essentially paying off a subject to stay quiet.
February 28, 2018
The New York Times reports that Trump instructed White House chief of staff John Kelly to grant son-in-law Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance, despite objections from administration officials. Kushner, a senior advisor to the president, maintains close personal relationships with influential members of foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Around this time, Trump does the same for Ivanka, according to CNN, asking Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn to grant his daughter’s security clearance “so it did not appear as if he was tainting the process to favor his family.”
March 6, 2018
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel says counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Law during two television interviews during the Alabama senate race in 2017 when she disparaged Democratic candidate Doug Jones. In response, the White House and Trump do nothing.
March 12, 2018
Longtime Trump “body man” John McEntee is unceremoniously booted from the White House because he’s under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for “serious financial crimes,” according to CNN. His punishment is immediately being hired as a senior adviser to the 2020 Trump re-election campaign.
April 13, 2018
Seemingly out of the blue, Trump pardons Scooter Libby, the advisor to former vice president Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements for his role in exposing the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. The New York Times correctly assesses that the circumstances of Libby’s conviction closely mirror Trump’s own potential crimes in the ongoing Mueller investigation.
May 1, 2018
In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Harold Bornstein—who used to be Trump’s doctor—says that in February 2017, Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller, Trump Organization chief legal officer Alan Garten, and an unidentified third person showed up to Bornstein’s office and took all of the president’s medical records. Bornstein describes the incident as a “raid,” and claims he never signed a HIPAA release form to allow someone else to obtain Trump’s records.
May 20, 2018
The president asks—or, rather, “hereby demands”—that the Justice Department “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” The Justice Department obliges shortly thereafter.
June 10, 2018
Perhaps due to muscle memory, Trump apparently rips up almost every piece of paper he’s presented with, which one unfortunate soul has been tasked with re-assembling, according to Politico. Trump’s odd habit is a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
July 16, 2018
Following a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump claims that he doesn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After some rare Republican pushback, he claims he misspoke the next day and meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”
July 24, 2018
CNN obtains a tape of then-candidate Trump chatting with his attorney, Michael Cohen, about how to obtain the rights to—and thus squash—Karen McDougal’s story about their prior relationship. It’s unclear in the audio whether Trump tells Cohen to “pay with cash” to make the story disappear. After CNN’s report, Trump’s new right-hand man, Rudy Giuliani, tells Fox News that Trump would’ve never offered offered to pay with cash—no one would in that circumstance—”unless you’re a complete idiot.”
August 1, 2018
Having given up on all pretenses of allowing for an open and fair investigation by Mueller, Trump goes on Twitter and lambasts his favorite target, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with a little more pizazz than usual: “Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.”
August 20, 2018
Another incendiary tweet intended to muddy the waters of the Mueller investigation and unduly pressure the Justice Department, this time directed at Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department figure who right-wing circles believe abused his security clearance to impugn the president. “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions ‘Justice’ Department?” Trump asks.
November 7, 2018
CNN reporter Jim Acosta zings Trump a bit more than the president is used to at a press conference, compelling Trump to call him a “rude, terrible person.” The White House then suspends Acosta’s press pass for roughly two weeks, an unprecedented punishment.
November 20, 2018
As it turns out, Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails from a private account shared with her husband Jared Kushner to government officials. Ivanka pleads ignorance, saying she was unaware of the rules—a curious admission, given that her father has spent the better part of three years railing against Hillary Clinton and everyone in her orbit for email snafus. The president’s defense of his daughter is that she didn’t delete the emails, unlike Clinton.
November 20, 2018
Trump blasts the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had recently ordered the administration to accept asylum claims from migrants, as a “ disgrace,” and the judge who issued the ruling as an “Obama judge.” When U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a rare statement in response, praising the “independent judiciary” and disclaiming the notion of “Obama judges” and “Trump judges,” the president tells him he’s wrong.
November 22, 2018
While speaking at Mar-a-Lago, Trump again threatens to shut down the entire U.S.-Mexico border, and says he’s authorized U.S. troops to use “lethal force” against migrants if necessary. (What, exactly, is defined as “necessary” is left unsaid.) Defense Secretary James Mattis, tasked with cleaning up Trump’s latest mess, denies that troops are acting on such barbaric orders—at least publicly.
December 3, 2018
On Twitter, the president calls on federal district court judge William Pauley, presiding over the criminal trial of Michael Cohen in New York, to impose a “full and complete” sentence on Trump’s longtime fixer. Nineteen minutes later, he engages in some casual public witness tampering by praising the “guts” of former advisor Roger Stone and blasting the “rogue and out of control prosecutor” in Stone’s case.
December 18, 2018
New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announces that Trump has agreed to shut down his personal charity, the Trump Foundation, after an investigation revealed what she called a “shocking pattern of illegality” involving “unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”
February 15, 2019
After Congress agrees to include in the federal budget only $1.375 billion to build about 55 miles worth of fence at the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump declares a national emergency for the purpose of building a border wall. The move allows the administration to effectively overrule Congress’ decisions and postpone 127 existing military spending projects, including the construction of nine schools for the children of servicemembers, to fulfill his campaign promise. "I didn’t need to do this," he tells reporters that same day, about something that is supposed to be an emergency. "I just want to get it done faster."
March 24, 2019
Attorney General and lifelong executive power enthusiast William Barr releases a four-page letter stating that he had privately reviewed special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, and that there was not enough evidence to show that Trump had obstructed justice. The actual report, as Americans would see when the Department of Justice released a redacted version some three weeks later, left it to Congress to decide whether Trump had committed any offenses worthy of impeachment. The president, however, uses the Barr letter to declare an all-caps victory: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
April 12, 2019
Trump threatens to use his presidential powers to order the release of undocumented people arrested at the border inside “sanctuary cities”—large, typically Democratic urban areas where local officials refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities—in apparent retaliation for Democrats’ unwillingness to support his anti-immigrant agenda.
May 8, 2019
The House Judiciary Committee votes to hold Barr, the chief law enforcement of the United States, in contempt of Congress after he refuses to comply with a subpoena for an unredacted version of the Mueller Report.
May 17, 2019
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, who served as the finance chair of Trump’s campaign in 2016, declines to comply with a congressional subpoena for Trump’s tax returns.
May 20, 2019
The White House orders former White House counsel Don McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena for his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. (You will notice a pattern here.)
June 4, 2019
Same as above, but for former deputy counsel Annie Donaldson.
July 17, 2019
The House votes to hold Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Barr (again!) in contempt for their refusal to comply with a subpoena for documents regarding the White House’s attempts to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census forms. Adding the question, according to Census Bureau estimates, could decrease response rates by as much as five percent, depriving denying fair representation in Congress to Democratic-leaning areas and depriving cities and towns with large immigrant populations of critical federal resources.
July 25, 2019
In a phone call with recently-elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump asks his counterpart to open an investigation into the family of former vice president Joe Biden, and into a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s alleged involvement in interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. This occurred days after Trump ordered staffers to freeze more than $391 million in congressionally-appropriated military aid to Ukraine.
September 4, 2019
After wrongly tweeting that Alabama would be hit hard by the oncoming Hurricane Dorian, the president appears at a press conference next to a hurricane map clumsily altered with a black Sharpie to nudge the hurricane’s potential path towards Alabama. National Weather Service employees are told not to contradict Trump’s assertions, and the New York Times reports that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross privately threatens to fire National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association staffers who do not back the president’s amateur meteorology.
September 9, 2019
According to Politico, Air Force personnel on long-haul flights have begun stopping to refuel their planes at a small airport in Scotland—and staying overnight at Trump Turnberry, a struggling golf resort owned by the president. In a tweet, he claims to “know nothing” about this particular arrangement that uses taxpayer dollars to make him richer, but does assert that the servicemembers’ decision to stay at Turnberry is evidence of their “good taste.”
September 30, 2019
The New York Times reports that Trump had recently asked Australian prime minister Scott Morrison to help Barr gather information about the alleged role of certain Australian diplomats in providing information that kicked off the Mueller probe that Trump hates so much. As the Times points out, this is, in effect, “asking the Australian government to investigate itself.”
October 1, 2019
Trump describes impeachment, which is, again, a constitutionally-prescribed method for holding powerful people accountable, as a “coup,” which refers to the violent and illegal overthrow of a government.
October 3, 2019
Apparently unsatisfied with making one private request of a foreign government to investigate a political opponent, Trump publicly urges China to look into the Biden family, too. “What happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” he tells reporters. As the New York Times notes, he does so moments after stating, in the context of trade negotiations with China, that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
October 6, 2019
Without warning, the administration announces its intent to withdraw American troops from northern Syria, effectively clearing the way for the Turkish military to attack American-allied Kurdish forces in the area. The president, who admitted in 2015 that the Trump Tower development in Istanbul meant he had a “little conflict of interest” when it comes to Turkey, reportedly issues the directive at the request of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A National Security Council staffer tells Newsweek that Trump got “rolled” during their call.
October 8, 2019
The White House orders Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key figure in the Ukraine scandal, not to voluntarily sit for an interview with the House Judiciary Committee. That same day, on an unhinged, speciously-reasoned letter to congressional leadership, White House counsel Pat Cipollone says the administration won’t cooperate with any aspect of the House’s impeachment inquiry, calling it “unconstitutional.” (Note: Impeachment is in the Constitution.)
October 17, 2019
The president announces plans to host the 2020 G-7 summit of world leaders at Doral, a Florida golf course that—you’ll never believe this—he owns. At a struggling resort where net operating income fell 69 percent in just two years, according to the Washington Post, 16 straight days of full occupancy (during the golf off-season, no less) would probably have come as a very welcome development. (He later reverses his decision, citing the complaints of “the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners.”)
To be continued...
Edward Norton's demanding standards made him one of his generation's most talented—and no-bullshit—actors. So what's this project he's been obsessing over for the past 20 years?
Originally Appeared on GQ