This Week in Trumpland Corruption: Unpresidented Behavior
The president’s attempted coup hit a few snags, plus shady consulting fees in the Trump Organization
Is there enough graft, double-dealing, and self-interested chicanery in the Trump administration to publish this column every week? Only time — and Trump — will tell. (But we feel pretty confident.) Presenting this week’s installment of the Trump Corruption Index.
Trump’s fall from gracelessness
It’s hard to overstate just how gracelessly — and dangerously — Donald Trump has behaved since losing the presidential election to Joe Biden. Just in the last week, the president fired the federal election official who had challenged his bogus charges of fraud, tried to block Michigan from certifying the election results (an effort that appears to have finally failed), and has promoted baseless accusations about a left-wing plot to steal the election. A growing number of Republicans — including former members of the Trump administration — are now calling on Trump to admit defeat. Speaking on ABC’s The Week, former National Security Adviser John Bolton sarcastically mused, “Their basic argument is this was a conspiracy so vast and so successful that there’s no evidence of it. Now if that’s true, I really want to know who the people are who pulled this off. We need to hire them at the C.I.A.”
- Corrupt-o-meter (out of a possible five emojis): 🗳️🗳️🗳️👿👿
Georgia’s on Trump’s mind
Months before the election, the Trump campaign pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to endorse the president for re-election, ProPublica reported last week. In January, Raffensperger declined an invitation to serve as an honorary co-chair of the Trump campaign in Georgia. He also declined requests to endorse the president, explaining that, given his position, it would be inappropriate for him to take sides in the election. Now, following Trump’s loss in the state, Raffensperger has been accused by Trump allies of botching the election process. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom face runoff elections in January, now have called for Raffensperger to resign. “It is not the job of the secretary of state’s office to deliver a win,” Raffensperger told ProPublica. “It is the sole responsibility of the Georgia Republican Party to get out the vote and get its voters to the polls. That is not the job of the secretary of state’s office.”
- Corrupt-o-meter: 🍑🍑🐘🐘
An ex-President becomes Big Brother
Throughout this election season, the Trump campaign used an app that collected data on the president’s supporters and even tracked their location, the Associated Press reported last week. The app’s developer, Austin-based Phunware Inc., is in dire financial trouble and was at some points over the last few months totally reliant on its contract with the Trump campaign to avoid fiscal ruin. Phunware also received $2.9 million in April — at which point the company was building the Trump campaign’s app — through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. And Trump may well continue to engage with the 2.8 million people who downloaded the app after he leaves office, giving him another database to solicit for future fundraising efforts. “I’m assuming that what he is going to do is transfer the assets of the campaign,” Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission attorney, told the AP.
- Corrupt-o-meter: 🛰️🛰️
Bordering on insanity
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Monday which found that, as of July 2020, the Trump administration has seized 135 private land tracts totaling 5,275 acres for the purposes of construction of a border wall, and that it is trying to seize an additional 991 tracts. There was a wide discrepancy in compensation given to land owners: Per the GAO, owners received between $1,440 and $870,261 per acre. Senate Democrats have for years claimed that the Trump administration did not provide adequate information on its eminent domain efforts, including such information as a timetable for land acquisition or a count for how many people will be subjected to the practice. “This administration is still actively seizing the private land of farmers and ranchers to build Trump’s wasteful, divisive border wall,” Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Tom Udall, and Martin Heinrich wrote in a joint letter. “In anticipation of President-elect Biden’s administration, we call on the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to immediately stop any efforts to take private land away from farmers and ranchers against their will.”
- Corrupt-o-meter: 🌄🧱
A family affair
Two New York investigations into potential fraudulent activity by President Trump and his businesses have broadened to include tax write-offs on millions of dollars in consulting fees, including those made to Ivanka Trump, the New York Times reported last week. Both investigations — a criminal one by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and a civil one by Attorney General Letitia Jame — subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records related to those fees. The focus on consulting fees follows a separate New York Times investigation which found that President Trump slashed his taxable income by deducting around $26 million in consulting fees as a business expense between 2010 and 2018. A number of those fees appear to have gone to Ivanka. For example, Ivanka reported netting $747,622 in consulting payments on a 2017 disclosure form — the exact amount that the Trump Organization claimed as tax deductions for hotel projects in Vancouver and Hawaii.