Tag Archives: quid pro quo

Extortion–And Susan Collins

Well, Susan Collins was right–sorta. Trump did learn a lesson from the Impeachment whitewash that she and the other Republican Senators handed him.

The lesson? Extortion works and I can keep doing it.

Earlier this week, Trump tweeted:

I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!

This, of course, is vintage Trump, displaying both his trademark ignorance of how government actually works and his mob-godfather behavior.

Letitia James, New York’s Attorney General responded to the obvious ignorance.

When you stop violating the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, we will stand down. Until then, we have a duty and responsibility to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.

BTW, I file the lawsuits, not the Governor.

As commentators have noted, this new threat followed a more generalized version that Trump had included in his delusional, fact-free State of the Union speech. In that speech, he threatened reprisals against sanctuary cities and states (mischaracterizing, as usual, what sanctuary laws say and do–it really is amazing how impervious he has been to learning anything in the three years he’s held office).

It also followed a previous, petty retaliation against New York, described by a Daily Kos contributor:

When the Department of Homeland Security announced on Feb. 7 that residents of New York would no longer be allowed to participate in programs such as Global Entry that speed passengers through airport security, it seemed like an act of petty vengeance. But then … petty vengeance is Donald Trump’s middle name. He just spells it with a J. So the idea that Trump would make a move designed to irritate millions of New Yorkers because their state passed laws supporting immigrants seemed absolutely believable.

But as it turns out, Trump wasn’t acting out of pure retaliation. Not at all. On Thursday Trump fired off a tweet making it clear that the real purpose behind making New Yorkers go to the back of the line was extortion—to force the state into leaving his taxes, his company, and his friends alone.

After all, it worked so well in Ukraine.

For a more in-depth discussion of this latest, astonishingly brazen effort to obtain a personal quid pro quo–threatening to withhold money meant to protect the citizens of New York unless that state dropped its multiple investigations into his criminal activities–you really should visit (or revisit, if you have already seen it) this discussion on Morning Joe.

Once again, the word that comes to mind is chutzpah.

What I find so astonishing is not the criminal behavior itself–and make no mistake, it is criminal, although I’m sure that the blowback will be dismissed with Trump’s usual “it was a joke” disclaimer (this from a man who wouldn’t know humor if he encountered it)– but the chutzpah of tweeting it out for the whole world to see. All that was missing was “Nah nah nah–you can’t impeach me! I’m protected by the spineless, dishonest, unAmerican Republicans in Mitch McConnell’s Senate.”

Yes indeed, Senator Collins. He certainly learned a lesson…

 

If This Is True…

When I was much younger, I naively believed that endemic corruption was only a problem in other countries–that America would of course have its share of slimy folks, but their influence would be episodic, not part of the culture.

My experience with Indianapolis’ municipal government was consistent with that conviction.

I began to question whether I could generalize that experience when–as a lawyer in private practice–I represented real estate developers and had occasion to interact with lenders from states like New Jersey, where I was astonished to discover it could take a couple of years and some dubious “arrangements” to get a building permit. (At the time, you could pull such a permit in Indianapolis in a day or two.)

These days, watching the Trump Administration is a Master Class in sleaze. As we learn more about the backgrounds of the people Trump has installed in cabinet and White House positions, it becomes more and more apparent that they aren’t new to corruption and self-dealing (just google “best people” sometime…). Presumably, that’s why Trump feels comfortable with them–they are “his kind of people.”

Then there’s Rudy Guiliani. It appears that Trump’s “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” relationship with his “personal lawyer” goes back some years as well–at least to 1988. According to Daily Kos,

U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani had FBI Agent Tony Lombardi end the FBI’s investigation on Trump money laundering.  A few weeks later, Donald Trump raised $2 Million for Giuliani’s mayoral campaign.  Quid Pro Quo?

Now, Daily Kos is not an unbiased news source. It definitely leans Left. But its political preferences tend to dictate what it chooses to report, and how it reacts to actual “facts on the ground.” To the best of my ability to tell, it doesn’t engage in Fox-like distortion/invention.

Here are relevant portions of the rest of the post:

Journalist, and author, Wayne Barrett writes in his 2016 article:

Tony Lombardi, the federal agent closest to then-U.S. Attorney Giuliani, opened a probe of Trump’s role in the suspect sale of two Trump Tower apartments to Robert Hopkins, the mob-connected head of the city’s largest gambling ring.

Barrett explains:

The government subsequently nailed Hopkins’ mortgage broker, Frank LaMagra, on an unrelated charge and he offered to give up Donald, claiming Trump “participated” in the money-laundering — and volunteering to wear a wire on him….

Lombardi, who discussed the case with Giuliani personally (and with me for a 1993 Village Voice piece called “The Case of the Missing Case”), went straight to Donald for two hour-long interviews with him. Within weeks of the interviews, Donald announced he’d raise $2 million in a half hour if Rudy ran for mayor. LaMagra got no deal and was convicted, as was his mob associate, Louis (Louie HaHa) Attanasio, who was later also nailed for seven underworld murders. Hopkins was convicted of running his gambling operation partly out of the Trump Tower apartment, where he was arrested.

Lombardi — who expected a top appointment in a Giuliani mayoralty, conducted several other probes directly tied to Giuliani political opponents, and testified later that “every day I came to work I went to Mr. Giuliani to seek out what duties I needed to perform” — closed the Trump investigation without even giving it a case number. That meant that New Jersey gaming authorities would never know it existed.

I guess the old adage “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know” was certainly true in New York’s white-collar crime community.

This was 1988. More evidence, as if we needed it, that Guiliani was never entitled to be called “America’s Mayor,” that Trump’s venality is nothing new, and that my naiveté was just that.

 

 

 

Goodby To The Rule Of Law

It’s all quid pro quo, sleazy self-interest and graft in Trump’s swamp. The daily revelations–we’ve just learned that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been in business with Putin’s son-in-law, a connection that he somehow failed to disclose during his confirmation hearings– tend to obscure the more pedestrian varieties of corruption and self-dealing that continue unabated while we are distracted by the Russian investigation and tweets from our embarrassing ignoramus-in-chief.

Case in point: Talking Points Memo had a recent article about AT&T’s planned acquisition of Time Warner for Eighty-six billion dollars. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.

AT&T needs the Justice Department’s approval for that deal. Normally, that decision would be housed off at the Antitrust Division at the Justice Department. But no one thinks that’s how it works in the Trump Administration. AT&T needs Donald Trump’s sign off, possibly mediated through the hand of Jeff Sessions but maybe not. Indeed, there has already been quite a bit of concern on Capitol Hill that Trump would try to hold up the AT&T deal as a way to exert pressure on Time Warner.

Time Warner owns CNN, and we all know how fond President Belligerent is of “fake news” CNN. According to various sources, the White House has already put out word that it wants to condition approval of the merger proposal on AT&T’s willingness to pressure CNN to “improve” its coverage of the President.

When CNN broke the news about the imminence of a Mueller indictment, Roger Stone–a close friend of Donald Trump’s– went on a Twitter tirade so obscene that it got his Twitter account suspended. One Tweet was both specific and damning.

When AT&T aquires Time Warner the house cleaning at CNN of human excrement like @donlemon @jaketapper & dumbfuck @ananavarro will be swift

As Josh Marshall’s TPM article noted,

Obviously, Roger Stone can rant and wish all he wants. He was in a splutter and a rage. How can he know what AT&T is going to do? But let’s go back to one more thing we know. Roger Stone still regularly talks to President Trump. Is that what President Trump told Stone? That AT&T promised they’ll ‘clean house’ at CNN?

At this point, the quid pro quo is still hypothetical. But given what we know of Trump, his family, his business partners and professional associates (Paul Manafort, et al), the people he has chosen for his cabinet–it is all too plausible.

This is the way business is conducted in banana republics and corrupt, authoritarian regimes.

The essential element of the rule of law is that the same rules apply to everyone– governors and governed alike– that no one is above the law. Even under the most favorable analysis of Donald Trump’s business dealings, it would be hard to miss his disdain for the rules, his contempt for the legal system, and his conviction that neither applies to him.

Misuse of the power of the state–abuse of governmental authority–is an impeachable offense. One of the charges against Nixon involved his (mis)use of the IRS to punish personal enemies. If Trump does indeed allow the AT&T merger in return for a promise to eviscerate CNN’s independent coverage of the Administration, it would be a “high crime” for which impeachment is appropriate.

The difference, of course, is that for the Republicans who censured Nixon,  duty to country outweighed partisanship. The only thing today’s GOP has in common with that era’s Republican Party is the name.

Let’s Make a Deal

Let’s talk about dealmaking, crony capitalism style. The Atlantic reports

Between 2007 and 2012, GE secured more than $16 billion worth of federal contracts, which might have something to do with the fact that it spent $150 million on lobbying during that period.

According to the article, the Sunlight Foundation recently examined the activities of 200  politically active for-profit corporations between the years 2007 and 2012.  Between lobbying and campaign contributions, those 200 companies spent $5.8 billion to influence government. In return, they got more than $4.4 trillion in federal business and support. (It may have been more; according the the Foundation, federal record-keeping isn’t as precise as we might wish.)

For comparison’s sake, $4.4 trillion is more than the amount that Social Security paid out to roughly 50 million beneficiaries over the same six-year period.

It’s interesting. So-called “deficit hawks” like Paul Ryan are constantly looking for ways to cut “entitlements”– social programs that benefit large numbers of American citizens. There is a lot of discussion of the costs of those programs. There is  far less discussion about the amount of taxes that most Americans have paid toward those costs, about  whether ordinary Americans should be able to expect a reasonable return on that tax “investment,” and what such a “reasonable return” might look like.

There is even less discussion of the appropriate “return on investment” for monies spent on campaign contributions and lobbying, or about the possibility that the tax dollars paid under the government contracts secured by campaign contributors exceed the value of the services being rendered.

When Social Security was established, it was sold as insurance. That “deal” was simple: Workers would pay taxes on their earnings, those taxes would be invested and kept safe, and government would pay them a monthly income in their old age. We can argue about the sufficiency of that income, the fairness of the tax, the mandatory nature of the program, whether social security is really an insurance program or welfare…all sorts of things. But lawmakers chosen by We the People bickered and argued and ultimately voted to make that deal.

I don’t remember a similar vote on the appropriate level of  “quid pro quo” payable for campaign contributions….