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Monday, December 26, 2016

Trump's mom and pop global empire

by digby

This NY Times article about the Trump Organization is fascinating. Indeed, it's so fascinating one might have thought they'd have done it before the election but, oh well. There's a lot of detail about how it's run which provides some insight into how Trump operates.

Perhaps the most interesting is the fact that he's running a very small company.Trump headquarters houses what appears to be about 150 people. The idea that he knows how to run a big operation is a fallacy. (Of course, nobody can know how to run an operation as big as the federal government but this was supposed to be his selling point since he has no government experience at all.)

This gets to the heart of the conflict of interest matter:
With extensive entanglements around the world, many packaged in a network of licensing agreements and limited liability companies, the Trump Organization poses a raft of potential conflicts of interest for a president-elect who has long exerted such control over his company that, as he told The New York Times in a recent interview, he is the one who signs the checks. “I like to sign checks so I know what is going on,” he explained.

Mr. Trump — owner of all but the smallest sliver of the privately held company — has said that, while the law does not require it, he is formulating plans to remove himself and his older daughter, Ivanka, from the company’s operations. (Ms. Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, is likely to have a role in the White House.) His sons Donald Jr. and Eric, along with other executives, will be in charge, the president-elect wrote on Twitter in mid-December, adding that “no new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.” People involved in the planning have said that Mr. Trump intends to keep a stake in the business.

But in recent weeks, amid rising pressure, Mr. Trump and his advisers have been intensely debating further measures. Among other things, the president-elect has agreed to shut down his personal foundation, has ended some international development deals and has reviewed a plan for an outside monitor to oversee the Trump Organization.

Yet an examination of the company underscores the complex challenges of taking Mr. Trump out of Trump the organization.

His company is a distinctly family business fortified with longtime loyalists that operates less on standardized procedures and more on a culture of Trump. Mr. Trump may leave the details of contracts to his deputies, but his name — and influence — is stamped on every deal the company does.

In an interview last spring with The Times, Mr. Trump explained that he approved new ventures based on his personal “feel.” And while in recent years his three oldest children have taken on more of a leadership role, Mr. Trump has the final say, sometimes weighing in on the most minute design details of planned hotels, golf courses or other properties the company owns or manages.

His other top executives — many of them natives of Queens, where Mr. Trump grew up, or Brooklyn, where his father, Fred, expanded a housing empire many years ago — have secured power not necessarily through fancy pedigrees or impressive credentials, but through decades of devotion to their boss.

Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s chief financial officer, started off as an accountant for Mr. Trump’s father. Matthew Calamari, the organization’s chief operating officer, was recruited in 1981 after Mr. Trump saw him eject some hecklers while working security at the United States Open tennis tournament.

For some executives, there appears to be little division between their service to the company and their service to the Trumps.

“We’re not a publicly traded company. At the end of the day, I work for the Trump family,” Alan Garten, the general counsel, explained in an interview with the legal industry publication Corporate Counsel shortly before the election. “That’s how I view my job. Whether it’s protecting their business interests or protecting their personal interests. I am here to assist them and represent them in any way they need.”

When asked to elaborate in an interview last week with The Times, Mr. Garten said that in any job, “you want to be as helpful as you can,” but that “obviously the interests of the Trumps and the interests of the company are two distinct things.”

The divisions between business and politics were often fuzzy during the presidential race: Mr. Garten became a “liaison” to Mr. Trump’s campaign; Michael Cohen, an executive vice president, tirelessly promoted his boss’s bid for the White House on television while battling negative media coverage; and Jason Greenblatt, the company’s chief legal officer, began serving as his adviser on Israel. On Friday, it was announced that Mr. Greenblatt would be joining Mr. Trump’s administration as a special representative for international negotiations.

After the election, other lines continued to blur as the president-elect and his children met with foreign businessmen with connections to their global ventures and with foreign officials with potential influence over their business dealings.

Some government-ethics lawyers have warned that unless Mr. Trump fully divests himself from the company and places someone independent of his family in charge, he risks entering the White House in violation of a constitutional clause that forbids him from taking payments or gifts from a foreign government entity.

As Mr. Trump assumes the presidency, it is difficult to foresee him walling himself off from the company entirely, said Michael D’Antonio, the author of a critical biography, “The Truth About Trump.”

“I don’t think that he could keep himself from inquiring about the performance of these businesses any more than he can keep himself from tweeting,” Mr. D’Antonio said. “It is just too vital to his identity. Profit is the way he has always measured himself. I don’t see how he can stop.”
He can't and he won't. It's ridiculous to believe he will. Success in politics has an entirely different measure and it's not going to be satisfying to him. Becoming the richest man in the world is a much more tangible goal.

And I'm sorry to say that I don 't think anyone's going to do a thing about it. The Republicans are abandoning the norms that have traditionally kept presidents (and others) from being blatantly corrupt in high office. It was assumed that the voters would punish anyone who tried to take advantage of his position for personal financial gain. But Trump says "what's good for Trump is good for the USA" and many of his followers are fine with it because he's a businessman and they respect the fact that he wants to make a profit. They too assume the nation will profit as well --- from his "good deals" and the "respect" he will demand.

The AP published this, this morning:
Donald Trump spent the past two years attacking rival Hillary Clinton as crooked, corrupt, and weak.

But some of those attacks seem to have already slipped into the history books.

From installing Wall Street executives in his Cabinet to avoiding news conferences, the president-elect is adopting some of the same behavior for which he criticized Clinton during their fiery presidential campaign.

Here's a look at what Trump said then — and what he's doing now:


Then: "I know the guys at Goldman Sachs," Trump said at a South Carolina rally in February, when he was locked in a fierce primary battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. "They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton."

Now: A number of former employees of the Wall Street bank will pay a key role in crafting Trump's economic policy. He's tapped Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to lead the White House National Economic Council. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary nominee, spent 17 years working at Goldman Sachs and Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor, started his career as an investment banker at the firm.

Trump is following in a long political tradition, though one he derided on the campaign trail: If Cohn accepts the nomination, he'll be the third Goldman executive to run the NEC.


Then: "Crooked Hillary. Look, can you imagine another four years of the Clintons? Seriously. It's time to move on. And she's totally controlled by Wall Street and all these people that gave her millions," Trump said at a May rally in Lynden, Washington.

Now: Trump has stocked his Cabinet with six top donors — far more than any recent White House. "I want people that made a fortune. Because now they're negotiating with you, OK?" Trump said, in a December 9 speech in Des Moines.

The biggest giver? Linda McMahon, incoming small business administrator, gave $7.5 million to a super PAC backing Trump, more than a third of the money collected by the political action committee.


Then: "She doesn't do news conferences, because she can't," Trump said at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia. "She's so dishonest she doesn't want people peppering her with questions."

Now: Trump opened his last news conference on July 27, saying: "You know, I put myself through your news conferences often, not that it's fun."

He hasn't held one since.

Trump skipped the news conference a president-elect typically gives after winning the White House. Instead, he released a YouTube video of under three minutes. He also recently abruptly canceled plans to hold his first post-election news conference, opting instead to describe his plans for managing his businesses in tweets. "I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!" he tweeted in mid-December.


Then: "It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money," Trump said at an August rally in Austin.

Now: While Trump has promised to separate himself from his businesses, there is plenty of overlap between his enterprises and his immediate family. His companies will be run by his sons, Donald Jr and Eric. And his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have joined Trump at a number of meetings with world leaders of countries where the family has financial interests.

In a financial disclosure he was required to file during the campaign, Trump listed stakes in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries.
It's important to try to put all this on the record if only to keep our heads straight. It's going to be very easy to become disoriented and lose sight of what we know to be true:  we have a full blown authoritarian kleptocrat coming into the White House.

This is Bush-Cheney on steroids and without the basic competence. They are so bad they could easily do something extremely dangerous. Or they could self-destruct. It's possible that they will simply successfully destroy every liberal achievement of the past half century --- Paul Ryan's fondest dream. We just don't know how it's going to go.

We'll be here as long as the lights stay on, documenting the atrocities and trying to make sense of it all. If you'd care to contribute making that happen, the holiday fundraiser goes through the ends of the year. You can do so below or use the snail mail address at the top of the left column. Thank you!

Happy Hollandaise everyone.