Early Morning Open Thread: Trump’s Grifting the Secret Service

I’d have assumed such behavior would fall under an extremely intense version of the old rule “Never be rude to people who could spit in your food.” But then, I’m not a commanding visionary business leader like Donald ‘The Grifter’ Trump. From the Politico article:

It’s standard practice for the agency — which is tasked with protecting presidential candidates as well as presidents and other federal officials — to reimburse presidential campaigns for the cost of traveling with the candidates.

In fact, the Secret Service has reimbursed the Clinton campaign, too: $2.6 million so far this cycle.

The difference with Trump is that one of his companies, TAG Air, Inc., owns the plane, so the government is effectively paying him.

The Clinton campaign, by contrast, mostly has been chartering planes from a private company called Executive Fliteways in which the Clintons do not have any ownership interest.

“The taxpayers are actually reimbursing Trump for the travel of the Secret Service agents,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at the law firm Akerman LLP. “It’s just another example of how the Trump campaign has taken an unprecedentedly large amount of its money and spent it at Trump-owned facilities.”

A POLITICO analysis of FEC records found that, through the end of August, Trump’s campaign has spent at least $8.2 million at Trump’s own businesses, including to hold events at his hotels, buy food from his restaurants and rent office space for its headquarters in his Manhattan office tower…

If Trump was a character on a TV comedy, he’d be rejected as “too exaggerated”.

A President Trump’s Foreign Policy Preview: For Sale, To the Highest Bidder

This is just a quick pointer to the essential read of the day.  If Kurt Eichenwald’s brutal, beautiful story on the Trump Organization’s seemingly limitless overseas conflicts of interest with US policy doesn’t become the dominant campaign story for the day and much longer, then, again, we’ll know who and what our media are.

One of the best minor pleasures of this deeply important piece is the way Eichenwald brutally dismisses the false equivalence crap that so many in the press promise us doesn’t exist.  A sample:

The Trump Organization is not like the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the charitable enterprise that has been the subject of intense scrutiny about possible conflicts for the Democratic presidential nominee. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton bestowed benefits on contributors to the foundation in some sort of “pay to play” scandal when she was secretary of state, but that makes no sense because there was no “pay.” Money contributed to the foundation was publicly disclosed and went to charitable efforts, such as fighting neglected tropical diseases that infect as many as a billion people. The financials audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global independent accounting company, and the foundation’s tax filings show that about 90 percent of the money it raised went to its charitable programs. (Trump surrogates have falsely claimed that it was only 10 percent and that the rest was used as a Clinton “slush fund.”) No member of the Clinton family received any cash from the foundation, nor did it finance any political campaigns. In fact, like the Clintons, almost the entire board of directors works for free.

On the other hand, the Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year.


Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners.

That should (but probably won’t) leave a mark in a certain building on 8th Ave between 40th and 41st st.

One more sample, just to get a sense of how utterly at odds with US national interest a Trump presidency would be:

With Middle Eastern business partners and American allies turning on him, Trump lashed out. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal—the billionaire who aided Trump during his corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s by purchasing his yacht, which provided him with desperately needed cash—sent out a tweet amid the outcry in Dubai, calling the Republican candidate a “disgrace.” (Alwaleed is a prodigious tweeter and Twitter’s second largest shareholder.) Trump responded with an attack on the prince—a member of the ruling Saudi royal family—with a childish tweet, saying, “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016.”

Once again, Trump’s personal and financial interests are in conflict with critical national security issues for the United States. During the Bush administration, Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, and Washington reached a bilateral agreement to improve international standards for nuclear nonproliferation. Cooperation is particularly important for the United States because Iran—whose potential development of nuclear weapons has been a significant security issue, leading to an international agreement designed to place controls on its nuclear energy efforts—is one of the UAE’s largest trading partners, and Dubai has been a transit point for sensitive technology bound for Iran.

Given Trump’s name-calling when faced with a critical tweet from a member of the royal family in Saudi Arabia, an important ally, how would he react as president if his company’s business in the UAE collapsed? Would his decisions in the White House be based on what is best for America or on what would keep the cash from Dubai flowing to him and his family?

There’s tons more at the link — and yet Eichenwald says, correctly, that this article only scratches the surface. This is (truly) disqualifying stuff, folks. That it almost surely won’t drive Trump from the race is an indictment of him, his party, and a political process, shaped in part by a flawed media culture.  That just leaves us as a last line of defense.

You know, voters.

The common clay…

[Had to leave that hanging curve out for the Balloon Juice Jackals, right?]

Seriously. Eichenwald has done really important work here.  Go read what he’s found, then get it out to everyone you can.

Image: Marius Granet, A Peasant Girl Buying an Indulgence 1825

The work of accurately covering Trump could kill a man

I’m gonna throw this out as an answer to why the Times (and other supposedly responsible media outlets) are acting so strange on Trump and CLinton. Yes, the senior management of the New York Times has had a hard-on for the Clinton family since 1992. But Krugman is right, this year they have acted really, really strange. I think it comes down to something more fundamental than personal animus or whether Hillary Clinton has held any press conferences. At its heart the Times and similar media outlets have a hackable business model. And Trump is hacking it.

It all comes down to the graphic below. The Times stakes its reputation on independence, balance etc., which means this figure below must not be allowed to happen under any circumstances.


The New York Daily News could not care less if you call it biased. The NYDN is biased. They think Republicans are assholes. They have a clear editorial perspective. In a city with six hundred different print news outlets that is a perfectly reasonable position to take. FOX News? You could make a thousand graphs like that and they still won’t give a shit. Just ask Media Matters. In the same way Trump only ‘courted’ black people to reassure white suburban women, that ironic FOX slogan comforts people who want to think black people are bad and dangerous but hate the connotations that a word like racist carries with it.

The Times is not one more paper in a crowded market. The Times imagines itself to be the outlet, the singular gateway to journalistic credibility. You could say the Wall Street Journal and the Times are the dual avatars of conservatives and centrist Democrats, but the NYT is not having any of that. They want to be the first place Republicans and Democrats get their news. Maybe five or six other outlets spread around print and TV see themselves the same way.

An outlet like the Times has no real defense against a human Gish gallop like Trump. He has done so many reprehensible things, is doing, and will do next week that it takes superhuman resources just to keep up. How is that Trump University fraud case going? I have no idea. I almost forgot about it between reading how amazingly racist Trump was as a landlord and goggling at the chutzpah of him complaining about the Clinton foundation while every detail of the Pam Bondi bribery story is so much worse than I thought*. Just last week he gave a screaming fascist tirade in place of a speech about immigration policy and I already have to remind myself how bad it really was.

Meanwhile Hillary is a fucking boy scout. She doesn’t do anything worth criticizing. She stays on script. She has good advisers who keep her from offending anybody unless she means to (i.e. Breitbart, Stormfront and the KKK). If you dig a little deeper, you find that she basically does things by the book. If you interview everyone who has ever known her, you find out that she…does things pretty much by the book. You can read every damn email she has written in her capacity as Secretary of State and the story stays frustratingly the same. If anything the story gets weaker, not stronger, the more you know about it. I challenge people to find any other remotely powerful human being who would withstand this level of scrutiny. Okay, fine, Obama. Find me two. In a fair world where stories reported actual bad things that people did Times coverage would look like the graph above, and half of the stories about Hillary would be stuff like accidentally starting a reply-to-all disaster at State.

Bus as I said, the graph must not happen. And as the old advice goes for attorneys when you don’t have the facts or the law on your side, pound the table. CNN and the Times have to criticize something, but she rudely gives them stale crumbs to work with. Trump is a lavish cruise ship buffet of leads. In any normal race that Pam Bondi bribery story (also fraudulent donation reporting and tax evasion) would be duck confit on glazed figs. You could work a story like that for months. But try to visualize the main buffet table on a upper-tier cruise. You can’t see the end of it. You could cross the international date line before you realize the confit is even there.

Further, I think that point about taking your time to digest a story is extremely important. Gish gallops work because people cannot process any one lie before the next one hits you. Clinton is the polar opposite of a Gish gallop. Unless someone wants to claim Benghazi has some meat left on its bones (Gowdy? Has anyone seen Trey Gowdy?) emails is all they have. A reporter assigned to say something bad about Clinton** has to keep coming back to the email thing over and over again. That means they have time to understand it, to dig in, try different angles, find the person who won’t answer questions and make them a villain. People keep hearing about this same story to the point where they assume she did something wrong. Not everyone knows the first rule of judging a scandal story – the most damning specific allegation leads. If a two thousand word story opens with shadows, or clouds, or a coolish breeze out of the northeast then you will not find anything worth reading further in. Burying the killer allegation where only devoted readers will find it is journalistic malpractice of the first degree.

The Times needs to print something, because figure one above. So we get clouds, and people imagine Clinton must have done something bad, and Paul Krugman pulls his hair out, because the only thing you need to hack the business model at the Times is to be the worst person on Earth.

(*) Time to dust off Brad DeLong’s rule #1 about the Bushies: even knowing it is worse than you think, it is still worse than you think.
(**) A given reporter would certainly protest if you phrase it that way, but from an editorial standpoint that’s what it is.

Open Thread: Practical Politics, and Otherwise

Could it be that Florida volunteers get hit with the same non-negotiable non-disclosure form as those in Ohio (another swing state which the GOP desperately needs to win)?

The agreement is a required part of the sign-up process for Trump Red Dialer, an online call system that connects volunteers for the Republican presidential candidate with potential voters.

Earlier this year, volunteers for Trump in New York had to sign non-disclosure agreements in person before making phone calls at Trump Tower. But the website requirement is the first indication that online volunteers must also sign the form, even if they’ll never meet a Trump family member, attend a Trump rally, meet a campaign staffer in person or step inside a Trump campaign office…

“It’s not a typical procedure,” said Matt Moore, chairman of the GOP in South Carolina, where campaigns had volunteers making similar calls from their homes ahead of the primary in February. Moore also oversees phone bank operations as the state seeks to elect its candidates in legislative races.

Phone calls are a common tool to persuade voters and to encourage supporters to get out and vote. While presidential campaigns still have volunteers meet at phone bank locations, both the Clinton and now Trump campaign have an online dialer system to which volunteers can get call information and scripts to read to so they can make calls from anywhere.

“We’re most concerned about private information not being shared publicly and maintaining database security, so we do at times require volunteers or volunteer leaders to sign agreements to that effect,” said Moore. But nothing like the non-disparagement clause…

When asked about the necessity of the non-disclosure agreement for online volunteers, Trump Ohio campaign spokesman Seth Unger said: “We are running a state-of-the-art campaign for Mr. Trump that involves best-in-market volunteer platforms, and it is attracting thousands of volunteers who are tired of the same old Washington corruption and back room deals and are securing votes for a change in November.”…

Murphy the Trickster God only knows what horrors will be committed with those volunteers’ addresses after the official collapse of the Trump campaign. But I’m betting the poor fools sign away their rights to redress in that non-disclosure form, irregardless.

Social Cues Fail Open Thread: Trump (Ain’t) Going to Mexico

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto: “We must do lunch, one of these days.”
Deadbeat Donald Trump: “See ya on Wednesday — you’re buying!”

Donald Trump is considering jetting to Mexico City on Wednesday for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, just hours before he delivers a high-stakes speech in Arizona to clarify his views on immigration policy, according to people in the United States and Mexico familiar with the discussions.

The possibility, which was hatched in recent days by Trump and his campaign advisers, comes after Trump has wavered for weeks over whether he would continue to hold his hard-line positions on the central and incendiary issue of his campaign, in particular his call to deport an estimated 11 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally…
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Open Thread: Skeev Bannon Is Just Another Grifter

As far as Bannon’s sketchy Florida property ownership goes, some people say it is not coincidental that Florida has possibly the most generous “homestead tax exemption” in the country — it’s a good place to legally “reside” if one wants to maximize one’s tax deductions, and it’s not as though the state requires one to actually live there to reap the benefits. The only “principle” involved in Bannon’s residential choices seems to be not paying his share… much the same as his new boss.

Last October, Bloomberg called Bannon “The Most Dangerous Political Operative in America”:

… Bannon, an ex-Goldman Sachs banker, is the sort of character who would stand out anywhere, but especially in the drab environs of Washington…

Bannon’s life is a succession of Gatsbyish reinventions that made him rich and landed him squarely in the middle of the 2016 presidential race: He’s been a naval officer, investment banker, minor Hollywood player, and political impresario. When former Disney chief Michael Ovitz’s empire was falling to pieces, Bannon sat Ovitz down in his living room and delivered the news that he was finished. When Sarah Palin was at the height of her fame, Bannon was whispering in her ear. When Donald Trump decided to blow up the Republican presidential field, Bannon encouraged his circus-like visit to the U.S.-Mexico border… Today, backed by mysterious investors and a stream of Seinfeld royalties, he sits at the nexus of what Hillary Clinton once dubbed “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” where he and his network have done more than anyone else to complicate her presidential ambitions—and they plan to do more. But this “conspiracy,” at least under Bannon, has mutated into something different from what Clinton described: It’s as eager to go after establishment Republicans such as Boehner or Jeb Bush as Democrats like Clinton…

Bannon likes money, and he’s been smart or lucky enough to amass a lot of it. He likes attention, and in recent years has put as much effort into raising his profile as he did towards making money. And he’s got the same self-centered, gleefully nihilistic public persona as the current Republican presidential candidate. John Cassidy, in the New Yorker:

The theory making the rounds is that Trump’s latest campaign reshuffle isn’t really about trying to win the election. In bringing in Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, and recruiting Roger Ailes, the disgraced former head of Fox News, as an adviser, Trump is making a business play: he’s laying the groundwork for a new conservative media empire to challenge Fox…

The appointment of Bannon isn’t merely another affront to establishment Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, whom Breitbart News has lately been targeting. It is an acknowledgment by Trump that he no longer has any interest in modifying his strategy to appeal to college-educated voters in places like the suburbs of Philadelphia and Milwaukee, where he is running miles behind where Mitt Romney was in 2012. Instead, he has decided to retreat to his base, which is a surefire recipe for political failure. But not necessarily business failure.

Back in June, Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison reported that Trump was “considering creating his own media business, built on the audience that has supported him thus far in his bid to become the next president of the United States.” A person briefed on Trump’s thinking told Ellison that it went like this: “Win or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.” One of Ellison’s sources also reported that Trump resents the fact that he has helped raise the ratings of certain news organizations, such as CNN, without getting a cut of the additional revenues. Trump has “gotten the bug,” the source said, “so now he wants to figure out if he can monetize it.”

Right now, the idea of Breitbart going head to head against Fox seems fanciful. Fox News isn’t merely the most popular cable news network; in prime time, it’s the most popular cable channel of all, beating out entertainment networks like Disney and USA…

But what if Trump and Breitbart could team up, raise some money from outside investors, and bring aboard some of the television executives who built Fox News? As part of his lucrative severance package from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, Ailes almost certainly signed a noncompete agreement. But how long does it last? And does it preclude him from providing some informal advice to an old friend?…

And if it breaks one of the only two governing parties in the country, or worse… Well, Bannon/Trump/Ailes didn’t mean any of it; they were just working their grift, as grifters must.

Open Thread: Hasn’t Baton Rouge Suffered Enough?

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