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Showing posts with label Donald Trump. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donald Trump. Show all posts

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Very Persuasive Story that James Comey Has to Tell

In his absorbing new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey calls the Donald Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s — “The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. Café Giardino.”

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. Dishonesty, he writes, was central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic,” and so, too, were bullying, peer pressure and groupthink — repellent traits shared by Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration” so incisive about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership" does give readers are some near-cinematic accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him. They also attest to how a harrowing experience he had as a high school senior — when he and his brother were held captive, in their parents’ New Jersey home, by an armed gunman — must have left him with a lasting awareness of justice and mortality.

Long passages in Comey’s thesis are also devoted to explicating the various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin of self-righteousness. And in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Comey provides an inventory of his own flaws, writing that he can be “stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego.”

Those characteristics can sometimes be seen in Comey’s account of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wherein he seems to have felt a moral imperative to address, in a July 2016 press conference, what he described as her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information,” even though he went on to conclude that the bureau recommend no charges be filed against her. His announcement marked a departure from precedent in that it was done without coordination with Department of Justice leadership and offered more detail about the bureau’s evaluation of the case than usual.

As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”

He adds that he hopes “very much that what we did — what I did — wasn’t a deciding factor in the election.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Comey stated that the very idea that his decisions might have had an impact on the outcome of the presidential race left him feeling “mildly nauseous” — or, as one of his grammatically minded daughters corrected him, “nauseated.”

Trump was reportedly infuriated by Comey’s “nauseous” remark; less than a week later he fired the F.B.I. director — an act regarded by some legal scholars as possible evidence of obstruction of justice, and that quickly led to the appointment of the special counsel Robert Mueller and an even bigger cloud over the White House.

It’s ironic that Comey, who wanted to shield the F.B.I. from politics, should have ended up putting the bureau in the midst of the 2016 election firestorm; just as it’s ironic (and oddly fitting) that a civil servant who has prided himself on being apolitical and independent should find himself reviled by both Trump and Clinton, and thrust into the center of another tipping point in history.

They are ironies that would have been appreciated by Comey’s hero Niebuhr, who wrote as much about the limits, contingencies and unforeseen consequences of human decision-making as he did about the dangers of moral complacency and about the necessity of entering the political arena to try to make a difference.

Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by Former @FBI Director James Comey

In his forthcoming book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.

Mr. Comey served as director of the FBI from 2013 to 2017, appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. He previously served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the U.S. deputy attorney general in the administration of President George W. Bush. From prosecuting the Mafia and Martha Stewart to helping change the Bush administration's policies on torture and electronic surveillance, overseeing the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation as well as ties between the Donald Trump Presidential campaign and Russia, Comey has been involved in some of the most consequential cases and policies of recent history.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Case Against @RealDonaldTrump Attorney @MichaelCohen212, is Led by the @SDNYnews Public #Corruption Unit

FBI agents searched the office, home and hotel room of President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Monday, seizing records including those related to a payment to a former adult-film actress, a person familiar with the matter said.

The searches were executed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a probe by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which has opened an investigation that is being coordinated with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, this person said.

Mr. Trump, in a meeting with military leadership at the White House on Monday evening, called the raids a “disgrace” and a “witch hunt.”

“It’s an attack on what we all stand for,” said Mr. Trump, referring to the investigation.

The president criticized Mr. Mueller’s team, calling it “the most conflicted group of people” and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a “terrible mistake” by recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Asked if he would fire Mr. Mueller, Mr. Trump said: “We’ll see what happens.”

“Many people have said, ‘You should fire him,’” the president said. He didn’t say whether he intended to do so.

The multiple raids, all in Manhattan, mark a significant escalation in prosecutors’ interest in Mr. Cohen, who has served as the president’s personal attorney for decades and has described himself as Mr. Trump’s “fix-it guy.”

The actions suggest authorities received high-level approval to conduct the searches because investigators typically don’t seize documents from personal lawyers because of the sensitivities surrounding attorney-client privilege.

“You don’t know what the heck they’re going to find,” said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who described the raids as an “aggressive move.” While authorities need to describe in detail what they are looking for in seeking a search warrant, investigators will need to comb through vast amounts of material to find those documents, he said.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are examining possible bank fraud by Mr. Cohen, among other matters, the person familiar with the matter said. The probe is being conducted out of the office’s public-corruption unit. Mr. Cohen’s attorney didn’t respond to a request for comment about investigators examining bank fraud. Mr. Cohen has previously said suggestions a payment to Stephanie Clifford, the former porn actress known as Stormy Daniels, violated campaign-finance laws were “without legal merit.”

In October 2016, less than two weeks before the presidential election, Mr. Cohen made a $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford, The Wall Street Journal reported in January. He made the payment as part of an agreement that bars Ms. Clifford from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.

Steve Ryan, Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, confirmed in a statement Monday that prosecutors executed a series of search warrants. The prosecutors told him that the action is, in part, a referral by Mr. Mueller’s office, he said.

Mr. Ryan called the use of search warrants “completely inappropriate and unnecessary” and said it had “resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney-client communications between a lawyer and his clients.” He added: “These government tactics are also wrong because Mr. Cohen has cooperated completely with all government entities, including providing thousands of nonprivileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.”

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

Meantime, federal authorities have demanded bank records related to the $130,000 payment, according to a person briefed on the matter. First Republic Bank , which Mr. Cohen used to wire $130,000 to Ms. Clifford’s lawyer on Oct. 27, 2016, conducted its own investigation of the transaction after receiving the subpoena from the authorities, the person said.

The bank sent its findings to the Treasury Department in a suspicious-activity report, the person said. Such reports are required to be sent to the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network when banks observe transactions that have no apparent lawful purpose or deviate inexplicably from a customer’s normal bank activity.

A First Republic Bank representative declined to comment.

The 2016 payment was received in a client-trust account for Ms. Clifford’s then-attorney, Keith Davidson, at City National Bank in Los Angeles, people familiar with the matter said. The bank also investigated the transaction last year.

City National previously said in a statement that it doesn’t “confirm or comment on inquiries from regulatory agencies or law enforcement, including subpoenas.”

For months, Mr. Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Mr. Cohen’s role during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. Their questions have focused on a number of episodes, including his efforts in the early months of the campaign to have a Trump Tower built in Moscow.

Mr. Cohen’s emails have also been turned over to the special counsel as part of document productions by the Trump Organization, which Mr. Mueller subpoenaed in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter. Last month, Mr. Mueller subpoenaed Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide, for documents related to nine associates, including Mr. Cohen.

The investigation concerning Mr. Cohen by federal prosecutors in Manhattan is broad and isn’t limited to his interactions with Ms. Clifford, according to the person familiar with that probe.

Federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s office on the 23rd floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza after 9 a.m. and remained for several hours, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Cohen shared space with international law firm Squire Patton Boggs but wasn’t a firm employee, according to a spokesman, who said Monday that the firm was severing its ties with Mr. Cohen.

Last month, Ms. Clifford filed a lawsuit against the president, saying his lawyer forced her to sign a false statement provided to the Journal denying the 2006 sexual encounter, according to the complaint.

Mr. Cohen has said he paid the $130,000 to Ms. Clifford out of his own pocket and wasn’t reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. But he hasn’t said whether Mr. Trump had personally paid him back. After the election, Mr. Cohen complained to friends that he had yet to be reimbursed for the payment, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump denied last week any knowledge of the payment. The GOP president said he didn’t know where the money for the payment came from.

The New York Times reported on Monday that federal investigators had searched Mr. Cohen’s office.

The special counsel has a broad mandate from the Justice Department to investigate matters he comes across in the course of his investigation of whether Mr. Trump’s associates colluded with Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion, and Moscow has denied meddling in the election.

The mandate orders Mr. Mueller to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he concludes that “additional jurisdiction” is necessary to fully investigate matters he encounters. Mr. Rosenstein then determines whether to include those matters in the special counsel’s jurisdiction or “assign them elsewhere.”

The execution of the searches in the probe by federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicates Mr. Rosenstein has opted to refer the matter involving Ms. Clifford to that office, rather than broadening Mr. Mueller’s jurisdiction to include it.

Last month, Aaron Zelinsky, a federal prosecutor who works for Mr. Mueller’s office, asked Mr. Nunberg whether during the Trump campaign he had heard about the payment or about Ms. Clifford’s allegations of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, or whether he was aware of any other payments to women, Mr. Nunberg said.

Mr. Nunberg said he told Mr. Mueller’s team he wasn’t aware of the $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford until it was reported in the Journal. Senior Trump campaign officials were aware that a former porn star was making allegations against the president in the fall of 2016 and that he denied them, according to people familiar with the matter.

Because Mr. Cohen is an attorney, prosecutors would have needed to obtain additional approval from a unit at Justice Department headquarters to take investigative steps against a lawyer because of the sensitivities around documents and communications protected by attorney-client privilege. They also must set up a separate team to review all the seized evidence and remove any privileged documents before the investigative team examines them.

“It’s more work,” said William Cowden, a former federal prosecutor in Washington who is now with The Federal Practice Group, referring to obtaining a search warrant on a lawyer’s office. “They must have a reason to believe that what they are getting is more than just attorney-client privileged information,” he said.

“One of the questions is, ‘who knew what?’...is this an undisclosed, improper campaign contribution?” Mr. Cowden said. “You can’t use an attorney to commit a crime, so those things can be investigated.”

Mr. Trump said Monday that the raids had affected the stock market.

“The stock market dropped a lot today as soon as they heard the noise—you know of this nonsense that was going on,” he said.

Thanks to By Erica Orden, Rebecca Ballhaus and Michael Rothfeld.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of @realDonaldTrump

The incredible, harrowing account of how American democracy was hacked by Moscow as part of a covert operation to influence the U.S. election and help Donald Trump gain the presidency.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, is a story of political skullduggery unprecedented in American history. It weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry. After U.S.-Russia relations soured, as Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.

The Russians were wildly successful and the great break-in of 2016 was no "third-rate burglary." It was far more sophisticated and sinister -- a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won. And millions of Americans were left wondering, what the hell happened? This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump's strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle -- including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn -- and Russia.

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, chronicles and explores this bizarre scandal, explains the stakes, and answers one of the biggest questions in American politics: How and why did a foreign government infiltrate the country's political process and gain influence in Washington?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Excellent Analysis of #MS13 on Tonight's Episode of @FrontlinePBS - The Gang Crackdown

Given the inflammatory coverage the violent gang MS-13 receives on Fox News, which in turn disproportionately influences President Trump’s statements about immigration policy, it’s great to have the evenhanded reporting Frontline has done for its new edition titled The Gang Crackdown, premiering Tuesday on PBS. While making terrifyingly clear the horrible violence that MS-13 has inflicted upon innocent Americans, The Gang Crackdown also confirms what you might suspect: that the Trump administration policies to combat the gang’s real menace often make things more difficult for law-abiding people and has fostered racial animosity toward legal and illegal immigrants.

The hour-long documentary traces the Central American gang violence that is being exported to the U.S. in the form of MS-13, a vicious group that bullies young people into joining on the threat of death. Producer Marcela Gaviria focuses on Long Island, N.Y., which has been a particular target of gang violence and where MS-13 gang members occupy forested areas of Suffolk County. At least 25 dead bodies were found in that county in 2016, victims of gang violence, brutally killed with machetes and other weapons. Most of the dead are from local immigrant communities.

You’d think there’d be lots of concern for the victims and their families. Instead, right-wing media forces have seized upon the gang’s activities as a justification for all sorts of broad-brush, anti-immigration advocacy, calling for the deportation of people who have nothing to do with gang culture. Once Fox News talking heads like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity started inflating the size and scope of MS-13 out of all proportion, it was only a matter of time before avid Fox News watcher Donald Trump began invoking MS-13 as being essentially synonymous with illegal immigrants.

The Gang Crackdown profiles a couple of young people who were rounded up in anti-gang efforts by local police and government ICE agents. These youths were held in high-security prisons for months with no due process, no access to their lawyers, until their cases were examined. Some were ultimately freed for lack of evidence of gang involvement. The Frontline report makes clear that the Latino population on Long Island is being doubly wronged: victimized by MS-13 but also made hesitant of going to the police for protection, out of a fear of being suspected of illegal immigration status. Thanks to Frontline for crediting us with enough intelligence to recognize the evil of MS-13 without also obliging us to become rabid anti-immigrationists. Is it any wonder that Trump’s newly released budget proposal eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Thanks to Ken Tucker.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Steve Bannon Group Promoted Document Alleging @RealDonaldTrump Had Mafia Connections

Before Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were enemies, they were allies. And not long before that, Bannon was part of an effort to sink Trump's presidential hopes -- even if Trump didn't know it.

A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.

The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years.

The New York Times reported on the document on Friday.

The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump's campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group's chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.

In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge.

The document offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes efforts by conservatives to derail Trump's presidential bid. The document is similar to opposition research produced for both Republicans and Democrats targeting Trump. The best known of those is one produced by the Washington firm Fusion GPS alleging ties between Trump and Russians, which now has helped spawn a broad investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We research political figures from all political parties and our basic premise is follow the money. That's what guides our research approach," Schweizer told CNN.

A source familiar with GAI's work said the group conducted research on all Republican and Democratic candidates running in the 2016 election. Bannon and the Mercers were not involved in the "day to day machinations of the research," but the source said they were aware of the effort to drill down on candidates and share some of that research with news organizations.

A GOP operative provided CNN a copy of the anti-Trump document. Two sources confirmed that GAI shopped copies of the document to donors for Trump rivals during the GOP primary.

"We did not and would not share that with any candidates," the source familiar with GAI's work said. "There would be no sharing with candidates, with political operatives or anybody of that category."

Bannon declined to comment.

Bannon, Schweizer and the Mercers went on to curry favor with Trump when he became the GOP nominee and, later, the President.

Trump brought on Bannon as CEO of his presidential campaign in August 2016. But Bannon's subsequent West Wing tenure as Trump's chief political strategist was brief. He was fired in August 2017, but remained in contact with the President. Their friendship hit rocky times last week with the publication of comments by Bannon in Michael Wolff's book disparaging Trump and his family.

The President issued a blistering statement against his former political guru, saying Bannon has "lost his mind," and later slapped him with the nickname "Sloppy Steve" via Twitter.

Bannon said Sunday he regretted not responding sooner to comments attributed to him in Wolff's book that were critical of Donald Trump Jr.

It's not clear whether Trump knew of Bannon's and the Mercers' ties to the document aimed at discrediting him when they became his allies in 2016. However, the Mercers' prior support for Cruz was widely known.

Trump regularly cited some of Schweizer's other work on the campaign trail, notably that on Hillary Clinton and alleging corruption. He touted Schweizer's 2015 anti-Clinton book "Clinton Cash", which made use of research by GAI, and urged an investigation of allegations of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation.

The book's allegations formed at least part of the basis for some FBI field offices to open preliminary inquiries into the Clinton Foundation. Those investigations stalled in 2016 amid the election. But CNN reported Friday that the inquiries have been given new life and are now led by the FBI office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thanks to Sara Murray, Evan Perez and Jeremy Diamond.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House - with Details from Steve Bannon

With extraordinary access to the Trump White House, Michael Wolff tells the inside story of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

The first nine months of Donald Trump’s term were stormy, outrageous―and absolutely mesmerizing. Now, thanks to his deep access to the West Wing, bestselling author Michael Wolff tells the riveting story of how Trump launched a tenure as volatile and fiery as the man himself.

In this explosive book, Wolff provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office.

Among the revelations:

  • What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
  • What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama 
  • Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
  • Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room 
  • Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
  • What the secret to communicating with Trump is
  • What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers


Never before has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The @realDonaldTrump to Liberate our Towns and Destroy the Murderous MS-13 Gang Animals

President Trump sounded the alarm Friday over the violence being inflicted on American neighborhoods by MS-13, vowing to “liberate our towns” from the murderous gang's grip as part of an escalating crackdown by his administration.

The defeat of the latest ObamaCare repeal bill in his rear-view, Trump traveled to Long Island to talk about the gang's atrocities and rally support for his immigration enforcement policies.

“[MS-13 has] transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into blood stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate as a society the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful vibrant people,” Trump said.

The president spoke in plain language to describe the brutality of MS-13 gang members, who have murdered 17 people in Long Island since Jan. 16. The gang, which has Central American ties, is also active in the Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles areas.

"We cannot accept this violence one day more," Trump said.

As he did throughout the 2016 political campaign, Trump also railed against timid politicians who have failed to enforce immigration laws and looked the other way as violent gangs crossed the border. “They are there right now because of weak political leadership ... and in many cases police who are not allowed to do their job because they have a pathetic mayor or a mayor who does not know what’s going on,” Trump said.

After noting the gang members prefer knives over guns because victims experience more suffering, Trump delivered a message to members. “We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you,” Trump said to applause from the audience of law enforcement officials. He vowed to "destroy the vile criminal cartel, MS-13, and many other gangs."

The visit came after the Senate early Friday morning narrowly defeated the latest ObamaCare replacement bill, in a blow to one of Trump's top campaign promises. But the president brushed off the loss and called on Congress to meet his spending demands to hire as many as 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 5,000 new Customs and Border Patrol officers.

The administration also is pushing to boosting funding for more administrative law judges and to begin building the border wall.

The House this week voted to allocate $1.6 billion for a border wall.

Trump’s speech coincided with an announcement on Friday that two MS-13 gang members had been arrested in connection with the May murder of a man in Queens.

In June, New York State and federal law enforcement officials disclosed that as part of Operation Matador -- a joint federal-state initiative -- a total of 45 individuals with confirmed gang affiliations were arrested, including 39 affiliated with MS-13.

With Trump in MS-13’s domestic epicenter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was delivering the administration’s message in El Salvador, where the violent gang is rooted.

“MS-13 is based here in El Salvador, but its tentacles reach across Central America, Europe, and through 40 U.S. states, and to within yards of the U.S. Capitol,” he said in remarks to graduates of the International Law Enforcement Academy.

The administration has taken an aggressive approach toward combating gangs, including establishing a Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety in February. A month later, Sessions issued a memo to all federal prosecutors placing a priority on prosecuting violent criminals.

Sessions was in the country to highlight joint efforts that have contributed to the arrest of 113 suspected MS-13 gang members. According to the Justice Department, an additional 593 gang members were charged Thursday, including many MS-13 members.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Is @RealDonaldTrump's Claim that @BarackObama is Responsible for Growth of MS-13 Gang True? Facts Say No

President Donald Trump blamed former President Barack Obama on Twitter for the formation of one of the most notorious gangs.

"The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!" Trump tweeted April 18.

Trump’s tweet came days after four young men were found brutally murdered in Central Islip in Long Island. The Suffolk County police commissioner said he suspects the MS-13 involvement. But the president’s post about the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, is misleading.

The gang was established in Los Angeles and spread across the country decades before Obama took office.

Trump’s administration has conducted target operations to arrest criminals, but data is not yet available on how many MS-13 gang members have been arrested or removed.

Ioan Grillo, author of the 2016 book Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America, disputed Trump’s conclusion. "I have seen no evidence that the Obama administration can can be blamed in any way for the existence or activities of the gang in the U.S.," Grillo told PolitiFact.

We asked a Trump spokesman for more information but did not hear back by deadline.

MS-13 history and growth predates Obama policy

Violent gangs, including MS-13, were forming in U.S. cities long before Obama’s presidency.

MS-13 grew out of poor Los Angeles neighborhoods where many refugees from civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua lived in the 1980s. (The name Mara Salvatrucha comes from the word "mara" which is a term for gang, "salva" for El Salvador and "trucha," which is slang for clever.) It later spread to other parts of the United States and in Central American nations.

By the end of the 1990s, the United States government recognized that MS-13 posed a significant criminal threat. Amid an immigration crackdown toward the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the government launched an effort to deport foreign-born residents convicted of crimes, including gang members.

In the mid 2000s, U.S. agencies including the FBI and ICE launched initiatives to combat the growth of gangs. There were several news reports about MS-13’s proliferation in the United States during the 2000s, with interest growing after a 2006 National Geographic documentary on the "World’s Most Dangerous Gang." The documentary showed that by the end of the 1990s, the gang had groups in almost every state.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed MS-13 on the same day as Trump’s tweet, blaming "an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement" for MS-13 recruitment.

Multiple experts said there is no evidence that Obama policies caused the growth of Latino gangs in the United States. "The big surge was during Bush-Cheney when the drivers of illegal migration in Central America grew, when various crackdowns on crime-filled prisons to bursting point, and when funding for rehabilitation programs declined," said Fulton T. Armstrong, a research fellow at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University. Armstrong formerly worked as a national intelligence officer for Latin America, chief of staff of the CIA’s crime and narcotics center, and was a career CIA officer.

The growth of MS-13 in the United States is related to draconian domestic policies in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) that have pushed many gang members out of Central America, said Florida International University professor Jose Miguel Cruz.

Héctor Silva Ávalos, a research fellow at American University, said that there has been a new peak in gang activities on the East Coast since 2014 -- especially in Long Island and Montgomery County, Md. "But this has to do with gang dynamics that have been brewing back in Central America since the Mauricio Funes administration in El Salvador (2009-14) brokered a truce with both MS-13 and Barrio 18," he said. "It is not related to U.S. internal policy."

Elana Zilberg, a University of California San Diego communications professor, said Obama specifically targeted "criminal" aliens (including MS-13 members) in his aggressive deportation program.

"However, Trump’s tweet might be a blunt allusion to Obama’s position on unaccompanied minors from Central America," she said. "That, however, was a policy inherited from the Bush administration."

The number of Central American children coming alone began to increase in fiscal year 2012 and rose significantly in 2014.

The Obama administration in 2014 announced a series of new programs and partnerships with Central American countries to address the issues driving their migration. The Central American Minors program allowed certain parents with lawful presence in the United States to petition for their children in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to come in as refugees. Children ineligible for admission as refugees but at risk of harm could be admitted under parole. The program was expanded in 2016 to allow additional family members to apply.

No data on MS-13 removals under Trump

Trump lauded his administration’s enforcement efforts in a Fox News interview that aired shortly after his tweet. "We’ve gotten tremendous criminals out of this country," Trump said on Fox & Friends. "I'm talking about illegal immigrants that were here that caused tremendous crime that have murdered people, raped people, horrible things have happened. They are getting the hell out, or they are going to prison."

Trump claimed nothing had been done to remove criminals until he came along. (Here is an overview of some targeted enforcement operations during the Obama administration that led to the arrests of criminals and gang members.)

"It is a serious problem and we never did anything about it, and now we're doing something about it," Trump said. But ICE data available so far do not prove that Trump is removing MS-13 members "fast" as he tweeted.

In February, the Trump administration said it had conducted targeted operations resulting in the arrest of more than 680 people, including gang members. At least one of them was a self-admitted MS-13 gang member from El Salvador.

A unit within ICE tracks MS-13 arrests, but monthly data on gang and MS-13 arrests during Trump’s time in office is not available.

From fiscal years 2005 through 2016, immigration officials made 7,051 MS-13 arrests, ICE said.

ICE removal data shows how many individuals were suspected or confirmed gang members. But it does not say to which gang they were affiliated. In fiscal year 2016, ICE removed 240,255 individuals and 2,057 were suspected or confirmed gang members, the agency reported.

During the full two months that Trump has been in office (February and March), a total of 36,467 individuals have been removed, according to an ICE official. ICE said it did not have information on how many of them were gang members.An executive order signed by Trump expanded removal priorities to include immigrants in the country illegally who have been convicted of crimes as well as those who have been charged with a criminal offense but not yet convicted.

Our ruling

Trump tweeted, "The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!"

MS-13 gangs in the United States were established decades before Obama took office and had been spreading across the U.S. long before his tenure. Experts told us there is no evidence Obama policies spurred their growth. Finally, Obama prioritized the deportation of criminal immigrants.

Immigration officials told us data on how many MS-13 gang members have been arrested and removed under Trump’s administration is not available.

We rate Trump’s claim False.

Thanks to PolitiFact.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Are Hillary and Bill Running a Crime Family via the Clinton Foundation?

A high-ranking FBI official talked of La Cosa Clinton on Sunday — as he placed the Democratic political family in the same category as the Gambinos, Colombos and Luccheses.

“The Clintons, that’s a crime family,” declared former New York FBI chief James Kallstrom in a radio interview.“It’s like organized crime, basically. The Clinton Foundation is a cesspool.”

He echoed many of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s talking points as he described the Clintons as dishonest, greedy and scheming, during the interview with supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis on AM970.

“It’s just outrageous how Hillary Clinton sold her office for money,” said Kallstrom, who has long been a critic of the Clintons and President Obama. “And she’s a pathological liar, and she’s always been a liar. And God forbid if we put someone like that in the White House.”

In another interview Sunday, Kallstrom said the handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails by FBI Director James Comey was sowing discord among rank-and-file FBI agents.

“There’s a major, major morale problem. I mean, it’s like a boiling cauldron,” Kallstrom told Fox News’ “Justice with Judge Jeanine” program Saturday night. “I don’t know that ‘cause I talk to everybody down there, but I’ve talked to enough people . . . and they are totally disgusted with him.”

Kallstrom also ripped Attorney General Loretta Lynch, saying she never had a “real investigation” into the emails.

Thanks to Daniel Harper and Bruce Golding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Reviewing the History of @RealDonaldTrump and The Mob

As billionaire developer Donald Trump became the toast of New York in the 1980s, he often attributed his rise to salesmanship and verve. "Deals are my art form," he wrote. But there is another aspect to his success that he doesn't often discuss. Throughout his early career, Trump routinely gave large campaign contributions to politicians who held sway over his projects and he worked with mob-controlled companies and unions to build them.

Americans have rarely contemplated a candidate quite like Trump, 69, who has become the unlikely leader among Republican Party contenders for the White House. He's a brash Queens-born scion who navigated through one of the most corrupt construction industries in the country to become a brand-name business mogul.

Much has been written about his early career, but many details have been obscured by the passage of time and overshadowed by Trump's success and celebrity.

A Washington Post review of court records, testimony by Trump and other accounts that have been out of the public eye for decades offer insights into his rise. He was never accused of illegality, and observers of the time say that working with the mob-related figures and politicos came with the territory. Trump declined repeated requests to comment.

One state examination in the late 1980s of the New York City construction industry concluded that "official corruption is part of an environment in which developers and contractors cultivate and seek favors from public officials at all levels."

Trump gave so generously to political campaigns that he sometimes lost track of the amounts, documents show. In 1985 alone, he contributed about $150,000 to local candidates, the equivalent of $330,000 today.

Officials with the New York State Organized Crime Task Force later said that Trump, while not breaking any laws, "circumvented" state limits on individual and corporate contributions "by spreading his payments among eighteen subsidiary companies."

Trump alluded to his history of political giving in August this year, at the first Republican debate, bragging that he gave money with the confidence that he would get something in return. "I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me," he said. "And that's a broken system."

As he fed the political machine, he also had to work with unions and companies known to be controlled by New York's ruling mafia families, which had infiltrated the construction industry, according to court records, federal task force reports and newspaper accounts. No serious presidential candidate has ever had his depth of business relationships with the mob-controlled entities.

The companies included S & A Concrete Co., which supplied building material to the Trump Plaza on Manhattan's east side, court records show. S & A was owned by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, boss of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family. The men required that major multimillion-dollar construction projects obtain concrete through S & A at inflated prices, according to a federal indictment of Salerno and others.

Salerno eventually went to prison on federal racketeering, bid-rigging and other charges. His attorney, Roy Cohn, the former chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), was one of the most politically connected men in Manhattan. He was also Donald Trump's friend and occasionally his attorney. Cohn was never charged over any dealings with the mob, but he was disbarred shortly before his death in 1986 for ethical and financial improprieties.

"[T]he construction industry in New York City has learned to live comfortably with pervasive corruption and racketeering," according to "Corruption and Racketeering in the New York City Construction Industry," a 1990 report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. "Perhaps those with strong moral qualms were long ago driven from the industry; it would have been difficult for them to have survived. 'One has to go along to get along.' "

James B. Jacobs, the report's principal author, told The Post that Trump and other major developers at the time "had to adapt to that environment" or do business in another city. "That's not illegal, but you might say it's not a beautiful thing," said Jacobs, a law professor at New York University. "It was a very sick system."

Trump entered the real estate business full-time in 1968, following his graduation from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in Queens with his father, Fred Trump, who owned a development firm with apartment buildings and other holdings across the country. Donald, who had worked part-time for the firm for years, learned the business from the inside.

When he joined his father, Donald Trump examined the books and found tens of millions of untapped equity. Trump urged his father to take on more debt and expand the business in Manhattan. "At age twenty-two the young baron's dreams had already begun to assume the dimensions of an empire," Jerome Tuccille wrote in a biography of Trump.

Donald Trump took over in 1971 and began cultivating the rich and powerful. He made regular donations to members of the city's Democratic machine. Mayors, borough presidents and other elected officials often were blunt in their requests for campaign cash and "loans," according to the commission on government integrity. Donald Trump later said that the richer he became, the more money he gave.

After a series of scandals not tied to Trump, campaign finance practices in the state came under scrutiny by the news media. In 1987, Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York Mayor Ed Koch appointed the state commission on government integrity and gave it subpoena power and a sweeping mandate to examine official corruption.

The commission created a database of state contribution records that previously had been kept haphazardly in paper files. It called on politicians and developers to explain the patterns of giving identified by the computer analysis.

Trump appeared one morning in March 1988, according to a transcript of his appearance obtained by The Post. He acknowledged that campaign contributions had been a routine part of his business for nearly two decades. He repeatedly told the commission he could not remember the details.

"In fact, in 1985 alone, your political contributions exceeded $150,000; is that correct?" Trump was asked. "I really don't know," he said. "I assume that is correct, yes."

A commission member said that Trump had made contributions through more than a dozen companies. "Why aren't these political contributions just made solely in your name?"

"Well, my attorneys basically said that this was the proper way of doing it," Trump said.

Trump told the commission that he also provided financial help to candidates in another way. In June 1985, he guaranteed a $50,000 loan for Andrew Stein, a Democrat who was running to be New York's City Council president. Six months later, Trump paid off the loan. "I was under the impression at the time it was made that I would be getting my money back," Trump told the commission. "And when were you disabused of that notion?" "When it was time to get my money back," Trump said.

Asked whether he considered such transactions as a "cost of doing business," Trump was equivocal. "I personally don't," he said. "But I can see that some people might very well feel that way, sir."

Stein told The Post he did not recall the loan, but he said developers were close to city officials at the time. "The Donald was a supporter, as well as a lot of the real estate people were," Stein said. "They have a huge interest in the city and have their needs."

Trump's donations were later cited by the organized crime task force's report as an example of the close financial relationships between developers and City Hall. "New York city real estate developers revealed how they were able to skirt the statutory proscriptions," the report said in a footnote. "Trump circumvented the State's $50,000 individual and $5,000 corporate contribution limits by spreading his payments among eighteen subsidiary companies."

Trump, then in his early 40s, said he made some donations to avoid hurting the feelings of friends, not to curry favor. "[Y]ou will have two or three friends running for the same office and they literally are all coming to you asking for help, and so it's a choice, give to nobody or give to everybody," according to his testimony at a 1988 hearing by the New York Commission on Government Integrity.

John Bienstock, the staff director of the Commission on Government Integrity at the time, recently told The Post that Trump took advantage of a loophole in the law. "They all did that," Bienstock said. "It inevitably leads to either the reality, or the perception, that approvals are being bought by political contributions."

As his ambitions expanded in the 1970s and 1980s, Trump had to contend with New York's Cosa Nostra in order to complete his projects. By the 1980s, crime families had a hand in all aspects of the contracting industry, including labor unions, government inspections, building supplies and trash carting.

"[O]rganized crime does not so much attack and subvert legitimate industry as exploit opportunities to work symbiotically with 'legitimate' industry so that 'everybody makes money,' " according to the organized crime task force report. "Organized crime and other labor racketeers have been entrenched in the building trades for decades."

In New York City, the mafia families ran what authorities called the "concrete club," a cartel of contractors that rigged bids and squelched competition from outsiders. They controlled the Cement and Concrete Workers union and used members to enforce their rules.

Nearly every major project in Manhattan during that period was built with mob involvement, according to court records and the organized crime task force report. That includes Trump Tower, the glittering 58-story skyscraper on Fifth Avenue, which was made of reinforced concrete.

"Using concrete, however, put Donald at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers," according to "Trump: The Deals and the Downfall" by investigative journalist Wayne Barrett.

For three years, the project's fate rested in part with the Teamsters Local 282, the members of which delivered the concrete. Leading the union was John Cody, who "was universally acknowledged to be the most significant labor racketeer preying on the construction industry in New York," according to documents cited by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice in 1989. Using his power to disrupt or shut down major projects, Cody extracted millions in "labor peace payoffs" from contractors, the documents said.

"Donald liked to deal with me through Roy Cohn," Cody said, according to Barrett.

Trump was subpoenaed by federal investigators in 1980 and asked to describe his relationship with Cody, who had allegedly promised to keep the project on track in exchange for an apartment in Trump Tower. Trump "emphatically denied" making such a trade, Barrett wrote.

Cody was later convicted on racketeering and tax-evasion charges.

The mob also played a role in the construction of Trump Plaza, the luxury apartment building on Manhattan's east side. The $7.8 million deal for concrete was reserved for S & A Concrete and its owners, court records show. The crime families did not advertise their role in S & A and the other contractors. But it was well known in the industry.

"They had to know about it," according to Jacobs, the lawyer who served on the organized crime task force. "Everybody knew about it."

While these building projects were underway in the early 1980s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York authorities carried out an unprecedented investigation of the five New York crime families. Investigators relied on informants, court-authorized wiretaps and eavesdropping gear. Over five years, they gathered hundreds of hours of conversations proving the mob's reach into the construction industry.

On Feb. 26, 1985, Salerno and 14 others were indicted on an array of criminal activity, including conspiracy, extortion and "infiltration of ostensibly legitimate businesses involved in selling ready-mix concrete in New York City," the federal indictment said. Among the projects cited was Trump Plaza. Salerno and all but one of the others received terms of 100 years in prison.

Trump also dealt with mob figures in Atlantic City, where he was pressing to go into the casino business, according to court records, gaming commission reports and news accounts. One of these figures, Kenny Shapiro, was a former scrap metal dealer in Philadelphia turned real estate developer on the Jersey Shore. Shapiro also was an associate of the Scarfo crime organization, serving as a financier of mob activities in south Jersey and Philadelphia, according to a report by New Jersey authorities.

Shapiro worked closely with Daniel Sullivan, a Teamster who also was an FBI informant, documents show. Trump's brother once described him as a "labor consultant" on Trump projects in New York.

Shapiro and Sullivan leased land to Trump for the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. They also agreed to help bankroll the campaign of a Michael Matthews, a mayoral candidate the mob considered to be friendly to its interests. Matthews was elected, but he later went to prison on extortion charges related to an FBI sting operation and a $10,000 bribe.

After questions surfaced about the mob's possible involvement in Trump's proposal, the state gaming commission delayed approval of Trump's casino license and eventually told him to buy the land outright to avoid trouble. In commission hearings, Trump defended Shapiro and Sullivan, according to "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."

"I don't think there's anything wrong with these people," he said. "Most of them have been in Atlantic City for many, many years and I think they are well thought of."

Records show Trump was aware of mob involvement in Atlantic City. In confidential conversations with FBI agents who contacted him about his casino deal, Trump said "he had read in the press media and had heard from various acquaintances that Organized Crime elements were known to operate in Atlantic City," according to a copy of a an FBI memo obtained by the Smoking Gun.

Trump told the FBI that "he wanted to build a casino in Atlantic City but he did not want to tarnish his family name."

Thanks to Robert O'Harrow Jr..

Friday, September 02, 2016

Did @RealDonaldTrump Join Investors with Reputed Mobs Ties on First Casino?

For years, Donald Trump has boasted that his casinos are free of the taint of organized crime, using this claim to distinguish his gambling ventures from competitors. But Trump's casinos turn out not to be so squeaky clean.

One of his prime Atlantic City developments, the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, relied on a partnership with two investors reputedly linked to the mob, prompting New Jersey regulators to force Trump to buy them out. And he employed a known Asian organized crime figure as a vice president at his Taj Mahal casino for five years, defending the executive against regulators’ attempts to take away his license, according to law enforcement officials.

As the famously brash developer now considers a run for the presidency, this history could complicate his efforts to project an image of a trusted power in the business world. It exposes a seamy underside to Trump's rise to fortune -- one that involved intimate links to unsavory characters.

As voters learn more about such links between Trump and reputed organized crime figures, "it will get more difficult for him," says John Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. "Under that withering examination, his past associations and troubles will all emerge and could make it tough in a Republican primary."

In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” released to coincide with an earlier prospective presidential campaign, Trump boasted:

“One thing you can say about Trump, as the holder of a casino gaming license, is that I’m 100 percent clean -- something you can’t say with certainty about our current group of presidential candidates.”

Trump has sought to lean on such claims while sometimes intimating that industry competitors are themselves tainted by mob associations -- in order to saddle them with restrictions on their casino licenses.

On Oct. 5, 1993, Trump told a Congressional panel examining the rise of Indian casinos -- then, a rapidly emerging threat to Atlantic City -- that the proprietors were vulnerable to organized crime.

It is “obvious that organized crime is rampant,” Trump told the panel, according to a transcript, drawing a direct contrast to his own operations. “At the Taj Mahal I spent more money on security and security systems than most Indians building their entire casino, and I will tell you that there is no way the Indians are going to protect themselves from the mob.”

That broadside garnered Trump a reprimand from then-House Interior Committee Chairman George Miller, a California Democrat, who complained that he had never heard more irresponsible testimony. But Trump continued, predicting that Indian casinos would spawn “the biggest crime problem in the nation’s history.”

Trump’s neglected to mention that his initial partners on his first deal in Atlantic City reputedly had their own organized crime connections: Kenneth Shapiro was identified by state and federal prosecutors as the investment banker for late Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo according to reports issued by New Jersey state commissions examining the influence of organized crime, and Danny Sullivan, a former Teamsters Union official, is described in an FBI file as having mob acquaintances. Both controlled a company that leased parcels of land to Trump for the 39-story hotel-casino.

Trump teamed up with the duo in 1980 soon after arriving in Atlantic City, according to numerous news reports and his real estate broker on the deal, Paul Longo. The developer seized on a prime piece of property and partnered with Shapiro and Sullivan, but the state’s gambling regulators were concerned enough about Shapiro and Sullivan’s mob links that they required Trump to end the partnership and buy out their shares, according to several Trump biographies.

Trump's office did not respond to requests for comment. Both Sullivan and Shapiro died in the early 1990s.

Trump later confided to a biographer that the twosome were “tough guys,” relaying a rumor that Sullivan, a 6-foot, 5-inch bear of a man, killed Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters boss who disappeared in July 1975.

“Because I heard that rumor, I kept my guard up. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be friends with this guy.’ I’ll bet you that if I didn’t hear that rumor, maybe I wouldn’t be here right now,” Trump told Timothy L. O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald” and current national editor of The Huffington Post.

Trump told a different story to casino regulators who were deciding whether to grant him the lucrative gambling license. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these people,” he said about Shapiro and Sullivan during licensing hearings in 1982, according to "TrumpNation : The Art of Being The Donald." “Many of them have been in Atlantic City for many, many years and I think they are well thought of.”

Sullivan's unsavory reputation did not stop Trump from later arranging for him to be hired as a labor negotiator for the Grand Hyatt, a hotel project on Manhattan’s East Side, according to People magazine and the Los Angeles Times. Trump also introduced Sullivan to his own banker at Chase, though he declined to guarantee a loan to Sullivan, reported the L.A. Times.

Longo, the real estate broker Trump used in Atlantic City on the Trump Plaza deal, says he wasn’t aware of Shapiro or Sullivan having any mob ties, and insisted Trump didn’t have any problems at all obtaining his gaming license. “In AC, you always had to be careful who you were dealing with, but Donald did things on the level,” Longo told The Huffington Post. But Wayne Barrett’s biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall,” alleges Trump considered using Shapiro as a go-between to deliver campaign contributions to Atlantic City mayor Michael Matthews, in violation of state law.

Casino executives are prohibited from contributing to Atlantic City political campaigns in New Jersey. Sullivan later claimed that he was present when Trump proposed funneling contributions through Shapiro. Trump denied the allegation in an interview with O’Brien. Matthews, who was later forced out of office and served time in prison for extortion, did not return calls from HuffPost.

Barrett also reported that Trump once met Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, front boss of the Genovese crime family, at the Manhattan townhouse of their mutual lawyer -- infamous J. Edgar Hoover sidekick Roy Cohn. The author explained that Salerno’s company supplied all the concrete used in the Trump Towers in New York.

At the time of its publication, Trump slammed Barrett's book as “boring, nonfactual and highly inaccurate.”

Barrett's book prompted New Jersey casino regulators to investigate some of its allegations, but the state never brought any charges. "If there had been a provable charge, they would have brought it,” said former casino commission chairman Steven P. Perskie.

While Trump was making his bold statements about the integrity of the Taj Mahal at the 1993 congressional hearing on Indian gaming, a reputed organized crime figure was running junkets for the hotel, bringing in well-heeled gamblers from Canada. Danny Leung, the hotel’s former vice president for foreign marketing, was identified by a 1991 Senate subcommittee on investigations as a member of the 14K Triad, a Hong Kong group linked to murder, extortion and heroin smuggling, according to the New York Daily News.

Canadian police testified at a 1995 hearing before New Jersey’s casino commission that they observed Leung working in illegal gambling dens in Toronto alongside Asian gang leaders. Leung, who denied any affiliation with organized crime, had his license renewed by the commission over the objection of the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Back in the early 1980s, just as Trump was dipping his toes into Atlantic City real estate, the developer did express concern to the FBI that his casino ventures might expose him to the mob and “tarnish his family’s name.” He even offered to place undercover FBI agents in his casinos, according to an FBI memo uncovered by TheSmokingGun.com. When Trump asked one of the agents his “personal opinion” on whether he should build in Atlantic City, the agent replied that there were “easier ways that Trump could invest his money.”

That proved prescient: In early 2009, Trump’s casino company in Atlantic City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, just days after Trump resigned from the board.

Thanks to Marcus Baram

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Would Donald Trump Be Out of Business without Russian Mob Money?

Earlier this month, GRU (Russian military intelligence) hackers broke into the computers at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, stealing their files. Then, July 22, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, thousands of emails drawn from these files and embarrassing to the Hillary Clinton camp were publicly released through WikiLeaks with the clear intention of dividing the Democratic Party and electing Donald Trump president.

Asked about this by the press on July 27, Trump openly proclaimed he favored such Russian hacking, and hoped Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and company would do more of it to help expose Hillary. This remarkable and potentially felonious statement provoked a firestorm of criticism, so Trump subsequently walked it back—a rare event for the Don—saying he had been speaking “sarcastically.”

The fact that the GRU did actually conduct a black operation inside the United States to assist Trump, however, makes it not so easy to dismiss. Furthermore, this chain of events comes within a context that supports the theory of a Trump-Kremlin alliance.

Putin has praised Trump, and rather than reject such praise Trump has returned it, calling the Russian dictator “a real leader” and dismissing his many murders of journalists and political opponents at home and abroad as “unproven.”

Last January, a British court found Putin had ordered the murder by Polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB (secret police) agent who revealed the 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow that Putin used to seize dictatorial power were the work of Putin’s FSB. Disturbingly, the billionaire appears be fine with that.

Furthermore, Aleksandr Dugin, the chief composer of the Kremlin’s new ideological synthesis of communism and fascism and its leading organizer of pro-Moscow ultranationalist and identarian fifth column movements in the West, has endorsed Trump. “In Trump we trust,” says Dugin, apparently proposing we substitute Trump for God in the American national slogan. The Russian state-owned propaganda agency Russia Today (RT), which broadcasts internationally, including within the United States, has also been unstinting in its support for Trump.

Not only that, there is a money trail. Russian organized crime channels have funneled many millions of dollars into Trump’s businesses. Without these funds, Trump would be out of business, as, in consequence of his string of cons and failures, legitimate financiers in the West will no longer lend him money.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, formerly chief henchman to Putin-allied Ukrainian dictator Victor Yanukovych, was himself directly involved in transferring millions of dollars of such Russian mob funds to the Don.

Nor is Manafort the only leading member of the Trump camp with deep ties to the Kremlin. Trump energy advisor Carter Page is a major investor in the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. As a Gazprom investor, Page has a personal financial interest in ending Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, a move which, along with recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, Trump himself said in his press conference July 27 he was considering.

But it gets worse. Page actually endorsed the Russian invasion of Ukraine, going so far as to compare U.S. support for Ukrainian independence to police killings of black youth. “The deaths triggered by U.S. government officials in both the former Soviet Union and the streets of America in 2014 share a range of close similarities,” wrote Page in January 2015.

Then there is Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who had dinner with Putin last year. Such fraternization has borne fruit for the Kremlin, as evidenced by Trump operatives earlier this month eliminating language in the GOP platform advocating U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense.

Trump has also expressed support for Syrian dictator Bashir Assad, who in alliance with Russian and Iranian military forces is flooding Europe with refugees, thereby stoking the fortunes of the Kremlin-allied ultra-right parties operating as part of Dugin’s fascist international. These include the anti-NATO French National Front, whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has also endorsed Trump. The National Front’s current leader, Marine Le Pen, also supported the Russian takeover of Crimea, and is being openly bankrolled out of Moscow.

Most importantly, Trump supports gutting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an objective that has been Moscow’s number-one foreign policy priority since the beginning of the Cold War. He has denounced NATO as being “obsolete,” and called for sharply reducing U.S. commitments to the alliance that has been the bulwark of American security since World War II. Not only that, Trump has stated that as president he would not necessarily honor the U.S. treaty commitment to defend a NATO ally if Russia attacks it.

So in summary, here’s the deal: In exchange for Russian funds and black operations support, Trump will break the western alliance and hand Europe over to Kremlin domination.

This presents us with two questions. First, is Trump a Quisling? Second, if he is, then can partisan loyalty be sufficient grounds for members of the Republican Party to acquiesce in participating in a Kremlin plot against the United States of America?

Thanks to Robert Zubrin.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Democrat National Convention was almost Fixed by the Mafia

After a dramatic Republican National Convention in Cleveland which saw Donald Trump finally become the party’s official nominee, Hillary Clinton will this week accept the formal nomination of the Democratic Party.

U.S. national conventions have always been big business opportunities. As one long-time ally of the Bush family reportedly said, “For people who operate in and around government, you can’t not be here.” Although some of the usual donors to the Republican National Convention, like Ford and UPS, stayed home this year, the host committee was able to raise nearly US $60 million from American businesses. Yet historically the “people who operate in and around government” are not only legitimate businesses but also, sometimes, less-than-legitimate ones.

Take the 1932 Democratic National Convention. As I explain in my book Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime, from which this article is adapted, the nomination that year had come down to a contest between two New York politicians. Al Smith was a reform-minded former governor aligned with Tammany Hall, the Manhattan-based Democratic political machine. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the sitting governor, was running against him, and he was not aligned with Tammany.

If Roosevelt was to win the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, he needed to neutralize the Tammany threat. That meant figuring out what to do about the Mob.

Through their control of liquor and vice-markets in southern Manhattan, Tammany’s stronghold, the Italian-American Mafias and Jewish-heritage gangs that made up the New York Mob had developed growing power in Tammany affairs over the preceding years.

The Mob leadership now saw a huge strategic opportunity at the Democratic National Convention to leverage that power into something even bigger: influence over the next occupant of the White House.

Mob leaders Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky all accompanied the Tammany Hall delegation to the convention in Chicago. Their Mafia associate Al Capone provided much of the alcohol, banned under prohibition, and entertainment.

Costello shared a hotel suite with Jimmy Hines, the Tammany “Grand Sachem,” who announced support for Roosevelt. But another Tammany politician, Albert Marinelli, announced that he and a small bloc were defecting and would not support Roosevelt.

Marinelli was Tammany’s leader in the Second Assembly District, its heartland below Manhattan’s 14th Street. During Prohibition he had owned a trucking company – run by none other than Lucky Luciano. Luciano had helped Marinelli become the first Italian-American district leader in Tammany, and in 1931 forced the resignation of the city clerk, whom Marinelli then replaced. This gave Luciano and Marinelli control over selection of grand jurors and the tabulation of votes during city elections.

Now, the two were sharing a Chicago hotel suite.

Why were Costello and Luciano backing rival horses, and through them, rival candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination? Was this a disagreement over political strategy?

On the contrary, the evidence suggests that the Mob was playing both sides, to place themselves as brokers in the Democratic nomination process.

Roosevelt needed the full New York state delegation’s support – and thus Tammany’s – if he was going to win the floor vote at the convention. But he also needed to avoid being tainted by the whiff of scandal that hung stubbornly around Tammany – and the Mafia.

Roosevelt responded to the split by issuing a statement denouncing civic corruption, while carefully noting that he had not seen adequate evidence to date to warrant the prosecution of sitting Tammany leaders, despite an ongoing investigation run by an independent-minded prosecutor, Sam Seabury. Picking up his signal, Marinelli threw his support behind Roosevelt, giving him the full delegate slate and helping him gain the momentum needed to claim the nomination.

The Mob’s role may not have been decisive. Roosevelt’s nomination had numerous fathers, not least John “Cactus Jack” Garner, a rival presidential candidate to whom Roosevelt offered the vice presidency in return for the votes of the Texas and California delegations. But it was a factor.

If the Mob leaders were not quite kingmakers as they had hoped, they were certainly players. As Luciano reportedly put it, “I don’t say we elected Roosevelt, but we gave him a pretty good push.”

Luciano was nonetheless a newcomer to national politics, and seems to have been quickly outsmarted by his candidate. Having secured the nomination, Roosevelt loosened the reins on Seabury’s corruption investigation, making clear that if it developed new evidence, he might be prepared to back prosecutions after all.

Seabury quickly exposed significant Tammany graft in the New York administration. The city sheriff had amassed $400,000 in savings from a job that paid $12,000 a year. The mayor had awarded a bus contract to a company that owned no buses – but was happy to give him a personal line of credit. A judge with half a million dollars in savings had been granted a loan to support 34 “relatives” found to be in his care. Against the backdrop of Depression New York, with a collapsing private sector, 25 percent unemployment and imploding tax revenues, this was shocking profligacy and nepotism.

By September 1932, the mayor had resigned and fled to Paris with his showgirl girlfriend. In early 1933, Roosevelt moved into the White House and broke off the formal connection between Tammany Hall and the national Democratic Party for the first time in 105 years. He even tacitly supported the election of the reformist Republican Fiorello La Guardia as New York mayor.

Luciano was pragmatic about having been outsmarted. “He done exactly what I would’ve done in the same position,” he reportedly said. “He was no different than me … we was both s—ass double-crossers, no matter how you look at it.”

Thanks to James Cockayne.


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