For all his money, real or on paper, Donald Trump shows signs of intellectual poverty.Earlier this month, the board chairman of three New Jersey gambling casinos and the self-hyped "largest casino operator in the world" testified before the House Natural Resources subcommittee on Native American affairs. Wealthy in everything but facts, Trump sounded what he believes is a warning to Congress: "Organized crime is rampant on Indian reservations." What's more, "it's gotten out of control" and "if it continues it will be the biggest scandal ever."
This bombast comes when Congress is considering amending the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. That law, passed after extensive hearings and debate -- and the subject of five oversight hearings in four years -- means that some Indian nations now have funds from gaming revenue for tribal needs. The law requires that the tribes use the earnings for reservation programs and not personal profit.
After hundreds of years of suffering broken treaties, forced relocation and some of the country's severest destitution, a few tribes are gaining economic independence for the first time. Among the gambling-financed successes are two new schools on the Mille Lacs reservations of the Ojibwa Indians in Minnesota, built with $6 million from the tribe's two casinos. No state or federal money was used.
At the hearing, Trump, author of "The Art of the Deal," inartistically dealt himself out of the game with such overblown claims that the "mob will get everything it wants" from Indian casinos that now operate in 18 states. That was not the disinterested view of others who testifed: officials from the organized crime division of the FBI, the criminal division of the Justice Department and the criminal investigation bureau of the IRS. None offered evidence that the bizarre claims of Trump were sound.
The Justice Department attorney put it as firmly as if he were holding a hand with four aces and a wild deuce: "I emphasize that the belief held by some that Indian gaming operations are rife with serious criminality is not established by the data currently available. . . . To date there has not been a widespread or successful effort by organized crime to infiltrate Indian gaming operations."
Trump, ignoring that, devoted much of his testimony to bad-mouthing Indians and their casinos, as well as lecturing committee members for their closed minds and passing the "ridiculous" 1988 law. Trump also provided the morning's most memorable laughter: "No one's more for the Indians than Donald Trump." That drew snickers and yeah-right glances from tribal members in the audience.
Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the full Natural Resources Committee, listened patiently to Trump's ranting until he could take no more: "In my 19 years in Congress, I've never heard more irresponsible testimony." He argued that Indian gaming is highly regulated by federal law, state compacts and layers of federal and state surveillance of contracts and permits, plus accountants tracking the money, plus the tribes' own watchfulness in keeping out organized crime. The handle of Indian gaming in 1992 was less than 5 percent nationally, while that of Atlantic City and Las Vegas-type casinos was more than 75 percent.
There is also the question of how many Cosa Nostra mobsters and budding godfathers want to leave the pizza joints of Queens and Brooklyn for the wild living in, say, the north woods of Minnesota or Wisconsin where some tribes are operating.
Just what John Gotti and the boys always dreamed of -- a cabin in the woods, nature trails and some books by Chief Seattle.
At the hearing, Trump was trumped by Rep. Bill Richardson (D), the subcommittee chairman from New Mexico who asked the world's largest casino operator why he wasn't reporting all the organized crime activity he is so sure of to the feds. A pinned Trump answered: "That's not my job."
Of course not. Trump has grander toil: protecting the fun and profit of his gaming places. He sees tribal casinos as economic threats: "An Indian casino operation in northern New Jersey would be the economic death knell to Atlantic City."
In other words, Trump fears competition. To block it, this monopolist is waging his own Indian war: Smear the tribes with the taint of the mob.
Custer had his own last stand. In Washington, Trump may have had his last smear. At the hearing, he was routed -- by facts.