FAHRENTHOLD & O'CONNELL'S WISH LIST: We knew this was coming. But it's even more intense than perhaps even jaded reporters and citizens of the nation's capital were anticipating. The blizzard of investigations into President Trump and company — his campaign, alleged ties to Russia, hush-money payments, tax returns, business dealings, security clearances etc. — is a lot for anyone to make sense of.
There are no two better people to help us understand what really matters than The Post's David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell. The duo outlined the biggest outstanding questions House Democrats and various prosecutors and regulators might be able to answer as they pursue documents and answers from Trump & Co. Fahrenthold and O'Connell report:
“We've been reporting on the Trump Organization for two years now. But there's a lot we still don't know. The Trump Organization was built to keep outsiders like us from seeing in. Its leader spoke mainly in boasts — over-the-top, hard-to-check claims about wealth and success. Its secrets were kept by a small circle of family members and longtime, loyal employees.
Now, that's changing.
The company is now facing a variety of congressional, federal and state investigations, which have already turned one of Trump's ultimate loyalists — Michael Cohen — against him. In the next year, as investigators dig in, we may be able to answer some of the big questions that have stumped us. To us, these are the biggest remaining gaps in public knowledge about the Trump Organization.
1. Which foreign governments have spent money at Trump properties since Election Day 2016, and how much?
- We know several countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Philippines — have spent money at Trump hotels. And we know what the Trump Organization says has been its profit from foreign-government customers: about $340,000. But we don't know the full picture of who spent what.
2. How much money has Trump's D.C. hotel, housed in a federally owned historic landmark, made since Election Day 2016? This is the Trump property best-positioned to cater to people lobbying the Trump administration, like the cellphone company T-Mobile. How much does that add up to?
3. Has the Trump Organization ever told the White House who its customers are? Has the White House ever asked?
4. Did President Trump cancel a plan to move the FBI headquarters out of downtown D.C.? If so, was he trying to keep a rival hotel from moving in across from his own?
5. What is the story behind Trump's $50 million-plus debt to a mysterious entity called “Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC”?
- This is one of Trump's biggest debts, owed to an entity he controls. Why and how did he wind up owing himself more than $50 million? Is there a tax benefit to this arrangement? The Trump Organization hasn't explained.
6. Why did President Trump spend more than $400 million in cash, with no loans, to buy properties between 2006 and 2015?
- The practice defied real estate logic, and Trump's own history as the self-proclaimed “King of Debt.” Where did he find the free cash? Did he take on any silent partners in these projects? He has not listed any in his financial disclosure forms.
7. Did the Trump Organization have any dealings with the Russian government or Russian investors, beyond the ones we know about now?
- Earlier this week, the House Judiciary Committee asked Trump executives to list any “loan, financial transaction or capital investment” from Russian investors going back to 2015.
8. Why did Deutsche Bank's private-wealth arm make such large loans to Trump?
- Trump got nearly $300 million in loans from the wealth-management arm of the German banking giant to buy a golf resort and launch his D.C. hotel. Now, the House Financial Services panel is reportedly investigating how these loans were made.
9. Has the White House ever steered potential customers to Trump hotels?
10. What effects have Trump club members had on administration policy?
- ProPublica this week reported on a Trump club member — a dentist from Scranton — who sought to influence federal spending on dental services by writing Trump a note on Mar-a-Lago stationary. The note began 'Dear King...' Are there others like him? How many Trump club members have influenced policy because they'd already paid for access to Trump?
11. Did Trump try to fool his own lenders and insurers by sending them inflated “statements of financial condition” about his own wealth?
- That was Cohen's testimony, and it seems to have already resulted in a subpoena by New York state's insurance regulator. "
SPEAKING OF INVESTIGATIONS: Controvesy swirled around the sentencing of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, to 47 months in prison for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a substantially lighter sentence than the 19-to-24 year prison term recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.
“U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III called that guidelines calculation 'excessive' and sentenced the longtime lobbyist instead to 47 months in prison,” The Post reported.
- “At a trial last year, Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power. Prosecutors highlighted his lavish lifestyle, saying his crimes were used to pay for high-end clothes and multiple properties,” my colleagues report. However, the judge noted that letters sent to the court said that Manafort had been a “good friend” and a “generous person” and that the sentence he had imposed was more in line with other white-collar criminals.
- The key quote: “He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Ellis said, expressing sympathy for Manafort.
“It’s atrociously low,” Barbara McQuade, a former U, S. attorney who teaches law at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times. While “many judges do sentence leniently in white-collar cases,” she said, “dropping all the way from 19 years to four years is absurd.”
Notable: Ellis is a Reagan appointee who “who sparred repeatedly with the special counsel’s team during the trial and has publicly voiced concerns that independent prosecutors have too much power . . . Although Judge Ellis seemed swayed by the defense’s arguments, Mr. Manafort may face a less sympathetic reception next week when he is sentenced in the District of Columbia on two conspiracy counts by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court,” per the Times's Sharon LaFraniere.
Next steps: The Post is now petitioning a federal court to make public “an abundance of sealed and redacted records in the criminal case against” Manafort, Richard Leiby reports.
- “The paper’s motion cited 'the profound public interest in these proceedings' — as well as in the overall investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, which has swept up Manafort and scores of others. 'The investigation, which concerns the integrity of this country’s elections, goes to the core of the interests protected by the First Amendment,' the motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said.”
“At issue are redacted or sealed filings, sentencing memos, hearing transcripts and more than 800 pages of exhibits submitted after the special counsel’s office alleged in November that Manafort voided his cooperation agreement with prosecutors in Washington by lying to them about five subjects over more than 50 hours of interviews before and after his guilty plea,” per Leiby.
Prosecutors argue one of the topics Manafort lied about goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating” regarding to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Reminder: “While details are unclear and heavily redacted, court filings show the government focused on Manafort’s interactions with a Russian political operative and longtime employee of his consulting business in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed has links to Russian intelligence, and particularly on an Aug. 2, 2016, meeting in a New York City cigar bar at the height of the campaign.”
From a public defender at Brooklyn Defender Services:
For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) March 8, 2019
And from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani:
NEW from Giuliani on Manafort sentence:— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) March 8, 2019
"I feel terrible about the way Manafort has been treated. I think it’s not American to keep a man in solitary confinement to try to crack him."
"He’s not a terrorist. He’s not an organized criminal. He’s a white collar criminal.”
On the Hill, House Democrats are still debating how aggressively they want to investigate “the intersection of Ivanka Trump’s private financial interests and her service in the White House — an area of inquiry that probably would inflame tensions with President Trump, who has warned Democrats against scrutinizing his family,” my colleagues Rachael Bade, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey report.
Point: “Senior Democratic investigators have discussed opening an oversight probe into whether the president’s daughter benefited personally from her position as a White House senior adviser, including through Chinese regulators’ approval of trademarks for her apparel company.”
Counterpoint: “But investigating Ivanka Trump is so politically sensitive that Democrats are proceeding with caution. It is unclear even which House committee would take the lead; aides for several panels with jurisdiction suggested that other committees may be better suited to probing the president’s eldest daughter,” the trio reports.
Outside the Beltway
FIRST BLOOMBERG, NOW BROWN OUT; BIDEN'S "95%” IN: Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) capped a mini-trend of Democrats in recent days who say they won't be running president in 2020, according to The Post's Dave Weigel and Chelsea Janes. The decision came after a “Dignity of Work” tour of the early voting states.
The bottom line: " . . . Brown, who had never seriously considered a presidential bid until urged to do so after the 2016 election, found that he did not have the same investment in a run as other Democrats. He was also encouraged on hearing several rival candidates adopt his 'dignity of work' motto on the trail, seeing that as evidence that the party was not making the same blunders that it had ahead of Trump’s win," Dave and Chelsea report.
“I’ve seen so many national Democrats look at this as either you speak to the progressive base or you speak to workers,” Brown said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “If we have to choose between the two, we lose.”
“I’d be the only Democrat on that stage who voted against the Iraq War,” Brown told reporters in Selma, Ala., last weekend. “I think I’d be the only Democrat on that stage that came out for marriage equality 20 years ago.”
On vacation with his wife Jill, Biden is reportedly in the final stages of mulling a return to the presidential stage. The New York Times's Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported while Biden is "95 percent" sure and "is plainly further along in preparing for a White House bid than he was four years ago, when he grudgingly deferred to Hillary Clinton after months of consideration in the aftermath of his son Beau’s death, there is still one crucial element outstanding: full and final consent from the former vice president himself."
- The Issue: “And even before he enters the race, the former vice president is facing questions about how his decades-long record — which includes support for the Iraq War, his role in enacting draconian sentencing guidelines and his skepticism toward Anita Hill during Justice Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court hearings — will be received in today’s Democratic Party,” they write.
They're not wrong: My colleague Matt Viser reported out a deep dive into Biden's stance on a “bitter battle over school busing” in the mid-70's where he spoke out "repeatedly and forcefully against sending white children to majority-black schools and black children to majority-white schools. He played down the persistence of overt racism and suggested that the government should have a limited role in integration."
- The key quote: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. To even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,’ ” Biden told a Delaware-based weekly newspaper in 1975. “I don’t buy that.”
Reparations? "In language that bears on today’s debate about whether descendants of slaves should be compensated, he added, 'I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
#MeToo: “Biden in recent years has expressed regret for several episodes in his past, such as what many women’s rights advocates considered his weak efforts in 1991, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, to protect Anita Hill after she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Biden also has voiced contrition for pushing a tough-on-crime bill in 1994 that many African Americans viewed as unfair and overly harsh,” Viser reports.
Power Up spoke with Christopher Stout, a political science professor at the University of Oregon, about the race factor in 2020. Stout has extensively researched the role of race in campaigns for his forthcoming book, "The Case for Identity Politics," and believes Democrats benefit by putting race at center stage in the upcoming campaign.
- “Candidates, both black and white, perform much better when they make racial appeals in the current political climate,” according to Stout. “In fact, I argue that had Hillary Clinton been perceived as more racially liberal she would have increased support among both blacks and liberal whites. This is based on American National Election Survey estimates which show that perceptions of racial liberalism for Hillary Clinton were significant predictors of turnout among these groups in 2016.”
- Reward:"The increasing efficacy of racial appeals is in large part driven by a growth in black and Latino consciousness over the years and the partisan sorting of whites around race (Democratic whites have become more racially liberal than at any point in recent history). The combination means that candidates like [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren can argue for reparations and be rewarded rather than punished,” Stout argues. "
- Case study: “I think Stacey Abrams campaign shows that the use of racial appeals can be effective rather than detrimental, which has been the case with racial outreach in the past,” Stout argued. "Had she ran a campaign which did not focus on race, I would guess that she would not have received the national attention that she did and would have not mobilized supportive voters to the same degree," per Stout.
Regardless, operatives are getting antsy about Biden's indecision: “Don’t bring out the macaroni and cheese after all the main dishes are gone. I would really like to see my meal all out at once” before picking the “main course,” Jennifer Clyburn Reed, the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told NBC News's Ali Vitali.
Bernie Sanders is beating Kamala Harris 2-1 among black Democratic primary voters (28-14%), new poll finds https://t.co/XHMNL6p1qM— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) March 6, 2019
"MAKING PUBLIC SERVICE COOL AGAIN”: Only 22 percent of public-service leadership positions are held by women worldwide, according to the Wilson Center. That's a number that 10 millennial women and alumnae of the Obama administration are determined to boost. “Yes She Can: 10 Stories of Hope & Change from Young Female Staffers of the Obama White House,” released this week, is an anthology of their journeys to and through the Obama administration. Undergrads in search of motivation and advice on how to break into the intimidating terrain of D.C. politics, this book may help.
“We want to show women of all ages, colors, background that there is a place for them and it might even be in the White House,” Elle Celeste, one of the co-authors, told Power Up during their swing through D.C. on Thursday. Other contributors include Jenna Brayton, Nita Contreras, Kalisha Dessources Figures, Molly Dillon, Andrea R. Flores, Vivian P. Graubard, Noemie C. Levy, Taylor Lustig, and Jaimie Woo.
Below is a sampling of some of their advice:
1. “We want more young women in public service. And one way we can achieve that is by demystifying the White House, especially for young diverse women,” the women said. “We spoke at a women’s leadership school in the Bronx this week. Near the end of ourtime with the students we asked them — 'Did you know that people like us were working in the White House?' Every single one of them said no. That is exactly why we we’re sharing our stories. It is hard to aspire to be something you can’t see, so we want to make public service more visible for young people.”
2. " Start in your own community. Start by looking at your neighborhood ... Identify someone or an organization that is doing something you believe in and join them or identify a problem that no one else is addressing and take it on yourself. Service is something to practice daily. From helping someone carry their groceries to volunteering at a food bank, service can be a practice rather than a job. You don’t have to work for the government to be in service of others. Identify something you care about and then learn everything you can about that topic.”
3. “We need to ensure that leadership is constantly prioritizing proactive recruitment of women from diverse communities,” the women said. “It’s important to reduce or eliminate barriers that prevent women from entering public service. For example, many good job pathways start with unpaid internships, which unfairly burdens many of the people we need in government.”
The women had some advice for other women starting their first day of work at the White House, State House, or on the Hill:
- “You need to come as you are. You belong. You are there for a reason.
- Find a support network to confide in, to share your successes with and to ask questions of.
- You don’t get a single thing you don’t ask for, so ask for what you need. It can be intimidating to walk into a new job, especially one in a place like the White House, but work and your career isn’t something that will just happen to you. You need to be your own advocate.
- Work really hard and be kind. There is incredible strength and power in kindness.”
We asked the authors about their coolest, only-in-the White House experience. They described a special cast of the Broadway musical, “Spring Awakening,” on the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which featured hearing and deaf actors and the entire show performed in sign language. “We reached out to the producers and the entire cast bussed down to the White House for our event, where we opened our doors to members of the disability community,” they recalled.
And here's what the women said was the single most important thing that has allowed you to succeed in government: “Questions, Listening, Empathy, Mentors, Kindness, Sisterhood, and Frozen Yogurt of the United States (a.k.a. FROYOTUS).”
In the Media
- A former NSC Staffer on Ivanka's Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative: Trump administration initiative will empower women across the globe. By Nadia Schadlow for The Miami Herald.
- A Long Talk With Kirsten Gillibrand. By New York Magazine's Gabriel Debenedetti.
Profile in Courage: U.S. Cancels Journalist’s Award Over Her Criticism of Trump. By Reid Standish and Robbie Gramer for Foreign Policy.
Reading (& Listening) for Pleasure: The 25 Songs That Matter Right Now. The New York Times Magazine Music Issue 2019.
A Venezuela Update: Brazil Foreign Minister Calls on Russia, China to Oppose Venezuela’s Maduro. By The Wall Street Journal's Paulo Trevisani and Samantha Pearson.
Happy #InternationalWomensDay, from Putin: “What does a young woman need to maintain her figure? Three things: a workout machine, a masseuse, and a suitor,” he tells female police officers (prompting forced giggles) pic.twitter.com/hSTgXukPYD— Amie Ferris-Rotman (@Amie_FR) March 8, 2019