President Trump would like to consider himself a modern-day King Midas, with the ability to turn anything he touches to gold (and his Manhattan apartment certainly looks like the actual Midas careened drunkenly about the place, laying hands on everything from the wallpaper to the furniture). But it’s becoming clearer by the day that everything he touches is poisoned by corruption.
It’s not as though we didn’t know it before, but somehow the Republicans who followed him into power in Washington haven’t fully reckoned with what they made themselves a part of. They figured out how to live with their fears about his ideological reliability (“It’s about judges!”) and his repellent personality (“I wish he’d tweet less, but ... judges!”), but with each new corruption scandal, they seem caught off-guard, as though surprised that they’d have to defend him.
And now it seems that just about everything Trump has ever done has in one way or another either been proved to be corrupt or is under investigation and will likely be proved corrupt. Here’s the latest, from the Wall Street Journal:
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.
The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.
Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.
At this point, the only surprise would be if there hadn’t been any corrupt dealings in the inauguration. It has long been a source of suspicion (for those who care about this sort of thing), because the records are not public, and the sums are staggering.
How could they have spent that much money? One clue comes in the form of an event-planning company called WIS Media Partners that was formed 45 days before the inauguration, and was led by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a friend of Melania Trump’s. The company received an incredible $25.8 million in inaugural funds for doing ... something or other.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, prosecutors now have a tape of her and Michael Cohen in which “Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money.” You don’t say. “Ms. Wolkoff and several partners were paid about $1.6 million of the $25.8 million, and the remainder went to subcontractors, a person familiar with Ms. Wolkoff’s work said,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Subcontractors, yes. Am I the only one who suspects that some of those millions found their way into Trump’s bank account, through a web of cutouts and shell companies? And that if we actually saw his tax returns we’d be able to trace the path back to him?
Perhaps that’s unfair of me; after all, as of yet we have no evidence that such a thing occurred. But at this point, it’s hard not to assume that if Trump is involved, there’s probably something corrupt happening and it probably means he’s getting paid.
Just consider the following brief roundup:
- Trump’s campaign is under investigation for possible hidden dealings with Russia and a possible conspiracy to violate campaign-finance laws.
- Trump's administration has been beset with a shocking number of scandals of various types.
- Trump is currently being sued for allegedly violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, since foreign governments are directing money his way by booking large numbers of rooms and holding events at his properties.
- The attorney general of New York is seeking to have the Trump Foundation dissolved, citing a pattern of "persistently illegal conduct" that made the foundation little more than a scam devoted to self-dealing.
- In October, it was revealed in an exhaustively documented investigation that Trump, his father and his siblings engaged in a conspiracy to commit tax fraud on an absolutely epic scale, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
- Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump repeatedly misled buyers and investors about properties they were developing in order to acquire funding and pump up sales.
So there are allegations and investigations around Trump’s business, Trump’s personal taxes, Trump’s campaign, Trump’s inauguration, Trump’s foundation and Trump’s administration.
We see it in even relatively trivial ways, such as Trump charging the Secret Service hundreds of thousands of dollars to use golf carts to get around his properties when he visits there, or the fact that he has offered ambassadorships to four different members of his Mar-a-Lago club, all of whom have paid him six-figure sums in membership fees.
Trump is always looking to get paid, and has never in his life seemed too concerned about what ethics or the law demanded, except insofar as it might require covering his tracks. Perhaps it would be better to ask not what Trump is involved in that’s corrupt, but what Trump is involved in that isn’t corrupt.
His tax returns are the key to answering those questions, which is why he will fight like hell to keep them secret. When the House Ways and Means Committee demands them once Democrats take over in January, as it has a legal right to do, Trump will probably order the IRS not to comply with the law, and the whole matter will end up before the Supreme Court. There’s no telling if the court’s five conservatives will save him, but before they decide, we’ll have plenty of time to debate it.
And when we have that debate, what will Republicans say? How will they argue that the American public, faced with the most comprehensively, blatantly, obviously corrupt president certainly of our lifetimes and perhaps in all of American history, has no right to see the documents that could reveal the full extent of his corruption? How will they look voters in the face and say, "You don't have to know — just trust Trump that everything is on the level"? How will they claim afterward that they care in the least about integrity in government? How will they sleep at night?
If history is any guide, they’ll find a way. And who knows, maybe Trump will get away with all of it. But every new question we ask reveals that this president and this presidency is even more rotten than we realized. We’ve only begun to plumb the depths.