Dispatch October 17, 2018

The New ProPublica/WNYC Bombshell and Trump’s International Corruption


Another week, another bombshell on President Donald Trump’s decades of financial malfeasance.

This time, a months-long investigation by ProPublica and WNYC documents how Trump and the Trump Organization allegedly defrauded their investors while doing everything they could to artificially limit liability.

  • Specifically, Trump allegedly misled investors, negligently presenting himself as a developer of real-estate projects in order to generate interest and financing. When the projects failed, or when investigators revealed unsavory links to crime, Trump claimed the projects were simply licensing deals, representing himself as far less involved than he actually was.
  • As Diana Pilipenko wrote in her report “Cracking the Shell,” “the licensing arrangement became a license to look the other way.” Trump avoided culpability while working with partners, often Russia-linked, tied to all sorts of nefarious and even criminal activity.
  • The alleged behavior crosses from unethical to potentially illegal. Case in point: The Trump Organization reportedly perpetrated “pump-and-dump” schemes, hyping up, or “pumping,” a worthless asset to increase its price before “dumping” it onto naïve buyers—the exact type of scheme Felix Sater pleaded guilty to perpetrating in 1998.

Here’s why the new report is relevant to the Russia investigation:

  • Trump’s defense in the Russia investigation has always relied on plausible deniability, arguing that, even if people on his campaign—including members of his inner circle like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen—committed crimes, he had no way of knowing.
  • Thanks to ProPublica and WNYC, we now have evidence he perfected this strategy in business: Trump was routinely far more involved in ethically and legally dubious projects than he claimed. That means that he may be far more vulnerable to all sorts of legal liability, and may have worked far more closely with Kremlin-linked partners, than was previously known.

This is just the latest in a string of revelations about the president’s business practices that tie up important loose ends about the Russia investigation as well.

These financial crimes form the backbone of Trump and his campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government. The president is deeply compromised by his decades as a corrupt businessman, vulnerable to kompromat from a hostile foreign power and willing to engage in any deceptive means necessary to advance his own fortunes. The only remaining question is whether Trump will face accountability for his actions—or succeed in declaring himself and his inner circle above the law.