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Monday, December 09, 2019

Select Panel Report Shows Trump Isn't The Only 'Big Ripoff' Grifter

Ronna Romney McDaniel

Most Americans know by now that former President Donald Trump isn't a brilliant business executive, let alone a "stable genius" who earned billions. We have learned from various investigations, including the forced release of his tax returns, that he is a financial loser — and that his most conspicuous talent is for brazen grifting.

Now the House Select Committee, in a scathing appendix to its final report on the January 6 insurrection and coup attempt, has exposed the latest and perhaps most successful Trump grift. It's called "The Big Rip-off" because it depended on Trump's Big Lie about election fraud in 2020. Using hundreds of emails sent incessantly to its millions of supporters, the Trump campaign continued to raise enormous sums after the election ended by pretending that the Biden campaign had "stolen" its victory — and that with enough money that victory could be overturned.

Trump's principal co-conspirators in this bigtime scam were officials of the Republican National Committee, or RNC, which had a joint fundraising agreement that split proceeds with the campaign. From extensive interviews with top officials from both the RNC and the Trump campaign, the House investigators determined that the Republican leadership continued that deal long after it knew that the funds obtained were tainted by the Big Lie.

"The RNC knew that Trump's claims about winning the election were baseless and that post-election donations would not help him secure an additional term in office," the report explains. Yet both the RNC and the Trump campaign decided to continue fundraising after the election ended — "a decision that would have come from President Trump himself." The operations of that joint fundraising machine, known as Trump Make America Great Again Committee (or "T-Magic" to insiders) were overseen by the former president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and approved by Trump himself.

Their letters used incendiary language to damage public confidence in the electoral process, insisting that the election had been "stolen" and that the money would be used to "fight back" and "stop the steal." Sending out as many as 25 inflammatory emails every day, TMAGAC saw its most lucrative fundraising immediately after Election Day, hauling in as much as $100 million in the first three days, by claiming to establish a nonexistent "Official Election Defense Fund."

Eventually they raised more than $250 million.

They perpetrated that historic larceny, in the report's words, "by claiming to fight fraud they knew did not exist and to challenge an election they knew he lost." The RNC copywriters would "draft a lot of the content based on what the president was saying... a very aggressive, excitable tone... giving them 'red meat'... to make it seem as if the president himself was writing these letters and texts," according to the Select Committee's report.

This belligerently deceptive approach to monetizing the Big Lie began on Election Day 2020 when the campaign decided how to report election results to its supporters. As outlined by the Select Committee report, the campaign had three options: It could say that Trump had won, knowing that was false; it could say that the outcome remained uncertain which was then true; or it could claim, as it did, that "the Democrats are trying to steal the election" — a destructive accusation that the campaign decided to use even before Election Night results came in. As campaign officials later confessed to the Select Committee investigators, that claim was not based on any actual information received by TMAGAC staff or any attempt by them to determine its veracity.

RNC attorneys made a few feeble efforts to moderate that language in the TMAGAC donor messaging, to cover their own collective behind. But as the Select Committee notes, the RNC "was clearly aware that President Trump's claims regarding the election were not true and tried to have it both ways."

So, the RNC knew that Trump was lying to the American public every day and did virtually nothing to oppose that strategy. Its leaders, including RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, chose only to "tinker around the edges" of that false messaging. RNC officials admitted that they had seen no evidence to support Trump's claim that he had won the election and were not aware of any evidence of voter fraud sufficient to change the election's outcome.

Despite its lawyers' concerns about repeating the most extreme and unsupportable claims of fraud, the RNC "stayed the course with a coordinated, single fundraising plan with the Trump campaign... and publicly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Trump and his Big Lie."

To this day, most of the money raised remains in the bank, but millions have been paid out to Trump himself, his political associates and his businesses.

Among many egregious examples of pilfering and looting, well over $100,000 was paid for "strategic consulting" to Melania Trump's fashion stylist. A million dollars went to a "conservative" nonprofit that employs former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and participated in planning for Trump's Jan. 6 coup, and over $10 million went to an event-planning firm that helped to run the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse that preceded the Capitol riot. Additional millions were later spent on lawyers representing witnesses called to testify before the Select Committee.

There is no honor among thieves, so chair McDaniel is now being challenged for her position by an even more extreme MAGA politician. What this report shows in embarrassing detail is how they fleeced their own followers — who are, alas, mostly gullible enough to continue listening to them, at great cost to our country.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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