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New Lawsuit Says Trumps Oversaw Inaugural Overbilling

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Then-President-elect Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka were warned in 2016 that the family business was overcharging the nonprofit presidential inaugural committee — and let it happen anyway, according to a suit filed Wednesday by the Washington, D.C., attorney general.

In the civil complaint, Attorney General Karl Racine charged the Trump inaugural committee and the Trump Organization with using around $1 million of charitable funds to improperly enrich the Trump family.

An experienced event planner who was working for the inaugural, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, raised concerns directly with Donald and Ivanka Trump that the Trump International Hotel in Washington was trying to overcharge the inaugural committee.

“Winston Wolkoff met with President-elect Trump and Ivanka Trump and discussed these concerns with both individuals,” the suit says. “The President-elect acknowledged these concerns and directed that Ivanka Trump would handle this issue.”

The complaint accuses three entities — the Trump Organization, the inaugural committee and the Trump hotel — of subverting the public purpose of a charity for the Trump family’s private benefit.

At the center of the complaint is a four-day rental agreement for the downtown Washington hotel’s ballroom and adjacent spaces. The hotel, and by extension the Trump family, was paid far above market rate, according to internal documents the attorney general obtained by subpoena.

As WNYC and ProPublica’s Trump, Inc. revealed, the Trump inaugural committee paid the Trump Organization over Wolkoff’s objections, which Ivanka had been aware of.

Documents uncovered by the D.C. attorney general contradict earlier statements by spokespeople for the Trumps that they had little or no involvement in the negotiations.

“The president was focused on the transition during that time and not on any of the planning for the inauguration,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in December 2018.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, told WNYC and ProPublica in 2018 that Ivanka had only been contacted once about inauguration spending at Trump’s hotel: “Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”

The attorney general’s documents show deeper involvement.

Ivanka Trump was made aware of concerns about overpayment in a Dec. 12, 2016, email from Rick Gates, the deputy to the inaugural chairman, which she responded to two days later. On Dec. 16, Wolkoff raised her concerns in person with Donald and Ivanka Trump. The next day, Wolkoff again objected to the Trump hotel’s proposed rates.

“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends,” she wrote in an email to Ivanka and Gates. “Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge.”

Other venues hosting inauguration events provided space for free.

On Jan. 10, 2017, the inaugural committee finalized its contract with the hotel at $175,000 per day, over Wolkoff’s objections. The committee was also charged for days when it wasn’t even using the space, the suit says.

One event, costing more than $300,000, was a private reception at the Trump hotel “benefiting only the children of the President,” the complaint says.

“DJT is not expected to attend but was more for you, Don and Eric,” Gates wrote in an email to Ivanka Trump several days before the event, according to the complaint.

A spokesperson for the Trump Organization dismissed the D.C. suit in an emailed statement:

“The AG’s claims are false, intentionally misleading and riddled with inaccuracies. The rates charged by the hotel were completely in line with what anyone else would have been charged for an unprecedented event of this enormous magnitude and were reflective of the fact that [sic] hotel had just recently opened, possessed superior facilities and was centrally located on Pennsylvania Avenue. The AG’s after the fact attempt to regulate what discounts it believes the hotel should have provided as well as the timing of this complaint reeks of politics and is a clear PR stunt.”

Spokespeople for the inaugural committee, the White House and Ivanka Trump did not immediately comment. A spokesman for the IRS, which regulates charities, said “federal law prohibits the IRS from discussing specific taxpayers.”

D.C. is asking the court to compel the Trump Organization to place at least $1,033,757 in a trust, so the money can be allocated “to another nonprofit entity dedicated to promoting civic engagement of the citizens of the United States of America.”

The Trump inaugural committee drew scrutiny from the moment it first reported its financials. The committee raised nearly $107 million, close to double the haul of President Barack Obama’s record-setting 2009 bash, despite being a much smaller event. Past inaugural planners said they would struggle to spend a sum of money that large.

“It’s inexplicable to me,” Greg Jenkins, who led former President George W. Bush’s second inaugural committee, told Trump, Inc.

Inside The German Bank That Loaned Trump $2 Billion

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Just try phoning Trump’s private banker Rosemary T. Vrablic at Deutsche Bank’s U.S. headquarters in Manhattan. Back in 2017, before too many bankers involved with Deutsche Bank started turning up dead, Trump once dared reporters to call her, saying she was the “the head” of the bank and “the boss.”

The good news is that Vrablic, 58, is alive. That is not something to take for granted when you look at two dead Deutsche Bank executives with ties to Trump, Russia and possibly at dead pedophile money man Jeffrey Epstein. One banker was found hanged in 2014 and one in November.

Vrablic’s office picked up right away when this reporter called following the Supreme Court’s decision on Dec. 13 to take up Trump’s argument that he be allowed to shield disclosure of his financial information from Congress and the New York attorney general.

Not surprisingly, the woman who answered the phone in Vrablic’s office refused to identify herself. Nor would she put Vrablic on to answer questions about Trump.

She sounded flabbergasted that anyone from the public, much less the media, would be calling someone who is, for the most part, a mystery woman. And that is despite her role in approving about $300 million in allegedly suspect loans to Trump. That arrangement will be part of a quite likely historic oral argument by the Supreme Court in March with a planned June decision.

Refusing to transfer the call to a corporate spokesperson, the person who answered the phone tried to imply that Vrablic no longer worked there. Then she agreed to take a message that was never returned.

‘Global Laundromat’

Deutsche Bank lent Trump millions after he defaulted on loans they already gave him and after he once sued them in 2008. Known derisively as a “global laundromat,” the bank is facing U.S. and British legal actions over its role in a $20 billion Russian money-laundering scheme. Two Congressional committees want the bank to release 10-plus years of records involving Trump and his three oldest children as Congress probes Russian money laundering and possible foreign influence involving Trump. White House lawyers have fought the committees tenaciously.

It’s hoped that the Supreme Court’s verdict will end years-long efforts on the part of U.S. officials to glean the truth about Trump’s finances. Especially at issue is whether Russians interfered in the 2016 election and if that meddling was powered by Russian money funneled to Trump through the giant, scandal-ridden German bank.

Teller to Managing Director

Vrablic, a one-time bank teller turned Deutsche Bank private wealth managing director, was Trump’s liaison at the bank. She sat in a hoodie in the VIP section at the Trump inauguration.

Trump borrowed more than $2 billion in the past two decades. Many allege the loans could hold the key to Russian funding of Trump.

Hired in 2006 with celebratory ads in The New York Times and a sweet deal guaranteeing her $3 million a year, Vrablic’s work raised the bank’s public profile–at first in a good way. Now the opposite is true.

Trump burned through his relationships with bank investment and commercial real estate departments because of his constant defaults and failures. Then Vrablic stepped up in 2010.

The Kushner Network

Trump’s daughter Ivanka had just married Jared Kushner, who was a longtime client of Vrablic along with his mother Seryl. Ivanka steered Vrablic in the private bank sector of Deutsche Bank her father’s way. It turned out to be the financial lifeline crucial in helping him win the election.

People at Vrablic’s level in the banking world, even when they are swept up in such international scandals, are rarely household names unless they die suddenly… read suspiciously. Even then, they are familiar to only the most inside-baseball financial journalists. They are never part of the daily Trump-Schiff-Pelosi-Schumer-AOC-Nunes-McConnell etc. political narrative though their influence is often greater.

Their deaths often remain murky. Supposed details take on a life of their own on conspiracy websites but the actual truth remains frustratingly out of reach – a bit like Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged jail suicide.

A Pair of Suicides

Thomas Bowers, 55, Vrablic’s former boss, ran the private wealth division of Deutsche Bank and oversaw loans to Trump and reportedly to Epstein until he left the bank, reportedly in 2015. It is said he hanged himself at his Malibu home on Nov. 19.

His death was first reported in a tweet by David Enrich of The New York Times, one of the foremost experts on Deutsche Bank. Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump and an Epic Trail of Destruction, an upcoming book by Enrich, focuses in part on the sudden death of William Broeksmit, a senior Deutsche Bank executive.

Broeksmit, a man who “knew too much,” according to Enrich, was found hanging in his London home in 2014. Enrich calls it a “mysterious suicide.”

Enrich previewed the deeply weird story of the whistleblower in the Broeksmit case, who turns out to be the troubled but possibly believable stepson of Broeksmit, in a New York Times Magazine story in October. So far, though, he has done no more than tweet about Bowers, first to announce his death, then to deny “rumors” that Bowers had been Epstein’s banker.

The Epstein Connection

Enrich said on Twitter that Bowers left Deutsche Bank in 2013, prior to Epstein becoming a client. Deutsche Bank would not comment on Bowers and other reports say Bowers left Deutsche Bank in 2015 when Epstein was already a customer.

Epstein, of course, allegedly committed suicide while in jail in August. One of Estonia’s leading bankers, Aivar Rehe, apparently committed suicide in September in Tallinn. Rehe ran Danske Bank which was used by clients in Russia and Eastern Europe to launder billions of dirty dollars. At the time of the Rehe death, Frankfurt prosecutors were eyeballing Deutsche Bank for its part in doing business with suspicious American customers, The New York Times reported.

The Democratic-controlled House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank in April for the records. In turn, Trump sued the bank to prevent it from complying. It’s believed that the bank has documents that would show on how Trump made his money, who he partnered with and extensive details of what he borrowed and resulting transactions.

The subpoenas also included demands for information about suspicious activity in Trump’s Deutsche Bank accounts.

Trump’s Lender of Last Resort

Starting in the late 1990s, Trump had become such a bad credit risk, either repeatedly defaulting on loans or declaring bankruptcy, that no U.S. banks would do business with him.

Deutsche Bank, which badly wanted to expand internationally, especially into the United States, saw an opportunity with Trump and became his chief creditor, despite his rank financial past.

Anti-money-laundering investigators at Deutsche Bank flagged “multiple transactions” involving accounts controlled by Trump and Jared Kushner in 2016 and 2017 and alerted bank executives who apparently ignored the intel, The New York Times reported in May.

“You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” Tammy McFadden, a former Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialist who reviewed some of the transactions told the Times.

“It’s the D.B. way. They are prone to discounting everything.”

Additional reporting by Matthew Reagan and Anna Sasser, Occidental College, Los Angeles

Why Giuliani’s Ukraine Sources Are So Untrustworthy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and a former New York City mayor, recently teamed up with One America News (OAN) and its White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, for a so-called “investigative special” that promised to “destroy” the Democratic case for impeaching Trump.

But Sergii Leshchenko, a journalist and an ex-member of Ukraine’s parliament, argued in an op-ed for the Kyiv Post that most of the interviewees Giuliani used could not be trusted and had strong ties to the Russian government.

Leshchenko writes, “As a journalist who has been covering Ukrainian politics for 20 years, I maintain that (former prosecutor general Yuri) Lutsenko and the rest of Rudy Giuliani’s interlocutors in Ukraine are not in the least trustworthy. Moreover, most of them have long had contacts with Moscow, which seeks to shift responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections from Russia to Ukraine. This scenario is actively supported by part of the corrupt Ukrainian establishment.”

Watch a preview for the OAN report below:

Teaming up with OAN — the right-wing cable news outlet that is even more aggressively pro-Trump than Fox News — Giuliani pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the United States’ 2016 presidential election. And the main person Giuliani has used to promote that theory is Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch accused of bribery in the United States.

“Firtash is useful for Giuliani in helping him advance the conspiracy theory,” Leshchenko asserted in his op-ed. “For example, lawmakers Oleh Voloshyn and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, both of whom are close to Firtash, are trying to start a ‘parliamentary inquiry’ into ex-Vice President Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine.”

Another Giuliani source Leshchenko considers problematic is Viktor Shokin, a former prosecutor general in Ukraine. Giuliani used Shokin on Firtash’s recommendation.

“Giuliani’s strategy to promote his conspiracy theory looks like political schizophrenia,” Leshchenko writes. “But his actions also gave Russia great opportunities to advance its interests.”

Giuliani has previously accused Leshchenko himself of working with the Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election, and allegations the journalist vehemently denies.

Special Gifts For Special People

Ho-ho-ho. Wait till you hear about the gifts I gave to some of America’s power elites for Christmas.

To each of our Congress critters I sent my fondest wish that from now on, they receive the exact same income, health care and pension that we average citizens get. If they receive only the American average, it might make them a bit more humble — and less cavalier about ignoring the needs of regular folks.

To the stockings of GOP leaders who’ve so eagerly debased themselves to serve the madness of President Donald Trump, I added individual spritzer bottles of fragrances like Essence of Integrity and Eau de Self-Respect to help cover up their stench. And in the stockings of Democratic congressional leaders I put Spice of Viagra and Bouquet du Grassroots to stiffen their spines and remind them of who they represent.

For America’s CEOs, my gift is a beautifully boxed, brand-new set of corporate ethics. It’s called the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Going to pollute someone’s neighborhood? Then you have to live there, too. Going to slash wages and benefits? Then slash yours as well. Going to move your manufacturing to sweatshops in China? Then put your office right inside the worst sweatshop. Executive life won’t be as luxurious, but CEOs will glow with a new purity of spirit.

To the Wall Street hedge fund hucksters who’ve conglomerated, plundered and degraded hundreds of America’s newspapers, I’ve sent copies of Journalism for Dummies and offered jobs for each of them in their stripped-down, Dickensian newsrooms. Good luck.

And what better gift to the Trump family — Donald; Ivanka and Jared; Eric; Donnie Jr.; and the whole nest of them — than a wish that they live with one another constantly and permanently. No, really, each of you deserves it.

Yes, I have finally mastered the art of finding perfect gifts for people on my list — gifts that rise above crass commercialism and are genuinely appreciated by the people who receive them. I wholeheartedly recommend such gift-giving to you.

For example, I gave a goat to my mother, Lillie, for her birthday, even naming the animal after her. Although she was raised on a farm, Momma was 103 on her last birthday and really didn’t really want to tend to a goat — but she loved getting it. That’s because the beloved critter wasn’t delivered to her but to an impoverished family in Nepal that desperately needs the nutritional, economic and life-affirming benefits that can flow from something as basic as a goat.

Her gift — which indeed will keep giving — was made possible by Heifer International, a terrific charitable organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas, that copes with global poverty one animal at a time. Heifer publishes a gift catalogue that lets you and me make a donation and choose to send anything from a flock a baby chicks (for $20) to a water buffalo (for $250). Heifer International then places the animals with families around the world who put these living donations to work, lifting them from abject poverty. Not only does Heifer connect us to specific needs; it also has teachers and development experts on staff who work directly with the recipients to … well, to make the gifts work.

There are dozens of good groups that offer such gifts that matter. For example, one Christmas, my gift to Momma came from the catalogue of The Nature Conservancy. She became the symbolic owner of two acres in Appalachia that are part of the group’s conservation efforts.

For her — and for me — this kind of giving is a lot more satisfying (and a lot truer to the spirit of giving) than buying another thing that she doesn’t need. For information about these groups and more, go to www.CharityNavigator.org.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.