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Donald Trump has long sold himself to a credulous public as a business genius worth many billions. So it was something of an inconvenience when New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien put Trump’s holdings at barely a quarter of the way to one billion. Trump sued O’Brien for libel (and lost).

There’s nothing shabby about a fortune of $150 million to $250 million, O’Brien’s estimate in his 2005 book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald. But it would exclude Trump from the tippy-top of Manhattan wealth, where he’s yearned to be since his youth in middle-class Queens.

A desire to fix any billionaire deficit may account for Trump’s decision to stock his administration with real-life tycoons. The way it works is that they cut Trump into their deals and he lets them influence tax and regulatory laws. This assumes that Trump might participate in such an unseemly trade, heaven forfend.

Trump’s plain folks may be mightily impressed by the Palm Beach spread and the gold-lined private jet, but the super-duper-rich know better. Net worth is what you own only after subtracting what you owe.

When Trump bought the Mar-a-Lago estate for $8 million in 1985, he bragged that he had paid all cash for it. He later admitted that Chase Manhattan Bank had lent him the entire amount. We have no idea how much equity Trump actually controls. Keeping those numbers hush-hush remains the most plausible reason he hasn’t released his tax returns.

Folks, this is not about partisan politics. It’s about money. Example: Trump’s pick for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has contributed more to Democrats at the federal level than to Republicans.

During the campaign, Trump ads combined nasty images of Goldman Sachs’ CEO and billionaire investor George Soros, supporter of Democratic causes. Mnuchin happens to be a Goldman Sachs alumnus who ran a hedge fund for Soros.

Trump’s Minister of Evil, Steve Bannon, also spent time at Goldman. As of this writing, As of this writing, Trump is reportedly considering Goldman President Gary Cohn for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Wall Street’s desire for less regulation does not preclude its wanting government help. Mnuchin made hundreds of millions off the failed IndyMac bank, after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sold it to him for a song. The FDIC also agreed to protect Mnuchin and partners from steep losses.

The government’s been good to Mnuchin. On the other hand, he wants to get rid of the Volcker rule, which, simply put, curbs big banks from speculating with government-guaranteed deposits. Wall Street understandably likes those “heads I win, tails taxpayers lose” deals.

The financial press continues to cast a cold eye at Trump’s claims to spectacular wealth. “Far from being a global branding goliath,” The Economist writes, “[the Trump Organization] is a small, middle-aged, and largely domestic property business.”

The branding part — slapping the Trump name on buildings that others own — accounts for 13 percent of sales at most. Half of the group’s worth sits in five buildings, mainly Trump Tower and two other Manhattan properties.

If the family members want to hit the ultimate jackpot, The Economist concludes, “they will have to reinvent a mediocre firm.”

Trump’s a politician with money, yes. But he’s no Nelson Rockefeller, Mitt Romney or Michael Bloomberg.

In naming Mnuchin to Treasury, Trump praised him in a statement: “He purchased IndyMac Bank for $1.6 billion and ran it very professionally, selling it for $3.4 billion plus a return of capital. That’s the kind of people I want in my administration representing our country.”

And, one imagines, that’s the kind of people Trump wants to know a whole lot better. Buckle your seat belts.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Donald Trump waves to supporters outside the front door of Trump Tower where he lives in the Manhattan borough of New York, October 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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