Trump, Inc: Don Jr. Pushed ‘Blatantly Illegal’ Project In India

Trump, Inc: Don Jr. Pushed ‘Blatantly Illegal’ Project In India

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Donald Trump Jr. Pushed ‘Blatantly Illegal’ Project In India, Former Official Says — ‘Trump, Inc.’ Podcast

Last month, Donald Trump Jr. visited India to tout new Trump properties. Full page ads in India’s top papers announced, “Trump has arrived. Have you?”

It wasn’t Trump Jr.’s first trip to India. “I’ve been coming to India for over a decade,” he said during his visit last month. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here … it needs no further explanation.”

This week on “Trump, Inc.,” we’re looking at the Trumps’ yearslong work in India, where corruption in the real estate industry is endemic.

We worked with Investigative Fund reporter Anjali Kamat, whose reporting on the Trumps’ business in India appears in the new issue of The New Republic.

As with many of the company’s deals abroad, the Trump Organization’s India projects are all licensing deals. Trump Jr. has been closely involved in much of the work.

The Trumps’ first India project, in Mumbai, was halted in early 2012 after investigators found significant “irregularities.” The investigators had been tipped off by a state lawmaker who suspected a $100 million fraud scheme and warned of “gross violations” in the project’s plans. Authorities revoked the building’s permits.

A few months later, in April 2012, Trump Jr. traveled to Mumbai and, along with partners, met with a top official there to try to get the project restarted.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the equivalent of a U.S. governor, had been told Trump Jr. wanted to discuss investing in the state. But instead, Chavan recalled, Trump Jr. and his partners asked Chavan to overturn the decision to revoke the permits.

Chavan declined. “I would get into trouble to sanction something that was blatantly illegal,” he told us. The plans were “not within the existing rules.” (Chavan has also described the encounter to The New York Times and Washington Post.)

The Trumps were back in India in 2014, after a new government came into power, Narendra Modi’s BJP. The Trump Tower Mumbai
— a gold-hued skyscraper that the Trump Organization bills as “unlike anything you have ever seen”—is now slated to finished next year. It is one of five Trump-affiliated projects currently under development in India.

The Trump Organization said the projects are doing well. One Trump partner said they booked $15 million in sales on just one day during Trump Jr.’s visit. It was the last day buyers would qualify for an offer by the Trump Organization’s partners to dine with the president’s son.

Only a handful of names of buyers in the Trump projects have been disclosed.

The Trump Organization, the White House and the developers for the project did not respond to our requests for comment.

Remember, we want to hear from you: Do you have information about Trump-branded projects in India? Or do you have photos of them? Let us know.

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How We’re Learning To Do Journalism Differently In the Age of Trump

How We’re Learning To Do Journalism Differently In the Age of Trump

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.


This story was co-published with IRE Journal.

It’s a great time to be an investigative journalist. Sure, no president has done more to demonize media than President Trump. But nor has anybody done more to boost our standing than Trump.

Millions of Americans have put their faith in us. A few weeks after the election, a friend of mine, pondering the reality of one-party government in Washington, looked at me soberly and summed up her sentiment: “You are our Congress now.”

What she meant, of course, was that we need to keep doing our job: to ferret out facts and expose wrongdoing. It seemed straightforward enough.

But as my friend was talking, one thought kept running over and over in my mind: How the hell are we going to do this?

At ProPublica, our stories often take months, and occasionally longer than that. How could we cover something as fast moving as a new administration? We also tend to stay away from areas other reporters are already covering. If lots of reporters are already digging into something, why would we want to as well? One of our advantages is that we don’t have to be comprehensive. We can and should skip stories where we’re unlikely to distinguish ourselves.

We could have made the decision to stick with those inclinations ­— to veer away from the pack and focus on areas where others were now even less likely to be.

But we didn’t do that.

Instead, on Inauguration Day, we announced what we would be covering ­— many, many areas related to the new administration. The same day, we reported Trump hadn’t fulfilled his promise to hand over control of his businesses. Two weeks later, we reported that Trump’s daughter Ivanka had failed to do the same.

And our stories kept coming: about how Trump was hiring lobbyists to work at agencies they once lobbied, about the hundreds of officials Trump had quietly installed across the government, and about a Trump trust document that states the president can pull money from his businesses any time he wants. (It’s that last story that got the White House riled up and led Sean Spicer, to blessedly, label us a “left-wing blog.”)

We’re still in flux. We definitely don’t have all the answers. Like many newsrooms, we’re still grappling with how to handle coverage of the new administration. But we have found a few principles to be helpful.

Worry Less About Zigging When Others Zag

Rather than tacking away from important topics that already have the country’s attention, sometimes it makes sense to look for opportunities within them.

Take the work last year of the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, who, of course, could serve as an example in any number of these tips. Countless journalists were covering Trump’s campaign. The size of the scrum covering his candidacy probably set a record. But how many reporters were really digging into Trump’s charity? It turned out none, until Fahrenthold.

That’s obviously not an easy example to replicate. In fact, Fahrenthold has written about how he didn’t know what he was launching himself into.

That doesn’t mean you should chase the week’s news, or worry about matching what other outlets are doing. What it means is deciding you’re going to go after the most important and vital topics, and then giving yourself the task of producing revelatory coverage within them.

A hypothetical I’ve occasionally invoked: Imagine you had been a reporter during the civil rights era and were looking back at your career decades later. What would you have hoped to cover? (I’ve heard BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith tell his staff something quite similar: Write now what you think you’ll be proud of at the end of your career.)

Stop Hoarding and Start Sharing

ProPublica has been collaborating with other newsrooms since we started nine years ago. But over the past few months, we’ve landed on new ways of working with others.

On a Friday night in late March, the White House announced it was making many staffers’ financial disclosure forms “available.” But it didn’t post them online or even disclose which staffers had filed the forms.

To get the documents, reporters first had to guess who had filed the disclosures. Then, they had to fill out a form on the White House’s website for each person. It was like dealing with the world’s worst customer service department ­— only we were trying to wrangle purportedly public information.

Then, one of our editors, Tracy Weber, had an idea: Why not call our friends at other outlets and coordinate. Within minutes, The New York Times and Associated Press had agreed to work with us and post all the documents we gathered.

In another instance, we talked with the Times’ Eric Lipton about our joint interest in documenting the legion of lobbyists joining the administration. The chat led to a very simple and quick collaboration: We shared data on administration hires with the Times, which used it to publish a hard-hitting story that cited our contribution.

It was just one example of many where even the simple act of comparing notes has paid off. That’s clearly not the proper approach all the time. But it can be plenty of the time.

Do It Out In the Open

For years, we’ve reached out to readers to fuel our journalism. But we’ve been much more aggressive about it recently.

One thing has been to simply say what we’re working on — even if it’s just broadly. On Inauguration Day, we not only laid out our areas of coverage, but we also gave contact information for each of our reporters. And at the bottom of many of our stories now is a reporter’s contact info, and, crucially, an explanation of what information they’re seeking.

Do you have information about the Trump administration’s beachhead teams and their role at federal agencies? Contact Justin at or via Signal at 774-826-6240. Here is a guide for how to leak to ProPublica.

It’s not fancy, but it’s effective.

Sometimes readers don’t have insider tips, but they can still contribute. In February, a reader wrote us about a letter she received from Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt criticizing Obamacare. The letter was filled with misleading formation. We wondered if that was true of other congressional letters, so Charles Ornstein and Terry Parris Jr. asked readers to share any similar letters they’d gotten. Again, we coordinated to get the word out with other outlets: Vox, Kaiser Health News and STAT News. Readers sent in hundreds of letters. The result: We were able to lay out how legislators were sending their constituents correspondence “full of lies and misinformation.”

Others are also embracing the approach, and getting results: Last month, the Trump administration disclosed donors who funded the president’s $100 million inauguration committee. The administration posted them as super-unhelpful, non-searchable PDFs. So reporters got together to fix that, turning the documents into data. Then, the Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie invited readers to dig in and background the donors. It turns out, some of the names were straight-up fake.

You Won’t Be Able to Neatly Plan and Package Your Stories — and That’s Okay

Just about the only certainty with this administration is that nobody knows what will happen. That means if you’re going to cover one of the most consequential stories of our time, you’re probably not going to be able to, say, carefully plot out a year’s worth of stories in advance.

But that doesn’t mean just writing what’s in front of you, either. In fact, it’s more crucial than ever to think carefully about which waters to swim in. You just may need to be at peace with the uncertainty about where exactly your coverage is heading. You may even have some false starts. And there’s no guarantee it will work at all.

Success will require the typical alchemy needed for great journalism ­— doggedness, imagination, and luck. It will also require a leap of faith. Making that leap seems only fair given the faith that readers have put in us.

What You Need To Know About Authoritarianism

What You Need To Know About Authoritarianism

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Amanda Taub was looking at her iPhone at 3 a.m. early this year — she was feeding her baby and just trying to stay awake. That’s when she stumbled on something that could explain what’s going on in our country. Taub, then a reporter for Vox, had found research about authoritarianism — not about political leaders who exhibit those traits, but rather about what triggers people to support them.

Her resulting article — The Rise of American Authoritarianism — detailed how economic, social, demographic and political trends have created a powerful force that could persist well past Donald Trump’s coming presidency.

Taub, now at The New York Times, spoke to us last week. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

There’s a simple way to test for authoritarian support — and it’s not by asking political questions:

You ask people four questions about their parenting preferences and they’re questions like, “Which is more important, for a child to be obedient or self-reliant?” They sound pretty neutral.

Obedience and self-reliance are things I think most people would say are good things. It doesn’t feel like a trick or a trap. But really they’re designed to figure out how important it is to people that there is a hierarchy of authority and people following rules. You can see how that would be something that would show up in parenting preferences.

That support becomes much more active in the face of perceived threats — physical, economic and cultural. And there are a lot of them nowadays:

We’ve been seeing a number of quite rapid social changes that researchers believe are the kind of thing that would activate authoritarians.

For the last couple of decades, immigrant communities in the United States have been spreading out throughout the country. We had a black President. We have had a number of other changes, including the way that the country’s economy is changing.

Any one of these things wouldn’t necessarily have that much of an effect on its own, but together, they mean that the country is going through really profound shifts. They are shifts that have had particular impact on the less educated white voters. What researchers believe is that those voters, the authoritarians among them, are particularly likely to seek out authoritarian leaders right now because the circumstances have put them under stress.

What the research suggests is that if you have that world view, you are particularly uncomfortable with people who are different, with outsiders, with what researchers often call “out groups.” Authoritarians are much more likely to find that threatening. That is really a key thing to understand about a lot of the things we’ve seen during this election.

Why it all goes beyond Trump — and how money pouring into politics has contributed:

This wasn’t an effect of just one politician, one celebrity or something like that. There was a real demand for this from a large chunk of the American voting public. What that suggested to me is that there would be an opening for other politicians like Trump to embrace that style of politics. I definitely still believe that, particularly because one of the things that tends to keep politics on a fairly even keel and makes really unusual events unusual is institutions.

For politics, one of the most important ones are political parties. Right now, political parties in the United States are quite weak. This is partly due to the way campaign finance works. There’s more and more money that circumvents the parties.

One thing that journalists should take from all this is, don’t assume there’s “some sort of law of physics” that democratic countries will stay that way:

One of the reasons why I call so many academics is this has happened in other parts of the world and this has happened in parts of history and so there’s a lot of knowledge out there. One of the most important things for us to do is to draw on the existing knowledge about what is important in political moments like this, what causes this kind of political behavior, where it can go and really make use of that and bring it to the public’s attention.

We can’t just assume that it’s some sort of law of physics that once a country is a democracy, it will stay that way.

It’s not just about holding powerful people to account. That’s always important, but it’s also about making clear to people the stakes of this. I think that’s not just about the current administration. One of the things that this research has made very clear to me is that this is not just a story about politicians. This is a story about the country and what is going on with the public and voters that we need to pay attention to.

Want to know more? Taub sent us a helpful reading list:

  • Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics,” by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler: This book is long and quite dense, but it’s a worthwhile read if you want to understand how authoritarian personality traits interact with American party politics.
  • Authoritarianism, Threat, and Americans’ Support for the War on Terror,” by Marc Hetherington and Elisabeth Suhay: I think that this is the other piece of the puzzle — a research paper that suggests that everyone becomes more likely to support authoritarian policies if they’re sufficiently scared — the difference between authoritarians and non-authoritarians is how easy it is to scare them, and what they find frightening.
  • Changing Places: Mapping the white British response to ethnic change,” by Eric Kaufmann and Gareth Harris. This report is about the United Kingdom, not the U.S. But white responses to ethnic change are also a factor in U.S. politics today, and Kaufmann and Harris have written an interesting and informative case study on that subject.
  • Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash,” by Pippa Norris and Ron Inglehart: Norris and Inglehart’s careful research suggests that support for Trump, Brexit, and other anti-immigrant populist politics in Europe isn’t the result of economic marginalization. Rather, it’s a backlash to cultural and social change.

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, check out How Journalists Need to Begin Imagining the Unimaginable.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gestures as he takes the stage at a “Thank You USA” tour rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S. December 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar