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Donald Trump

Donald Trump's presidency is unique in that he and his family have continued to pursue their business interests despite being in a position to influence policy in order to gain favorable treatment.

Though this does not imply he has done so, it still presents conflicts of interest to a degree not seen before in any president.

In addition, some of his businesses and those of his close associates are under investigation for fraudulent or criminal activity.

In this section we report on events related to extra-presidential activities of Trump and personal associates.

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Manafort indicted on NY fraud charges

2019-Mar-13By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former campaign manager has been indicted by a New York grand jury in connection with a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme.

Paul Manafort was charged with 16 counts including residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

The indictment was unsealed shortly after Manafort was sentenced to a total of 7-1/2 years in prison in two federal cases.

Former Trump attorney lays out possible Trump crimes

2019-Feb-27  (Updated: 2019-Mar-07)By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer has provided evidence that Trump may have broken campaign finance law, and indicated he may have committed other crimes as well.

Testifying before the House Oversight CommitteeMichael Cohen provided copies of two checks that he said were repayments for hush money he paid to cover up Trump's alleged sexual liaison with pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford.

One of the checks was signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg - the Trump Organization's chief financial officer.

The other was signed by Trump.

Payments possibly violated federal campaign laws

Cohen said Trump directed him to make payments to Clifford (who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels) and to Karen McDougal "for the principal purpose of influencing the [2016] election."

The payments would violate campaign finance laws if the money came from a corporation (in this case Trump's) and was used as part of his campaign.

The New York Times later reported that Trump signed at least six checks to Cohen while he was president.

More information from Cohen's testimony

Cohen also testified that Trump inflated and deflated the value of his assets in order to lower tax bills and insurance premiums and to obtain a bank loan, which might subject him to charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The hearing largely steered clear of matters related to the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, which is being handled by the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Still, Cohen did provide some new information:

o He said Trump knew in advance from his longtime adviser Roger Stone about WikiLeaks' release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

o He said Trump's lawyers changed his prepared testimony to Congress about how long negotiations continued for a Trump tower in Moscow. He also said Trump met with him at the White House to discuss his upcoming testimony. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of the Moscow deal.

o He said he briefed Trump Jr. and Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump about 10 times about the Moscow project, which appears to contradict Trump Jr.'s testimony under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

o He said the idea to provide a penthouse suite to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the proposed Moscow tower came from Trump associate Felix Sater.

o He said he has never been to the Czech Republic. A series of raw intelligence reports compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele claimed that Cohen met secretly with Kremlin representatives in Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen has long denied the allegation. However, he previously told the Wall Street Journal that he had been to Prague back in 2001, and said something similar to Mother Jones and the Washington Post. Lawmakers did not ask Cohen to explain the discrepancy.

Law requires Trump to disclose taxes. But go make him.

2019-Feb-26  (Updated: 2019-Feb-28)By: Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives is looking at ways to examine President Donald Trump's tax returns. The law says he can't refuse. But Trump's returns still might never see the light of day.

Why do we care?

Providing a tax history during an election provides a way for citizens to consider possible conflicts of interest a potential president might have.

Tax records also can shine light on illegal activity.

What about Trump?

Campaigning for and being president have been profitable to Trump in several ways. Much of that profit - especially that since he was inaugurated - could violate the Constitution's emoluments clauses.

Trump has not provided his tax records - making him the first president or major presidential candidate in recent history not to do so.

Trump repeatedly has said he can't release his taxes because they are being audited. However, nothing prevents someone from disclosing their own taxes - regardless of an audit. And in Congressional testimony on Feb. 27, Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen said he does not believe Trump's taxes are under audit in the first place.

How would Congress obtain his taxes? They simply ask.

The Internal Revenue Code allows the House House Ways and Means Committee to obtain the tax returns of any taxpayer from the Treasury Department - which is required by law to comply.

By default, the tax returns must stay within the committee. The committee can release them to the rest of Congress if there's a legitimate reason.

For the public to see them, they would need to be released by a committee that deals with taxes - meaning the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

But no guarantee of release

While the law provides no basis for an administration to refuse a request - and no previous administration has - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly has been working on plans to keep Trump's taxes hidden.

If the Treasury Department refuses to release Trump's returns, the House could subpoena them. If the subpoena is ignored, the House could sue. A court case - which ultimately might be resolved by the Supreme Court - could take years to conclude.

House to investigate possible Trump money laundering

2019-Feb-07By: Rob Dennis

The House Intelligence Committee will investigate "credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise" involving President Donald Trump and his associates.

It is one of five threads that will be explored by the committee as part of a re-launched investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Republicans made up the majority of the committee last year, and shut down the investigation then. They also issued a report (without involvement from committee Democrats) claiming Russia didn't interfere to help Trump.

This contradicted reports from the intelligence community and from the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Investigations revived after Democrats became majority party in House

Rep. Adam Schiff, who took over as chair of the committee in January, announced the scope of the forthcoming probe on Feb. 6.

The investigation will include:

o The degree of the Russian government's operations to influence the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 election.

o Links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with Donald Trump's campaign, administration, or business interests.

o Whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.

o Whether Trump, his family, or his associates have been vulnerable to foreign exploitation or coercion, or have sought to influence U.S. government policy for the benefit of foreign interests.

o Whether any actors - foreign or domestic - sought to impede authorized investigations into these matters, including those in the Congress.

Schiff also said he will give Mueller transcripts of interviews with more than 50 witnesses already conducted by the committee. The special counsel would need the official transcripts if he plans to charge more witnesses with lying to the committee.

Two of Trump's associates - Michael Cohen and Roger Stone - both were charged with making false statements to Congress because of their testimony to the committee. 

Trump defends Saudis while taking their money

2018-Dec-10By: Rob Dennis

Even after Congress accused the Saudi Arabian government of murdering Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and the CIA came to the same conclusion, President Trump continued to defend the Saudis.

Meanwhile, Trump's businesses have raked in Saudi cash.

Saudis have spent millions on Trump hotels

The month after Trump's election, lobbyists representing the Saudi Arabian government spent more than a quarter-million dollars over a three-month period at Trump's hotel in Washington, D.C.

The bookings, from December 2016 to February 2017, accounted for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel, the Washington Post reported. They were part of an arrangement in which military veterans were offered a free trip to Washington, D.C.

The veterans were brought there to lobby against a law that allowed victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi government.

Other Trump hotels also have benefited from Saudi customers.

o Saudi bookings at Trump Chicago increased from 81 "room-nights" in the first half of 2016 to 218 in the first half of 2018.

o At Trump's hotel on Manhattan's Central Park West (which the president manages but doesn't own), a single stay in March 2018 by Saudi customers traveling with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helped turn a profit for the quarter.

Transactions like these have fueled lawsuits and questions about whether Trump's business interests are influencing his foreign policy.

Saudi money comes from more than hotels

Trump has a long history of lucrative business deals with Saudis:

o In 1991, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal agreed to buy Trump's 280-foot yacht for $20 million at a time when Trump was "teetering on personal bankruptcy and scrambling to raise cash" because of failed casino projects.

o In 1995, Prince Alwaleed joined other investors to pay $325 million for Trump's Plaza Hotel in New York, which was losing money at the time.

o In 2001, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia paid $4.5 million for the entire 45th Floor of Trump World Tower in New York.

Familiar relationship

Muhammed also has developed a close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and White House senior staff member. The two continued to speak informally after Khashoggi's killing and Kushner offered Muhammed "advice about how to weather the storm," the New York Times reported.

NYT: Trump fortune built on fraud, cost gov't half billion

2018-Oct-15By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's father made him wealthy, and Trump helped his parents defraud the U.S. government out of nearly a half-billion dollars, according to a New York Times investigation based on tax returns and financial records.

The Times investigation documented almost 300 streams of revenue that Trump's father - Fred Trump - created to enrich Trump. According to the report...

o Trump inherited more than $400 million in today's dollars, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day. By age 3, he was earning $200,000 a year from his father's businesses. By age 8, he was a millionaire.

o Later, Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions, submitted tax returns that "grossly undervalued" inherited properties, and helped set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts.

o Trump's parents transferred more than $1 billion to their children. This could have resulted in a tax bill of at least $550 million. Instead, the Trumps paid approximately $50 million.

The findings contradict Trump's decades-long claims to be a self-made businessman, building his real-estate empire with only a $1 million loan from his father. Aside from the inherited millions, Fred Trump made his son a salaried employee, property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He paid for Trump's car, employees, offices and other expenses. He also bailed out Trump's business failures.

"The reporting makes clear that in every era of Mr. Trump's life, his finances were deeply intertwined with, and dependent on, his father's wealth," the Times wrote.

It's unlikely that Trump would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution because of statutes of limitations. There is no time limit, however, on civil fines for tax fraud.

Former Trump campaign head pleads guilty, will cooperate

2018-Sep-14  (Updated: 2018-Mar-13)By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former campaign chair has pleaded guilty to two felonies and will cooperate with the special counsel investigating Russia's efforts to help Trump win the 2016 election.

Paul Manafort, who was part of the Trump campaign for six months in 2016, already had been convicted of eight financial crimes. He faced another trial for money laundering and other charges, as well as a potential re-trial for the 10 charges a jury could not decide on. The charges stem from Manafort's decade-long work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

As part of this plea deal, Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy against the United States, covering offenses ranging from money laundering to witness tampering. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Manafort's cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could provide details about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians tied to the Kremlin, including:

o Events surrounding a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower in New York between senior campaign officials and a Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. In addition to Manafort, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner attended the meeting. A former Soviet counterintelligence officer and a Soviet-born financier who once was the focus of a congressional probe into money laundering also were present.

o Manafort's own contacts during the campaign with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Manafort's longtime business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. In a court filing, prosecutors claimed a man matching Kilimnik's description has ongoing ties to Russian intelligence.

Four other Trump aides have pleaded guilty to various charges and agreed to cooperate with Mueller:

o Former campaign aide and national security adviser Michael Flynn.
o Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos.
o Former campaign aide Rick Gates.
o Former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Update 2019-March-13: Manafort has been sentenced to 73 months in prison. Thirty of those months will run concurrently with his previous sentence, bringing his total sentence to 7-1/2 years.

Trump's former campaign manager convicted

2018-Aug-21  (Updated: 2019-Mar-07)By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump's former campaign manager has been convicted of eight financial crimes in a federal court.

Paul Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign financial account. The most serious of these charges carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

The case was brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Although the charges did not directly address Russian collusion, they stem from Manafort's work for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

The jury deadlocked on 10 other counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. One of the jurors later said that all jurors except one felt Manafort should have been convicted on all counts. Prosecutors have the option to retry him on those charges.

While the full jury couldn't agree on those 10 counts, the charges still could be used to help determine the length of Manafort's sentence.

Manafort faces a second criminal trial next month in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent, and obstruction of justice.

Update 2019-March-7: Manafort has been sentenced to 47 months in prison.

Trump's former lawyer pleads guilty, implicates president in felonies

2018-Aug-21By: Rob Dennis

Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to illegally pay money to cover up for affairs Trump had, in order to influence the 2016 presidential election, the attorney testified in court.

Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney until May, implicated Trump while pleading guilty to eight felonies in federal court.

Two of the counts related to the payments to Stephanie Clifford (a porn actress who uses the name Stormy Daniels) and Karen McDougal.

The payments would violate campaign finance laws if the money came from a corporation (in this case Trump's) and was used as part of his campaign.

"I participated in this conduct ... for the principal purpose of influencing the election," Cohen testified in court.

Cohen also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion and one charge of making false statements to a bank. He faces five years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, although that could be reduced in exchange for his cooperation with Robert Mueller - the special counsel investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

After Cohen appeared in court, his attorney Lanny Davis said Cohen has knowledge of interest to Mueller and is "more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows."

Ivanka Trump trademarks come with China policy

2018-May-28  (Updated: 2019-Apr-06)By: Barry Shatzman

May 2018 was a busy month for President Donald Trump, his business, and his family.

In that month, Trump said he was working to restore 75,000 Chinese jobs by cancelling sanctions against Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, which had pleaded guilty to selling U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea.

Also in that month, the Chinese government loaned Trump's business $500 million for a project in Indonesia.

Also in that month, The Chinese government approved several trademark applications by Trump's daughter Ivanka.

The timing could be coincidental, and Ivanka Trump claims to not have a role in running her company while she works in the White House as an advisor to the president. But she still maintains a financial interest in her company.

One trademark is for voting machines

Ivanka Trump has received several other trademarks from China, including trademarks for sausage casings and voting machines.

She also received several trademarks from Russia during her father's presidential campaign and continuing into his presidency.

Trump's lawyer's company received millions in payments

2018-May-08  (Updated: 2018-May-17)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

A shell company run by Donald Trump's attorney Michael Cohen has been used to receive millions of dollars from Fortune 500 companies that lobby the government.

The shell company - Essential Consultants LLC - also was used by Cohen to pay pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford $130,000 to stay silent about a sexual relationship she claims to have had with Trump. But financial documents have revealed much more money coming into the company than going out.

Cohen created the company a month before Trump was elected president. It received the money from that time through early 2018.

The financial records were provided by Michael Avenatti - Clifford's attorney - and verified by several news organizations.

Payments to Cohen's company included...

o $1.2 million from the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

o $600,000 from telecommunications company AT&T.

o $150,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which is working with defense contractor Lockheed Martin in competing for a multibillion-dollar Air Force contract.

Cohen's company also received a $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova - a U.S. based company with deep ties to Russia.

How was this found out?

The information came from a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) filed by First Republic Bank in response to concern over the transactions. A Treasury Department official noticed two additional reports on Essential Consultants were missing from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database. He told The New Yorker he (likely illegally) released the document because he was concerned that it too would vanish.

RNC pays rent for Trump campaign - in Trump Tower

2018-Feb-23By: Barry Shatzman

The Republican National Committee (RNC) is paying the rent for Donald Trump's re-election campaign - in a building Trump owns.

Rent payments to New York's Trump tower - and thus to Trump - come to $37,000 monthly.

The payments started about two weeks after the RNC stopped paying Donald Trump's personal legal fees related to the investigation of his possible involvement in Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The RNC also is paying $12,000 monthly to John Pence (Vice President Mike Pence's nephew) and $15,000 monthly to Trump's former bodyguard Keith Schiller.

In just the first half of 2017, Republican committees paid $1.3 million to Trump-owned businesses.

Trump's legal fees being paid by campaign funds

2017-Sep-19By: Barry Shatzman

If you donate to Donald Trump's re-election campaign, there's a chance he won't be using your money to buy more television ads. You might just be paying his personal legal bills.

The lawyers representing him in the probe of his possible involvement in Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election are being paid with campaign funds and by the Republican National Committee (RNC), Reuters reported.

Using the money this way is legal because Trump did not accept public financing for his campaign (neither did Hillary Clinton for hers). Candidates are allowed to use campaign funds to pay legal bills for issues arising from being a candidate or elected official. Typically the legal fees cover things such as election disputes.

Trump, however, is the first to use campaign money to pay legal fees for a criminal investigation, election law experts told Reuters.

Update 2017-Nov-17: The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee no longer are paying Trump's attorneys.

Trump profits most from his properties that he visits

2017-Jul-18  (Updated: 2018-Sep-15)By: Barry Shatzman

A federal judge has ordered the White House to disclose information about visitors to Mar-a-Lago - the Florida resort owned by President Donald Trump. The records must be made available by Sept. 8.

Trump has spent several weekends there since taking office and has conducted official U.S. business there. Aside from foreign leaders, it's not known who else has visited him there.

Trump has profited the most from his properties that he visits the most, according to financial disclosures he is required to file with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. They also have sued for information on visitors to Trump at the White House and Trump Tower - Trump's New York skyscraper that serves as his home and business headquarters.

Attorneys General sue Trump over business conflicts

2017-Jun-12  (Updated: 2018-Dec-03)By: Rob Dennis

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit claiming President Donald Trump has violated the Constitution by refusing to divest himself from his businesses.

The foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution prohibits federal officials from accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments. The domestic emoluments clause bars the president from receiving any government compensation other than a salary.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, both Democrats, said in the complaint that Trump has violated both emoluments clauses through purchases, leases and other business dealings at Trump properties around the world.

Trump has refused to divest himself of his assets, instead moving them into a trust controlled by Allen Weisselberg - his chief financial officer - and two of Trump's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.

The trust's purpose, it states, "is to hold assets for the benefit of Donald J. Trump." Trump can withdraw money at any time.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a separate lawsuit against Trump on the same grounds.

Update 2018-Nov-3: A federal judge ruled that the lawsuit can proceed.

Update 2018-Dec-3: Subpoenas are expected to be issued focusing on the Trump International Hotel near the White House.

House vote shows who doesn't want Trump's tax returns

2017-Feb-27  (Updated: 2017-Mar-05)By: Barry Shatzman

The House of Representatives voted to not compel President Trump to provide 10 years of tax returns.

The proposal by Rep. Bill Pascrell would have directed the House to request the returns, which would have been examined in a closed session of the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee then would have decided whether to have the full House review them.

Democrats requested a roll call vote in order to hold each representative accountable for their position. What they got instead - a roll call vote to table (avoid) the roll call vote on the request - painted the exact same picture. It just obscures the title because there is no mention of what the vote was for.

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