Introduction - the New York Times Notes Trump's History of Impunity
In today's New York Times, and article entitled "New Trump Charges Highlight Long-Running Questions About Obstruction" touched on former President Donald Trump's long history
of gamesmanship on his part with prosecutors, regulators and others who have the ability to impose penalties on his conduct.
in the context of the recent charges of obstruction of justice after the Department of Justice found he had absconded to Mar-a-Lago with multiple confidential government documents, then tried to cover this up.
The article further stated that "over many decades" Trump
engaged in gamesmanship with prosecutors, regulators and officials who had authority in aspects of the industries in which he operated. He lived in a New York City where corruption touched aspects of the political and government establishments and the real-estate construction businesses, and he came to believe that everything could be worked out through some kind of deal
However, it provided no detail about how he had maintained his impunity over his long career prior to winning the presidency in 2016.
Yet, by early in that presidency, there was substantial documentation of this impunity. In fact, in 2018, our post "A Higher Impunity - How Can we Reduce Health Care Leadership's Impunity When the President Claims His Own Impunity? summarized the best documented cases. So to supplement the NYT article, I have re-upped the relevant content of that post below.
Examples of Donald Trump and Family's Apparent Impunity Before He Became President
As a wealthy businessman, Donald Trump and his family were often linked to apparently illegal activities, but seemed to avoid any intensive investigation, much less negative consequences.
A 2016 Politico article cataloged Trump's ties to organized crime, and found "Some of Trump’s unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven’t." Also,
Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.We have found numerous examples, which are below listed chronologically according to the time of occurrence of relevant events.
Trump Accused of Lying to Federal Investigators about his Mafia Connections in the 1980s
A WNYC piece from October, 2016, was based on an interview with a federal prosecutor who had investigated organized crime in the 1980s,
Attorney Kenneth McCallion was one of the federal prosecutors involved in that investigation. He says there appeared to be a sweetheart deal between the Teamsters Local 282 and Trump, where Trump would get a promise of cooperation from organized labor—including breaking up any strikes by minority workers—in exchange for no-show jobs, a lucrative concrete contract and a luxury apartment for the union president's girlfriend.Trump Accused in Legal Papers of Accepting Kickbacks, but the Charges were not Investigated
'After we indicted them, the Teamster leaders called a citywide strike, but there were two job sites they exempted from that. One was Trump Tower and the other was Trump Plaza,' McCallion said.
Yet despite this, Trump was never prosecuted.
'Even though Donald Trump lied to law enforcement about his relationship and lying to federal agents is a federal crime, he basically got a pass at that point,' he said.
The 2016 Politico article also noted:
[An associate of a convicted racketeer] in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could 'be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation' into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars.No further investigation ensued.
After a Judge Found that he Conspired to Violate Fiduciary Duty and Committed Fraud, Trump was able to Settle with Details Sealed
Again in Politico,
In 1991, a federal judge, Charles E. Stewart Jr., ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty, or duty of loyalty, to the workers and their union and that the 'breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in his breach.' The judge did not find Trump’s testimony to be sufficiently credible and set damages at $325,000. The case was later settled by negotiation, and the agreement was sealed.It is not clear that Trump was personally responsible for paying whatever the settlement entailed. No criminal charges apparently followed.
Applying for a Casino License, Trump Failed to Disclose he was Under Grand Jury Investigation, but Later Kept his License
As also reported by Politico, when Trump was trying to obtain a license for a New Jersey gambling casino,
Trump was required to disclose any investigations in which he might have been involved in the past, even if they never resulted in charges. Trump didn’t disclose a federal grand jury inquiry into how he obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan. The failure to disclose either that inquiry or the Cody inquiry probably should have disqualified Trump from receiving a license under the standards set by the gaming authorities.But it didn't. And despite the fact that
Once Trump was licensed in 1982, critical facts that should have resulted in license denial began emerging in Trump’s own books and in reports by Barrett—an embarrassment for the licensing commission and state investigators, who were supposed to have turned these stones over. Forced after the fact to look into Trump’s connections, the two federal investigations he failed to reveal and other matters, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement investigators circled the wagons to defend their work. First they dismissed as unreliable what mobsters, corrupt union bosses and Trump’s biggest customer, among others, had said to Barrett, to me and other journalists and filmmakers about their dealings with Trump. The investigators’ reports showed that they then put Trump under oath. Trump denied any misconduct or testified that he could not remember. They took him at his word. That meant his casino license was secure even though others in the gambling industry, including low-level licensees like card dealers, had been thrown out for far less.Trump's Casino Company Paid Multiple Fines for Violating Regulations, but Trump was not Personally Sanctioned
An Atlantic article from January, 2017, stated,
Trump has been repeatedly fined for breaking rules related to his operation of casinos. In 1990, with Trump Taj Mahal in trouble, Trump’s father Fred strolled in and bought 700 chips worth a total of $3.5 million. The purchase helped the casino pay debt that was due, but because Fred Trump had no plans to gamble, the New Jersey gaming commission ruled that it was a loan that violated operating rules. Trump paid a $30,000 fine; in the end, the loan didn’t prevent a bankruptcy the following year. As noted above, New Jersey also fined Trump $200,000 for arranging to keep black employees away from mafioso Robert LiButti’s gambling table. In 1991, the Casino Control Commission fined Trump’s company another $450,000 for buying LiButti nine luxury cars. And in 2000, Trump was fined $250,000 for breaking New York state law in lobbying to prevent an Indian casino from opening in the Catskills, for fear it would compete against his Atlantic City casinos.Also, while Trump was attempting a hostile take-over of a rival casino,
the Federal Trade Commission fined him $750,000 for failing to disclose his purchases of stock in the two companies, which exceeded minimum disclosure levels.Trump and Family were Accused of Self-Dealing and Accepting Illegal Donations while Operating the Trump Foundation, but were not Individually Penalized
Also reported by the Atlantic,
The [Trump] foundation appears to have broken IRS rules on 'self-dealing” by paying to resolve the legal disputes as well as buying a portrait of Trump and a Tim Tebow helmet that went back to the Trump family. In November, in tax filings posted online, the Trump Foundation said it had violated self-dealing rules in 2015 and in previous, indeterminate, years. On the donation, Trump and Bondi both say there was no quid-pro-quo, but the donation was an illegal one for a charitable nonprofit, and the foundation had to pay a $2,500 fine. Liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charges other laws may have been broken as well. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reportedly launched an investigation into the foundation. Schneiderman has also informed the foundation that it is in violation of rules on fundraising and ordered it to quit. Trump has announced plans to shutter his foundation, but reportedly cannot do so while it is under investigation.Yet so far no person has been charged with any related violations. Note that it appears that Trump may have had leverage on Mr Schneiderman, who has now resigned (see below). Although there were reports in 2017 that the Foundation was going to shut down, as of March, 2018, according to an article in The Hill, the ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was still trying to get records related to the self-dealing described above from the leadership of the apparently still existing foundation (look here).
Trump's Taj Mahal Casino Was Fined for Breaking Rules about Money Laundering, but Trump Paid no Penalties
A May, 2017, CNN story stated,
The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement.There is no record suggesting anyone looked into Trump's involvement with these violations. Note that
It's a bit of forgotten history that's buried in federal records held by an investigative unit of the Treasury Department, records that congressional committees investigating Trump's ties to Russia have obtained access to, CNN has learned.
The casino repeatedly failed to properly report gamblers who cashed out $10,000 or more in a single day, the government said.
Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000 fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.
The 1998 settlement was publicly reported at the time, and the Associated Press noted it was the largest fine the federal government ever slapped on a casino for violating the Bank Secrecy Act.However,
But key details of the casino's cash reporting violations are missing from the publicly released documents, including the identities of the gamblers and casino employees involved in the transactions.Then, in 2015, FINCEN publicly announced:
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today imposed a $10 million civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (Trump Taj Mahal), for willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). In addition to the civil money penalty, the casino is required to conduct periodic external audits to examine its anti-money laundering (AML) BSA compliance program and provide those audit reports to FinCEN and the casino’s Board of Directors.Again, there is no record of any negative consequences for Mr Trump
Trump Taj Mahal, a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to several willful BSA violations, including violations of AML program requirements, reporting obligations, and recordkeeping requirements. Trump Taj Mahal has a long history of prior, repeated BSA violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003. Additionally, in 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.
'Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,' said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. 'Like all casinos in this country, Trump Taj Mahal has a duty to help protect our financial system from being exploited by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors. Far from meeting these expectations, poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.'
Trump Taj Mahal admitted that it failed to implement and maintain an effective AML program; failed to report suspicious transactions; failed to properly file required currency transaction reports; and failed to keep appropriate records as required by the BSA. Notably, Trump Taj Mahal had ample notice of these deficiencies as many of the violations from 2012 and 2010 were discovered in previous examinations.
Trump Made False Statements Under Oath, but was not Charged with Perjury
A Mother Jones article published February, 2016, recounted that in connection with a libel suit Mr Trump filed against journalist Timothy O'Brien alleging O'Brien under-reported Mr Trump's wealth,
In 2007—two years before a New Jersey judge tossed out the case—Trump was questioned during a deposition. Over the course of the two-day-long interrogation, Trump was forced repeatedly to acknowledge having made false statements. And at one point, a lawyer for O’Brien and his publisher asked Trump a straightforward question: Have you ever before associated with individuals you knew were associated with organized crime?'Also,
Trump, who was testifying under oath, answered, 'Not that I know of.'
That was a clear and unequivocal response. But it was not true. Two years earlier, O’Brien had interviewed Trump and specifically asked him about Sullivan and Shapiro. O’Brien, now an editor and writer at Bloomberg, has provided Mother Jones with a transcript of the interview, and it conclusively shows that Trump believed that these two men were associated with organized crime....
Trump: They were tough guys. In fact, they say that Dan Sullivan was the guy that killed Jimmy Hoffa. I don’t know if you ever heard that.
O’Brien: I have heard that. And that he was, you know…
Trump: I just was able to handle them. And I, really, I was able to handle them. I found Sullivan to be the tougher of the two. I started hearing reports about Sullivan, that he killed Jimmy Hoffa….Also,
O’Brien: What was Shapiro like?The same article also asserted that Trump lied in a deposition about knowing and working with Felix Sater, who who "had once been involved in a Mafia-linked stock swindle," and who "had worked with the Trump Organization."
Trump: He was like a third-rate, local, real estate mob guy. Nothing spectacular. And I, you know, I got lucky. I heard a rumor that Sullivan, because Sullivan was a great con man, I heard a rumor that Sullivan killed Jimmy Hoffa. And because I heard that rumor I kept my guard up. You know, I said, 'Hey, I don’t want to be friends with this guy.'
So here was Trump connecting Sullivan to the Hoffa murder and calling Shapiro a 'mob guy.'
Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr Escaped Indictment for Fraud
As reported by the New Yorker in October, 2017, despite considerable evidence that the two children of Donald Trump had misled potential buyers of Trump SoHo condominiums, Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney overruled his staff by halting an investigation of them in 2010. Later, the Trumps' attorney, Marc Kasowitz, made a large donation to Mr Vance's campaign.
Trump University Settled Fraud Allegations, Trump Not Charged
As reported by the New York Times in 2017, "the final settlement of allegations that 'Trump University students had been cheated out of thousands of dollars in tuition through high-pressure sales techniques and false claims about what they would learn" was approved by a judge. Litigation about these allegations had gone on for years, but after his election in November, Mr. Trump reversed course and agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the litigation. He did not admit fault, and he maintained in posts on Twitter after the settlement announcement that he "did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U."
The settlement resolved lawsuits brought by the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, among others. However, Mr Trump was never charged with a crime by Mr Schneiderman among others. There is some reason to think Mr Trump took actions to ensure his impunity.
According to Bloomberg on May 11, 2018,
Back in 2013, Donald Trump was exploring a presidential run. His Trump University was in the crosshairs of New York’s crusading attorney general. Around the same time, Trump and his personal lawyer got an interesting piece of information: Eric Schneiderman, the AG, was accused of sexually abusing two women.The details of the accusations were not made public at that time, but later,
Trump took aim at Schneiderman in a tweet on Sept. 11, 2013, that also referred to New York politicians who’d resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.
'Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone -- next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner,' Trump tweeted.
Mr Schneiderman never brought criminal charges against Mr Trump. Could
it be that he was made aware that Trump had information about
Schneiderman's sexual behavior that he could use against him? This
month, the allegations of his sexual misconduct were finally made public
and he then resigned. The settlement, again absent any charges against
Mr Trump, was approved in March, 2017.
Summary of Trump's Pre-Presidency Impunity
While Trump's firms have had to pay multiple fines for breaking rules and laws, and Trump and the immediate family members who work with him in the Trump Organization were credibly accused of multiple types of wrong-doing, including various apparent crimes, neither Trump nor his family members were ever indicted, or apparently investigated for crimes.
We concluded our 2018 post by summarizing how Trump's record of impunity made it much more difficult to push to address health care corruption and related issues. But since 2018, we have become more aware of the multitudinous effects that Trump's corruption has degraded our society and representative democracy. Lately, some have suggested that Trump would drag us into authoritarianism if not fascism simply to keep his sorry self out of jail. See, for example, Netanyahu and Trump: two desperate men exploiting power to save themselves.
There were examples going back decades showing how Trump eluded accountability and justice by manipulating the system. They were reported at the times they occurred, recalled by journalists before and soon after Trump's 2016 election victory, and largely ignored.
Maybe if we as a society had been paying better attention, we would all be in a better place today.