Trump’s 2020 Campaign Has Reportedly Funneled Over $1 Million Into His Own Businesses

Federal election filings analyzed by Forbes say that Trump’s 2020 campaign has raked in millions of dollar from donors while Trump himself has converted at least $1.1 million of those donor funds into his own money by charging “the campaign for hotels, food, rent and legal consulting.”

Trump Tower Commercial LLC is a New York State-based entity owned by the 45th president. As of the latest campaign finance filing, the entity had charged Trump’s re-election campaign at least $665,000 in rent. An additional $225,000 in rent payments have been made to this entity through a similar arrangement with the Republican National Committee (RNC).

The extent of the space currently being rented by the 2020 campaign and the RNC is currently unknown but reporter Dan Alexander‘s reporting suggests one of two things: an extreme amount of real estate is currently being occupied–or the Trump Tower business is heavily inflating real estate prices.

Per Forbes:

Leading up to the 2016 election, the president’s campaign paid an average of $2,700 in monthly Trump Tower rent for every person listed in campaign filings as receiving a “payroll” payment. The 2020 operation, by contrast, is shelling out an average of $6,300 in monthly rent for every such person.

And that’s not all.

There’s also the matter of a separate Trump-owned and New York State-based entity known as Trump Plaza LLC. This entity currently controls a retail space, a parking garage, and two medium-sized apartment buildings.

According to federal filings, the Trump 2020 campaign has paid Trump Plaza LLC at least $42,000 in rent since November 2017–but, according to Forbes, there doesn’t appear to be any campaign activity occurring on any such property owned by the entity.

For one, the retail space simply has nothing campaign-related going on whatsoever. Same goes for the parking garage–which appears to be sub-leased to a non-Trump company at present. As for the apartment buildings? It doesn’t look like there’s any campaign-related activity happening there either.

Again, Alexander’s report:

Forbes staked out the buildings, arriving at 7:15 a.m. one November morning and staying for the next 14 hours, with the exception of an 18-minute break around 3 p.m. By our count, seven people went in and out of the twin, four-story brownstones over the course of the day. One refused to talk, and six said they had not seen any sign of the campaign in the buildings. Nor had a man behind the front desk at Trump Plaza. “I’ve been here since the beginning,” he said. “If there was any kind of office rented out for campaigning or whatever, I would know about it.”

The report goes on to speculate that it’s “unlikely” Trump’s 2020 campaign would simply hand cash over to the president for “nothing in return,” and cites an unnamed Trump 2016 staffer who said that Trump Plaza apartments would occasionally serve as crash pads for Trump campaign staff. If that’s the case, of course, it would be a lot cheaper to occasionally rent hotel rooms, but, Alexander notes, “that would not guarantee a steady stream of rent for the president.”

Breaking down that revenue stream is also illustrative.

Since Trump Plaza LLC began charging Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign “rent” in November 2017,  such payments have averaged out to some $4,200 per month. Those amounts appear to be quite a bit above market value.

According to Forbes‘ recent perusal of real estate website StreetEasy, recent rents in the same brownstone apartments have gone for $3,700 and $3,850–substantially lower prices (especially in the fiercely competitive Manhattan real estate market) than what Trump’s campaign has been paying the president’s own business for alleged campaign use of those circumspect properties.

And even if it doesn’t seem like much of up-charge? According to Federal Election Commission rules, campaigns are supposed to pay “fair market value” for all goods and services they use–especially when they use and pay their own businesses.

[Law and Crime, Inquisitr]

Saudi-Funded Lobbyists Paid For 500 Nights At Trump D.C. Hotel Right After Election

Saudi Arabia-funded lobbyists paid for rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel within a month of the 2016 presidential election and kept coming back, racking up more than 500 nights worth of rooms in three months, The Washington Post reported, citing documents and organizers of the stays.

The Saudi-backed organizers were putting up veterans who were offered a free trip to Washington to help lobby against a law that Saudi Arabia opposed, the Post reported.

(Read the full Washington Post story.)

The lobbyists at first were hosting veterans in northern Virginia, but switched to the Trump hotel in December 2016. One organizer said the move was because the Trump International Hotel offered a discount from the usual $768 a night rate, and denied it was to try to gain favor with Trump.

But some of the vets the Post interviewed said they felt like they were being used twice ― to lobby for Saudi Arabia, and then again to bring business to Trump.

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Navy veteran Henry Garcia. He went on three trips, and said that what made the Trump hotel trips different from trips with other veterans groups were the private rooms, open bars and free dinners.

“We’ve done hundreds of veterans events, and we’ve stayed in Holiday Inns and eaten Ritz Crackers and lemonade. And we’re staying in this hotel that costs $500 a night,” said Marine veteran Dan Cord.

Trump’s business interests are in the spotlight once again as the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general served subpoenas on the Trump Organization and a dozen related businesses on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The subpoenas are seeking business documents that may show foreign payments to the hotel.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump is profiting from foreign and state spending at his D.C. hotel, in violation of the Constitution’s ban on gifts from foreign governments. The Justice Department has signaled it may try to fight the evidence-gathering process.

Trump has defended the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even after intelligence agencies fingered the prince in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi royal family and its allies have spent tens of millions on Trump hotels and condos.

[Huffington Post]

New emails show Trump’s unqualified Mar-a-Lago buddies are influencing VA policies

A new batch of emails obtained by Pro Publica show that three members of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort are influencing contract and budget decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs — despite being completely unqualified to do so.

The emails show that the three Mar-a-Lago members — Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, West Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz and lawyer Marc Sherman — were involved in “some of the agency’s most consequential matters, most notably a multibillion-dollar effort to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans,” Pro Publica writes.

According to Pro Publica, the trio reviewed a draft of a $10 billion contract to overhaul the VA’s electronic medical records system, and they were listed among 40 different outside “experts” consulted for the contract despite lacking “any relevant expertise.”

Additionally, the emails show that Moskowitz used his position as an adviser to get the VA to adopt his mobile medical app, even though IT officials at the VA said that the app had serious functionality problems. In fact, one email shows that a VA IT official believed that “some of the code needs to be refactored and even rebuilt” for the app to work properly.

Moskowitz even recruited his son, Aaron Moskowitz, to pitch the benefits of the app during a conference between the VA and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple experts similarly pushed back on Moskowitz’s mobile app and said that “the national databases needed to make the app accurate didn’t exist,” Pro Publica writes.

[Raw Story]

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from D.C. hotel in 2017

President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million in profit last year off her stake in the Trump International Hotel, while taking in at least $5 million from businesses connected to her personal brand, a newly released financial disclosure shows.

Ivanka Trump also reported taking in about $2 million in 2017 pay and severance from an entity called the Trump Payroll Corp., the disclosure said.

She received $289,000 in an advance for her book published last year, “Women Who Work,” and donated those funds to a charitable trust she oversees that “will make grants to organizations that empower and educate women and girls.” There was no indication that she received royalties in connection with the book in 2017.

The figures come from forms that high-ranking and highly paid federal employees are required to file every year in May.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are serving as senior advisers to the president without pay, but they have agreed to abide by ethics requirements for senior White House staff.

On Monday, as President Trump was in Singapore for the high-profile summit with North Korea‘s leader, Kim Jong Un, the White House began releasing the forms covering last year.

Ivanka Trump’s reported income from the hotel in calendar year 2017 was up substantially from a report she filed last spring showing about $2.4 million in income from the hotel since it opened in September 2016.

The forms provide only limited insight into the finances of individuals as wealthy as Ivanka Trump and Kushner. Amounts are typically reported in broad ranges. Also complicating comparisons is the fact that last year’s filings for new government staffers covered a 16-month period.

Disclosure forms filed earlier this year appeared to show an uptick in the couple’s debts as they entered the White House last year. It’s unclear whether that trend continued through the end of the year.

The president’s son-in-law’s filing no longer lists under assets or income his role with Observer Media, the New York-based online news organization he founded in 2007. Kushner reported earning $4.5 million from advertising revenue at the company in 2017 but stepped down last January when he joined the Trump White House.

In this year’s form, Kushner said he divested his ownership in Observer Media, though he also reported making between $100,001 and $1 million in capital gains. Kushner’s form says he does still own between $5,000,001 and $25,000,000 in stock shares for Source Media Holdings, a digital media company owned by Observer Capital that serves business professionals working in the financial, technology and health care sectors.

President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, reported taking in $569,423 in salary from Fox News from the beginning of last year until he joined the White House in April.

Bolton also earned nearly $750,000 in speaking fees during the same period — $115,000 for speaking to conferences sponsored by the Ukrainian steel mogul Victor Pinchuk.

Pinchuk’s donations of more than $13 million to the Clinton Foundation drew criticism and, during the 2016 campaign, were painted by many Clinton critics as evidence of corruption.

In September 2015, then-candidate Trump spoke to a Pinchuk conference in Kiev in exchange for a $150,000 donation to the Donald J. Trump foundation.

Bolton’s highest reported fee for a single speech, $100,000, came in May 2017 while receiving a Guardian of Zion award from the Rennert Center in Jerusalem. The next highest was a speech earlier that month to Deutsche Bank for $72,000, after a commission paid to his agent, the Washington Speakers Bureau.

[Politico]

Trump picks handbag designer, Mar-a-Lago member to be envoy to South Africa

President Donald Trump has nominated handbag designer Lana Marks to be the next US ambassador to South Africa.

Marks, a Florida resident and member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort, according to a source familiar with the club, was born and raised in South Africa, where she attended the University of the Witwatersrand and the Institute of Personnel Management in Johannesburg, the White House said in a statement.

Marks is photographed and quoted giving a warm testimonial on the website of Mar-a-Lago’s official photographer, saying she had captured her daughter’s wedding at the club “in a very special way.”

Marks is known for luxury handbags in exotic animal skins, such as ostrich and alligator, with prices that can hover above $19,000. One of her more expensive creations, a $400,000 clutch, has been carried on the red carpet. The designer’s website features photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston carrying her goods and says her accessories have become a favorite among “royalty and entertainment style makers.”

Ballet and tennis

Described by the Palm Beach Daily as “like Trump, a relentless self-promoter,” Marks speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, two of South Africa’s languages, according to the White House.

Her website chronicles an upbringing that included studying at the Royal Academy of Ballet. The concept for starting an exotic leather handbag line came, the site says, when Marks couldn’t find a bag to match the suit she planned to wear to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth. According to her Instagram accountshe attempted to qualify for the French Open tennis tournament in 1978.

Marks’ site also notes that she was appointed to the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government, which supports the Women and Public Policy Program. Both the board and the program focus on gender equality and improving lives around the world, the Harvard site says. The Harvard site notes that board members “engage philanthropically” with the policy program “through three annual giving tiers.”

Board members provide a minimum annual gift of $10,000 per individual member, $20,000 per Leadership Circle member and $25,000 per corporation.

[CNN]

Trump properties received $3.2 million during midterms, FEC records show

Campaigns and PACs spent at least $3.2 million at Trump-owned and branded properties throughout the two-year midterm election cycle, a CNN analysis of Federal Election Commission filings shows. And the total could rise after post-election financial reports are published by the commission.

No single group spent more than the Republican National Committee, which spent at least $1.2 million at the properties since the start of 2017.
About half of the RNC spending came in two installments — $367,000 for travel expenses at Trump National Doral Miami in mid-June, after the group’s spring meetings at the Florida club, and $222,000 for “venue rental and catering” at Mar-A-Lago in March connected to fundraising events at the resort.
Trump’s own presidential reelection campaign was also among the groups spending the most at Trump properties throughout 2017 and 2018, despite not being on the ballot. The campaign has spent more than $950,000 at Trump properties since the start of 2017.
And America First Action — a pro-Trump super PAC founded early in 2017 and funded primarily by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson — was another top patron of Trump properties, dropping at least $360,000 throughout the cycle.
Overall, the $3.2 million in spending at Trump properties during the midterms was down slightly from the 2016 presidential cycle. Between 2015 and 2016, Trump properties raked in at least $3.7 million from campaigns and PACs, with the Trump campaign itself accounting for north of $2 million of the spending during that cycle. That included rent paid from the campaign to the Trump Organization for its headquarters space in Trump Tower, floors below Trump’s office and penthouse apartment.
In 2018, the spending has gone to a mix of venue rental, catering, and travel expenses across multiple properties. Trump Tower in New York has drawn nearly $740,000; the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, has drawn $1.4 million; and a pair of Trump’s Florida properties, Mar-A-Lago and Trump National Doral, have drawn nearly $1 million combined.
In response to a request for comment on RNC spending at the properties, an RNC official said donors enjoy visiting Trump properties, and also pointed to security, convenience and price as factors in the committee’s decision-making.
The official added that Trump properties are often cheaper to rent than other venues, noting that the FEC demands the RNC receive market rates.
A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
After Trump was elected President, he placed his business into a trust controlled by his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, but did not liquidate his holdings or let an independent manager handle the trust without his knowledge — the approach favored by past presidents and by ethics experts, because it separates the President’s personal profit motive from his decisions on behalf of the government.
The setup has drawn criticism from ethics watchdogs, who say it allows for the appearance of a conflict of interest. The Trump administration has consistently defended the legality of the arrangement.
House Democrats, newly in control of the chamber, have vowed to bring investigations into Trump’s businesses in the coming congressional session.

[CNN]

Trump on prospect of Dems demanding his tax returns: ‘They can do whatever they want’

President Trump on Monday downplayed the possibility that Democrats could demand his tax returns if they retake control of the House in Tuesday’s elections.

“I don’t care. They can do whatever they want and I can do whatever I want,” Trump said when asked if he was concerned Democrats may go after his tax returns if they win the majority.

Trump spoke to reporters upon arriving in Fort Wayne, Ind., for one of three campaign rallies he was set to hold on Monday. He suggested that a Democratic majority would force the White House to “have to work a little bit differently.”

“It’ll all work out but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Trump said, expressing confidence in Republicans’ chances on Tuesday. “I think we’re doing very well in the House. I think we’re doing very well in the Senate.”

Democrats and critics of the president have suggested that Trump’s tax returns could reveal potential conflicts of interest, and liberal groups have urged Democratic lawmakers to demand the president’s filings should they regain control of the House.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last month that compelling Trump to turn over his tax returns would be “one of the first things we’d do” if Democrats win back the House majority.

Under federal tax law, the chairmen of congressional tax committees can request tax returns from the Treasury Department and review them in a closed session before voting to make all or parts of the returns public.

While Trump may protest such a request, the decision would ultimately fall to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Mnuchin told The New York Times earlier this month that he would work with the department’s general counsel and the general counsel for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to address any requests should Democrats win the House.

The president broke with decades of precedent when he opted not to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The White House has repeatedly brushed off questions about releasing Trump’s taxes after the election, claiming the documents were under audit and therefore could not be made public. Financial experts, reporters and lawmakers have noted that the president could still request that they be released.

Calls for Trump to release his returns intensified following a New York Times report that cited records and interviews indicating the president engaged in “dubious” tax practices to shield income from his father’s real estate empire from taxes. Trump and the White House blasted the story, though they did not refute specific claims.

[The Hill]

Inspector general: Zinke used taxpayer-funded travel for his wife

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department travel policies by bringing his family members in government-owned vehicles, the agency’s internal watchdog concluded on Thursday.

The Interior Department’s inspector general (OIG) found in a new report that Zinke and his wife Lolita brought a Park Police security detail on a vacation, costing more than $25,000, though there was no policy prohibiting it.

Despite a policy stating that people not engaged in government business cannot ride in Interior vehicles, “we found that Secretary Zinke’s wife and other family members had occasionally ridden with him in government vehicles,” OIG investigators said in a their report late Thursday.

The report said that despite the prohibition, the Interior solicitor’s office approved Zinke’s family’s travel “on a case-by-case basis.”

OIG investigators also found that Zinke had asked Interior employees to designate Lolita Zinke as a volunteer for the agency, which would allow her to travel in official vehicles without approval or reimbursement.

Zinke decided against the appointment due to the “optics,” but denied that it was to get around travel rules, OIG said.

The OIG report came the same day that Interior denied that the Trump administration planned to install a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to oversee the inspector general’s office. HUD Secretary Ben Carson had previously said that the appointee, Suzanne Israel Tufts, would be the new acting inspector general at Interior, which would effectively demote Mary Kendall, the current highest-ranking employee in the watchdog office.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift framed the Thursday report as an exoneration.

“The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel,” she said.

“Additionally, the secretary received the same exact legal advice from the solicitors as previous secretaries and he acted consistently. The report even said so.”

After investigators started looking into the issue, Interior changed the travel policy to allow family members on official trips.

In the four official trips that investigators probed, Lolita Zinke and another family member reimbursed Interior for the costs of her travel.

Interior said an unidentified person in the solicitor’s office approved the family travel, despite knowing that internal policies prohibited it.

“She explained that other DOI employees could use personal vehicles for government travel, but because Secretary Zinke had a security detail that used government vehicles, he did not have that option. She said she generally deferred to a secretary’s security detail to decide who should be allowed in the vehicles,” the report said, paraphrasing the solicitor’s office employee.

In addition, Zinke brought a number of non-government travelers on a National Park Service boat for a trip to California’s Channel Islands. Interior designated them as “stakeholders,” meaning they did not have to reimburse the agency for travel.

Two of those travelers had hosted a fundraiser for Zinke’s congressional campaign in 2014, and the family of one used to own property on one of the Channel Islands, investigators said, facts that ethics officials were not aware of prior to the trip.

[The Hill]

Trump says ‘who cares’ after Warren takes DNA test, denies $1 million offer

President Donald Trump claims he “didn’t say” that he would pay $1 million to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren for taking DNA test to review her Native American heritage, after she released the results of one on Monday morning.

“Who cares?” Trump said when asked about the DNA test. When pressed on the once-promised $1 million payment, Trump responded: “I didn’t say that. You better read it again.”

In fact, Trump did promise $1 million, during a July rally, but only if the test showed she was “an Indian.”

At a rally in July, Trump said: “And we will say, ‘I will give you a million dollars, paid for by Trump, to your favorite charity if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian … we’ll see what she does. I have a feeling she will say no but we will hold it for the debates.”

Warren has released the results of a DNA analysis showing she has distant Native American ancestry in an apparent attempt to pre-empt further questions and attacks should she run for president in 2020.

Warren first faced scrutiny for her purported Native American heritage during her 2012 Senate race. But Trump has revived and amplified the controversy as he eyes Warren as a possible rival, frequently mocking her with the nickname “Pocahontas.”

But Warren now has documentation to back up her family lore — a analysis of her genetic data performed by Carlos Bustamante, a professor of genetics at Stanford and adviser to Ancestry and 23 and Me.

Bustamante’s analysis places Warren’s Native American ancestor between six and 10 generations ago, with the report estimating eight generations.
After his initial “who cares” response, Trump said Monday he hopes Warren runs for president because she will be “easy” to beat.

“I hope she’s running for president because I think she’d be very easy. I do not think she’d be very difficult at all,” Trump said, adding: “I don’t want to say bad things about her because I hope she’s one of the people that get through the process.”

Trump added that Warren would turn the US into Venezuela.

[CNN]

Reality

Here is the video of Trump promising to donate $1 million if Warren proved ‘Indian’ ancestry:

Trump: Saudi Journalist Could Have Been Murdered By ‘Rogue Killers’

President Donald Trump spoke out on Monday about his call with the Saudi King to discuss allegations his government killed and dismembered Washington Post writer and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Monday, Trump repeatedly noted Saudi Arabia’s denial of alleged killing was “very strong,” even adding that Khashoggi could have been murdered by “rogue killers.”

“I just spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia, who denies any knowledge with what took place,” Trump said. “And he firmly denies that.”

Trump added that he has sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi King Salman.

“The king firmly denied any knowledge of it, he didn’t really know, maybe, I don’t want to get into his mind, but it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” Trump said. “Who knows, we’re going to try getting to the bottom of it very soon, but his was a flat denial.”

“He told me in a very firm way that they had no knowledge of it,” Trump continued. “He said it very strongly.”

“His denial to me could not have been stronger,” Trump added.

Turkish officials say they have proof that Khashoggi — missing since he entered the Saudi consulate on October 2 — was murdered by a team of Saudi agents. Trump has repeatedly stressed that the Saudis vehemently deny their involvement in his disappearance. In a tweet on Monday morning, he emphasized that U.S. resident Khashoggi is a “Saudi citizen,” and that King Salman “denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened.”

The disappearance and possible murder of Khashoggi poses a problem for Trump administration attempts to build a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia, notably through Jared Kushner‘s relationship with young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

[Mediaite]

Reality

Trump & Saudi Business:
•1991: Sold yacht to Saudi Prince
•2001: Sold 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis
•Jun 2015: I love the Saudis…many in Trump Tower
•Aug 2015: “They buy apartments from me…Spend $40M-$50M”
•2017: Saudi lobbyists spent $270K at Trump DC hotel

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