By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 8, 2018 ~
One would think that if you are the President of the United States and the subject of a criminal investigation; and your former campaign chief is currently on trial for tax evasion and bank fraud; and your former personal attorney for a decade had his office, hotel room, home and safety deposit box raided by the FBI – you would make sure that your campaign committee would be crossing every T and dotting every I so that you didn’t land in more hot water.
But if you are Donald Trump, living close to the edge is what you do best.
A review at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) of the checks written from the Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. account, the principal campaign committee for Trump’s reelection, produces some doozies. Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017 so we looked at the period from January 1, 2017 up to the most recent date available at the FEC, June 30, 2018.
Over the past year and a half, Trump’s campaign committee has paid over $1 million to Trump-related businesses. It is apparently allowing Trump Tower in New York to charge the campaign rent. FEC records show $627,371 was paid to Trump Tower Commercial LLC and earmarked as “rent.” More than $100,000 was paid to the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. for lodging, catering, etc.; over $38,000 to Trump Restaurants; and $30,800 to Trump Plaza LLC.
But here’s where things get really weird. Trump’s campaign account paid The Trump Corporation a total of $173,131 in eight checks that ran from June 2017 through May 4, 2018. Each check was designated as “legal consulting.” But the Trump Corporation is not a law firm. How can it provide legal advice to a campaign?
May 2018 is when Rudy Giuliani announced that Michael Cohen was no longer Trump’s attorney. That is the same month that the “legal consulting” checks stopped being paid to The Trump Corporation. But Michael Cohen is not a campaign attorney and the giant law firm, Jones Day, was already being paid to represent the campaign. The same FEC records show that Jones Day received $2,891,015 from the Trump campaign account for legal work.
It is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use, interpreted by the FEC as payments for expenses “that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a federal office holder.” Four payments totaling over $21,000 were made to 40 CPS Associates LLC. That’s the owner of 40 Central Park South, a luxury apartment building in Manhattan. The payments began on January 17, 2018 at $7,225 (which may be one month’s rent and a security deposit) and continued thereafter at $3500 each month, through May, the cutoff of the FEC records currently available. They are designated as “rent.”
The rents in this building can be quite steep. According to Curbed New York, Lady Gaga rented an apartment there in 2013 and was shelling out $22,000 a month. Why does a Presidential campaign need an apartment in a building known as a “celeb haven.” For that matter, why does it need an apartment at all?
While there has been much media speculation that Michael Cohen was miffed at Donald Trump for not offering to pay his legal expenses, the FEC records show that the campaign paid a total of $276,275 to McDermott Will & Emery, the law firm representing Michael Cohen. Those payments occurred between October 26, 2017 and April 17, 2018.
The records show payments were also made to the lawyer representing Donald Trump Jr., Alan Futerfas. Those payments occurred in June, July and August of 2017 and totaled $287,924.
There is also the eye-popping payments of more than $8.5 million to Parscale Strategy and Giles-Parscale, the firms operated by Brad Parscale who ran Trump’s digital media operation in the 2016 campaign and was named in February as Trump’s Campaign Manager for his reelection bid. Each of the payments is designated as spending for “digital consulting/online advertising.”
These payments to Parscale began on January 9, 2017 and sometimes were in amounts in excess of $400,000. Less than two weeks after Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2017, a payment in the amount of $555,974 was issued to Giles-Parscale.
The question is, if the President is so popular with his base, why is all of this money being spent years before his reelection bid?
Parscale had an awkward interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes in October of last year. He told her that employees of Facebook, Twitter and Google were actually “embedded” in the Trump campaign. Parscale said: “I mean, like, they were there multiple days a week, three, four days a week, two days week, five days a week…”
Facebook has come under withering criticism for its role in allowing Cambridge Analytica, whom Parscale worked with for the Trump campaign, to harvest millions of Facebook users’ data without their permission. Cambridge Analytica has shut down its operations with the New York Times reporting in May that it is under investigation by the FBI and U.S. Justice Department.