Trump Capitalism: Monetizing the Presidency

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 8, 2017

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Promotes the Opening of His New Hotel in Washington, D.C.  with Family Less than Two Weeks Before the 2016 Presidential Election

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Promotes the Opening of His New Hotel in Washington, D.C. with Family Less than Two Weeks Before the 2016 Presidential Election

President Trump’s firing of top law enforcement officials now covers a broad spectrum. In addition to FBI Director James Comey, Trump fired the Acting Attorney General of the U.S. Justice Department, Sally Yates, as well as Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York where most major Wall Street criminal investigations take place. All of these individuals were involved in investigations of Trump associates’ involvement with Russia. Now, Trump is sending signals that his current U.S. Attorney General at the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions, may be next in line for sacking.

Comey’s written testimony that was released yesterday in preparation for his appearance today before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee completes the picture of a President who believes that the Federal government’s law enforcement apparatus can be re-engineered into his own Praetorian Guard, complete with taking loyalty oaths to serve the President and to do his bidding in dropping criminal investigations.

The media’s focus on the Russian investigation has over shadowed the simple truth of what is going on here. Donald Trump’s life has been defined by one paramount goal: making deals for personal enrichment. At 70 years of age, this man is not going to change his stripes — as he and his family have proven time and time again since he prevailed in the November election.

The first clue came on October 26, 2016 – less than two weeks before the Presidential election. Presidential candidate Trump utilized his taxpayer-funded Secret Service contingent to oversee a ribbon-cutting ceremony at his new Trump International Hotel which was opening at the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., just two blocks from the White House. Among his 300 invited guests was Senator Jeff Sessions, the man he would later name to head the U.S. Justice Department.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, captured the event perfectly with this statement: “With the exception of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington, D.C.”

That Trump thumbs his nose at the rule of law when it comes to his own personal enrichment is suggested in his refusal to follow the norms of blind trusts for his business holdings. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Elijah Cummings wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November as follows:

“Several weeks ago, the general counsel for the Trump Organization, Michael Cohen, explained that Mr. Trump will transfer management of the Trump Organization to his adult children, who will run the company ‘through a blind trust.’ But claims that Mr. Trump’s will set up a ‘blind’ trust do not appear to be consistent with the meaning of that term or with legal requirements that apply to such trusts. A qualified blind trust, which must be approved by the Office of Government Ethics, would allow Mr. Trump to forgo reporting the details of some assets in his financial disclosures. The Ethics in Government Act explicitly prohibits Mr. Trump’s children from managing such a trust. The Act requires that, ‘Any officer or employee of a trustee or other entity who is involved in the management or control of the trust of a qualified trust’ not be ‘a relative of any interested party.’ To date, there has been no information released to the public indicating that Mr. Trump has prepared a blind trust.”

In the same letter, Warren and Cummings also alerted the GAO that there were media reports that during a call from Argentinean President Mauricio Mauri to congratulate Trump on his victory shortly after the election, Trump made a request of Mauri to “deal” with permit issues on a Buenos Aires office building project in which Trump and Argentinean partners were involved. The same letter also indicated that Trump had charged the Secret Service $1.6 million for flights on his own airline during his election campaign.

Then there was the gag-worthy lawsuit that provided a window into how Melania Trump viewed her opportunities as the First Lady of America. The First Lady sued the Daily Mail newspaper for defamation after her husband was inaugurated. In the lawsuit, she described in detail her money-making opportunities as First Lady:

“Plaintiff’s brand, and licensing, marketing and endorsement opportunities caused by the publication of Mail Online’s defamatory article, is multiple millions of dollars. Plaintiff had the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as an extremely famous and well-known person, as well as a former professional model and brand spokesperson, and successful businesswoman, to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world. These product categories would have included, among other things, apparel, accessories, shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, hair care, skin care and fragrance.”

Last month, the New York Times reported that the family of the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a Senior Adviser to the President (who is himself a person of interest in the Russian investigation) was using ties to Trump to promote their own real estate deal in China. The Times’ reporters wrote:

“Mr. Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, was criticized after mentioning her brother’s White House connections when she visited China this month to promote the New Jersey development. Ms. Meyer later apologized, saying it was not her intention to use her brother’s ties to the Trump administration to lure investors.

“But the family’s Chinese representatives have repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump’s name as a selling point.”

In Donald Trump’s 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” bylined with Tony Schwartz, Trump says the following about his management style: “I play it very loose.”

That was Trump’s option in running his own real estate company. It’s not his option in complying with the laws of the highest office in America.

OECD: World Is Still Locked in a “Low-Growth Trap” with Rising Inequality

Source: OECD June 2017 Report

Source: OECD June 2017 Report

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 7, 2017

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) just released its latest economic outlook which it sums up as “better but not good enough,” noting that, since the financial crisis of 2008, global growth remains “below past norms and below the pace needed to escape fully from the low-growth trap.” Projecting a modest pickup in global growth to 3.5 percent this year, the authors write:

“After many years of weak recovery, with global growth in 2016 at the lowest rate since 2009, some signs of improvement have begun to appear. Trade and manufacturing output growth have picked up from a very low level, helped by firmer domestic demand growth in Asia and Europe, and private sector confidence has strengthened. But policy uncertainty remains high, trust in government has diminished, wage growth is still weak, inequality persists, and imbalances and vulnerabilities remain in financial markets. Against this background, a modest pick-up in global GDP growth is projected this year to 3½ per cent, with an upturn in trade and investment intensity and improving outcomes in several major commodity producers.”

The OECD’s outlook for the United States is GDP of 2.1 percent in 2017 with an uptick to 2.4 percent in 2018. That compares with OECD projected growth in the Euro area of 1.8 percent in both 2017 and 2018 while Japan is expected to grow at 1.4 and 1.0 percent, respectively, in 2017 and 2018.

The longer-term outlook is further clouded by high debt levels in faster growing economies and political gridlock in Washington. The authors explain:

“The stronger policy-driven demand growth in China and many other Asian economies that is helping to underpin the modest global upturn projected in 2017-18 cannot be sustained indefinitely. This reflects already high debt levels in some countries and the need, especially in China, for rebalancing the economy away from stimulus-driven investment growth towards consumption. The extent of US fiscal support in 2018 also remains very uncertain, given the challenges being experienced in reaching political agreement about policy choices.”

Catherine Mann, OECD’s Chief Economist, noted on her blog in conjunction with the newly released data that “when viewed in per capita terms, GDP growth for the OECD is even further from past norms and income inequality continues to rise.”

The report also calls out the United States for falling behind other countries in helping workers retrain for new jobs as a result of technological displacement. The authors write: “In comparison with other OECD countries, the United States devotes relatively few resources to helping workers retrain or find new employment.”

The country-by-country analysis of the OECD report delves further into the labor force divide in the U.S. The researchers found the following:

“The United States is an important country for international trade, with large multinational enterprises creating a complex web of global supply chains. This has boosted competition and productivity, and brought benefits to consumers. Nonetheless, some workers and communities have been hurt by trade and technology developments. While trade and technology facilitate new job gains, the process of matching people who have lost jobs to the new employment opportunities can be slow. Individuals with lower levels of educational attainment are at a greater risk of dropping out of the labour force completely, contributing to persistent unemployment and poverty in affected areas. The United States spends relatively little on labour market programmes, such as trade adjustment assistance, that help people who have lost their jobs acquire different skills and find new career opportunities. In some states, community colleges are effective in helping individuals. Expanding the eligibility of the earned income tax credit to childless workers would also help address poverty and encourage greater labour force attachment.”

Watch the OECD video presentation of the latest economic outlook here.

Source: OECD June 2017 Report

Source: OECD June 2017 Report

Russian Bank Chairman Met With Kushner, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 6, 2017

Headline writers at the New York Times need to sharpen their pencils. Yesterday’s New York edition carried a front page article that links two of the biggest Wall Street banks, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, to the Jared Kushner affair with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, Chairman of the state-owned Russian bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.  But readers would have missed that completely if they only read the softball headline, which failed to mention either bank.

Everyone on Wall Street has been waiting for the next shoe to drop in the Jared Kushner episode. Kushner is under FBI and Congressional probes over allegations that he met in December with Gorkov while simultaneously attempting to set up a secret channel to communicate with Russia using its equipment inside its own embassy – ostensibly to thwart U.S. intelligence snooping. Kushner then failed to list that meeting, as well as one or more meetings with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, on his form for security clearance until the meetings became public knowledge.

That shoe has now dropped. Wall Street On Parade reported on May 30 that some of the biggest names on Wall Street are sitting with hundreds of millions of dollars of that sanctioned Russian bank’s bonds and notes in their mutual fund portfolios. (See related article below.) Yesterday, the New York Times reported that when Gorkov came to Manhattan to meet with Kushner in December, he also “met with bankers at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and another, unidentified American financial institution.” The article notes that “Goldman Sachs bankers also tried to arrange a meeting but ultimately had a scheduling conflict.”

The Times’ reporters are quick to note that the meetings with the U.S. banks are not outlawed by the sanctions but then the paper of record climbs out on a very shaky limb, writing: “Citi and JPMorgan had long, established relationships clearing financial transactions for VEB in the United States, activities not affected by the sanctions.”

According to our read of the exact language of the sanctions, any transactions between U.S. banks and VEB may well be unlawful or, at the very least, frowned upon by the U.S. government.  The sanctions, imposed on July 16, 2014, read as follows:

“In response to Russia’s continued attempts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and its ongoing occupation of Crimea, the U.S. Department of the Treasury today imposed a broad-based package of sanctions on entities in the financial services, energy, and arms or related materiel sectors of Russia…

“Today, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew determined that persons operating within Russia’s financial services sector may now be subject to targeted sanctions.  Following Secretary Lew’s determination, Treasury imposed measures prohibiting U.S. persons and persons within the United States from transacting in, providing financing for, or otherwise dealing in new debt of longer than 90 days maturity or new equity for Gazprombank OAO and VEB, their property, or their interests in property.  As a practical matter, this step will close the medium- and long-term U.S. dollar lending window to these banks, and will impose additional significant costs on the Russian Government for its continued activities in Ukraine.” (Italics added.)

It’s pretty clear that the U.S. Treasury wanted to “close” the U.S. dollar lending window to VEB for anything other than short term borrowings. It would make little sense for the U.S. Treasury to allow two of the biggest U.S. banks to thwart the sanctions by continuing to clear trades for the state bank, which is 100 percent owned by the Russian government.

Both Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase have been involved in large scale debt issuance for VEB prior to the sanctions. Reuters reported in 2010 that the two banks were among the bookrunning managers for $1.6 billion in VEB Finance Loan Participation Notes.

Another VEB prospectus indicates that on December 18, 2012 “VEB signed a U.S.$800 million three-year syndicated loan agreement and received the loan on 15 January 2013…The lead-arrangers and bookrunners for the loan were The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Barclays Bank, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Commerzbank AG, Credit Agricole, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ING Bank, J.P. Morgan and Mizuho Corporate Bank.”

It would now seem likely that Senate and House Intelligence Committees along with the Special Counsel will want to hear from Citigroup and JPMorgan bankers about the precise nature of their conversations with Gorkov.

Related Article:

Exclusive: Wall Street Funds Hold Hundreds of Millions in Sanctioned Russian Bank Subject to Kushner Probe

Washington Post Drops a Bombshell on Trump’s Rise to Power but Forgets Two Words — Koch Brothers

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 5, 2017 

David Horowitz

David Horowitz

After building the case for months that Russia was a major meddler in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, on Sunday the Washington Post connected the dots between a “shadow universe” of right-wing front groups domiciled in the U.S. with tax-exempt privileges who have a lot more to show for their efforts than does Russia.

At the center of the Post article, written by reporters Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg, is lefty turned righty David Horowitz and his nonprofit group the David Horowitz Freedom Center. While sanctions have not been lifted against Russia as potential proof of a quid pro quo with the Trump administration, Horowitz boasts of at least six of his Freedom Center’s supporters who hold top slots in Trump’s administration to push for his long-held positions on a Muslim ban, border wall, school vouchers and ridicule of global warming.

The Post reporters write:

“On Dec. 14, 2016, during a videotaped event, Horowitz expressed happiness about Trump’s victory and said Republicans had finally woken up to his approach to politics. He pulled from his suit coat a piece of paper listing Freedom Center supporters already in the administration.

“ ‘It’s quite an impressive list,’ Horowitz said, rattling off the names: Sessions, Bannon, Vice President Pence, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway and at least six others.

“ ‘My personal favorite is Steve Miller, because Steve, who was today appointed the senior policy adviser in the White House…is a kind of protege of mine,’ he said. ‘So the center has a big stake in this administration.’ ”

One name that is noticeably missing from the Washington Post article is Charles Koch of the infamous Koch Brothers. Charles Koch and his brother, David, are billionaires and majority owners of Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the world. The company has interests in oil, chemicals, commodities trading, paper products along with many other business interests. Their history of creating front groups dates back decades. Nonprofits associated with Charles Koch have funneled millions of dollars over the years to the David Horowitz Freedom Center to push Big Business conservatism and Islamophobia.

Horowitz is no stranger to Wall Street On Parade. On November 20, 2016 we published our own analysis of the shadowy right-wing groups tied to Trump. We wrote at the time:

“Citizens United, the nonprofit organization that brought the U.S. Supreme Court case that has unleashed unlimited corporate spending in elections, sent three of its top strategists to run the Donald Trump campaign in its floundering days of 2016. Here’s the timeline:

“On July 11, 2016, the Trump campaign announced that it had ‘enlisted the services of Bryan Lanza, who will serve as the Deputy Communications Director for Surrogates. Mr. Lanza’s focus will be on organizing and mobilizing Trump supporters in an effective way that allows Mr. Trump’s America First message to resonate with voters.’ Lanza came from Citizens United where he had been Communications Director.

“On August 17, 2016, the New York Times reported that Steve Bannon would become Chief Executive of the Trump campaign. The article focused on Bannon’s role at Breitbart News but Bannon was the long-tenured filmmaker for Citizens United, making right-wing documentaries like ‘Fire from the Heartland,’ a glowing tribute to Michele Bachmann; ‘The Undefeated,’ about Sarah Palin; ‘Generation Zero,’ blaming the 2008 financial crash on liberals; ‘Occupy Unmasked,’ portraying the young people attempting to remove their democracy from the iron grip of the one percent as sinister criminals; and ‘The Hope and the Change,’ showing Democrats’ disillusionment with the campaign promises of Barack Obama, which is certainly a valid concern for progressives. (Bannon has now been named Chief Strategist to Trump in the White House.)

“Two weeks later, on September 1, 2016, the Washington Post announced that David Bossie, President of Citizens United, had been named Trump’s Deputy Campaign Manager.

“Three men coming from a nonprofit that refuses to reveal its donors and effectively ushered in a corporate takeover of U.S. elections doesn’t seem to correlate with a President-elect who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington and become the champion of the working class.”

The “Occupy Unmasked” documentary carries in its credits the name David Bossie as Producer; states that it is a “film by Stephen K. Bannon,” and prominently displays the name David Horowitz without mention of his exact role on the film.

Horowitz previously played a major role in promoting a propaganda film that fueled Islamophobia in the leadup to the Presidential election of 2008 and a right wing effort to prevent Barack Obama from winning the White House. Less than two months before the election, approximately 100 major newspapers and magazines in the U.S distributed millions of DVDs of the documentary, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Including the separate direct mail campaign, 28 million DVDs saturated homes in the swing voter states. The nonprofit organization named on the packaging of the DVD as the entity behind the film was the Clarion Fund, which was funded in that effort by a Charles Koch affiliated group, as we first revealed in 2010. We wrote at the time:

“We can now report what this race-baiting, fear-mongering campaign cost and where the money, at least nominally, came from. The 28 million DVDs were produced at a cost of $15,676,181 by Artist Direct Media which does mass manufacturing of CDs and DVDs with volume discounts. The big media buy for Sunday newspaper insertions ran up the tidy tab of $719,436 and was conducted by NSA Media, a unit of the global ad giant, Interpublic Group, parent of McCann-Erikson. That figure seems decidedly on the light side so there may be other funding sources involved that have not yet surfaced. (NSA Media is a powerful ad buyer, representing some of the biggest print buyers and consumer brands in the country, which might help explain why so few questions were asked by the largest newspapers about this unseemly project.) The full tab, and then some, was paid by the super secretive libertarian nonprofit, Donors Capital Fund. In 2008, Clarion Fund became Donors Capital Fund’s largest grantee by a large margin, receiving $17,778,600. That sum constituted 96 per cent of all funds received by Clarion in 2008 and 9 times its revenue in 2007.

“Donor’s Capital Fund is a ‘supporting organization’ to Donors Trust, a sister nonprofit. Both promise the pursuit of taking over social welfare needs with private funds rather than government solutions; they want small government…

“There are shades of Charles Koch all over Donors Capital and Donors Trust. Two grantees receiving repeat and sizeable grants from Donors Capital are favorites of the Koch foundations: George Mason University Foundation and Institute for Humane Studies. Another tie is Claire Kittle. A project of Donor’s Trust is Talent Market.org, a headhunter for staffing nonprofits with the ‘right’ people. Ms. Kittle serves as Talent Market’s Executive Director and was the former Program Officer for Leadership and Talent Development at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Then there is Whitney Ball, President of both Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust. Ms. Ball was one of the elite guests at the invitation-only secret Aspen bash thrown by Charles Koch in June of this year, as reported by ThinkProgress.org. Also on the guest list for the Koch bash was Stephen Moore, a member of the Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Moore is a Director at Donors Capital Fund. Rounding out the ties that bind is Lauren Vander Heyden, who serves as Client Services Coordinator at Donors Trust. Ms. Vander Heyden previously worked as grants coordinator and policy analyst at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

“Legal counsel for the Kochs has declined to respond to two emails with a week’s lead time seeking clarification of the relationship the Kochs have to Donors Capital and Donors Trust.”

We were never able to pinpoint whether one specific donor inside Donors Capital Fund made the donation to Clarion Fund possible or whether it was a collective effort by multiple wealthy donors. The organization promised donors at the time that: “Unlike with private foundations, gifts from your account will remain as anonymous as you request.”

Horowitz eagerly took the Obsession film on a college road show. During the fall of 2007, and continuing into 2008, Horowitz promoted an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness” program to more than 100 college campuses, with the film made available for viewing.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Muslims make up approximately one percent of the U.S. population and their “voting patterns generally mirror the broader American population. American Muslims are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, liberals and conservatives. There is no one political platform or agenda for those who practice the religion of Islam in the United States.” The majority of Muslims have been living peacefully in America since the 16th century.

America’s White House is rapidly losing the confidence of its citizens and the respect of its allies around the world. Russia may have, indeed, nefariously meddled in the 2016 election and members of the Trump campaign and transition team may have, indeed, engaged in improper or illegal acts with Russian interests. But there is also a mountain of facts that strongly suggest a coordinated campaign by right wing front groups using the money of U.S. billionaires to create the false illusion of a President interested in the welfare of the little guy. Until we untangle this nefarious web of interests and agendas and lay it all out clearly for the public to understand, we will never make America great again.

The Unthinkable is Happening to America

New York Daily New Front Cover on Trump's Removal of U.S. from Paris Climate Accord

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 2, 2017

The unthinkable is happening so fast to America that there is a serious, growing threat that U.S. citizens are becoming desensitized to the chilling reality of our nation’s precipitous decline in respect and credibility around the world. The reflex action is to either deny it’s happening or pull the covers over one’s head.

Two weeks before President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, Der Spiegel, one of the most influential and widely read news magazines in Europe, published a breathtaking assessment of the sitting President of the United States. Written by its Executive Editor, Klaus Brinkbäumer, the editorial was brutal and came from a publication known for its investigative acumen. Brinkbäumer made the following observations:

“Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse…

“Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees…

“Crises, including those in Syria and Libya, are escalating, but no longer being discussed. And who should they be discussed with? Phone calls and emails to the U.S. State Department go unanswered. Nothing is regulated, nothing is stable and the trans-Atlantic relationship hardly exists anymore…”

You may not agree with the harshness of this assessment, but it matters that a widely circulated and respected news magazine holds this view of America’s sitting President. Days later, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, reinforced the growing isolation of America in a speech with the comment that after spending a few days with President Trump, Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

LiberationIt’s also critical to consider the backdrop under which the President of the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord yesterday – invoking more ridicule on the front pages of foreign and domestic newspapers and rebukes from the heads of some of the most famous corporate brands in America.

President Trump is tied up in court for a widely condemned travel ban directed at Muslims. His administration is under investigation by Senate and House Intelligence Committees, the FBI, a Special Counsel at the Justice Department and the Government Accountability Office for potentially illegal interactions with Russians.

The President has refused to place his business interests in a blind trust and has thumbed his nose at public sensibilities regarding nepotism by bringing his daughter and son-in-law into his administration.

While his campaign was under an investigation headed by FBI Director James Comey, the President fired Comey and then disparaged him to the Russian Foreign Minister and Russian Ambassador as a “nut job” while simultaneously providing the pair with classified information.

The reaction to all of this by Trump supporters is to dismiss it as a bogus propaganda war by disgruntled Hillary supporters. But those charges certainly can’t apply to Wall Street On Parade which throughout 2016 provided our readers with evidence that both Clinton and Trump were deeply flawed candidates and that America deserved much better.

Now Trump has earned the animosity of some of the most important brand names in America with Tweets going out against his climate accord action yesterday from the likes of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Disney CEO Bob Iger, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and dozens of others.

If the world views America as a loose cannon, our nation could experience not only diplomatic backlash but there could be boycotts of our biggest brand names in foreign markets, thus hurting our critical need to expand our export markets and boost job growth at home.

This is a time for all Americans to put aside politics and come to grips with the hard cold reality of the situation in the White House.

Jeff ImmeltRobert Iger