Tag Archives: Trump

The Trump/Weisselberg Tax Evasion Scheme


It wasn’t just dishonest. It was dumb.

I thought I was immune to the myth of Trump the Great Businessman. But reading the indictment of the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg left me shocked and appalled. For some reason, I had expected their tax-evasion scheme to be clever and sophisticated. Maybe it would push the law’s ambiguous boundaries. Maybe it would involve a complex web of shell companies and offshore accounts. Whatever it was, I was sure it was something the guy who owns your local bagel shop could never pull off.

I was wrong.

The Trump Organization paid Weisselberg (and unnamed other executives) partly in cash and partly by covering his personal expenses. Then they lied to the IRS and claimed that the cash payments were his full compensation. They kept two sets of books, one false set for the tax people, and another internal set where they recorded everything.

The scheme wasn’t just dishonest, it was stupid. It would only work if nobody looked at it. But the Manhattan District Attorney looked, and so they’re caught.

Your local bagel-shop owner would know better.

The company and Weisselberg both pleaded not guilty to the 15 felony counts in the indictment. But the public statements Trump and his people are making don’t even deny the charges. David Frum comments on the Trump Organization’s official statement:

Here is what is missing from that statement: “I’m 100 percent confident that every investigation will always end up in the same conclusion, which is that I follow all rules, procedures, and, most importantly, the law.” That’s the language used by former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he was facing ethics charges in 2018. Likewise, when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was accused of violating campaign-finance laws in 2016, he too was “very confident” that “there was no wrongdoing.” Plug the phrases very confident and no wrongdoing into a search engine and you will pull up statement after statement by politicians and business leaders under fire. For some, their matter worked out favorably; for others, not so much. Either way, everybody expects you to say that you’re confident you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s the thing an innocent person would want to say. So it’s kind of a tell when it goes unsaid.

Speaking at a rally in Sarasota Saturday, Trump — the same guy who in 2016 said “I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them” — pleaded ignorance.

They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car. You didn’t pay tax on the car or a company apartment. You used an apartment because you need an apartment because you have to travel too far where your house is. You didn’t pay tax. Or education for your grandchildren. I don’t even know. Do you have to? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?

Yes, people know. They’re called accountants, and the Trump Organization probably employs a lot of them.

Like their father, the Trump sons have been claiming that this is a “fringe benefits” case, the kind of thing that is occasionally pursued as a civil complaint, but hardly ever prosecuted as a criminal matter. Don Jr. said on Fox News Primetime:

After … 3 million documents, countless witnesses and hours of grand jury testimony, outside forensic auditors, this is what they come up with: they’re going to charge a guy who’s 75 years old on crimes of avoiding paying taxes on a fringe benefit.

Prior to the indictment becoming public, Trump Sr. said investigators were focusing on “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.”

Just Security debunks that claim. There actually are tricky fringe benefit tax issues that business owners will recognize: If your company provides you with something like a car or a laptop computer that you use for work, but also for personal matters, it can sometimes be difficult to determine exactly what part of the cost is a corporate business expense, and what part is personal income. Some companies and their executives push those boundaries a little, and it’s true that they are almost never charged with a crime.

That’s not what’s happening here.

A great deal of what Weisselberg received had no conceivable business use. OK, his car, maybe. But his wife’s car? His son’s apartment? His grandchildren’s tuition? Those aren’t Trump Organization business expenses, not even in part.

Calling bundles of cash and the provision of flat screen televisions in employees’ vacation homes “fringe benefits” – especially when they are not extra pay, but replace ordinary paycheck salary, dollar for dollar – would appear to leave no employee compensation outside the term’s potential scope.

If this stands, in other words, there’s no reason why businesses should pay any of their employees taxable salaries. If you make, say, $50,000 a year, your company could just give you a corporate credit card with a $50,000 annual limit as a tax-free “fringe benefit”.

That’s not “standard business practice”, that’s tax fraud.

Just Security’s dollar-for-dollar claim brings us to the stupidest part of the scheme: They wrote it all down.

During the time of the scheme, Weisselberg was making a fixed salary in the neighborhood of $900K per year. Instead of paying all that in cash, the company rented a New York City apartment for Weisselberg, rented cars for him and his wife, paid private school tuition for their grandchildren, and covered a bunch of other personal expenses. And the company kept a spreadsheet deducting all that from his salary, but not adding it to the W-2 forms reported to the IRS and New York state, as if Weisselberg’s personal expenses were Trump Organization business expenses. (The Trump Organization should also have been paying payroll taxes on this money, but didn’t.)

All in all, the company helped Weisselberg hide about $1.7 million of income and avoid more than $900K of federal, state, and local taxes. That’s not fudging a little on your taxes. That’s grand larceny. The Washington Post quotes law professor Dan Hemel: “If you pay your employees under the table, a good rule of thumb is not to write it down.”

On The Wire, Stringer Bell made the same point more forcefully: “Is you taking notes on a criminal fucking conspiracy? What the fuck is you thinking, man?”

The deeper into the indictment you read, the stupider the scheme gets. The rental agreement on Weisselberg apartment lists him and his wife as the sole occupants, and says it’s their primary residence. But Weisselberg didn’t tell New York City he lived there, and so skipped out on NYC income tax. Just Security explains that NYC residency is not just a personal choice:

It is a widely-known fact among New York-area taxpayers – and not just those with specific tax and accounting knowledge, like Weisselberg himself – that, if one has an apartment in New York City (as he did) and is in the City for at least a part of more than 183 days in a given year, then one counts for that year as a City resident. This is not an issue that turns on any broader (or other) facts and circumstances. Under the indictment’s stated facts, therefore, Weisselberg unambiguously was a New York City resident for all of the years from 2005 through 2013, based on an objective black-letter rule that is hardly arcane or obscure.

And then we get to the penny-ante stuff, the kind of scam you only try if you’re already in the habit of cheating:

It was a further part of the scheme to defraud that Weisselberg received unreported cash that he could use to pay personal holiday gratuities. Specifically, Weisselberg caused the Trump Corporation to issue corporate checks made payable to a Trump Organization employee who cashed the checks and received cash. The cash was given to Weisselberg for his personal use. The Trump Corporation booked this cash as “Holiday Entertainment,” but maintained internal spreadsheets showing the cash to be part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation.

Is that a “common business practice” in your experience? Did your boss ever make out a check to you, and then tell you to cash it and bring the money back to him? In any job I ever held, I would have found that a bit odd.

Finally, at least one part of the scheme seems to have broader implications: About $400K of Weisselberg’s annual income is an end-of-the-year bonus, which comes from a different Trump company as a consulting fee. This allowed Weisselberg to claim he’s self-employed — so he started a Keogh plan (a more-generous IRA for the self-employed) to avoid more taxes.

This resembles the consulting fees the NYT traced to Ivanka Trump — who likewise is simultaneously a well-paid executive and a consultant for Trump companies. This has led numerous observers to speculate that maybe this whole scheme wasn’t devised for Allen Weisselberg’s benefit. Maybe he was just piggybacking on a scheme created to benefit the Trump children.

There’s precedent for such schemes, as the NYT outlined in a 2018 article exposing the source of Trump’s wealth

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.

These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show.

This suggests that Don Jr.’s is-that-all-they-have ploy might just be whistling in the dark. This indictment is the Manhattan DA’s first shot. The second one might be aimed at him and his siblings.

Apart from the legal considerations, and whatever effect these charges might have on whether Weisselberg or some other executive flips on Trump, I have to wonder what this is doing to the Trump image.

To his fans, Trump above all is a smart businessman, and this scheme is not at all smart. In addition to working-class people, who have no choice about what appears on their W-2s, small businessmen are also a key part of the Trump base. If they look at this indictment at all, they have to be thinking “Even I would know better than to try that.”

Best Responses to the Trump Video

It seemed like everybody had to comment. These people just did it better than the rest.

By now all the people who want to — and probably a lot who never wanted to — have seen the video of Donald Trump talking to Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush in 2005, apparently without realizing he was being recorded. The Washington Post released the video Friday, Trump released what has been oxymoronically described as a “defiant apology” late Friday night, and the resulting firestorm dominated the news shows leading up to last night’s town-hall debate with Hillary Clinton. Many big-name Republicans who had tolerated Trump’s previous outrageous statements finally withdrew their support. [1] Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has not withdrawn his support, but has kept Trump at arm’s length, saying

I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them. [2]

When asked about the video by Anderson Cooper early in Sunday’s debate, Trump dismissed it as “locker room talk”, a phrase he apparently wanted to leave vague, but Cooper (to his credit) insisted on unpacking: Was Trump saying that he did or didn’t do the things he bragged about, like kiss women without their consent or “grab them by the pussy”? After several attempts to get away with a general affirmation of his respect for women, Trump finally claimed that he had not done those things, i.e., that he had been lying to Bush. So Trump’s defense is that he is not a sexual abuser, he just likes to impress other guys by claiming to be one.

Cooper did not explore the trying-to-have-sex-with-a-married-woman confession in the video, so (as far as I know) Trump has not had to say whether that really happened. [3]

Obviously, there are many angles from which to react to this series of events. I’ve picked out a few that I found more insightful than the rest.

Best debate tweets. 

Erin Chack: Scary Halloween costume idea: Dress up like Trump, go to a party, and stand 3-5 feet behind successful women.

Jake Beckman posts a similar image with this caption:

Here’s the debate where Donald Trump tries to not look like a sexual predator.

And Erin Judge chimes in:

Every woman watching has had a creepy dude pace behind her.

Aren’t you guys supposed to be religious? Naively, you might think that the people who would abandon Trump first over stuff like this would be the family-values folks, particularly evangelical Christians. But the reverse seems to be true: Even as elected Republicans head for the exits, evangelical leaders like Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell Jr. are standing by Trump.

The best comment I’ve seen on that is the image on the right. If looks to be a illustration from the Bible story of the three men in the fiery furnace. During the Babylonian Captivity, three young Jewish men refuse to bow down to a golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, and are miraculously saved from his punishment.

The image has been annotated by having one of the kneeling men say, “He’s going to appoint pro-life supreme court justices.” In other words: If you want to bow down to the ruling power, you can always find some reason to do so. In the actual Bible story, the three heroes do not discuss Nebuchadnezzar’s policies before deciding what to do.

How abusers talk after they’re caught. In a tweet storm captured by Valerie on Storify.com, Leah McElrath responded to Trump’s “defiant apology” by taking it apart phrase-by-phrase and framing it as

an eerie replica of psychological manipulations made by abusers after episodes of abuse.

What McElrath hears in Trump’s video is less an apology than an attempt to make his accusers doubt themselves and their experiences. For example

“these words do not reflect who I am” = the reality you just experienced didn’t actually happen (gaslighting)


“We’re living in the real world” = I’m sane and you’re crazy

His contrast between himself and Bill Clinton, who “has actually abused women” translates to “the abuse you experienced wasn’t *really* abuse”.

McElrath’s interpretation explains Trump’s bizarre demeanor throughout this video: He is glowering and angry, not contrite or ashamed.

After reading McElrath, I see the apology video as an expression of the essence of a privileged and entitled attitude: It is up to me to judge whether or not I have done wrong, and if so, what I must do or say to make it right. Anyone who won’t accept the atonement I have assigned myself and move on is being unreasonable, and if they persist I will be forced to get angry with them.

Where have you guys been? Liz Plank does the 2016ish video series on Vox. (I got several of the tweets above via her retweets.) In this video, she raised the question: “The GOP is standing with women, but what took them so long?

Dear GOP dudes who are suddenly realizing that Donald Trump is a flaming misogynist after more than a year of women telling you that he is, in fact, a flaming misogynist. Thanks for joining us and welcome to the club, or, as other people call it, planet earth. … So what was the moment that gave it away for you?

My favorite part of her video on this is her response to the line from Trump’s apology: “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am.”

Anyone who knows you? You go out of your way to demean women. That’s your thing. That’s your brand. It’d be like saying that Mr. T doesn’t pity the fool.

How this looks if you’re black. CNN’s Van Jones went off on an epic rant, though not on CNN.

What if a black man — Candidate Obama in 2008, say — had been caught on tape talking about forcing kisses on women, groping their genitals, and trying to tempt married women into infidelity? To begin with

If Donald Trump were black, the very first word used to describe him would be thug. … The fact that we’re talking about “locker room banter” … what locker room you in?

If he were black, we’d be talking about crime.

Let’s just be very clear: Donald Trump has confessed to a sex crime. … When black people do stuff, we quickly rush to criminality. When white people do stuff, it’s like “OK, well, this is frat-boy behavior.” Whereas with us it’s thuggish behavior. … If I were to go up to Donald Trump and grab Donald Trump’s crotch and try to kiss Donald Trump, I would go to jail. I would be arrested. That’s called sexual assault. It is a crime.

… You have somebody running for president of the United States, who has confessed on tape to committing sex crimes, and people are talking about it as if there’s something wrong with the language. We’re talking about him using “lewd speech”. I don’t care about the speech. I’ve heard those words before. What I care about is the activity, the deed that he is describing.

What if Obama had had five children by three women, as Trump has?

If [Trump] were a brother, they’d be talking about the breakdown of the black family and all sort of stuff. What’s wrong with this man? Second of all, can you imagine if Barack Obama had been caught on video saying … he’s grabbing people’s crotches, he can kiss anybody he wants to, he’s a star, he’s a celebrity, he can do whatever he wants to, they like it. It would be over. We would be talking about the breakdown of values and what’s wrong with black men, and black male violence and all that sort of stuff.

To people who are sick of women “playing the gender card”, Jones asks:

What if Hillary Clinton were going around grabbing people’s crotches? Would we having this conversation or would she be on the first ship to Mars? … No black man in America could be in this situation without the entire universe coming down on the whole black community, number one. And number two: No woman could even think about going around grabbing nobody’s crotches and bragging about it, male or female.

Whose locker room? Like Jones, lots of men have a problem with describing the Trump video as “locker room talk”. Lots of men have come forward to say something like “I don’t hear that kind of talk in locker rooms.” But actually, this is a hard case to make either way, because there is no Locker Room Today that establishes national standards.

What we mean by “locker room” is groups of men talking to each other in ways they wouldn’t if women were present. And almost by definition, each of those groups is unique. For all I know there could be groups of serial killers who get together to trade stories about their latest kills. I personally don’t find myself in such groups, but really, who knows?

But we should at least pay some attention to professional male athletes, who spend large chunks of their lives hanging around with other men in literal locker rooms. AP collected several of their comments, like this one from Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Conley

Have I been in every locker room? No. But the guys I know and respect don’t talk like that. They talk about girls but not like that. Period.

This matches my personal experience of crude man-to-man talk: You’ll hear comments that objectify women (“Whoa, check out that butt.”) or fantasize about sex (“I wouldn’t kick her out of bed.”) or make exaggerated claims about a man’s own attractiveness (“I could totally nail her. She’s into me. You can tell.”). But even in a locker-roomish environment, I’d find it creepy and over-the-line to hear somebody brag about forcing himself on a woman the way Trump did. I don’t believe most men would confront a guy who talked like that — and I won’t claim that I would, because I think that’s a situation you have to experience before you can be sure what you’d do — but at a minimum I would expect the other guys in the room to quickly change the subject, or back away and find excuses to be somewhere else.

[1] The New York Times is keeping a list of them. For the most part, the Republicans rejecting Trump were never gung-ho about him, but previously had not been willing to take a stand against their party’s nominee. The explanation of 2008 nominee Senator John McCain is fairly typical:

I thought it important I respect the fact that Donald Trump won a majority of the delegates by the rules our party set. I thought I owed his supporters that deference. But Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.

In return, Trump has declared war.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump attacked the Republicans fleeing his campaign as “self-righteous hypocrites” and predicted their defeat at the ballot box. In a set of talking points sent to his supporters Sunday morning, Mr. Trump’s campaign urged them to attack turncoat Republicans as “more concerned with their political future than they are about the country.”

Someone must have pointed out to Trump that if McCain, Rob Portman, and Kelly Ayotte do get defeated and he himself somehow wins, he’ll face a Democratic Senate. But it’s not clear he cares about that.

[2] Trump, in turn, backhanded Pence during the debate. After moderator Martha Raddatz read him something critical Pence had said about Russia’s actions in Syria, a position apparently at odds with what Trump had just said, Trump’s response was bizarrely cold and abrupt: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.” Try to imagine President Obama saying that about Joe Biden.

[3] By several accounts, the unnamed married woman discussed in the video was Billy Bush’s co-host, Nancy O’Dell.

Investigative Reporters and Donald Trump: the 9 Best Articles

Introduction: Why we need reporters to investigate Trump

Typically, voters judge a candidate on three scales:

  • character or public image. Do we like this person, identify with him or her, and trust this candidate to understand our lives and our problems?
  • philosophy or policy. Do we agree with what the candidate proposes to do? Do we trust his or her overall approach to governing, so that we have confidence in the candidate to handle problems we can’t foresee?
  • record in public office. Does he or she have a voting record in Congress that matches that professed philosophy and those policy proposals? Or experience running a state, a cabinet department, or a major city that demonstrates basic competence, expertise in major policy areas, or an understanding of how government works?

Occasionally a candidate passes these tests in some non-standard way. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, had never been elected to anything before running for president in 1952. But his experience as commander of the allied forces in Europe during World War II gave him defense and foreign policy experience, as well as proving that he could manage a large, complicated enterprise.

Donald Trump, though, is unique in that his claim to the presidency is based almost entirely on his character. He has no record in public office, and much of his record in business is closed to public examination.

His political philosophy has changed many times over the years, if he can be said to have one at all. (He has been both a Democrat and a Republican, has been both for and against abortion rights, is both hawkish and isolationist on foreign policy, and now appeals to Evangelical Christians without ever repenting all the bragging he did about his sexual conquests.) His proposals are vague. (He will be “tough” with other countries and “put America first”.) They waver from week to week. (Will he deport all undocumented immigrants or just the bad ones?) And many of his supporters don’t believe he will do the things he talks about doing. (Maybe his wall will be virtual. Maybe Mexico won’t pay for it.)

But despite all that, he is Donald Trump. His name is on those big buildings. We’ve been seeing his picture on magazine covers and watching him on TV for decades. Unlike any previous presidential candidate, he is a brand. Attach Trump to something and our impression of it changes: Trump Tower, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump University.

So how does that translate to President Trump and the Trump administration?

Precisely because he is a brand, it can be hard to separate Donald Trump, the man and potential president, from the character Donald Trump we’ve seen on TV. Maybe they are the same, or maybe they are as different as Martin Sheen is from the President Bartlett character he played so convincingly on The West Wing. (Would Sheen react to a crisis as calmly and wisely as Bartlett did in scripts that Sheen had read and memorized before the cameras powered up? I have no idea, but I’d hate to bet my country on it.)

That’s why we need reporters to examine Trump, his life, and his record more than we’ve ever needed them to check out a candidate before. Most of the reporters who have written about Trump have not risen to that challenge. Some simply repeat his statements, or those of his campaign managers and surrogates, without bothering to find out what’s true or false. Others repeat scurrilous charges about him without gathering evidence to back them up. Neither of those kinds of articles is what we need.

I’m also not talking about analyzing the Trump phenomenon: who his voters are, how his movement either does or doesn’t fit into the recent history of the conservative movement, whether his authoritarian appeal represents some kind of danger to democracy, and so on.Those questions may be interesting in their own right, but answering them involves speculation rather than reporting.

What I’ve tried to assemble here is the best reporting about Trump, written by journalists who have taken the time and made the effort to investigate rather than simply call him names, or recite his legend, or psychoanalyze him, or navel-gaze to determine his historical significance. All in all, I think these investigations paint a devastating picture, but it is a portrait based in fact, rather than the fantasies of his political enemies.

Finally, a note because I’m sure someone will ask: I’m not including the NYT’s article Saturday about Trump’s taxes, because I don’t feel like we have the whole story yet. He could have avoided income taxes for 18 years, and he hasn’t denied the report, but we still can’t say that he definitely did. We also don’t know whether the $900 million loss in the story is real or the product of creative accounting. I have the feeling there’s another shoe that still needs to drop.

Also, there’s no Trump U story on the list, because there’s no singular article about it. Documents collected for the lawsuit against Trump were released to the public, and many news outlets covered what they said.

So here, in no particular order, are the best nine:

1. Newsweek’s “Donald Trump’s Many Business Failures, Explained

If Trump’s claim that he can be an effective president rests on his business record, that record deserves some scrutiny. Kurt Eichenwald explains:

Trump’s many misrepresentations of his successes and his failures matter—a lot. As a man who has never held so much as a city council seat, there is little voters can examine to determine if he is competent to hold office. He has no voting record and presents few details about specific policies. Instead, he sells himself as qualified to run the country because he is a businessman who knows how to get things done, and his financial dealings are the only part of his background available to assess his competence to lead the country. And while Trump has had a few successes in business, most of his ventures have been disasters.

The successes primarily come from the investments and contacts he inherited from his father, Fred Trump.

Trump boasted when he announced his candidacy last year that he had made his money “the old-fashioned way,” but he is no Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg, self-made billionaires who were mavericks, innovators in their fields. Instead, the Republican nominee’s wealth is Daddy-made. Almost all of his best-known successes are attributable to family ties or money given to him by his father. … So to sum it all up, Trump is rich because he was born rich—and without his father repeatedly bailing him out, he would have likely filed for personal bankruptcy before he was 35.

His casinos went bankrupt. He bought Eastern Airlines and renamed it the Trump Shuttle before giving it to his creditors when he couldn’t pay its bills. Then he moved towards being a brand rather than a businessman.

Beginning in 2006, Trump decided to take a new direction and basically cut back on building in favor of selling his name. This led to what might be called his nonsense deals, with Trump slapping his name on everything but the sidewalk, hoping people would buy products just because of his brand.

Trump Mortgage started just in time to lose money in the real estate bubble. GoTrump.com failed as an online travel service. Trump Vodka. Trump Steaks. All failures.

But by licensing his brand to developers, and helping them use that magical name to convince middle-class people to make downpayments on condos that were never built, Trump managed to walk away with a profit on deals where everyone else lost: Trump Hollywood, Trump Ocean Resort Baha Mexico, Trump Tower Tampa. Finally, there is the outright fraud of Trump University.

But if he’s such a bad businessman, you might ask, why is he so rich? The answer is that no one knows how rich he actually is. He claims to be worth more than $10 billion, but refuses to release any information that might validate that. In reality, he may be worth little more than what his father left him.

2. The USA Today’s “Hundreds Allege Donald Trump Doesn’t Pay His Bills

One admirable thing about billionaires like Bill Gates or Sam Walton is that they made a lot of other people rich too. If you worked for Bill or Sam back in the day and kept your stock options, you’re probably a multi-millionaire now. But with Donald Trump the exact opposite is often true: Signing a contract with Trump has been a good way to go broke.

Steve Reilly goes through court records to document a pattern of lawsuits against Trump and his businesses.

The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.

In the individual cases, Trump’s lawyers usually claimed that the work was substandard in some way. But in the aggregate that suggests a different problem:

[T]he consistent circumstances laid out in those lawsuits and other non-payment claims raise questions about Trump’s judgment as a businessman, and as a potential commander in chief. The number of companies and others alleging he hasn’t paid suggests that either his companies have a poor track record hiring workers and assessing contractors, or that Trump businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after work is complete as is alleged in dozens of court cases.

The cases that produce a public record may be just the tip of an iceberg. No one knows how many short-changed contractors decided that taking whatever Trump offered in payment was better than fighting his lawyers.

Edward Friel, of the Philadelphia cabinetry company allegedly shortchanged for the casino work, hired a lawyer to sue for the money, said his son, Paul Friel. But the attorney advised him that the Trumps would drag the case out in court and legal fees would exceed what they’d recover.

The unpaid bill took a huge chunk out of the bottom line of the company that Edward ran to take care of his wife and five kids. “The worst part wasn’t dealing with the Trumps,” Paul Friel said. After standing up to Trump, Friel said the family struggled to get other casino work in Atlantic City. “There’s tons of these stories out there,” he said.

The Edward J. Friel Co. filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 5, 1989.

Says the founder’s grandson: “Trump hits everybody.”

Paul Friel tells a more detailed version of his family’s story in this video.

3. David Fahrenthold’s investigation of the Trump Foundation and Trump’s (lack of) charitable contributions

This isn’t just one article, but a body of work that has been unfolding in The Washington Post over months.

Throughout his career, Donald Trump has recognized the brand-building power of charity. One stereotypic image of rich people — particularly those who were born rich, as Trump was — is that they only care about themselves; they suck money out of society and give nothing back. But a wealthy heir or businessman can banish that image by announcing that he’s going to give big contributions to help veterans, or a children’s hospital, or some other worthy cause. Rather than a parasite, he looks like a saint.

So if you’re rich and worry about your image, generosity can be a good investment in public relations. But there’s one way to make it an even better investment: What if you could get all the publicity associated with big gifts, but not actually have to pony up any of your own money, or any money at all?

That seems to be what Trump has consistently done over the years: make well-publicized announcements of gifts that never actually materialize, or are paid for by someone else. In that sense, his gifts to charity are like his business dealings with contractors (described in the previous article); after he gets what he wants from the deal, the rest is negotiable.

In the course of the current campaign, Trump or his surrogates have talked about tens of millions of dollars or even more than $100 million that Trump has given away. Ordinarily when a campaign makes claims like that, they’re happy to provide the details, because it’s one more chance to focus a reporter’s attention on a story that makes their candidate look good. But when Fahrenthold pressed the Trump campaign for details about the $6 million Trump had supposedly raised for veterans groups (instead of attending a Republican debate where Megyn Kelly could have questioned him again), they were oddly unhelpful.

The real start of it was the fundraiser that Trump had for veterans in Iowa in late January. He said he’d raised $6 million — and then he toured around Iowa and New Hampshire handing out big novelty checks to local vets groups. But then Trump stopped. And he hadn’t given away anywhere near $6 million. That started us looking. We found that Trump seemed to have stockpiled a lot of the vets money in this oddball Trump Foundation, which had no staff and very little money. In fact, for a long time, it seemed the Trump Foundation had actually *made* money on the vets fundraiser, because it had given out far less than it had taken in from other donors (who expected it to quickly pass on their donations to vets groups). 

The vets saga ended strangely: Trump’s people said he’d given the $1 million [which he personally pledged] secretly. We checked. That was false. Trump hadn’t given the $1M away at all. Then, he finally did, in the middle of the night. Then Trump held an angry press conference where he denounced the media for, in effect, forcing him to explain what he’d done with the money other people had entrusted to him, the money in the Trump Foundation. That made us more interested. 

For any other candidate, you could just check Schedule A of his or her tax return. But Trump won’t release his tax returns either. If Trump wouldn’t provide any details, though, maybe the charities would. So Fahrenthold started contacting charities that Trump had some connection to, then branching out from there. He found very little. Only in the last few months — after Fahrenthold started checking up on him — has Trump started giving money to charity again.

And then there’s the Trump Foundation. Since 2008, Trump has put virtually none of his own money into his foundation. (Over the previous 20 years, he donated a total of $5.4 million, not “tens of millions”.) Instead, he has collected contributions from other people and corporations, and has spent a lot of it on himself or his business interests. He used hundreds of thousands from the foundation to make charitable contributions that settled court cases against himself or his companies. (That’s illegal.) He used $30K to buy two portraits of himself in charity auctions. (Trump’s people won’t say where the paintings are, but one or maybe both are hanging in Trump businesses. If so, if the portraits weren’t themselves used for some charitable purpose, that also is illegal.)

Fahrenhold exposed another likely illegality this week:

Donald Trump’s charitable foundation — which has been sustained for years by donors outside the Trump family — has never obtained the certification that New York requires before charities can solicit money from the public, according to the state attorney general’s office.

… The most important consequence of not registering under the more rigorous “7A” level was that the Trump Foundation was not required by the state to submit to an annual audit by outside accountants. In such an audit, charity-law experts said, the accountants might have checked the Trump Foundation’s books — comparing its records with its outgoing checks, and asking whether the foundation had engaged in any transactions that benefited Trump or his busi­nesses.

In recent years, The Post has reported, Trump’s foundation does appear to have violated tax laws in several instances.

More disturbing yet is the appearance that he has used money from the Trump Foundation to squash fraud investigations into Trump University. He has paid a $2,500 fine for the Foundation making a $25,000 contribution to a PAC supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who coincidentally decided not to investigate Trump U. This would fit a larger pattern. Trump gave $35K of his own money to Texas AG (now Governor) Greg Abbott, who also didn’t investigate Trump U. And the Trump Foundation contributed $100K to another foundation that is suing New York AG Eric Schneiderman, who is suing Trump U for fraud.

In short, for the last 8 years or so, up until the last few months, Trump not only wasn’t giving to charity, he was using other people’s charitable contributions to benefit himself. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway justified this by claiming — falsely — that the Foundations money “is his money”. The whole point of giving money to a foundation, or any charity, is that it’s not your money any more. And when the Foundation is under your control but is funded primarily by other people, then it’s really not your money.

4. Trump’s Politifact File

Fact-checking sites have some leeway about which statements they check, so small differences in the aggregate statistics don’t necessarily mean anything. But Donald Trump’s file is unique: 35% of his checked statements are rated False, and another 18% get the even lower Pants On Fire rating, which is reserved for statements that “make a ridiculous claim“. By a wide margin, no other major political figure so regularly says things that are provably not true. (So much for the claim that he “tells it like it is”.)

By contrast, 10% of Hillary Clinton’s checked statements are rated False and 2% Pants on Fire, a rate similar to Republicans like Paul Ryan (9%/3%) and John Kasich (13%/5%).

But the numbers don’t really capture it. It’s worthwhile to dig into some of his more ridiculous statements, like

and so on.

5. Newsweek’s “How Donald Trump’s Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba

In 1998, it briefly looked like the U.S. embargo against Cuba might come down. If it did, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts wanted to be ready to move in fast. So it sent somebody to Havana to investigate the business possibilities. That in itself violated the embargo.

6. The Washington Post’s “Trump: A True Story

This is Fahrenthold again, this time teaming with Robert O’Harrow Jr. The question in this article is Trump’s honesty, and the unique opportunity to compare what he said while under oath in 2007 to what he had previously claimed when not under oath.

In Trump Nation: the art of being the Donald author Timothy O’Brien estimated Trump’s net worth at less than $250 million, rather than the $5 billion he then claimed, and made several other statements Trump was offended by. So he sued. Big mistake.

By filing suit, Trump hadn’t just opened himself up to questioning — he had opened a door into the opaque and secretive company he ran. … The reporter’s attorneys turned the tables and brought Trump in for a deposition. For two straight days, they asked Trump question after question that touched on the same theme: Trump’s honesty.

The upshot is that Trump isn’t very honest, and tells a different story under oath than he does otherwise. Thirty times, they forced an admission that what he had said previously was not true. When not under threat of perjury, Trump exaggerated his success, quoted numbers he knew to be wrong, blamed other people for his mistakes, and “made authoritative-sounding statements without any proof behind them.” Under oath, he had to back off.

The article makes me wish Trump were speaking under oath now. BTW, Trump’s suit against O’Brien was dismissed, and the author he hoped to ruin had his legal fees picked up by his publisher.

7. The Daily Beast’s: “DOJ: Trump’s Early Businesses Blocked Blacks

In 1973, Donald Trump was still learning the real estate business from his father Fred. They were both sued by the Department of Justice for violations of the Fair Housing Act.

According to the DOJ, a former super at Trump’s Highlander complex claimed that he would also attach a coded piece of paper to let the “central office” know that an applicant was black. He added that a number of supers in Queens used a “phony lease” to enable them to refuse apartments to people of color. The super’s assistant backed up his story about the code and said she was told, “Trump Management tries not to rent to black persons.”

… In its lawsuit, the DOJ listed more than half a dozen cases in which a black person would try to rent an apartment at a Trump-owned building and would be denied; but when a white person—often a “tester” from New York’s Urban League—would inquire about vacancies, they would allegedly get offered an apartment in the same building.

The Trumps settled with DOJ in 1975, but by 1978 DOJ had them back in court for non-compliance with the consent decree. Reporter Gideon Resnick concludes: “the ugly details of this early clash with the Department of Justice shed light on alleged systemic discrimination at the heart of the Trump real estate empire.”

8. The New York Times’ “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private

Trump’s public interactions with women have gotten a lot of attention, from decades ago to this week’s continuation of his feud with a former Miss Universe. But The Times Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey tried to find out what it was like for a woman to deal with Trump one-on-one, in private. So they interviewed dozens of women who had known him over the years.

The picture they paint is complex and fascinating. His father Fred comes off as a classic sexist, and Donald revolted against him by promoting women to prominent roles in his businesses. But Donald also carried forward other parts of the sexist paradigm:

He simultaneously nurtured women’s careers and mocked their physical appearance. “You like your candy,” he told an overweight female executive who oversaw the construction of his headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. He could be lewd one moment and gentlemanly the next. … [I]n many cases there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr. Trump had the power, and the women did not. He had celebrity. He had wealth. He had connections. Even after he had behaved crudely toward them, some of the women sought his assistance with their careers or remained by his side.

9. Newsweek’s “How the Trump Organization’s Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security

Kurt Eichenwald describes the impossibility of disentangling the Trump Organization from its “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals”.

If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.

In the earlier Eichenwald article, he explained how Trump’s business strategy changed in 2007, when he began his TV career and decided to profit from fame and branding rather than building.

Rather than constructing Trump’s own hotels, office towers and other buildings, much of his business involved striking deals with overseas developers who pay his company for the right to slap his name on their buildings.

The problem is that these local partners are often deeply (and sometimes corruptly) involved with local politicians and political parties, or have financial interests in the local defense industries. (Eichenwald cites examples from Russia, Ukraine, South Korea, India, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, and other countries.) Even if there is no corrupt intent on Trump’s part, his political decisions will affect his financial interests.

If he plays tough with India, will the government assume it has to clear the way for projects in that “aggressive pipeline” [of Trump Organization projects in that country] and kill the investigations involving Trump’s Pune partners? And if Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America’s strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardize his profits from Trump Towers Pune?

A conflict over a Trump property in Dubai led to a Twitter-feud between Trump a Saudi prince, whom he called “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal”. If he were president, it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t become problem between the two countries.

Sovereign wealth funds, which invest the money accumulated by oil-rich governments, sometimes make financial deals with the Trump Organization. In Azerbaijan, the Trump Organization partners with a company controlled by the son of the transportation minister, who might have laundered money for the Iranians.

Trump has said he will deal with these problems by turning the business over to his children while he is in office. This might work if the business were something simple and small, like a restaurant or a hardware store. But how can he avoid knowing whether a Trump Tower gets built in some foreign capital? Or not hear when a Saudi prince or Russian oligarch threatens to cancel a loan?