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“Already Waist-Deep In Stench”: The Most Corrupt Candidate Ever Is Donald Trump

Before his message was overshadowed by a scandal about his use of a white-supremacist image — a mistake that could happen to any candidate, really, so long as that candidate had inspired a massive following among neo-Nazis — Donald Trump was trying to make a point about Hillary Clinton’s corruption. She is the “most corrupt candidate ever,” he claims. Corruption is indeed a plausible line of attack against Clinton — or, at least, it would be, if the opposing candidate was anybody other than Donald Trump, who may actually be the most corrupt presidential candidate ever.

It should be conceded that the evidence against Clinton is fairly damning. After Bill Clinton left the presidency, the former First Couple intermingled career and personal interests in ways that, at minimum, exposed them to a high risk of contamination. The Clinton Foundation was not only a charitable endeavor but a vehicle for Bill Clinton to enjoy the comforts and exercise the quasi-official power of an active figure on the world stage. Donors to the foundation included many of the same businesses and individuals who paid the Clintons for private speeches, and who had an interest in cultivating close ties with a secretary of State and potential future president. Some of those figures had business interests that aligned with Russian strategic goals rather than American ones. The Clintons failed to promptly disclose all of their foundation donors and, on at least one occasion, appointed an apparently unqualified donor to a State Department board.

The evidence of Clinton corruption is circumstantial rather than direct. If they wanted to stay above reproach, they could have rigorously disclosed every dollar that passed through their personal and professional accounts, and made it plain that neither donating to their foundation nor hiring them for speeches would purchase any special treatment whatsoever — indeed, they bent over backward to demonstrate that they could not be bought. Instead, they profited from the ambiguity.

The case against Hillary Clinton is that her administration might be corrupted around the margins — in its minor appointments or pardons and in the relative ease in which some donors get their calls returned — but that the basic contours of her administration would be a continuation of the non-corrupt center-left program of the Obama administration. The case against Trump is qualitatively different. Trump is flamboyantly corrupt in ways that run to the very core of his identity and prospective governing choices.

This is all the more remarkable given that Trump’s complete lack of experience in public office ought to provide him with the opportunity, which most novice candidates have, for a clean-slate résumé. Instead, he is already waist-deep in stench. Trump has not merely intermingled campaigning with his business interests; the two are one and the same. His entire political career seems to be an outgrowth of his efforts to build his personal brand, which Trump has endlessly used the campaign as a platform to promote. He has devoted speeches to attacking the judge in the fraud suit against his “university,” instructed surrogates to do the same, and promised to relaunch the enterprise if elected. He celebrated the Brexit vote, which drove down the value of the pound, as helpful for driving visitors to his Scottish golf course. This sort of behavior is not an appearance of a conflict of interest but the definition of one.

Trump appears to be genuinely unaware, even at the conceptual level, that his business interests might complicate his ability to govern in the public interest. During the primary, when a debate moderator asked if he would put his holdings in a blind trust, Trump comically replied that he would, while defining a “blind trust” to mean his children would run his business for him, which is the opposite of a blind trust. Even if Trump wanted to distance himself from his business interests, the nature of his holdings would make it virtually impossible, as The Wall Street Journal explains today. A traditionally rich person could place their wealth in third-party hands without knowing what they were invested in; Trump’s business is his personal brand, making divestment impossible. “Trump’s empire would pose unprecedented conflicts of interest due to the size of its holdings, privately held nature of the family-run business, and concentration in one industry,” Richard Painter, the Bush administration’s ethics lawyer, tells the Journal.

Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth. Franklin Foer lays out impressive circumstantial evidence that Trump may well be a puppet of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump shares a web of financial ties that help explain their shared worldview. Whatever we might think of Clinton, we can be confident she is not controlled by the Kremlin. And the failures of disclosure or record-keeping in her operations pale beside Trump’s defiant refusal to disclose his tax returns.

It is altogether fair to condemn Clinton as a corrupt practitioner of the Washington cash-for-access culture. She and her husband are careless, susceptible to greed — normal politicians, in other words. Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale, and the notion that disdain for corruption would supply a rationale to elect him is nothing short of bizarre.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 5, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Organized Crime | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Character And Trust”: Did Mitt Romney Break The Law By Failing To Disclose Delphi Investments?

We now know, thanks to Greg Palast’s recent scoop in The Nation, that Mitt Romney reaped a large financial windfall from the auto bailouts. Romney didn’t talk up this shrewd investment while touting his business experience on the campaign trail, for obvious reasons—he is a strong critic of those bailouts.

But while Romney had ample political reasons to conceal his investment, he apparently had no legal justification for doing so. Federal law requires that candidates disclose stock holdings that are affected by government action—and Romney’s million-dollar (at least) investment in a hedge fund that bought up Delphi stocks surely fits that bill.

Now, unions and good-government groups are calling on the feds to investigate Romney’s oversight.

Thursday afternoon in Toledo, Ohio—where the story has received significant play in local media—United Auto Workers president Bob King joined Palast and Service Employees International Union vice president Tom Woodruff to call upon the US Office of Government Ethics to look into Romney’s financial disclosures and their failure to list the Delphi investments. Along with several groups like CREW and Public Citizen, the union leaders also sent a letter to OGE demanding a formal investigation.

“The American people have a right to know about Governor Romney’s potential conflicts of interest, such as the profits his family made from the auto rescue,” said King. “It’s time for Governor Romney to disclose or divest.”

As Palast reported, a trust in Ann Romney’s name listed “more than $1 million” invested with Elliott Management, run by hedge fund guru and GOP mega-donor Paul Singer. (That’s the minimum amount of disclosure required by law, so it could have been much more than $1 million.) Singer subsequently snapped up large amounts of stock in Delphi at pennies on the dollar, and then, along with other hedge funds, demanded that the government assume pension responsibilities and bail the company out—or they would shut it down, thus crushing General Motors as well.

The government acceded, Delphi became lucrative again and then went public, and Elliott Management and its investors—including Romney—reaped enormous rewards.

Under any rational interpretation of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, these are holdings that a presidential candidate would need to disclose, because they can be affected by government action. The Romney campaign doesn’t argue that they are not, but rather that, since Ann Romney’s trust is “blind,” there is no disclosure requirement.

Today’s letter points out, however, that Ann Romney’s trust is blind in name only. Romney himself has said that “the blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will. Which is to say you can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do.” Moreover, this is not a federally recognized blind trust of the sort Romney would be forced to create if he won the White House. If it was, he would have never been able to reap his windfall from Delphi, the letter points out.

Whether or not Romney broke the law will come down to this question of how blind this trust really is, and Romney at least has some plausible deniability there. But no doubt this is a story his campaign doesn’t want to see playing out in Ohio five days before the election.

 

By: George Zornick, The Nation, November 1, 2012

November 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Standing Up To China, Romney Style”: MItt Invested In Chinese Company Fined Thousands For Selling Fake College Tests

In the latest Romney campaign reboot, the candidate has made a central theme of President Obama’s alleged softness on China. “Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office,” the narrator of a Romney ad released last week intones. “It doesn’t have to be this way if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology.”

The 30-second ad, titled “Stand up to China,” says Obama failed on no fewer than seven occasions to stop China’s violations of intellectual-property laws. FactCheck.org notes that the ad mangles the facts, but beyond that, Romney’s whole focus on China carries perils, not least because he has invested in and profited off of Chinese companies known for violating American businesses’ intellectual property.

Romney’s recently released tax returns show that he invested in the parent company of Youku, a sort of Chinese YouTube that was a haven for pirated movies and TV shows, though the company is now apparently cleaning up its act.

Another notable Romney investment, which has so far gone unnoticed, was in a Chinese private education company that was cited repeatedly in the late 1990s for selling bootleg American graduate school entrance exams and was forced by a Chinese court to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in a landmark copyright case.

According to his 2011 personal financial disclosure form, Romney’s blind trust invested between $15,001 and $50,000 in New Oriental Education & Technology Group, the largest provider of private educational services in China, though his recent tax returns show he sold at least some of that position. Among other services, New Oriental helps Chinese students prepare for the tests needed to gain admission to American universities, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the GRE or the GMAT, the business school entrance exam. The company has said that as many as seven in 10 mainland-Chinese students who attended foreign universities have gone through one of the schools’ test-preparation classes.

A 2001 expose in the the Chronicle Of Higher Education reported that New Oriental, “like other Chinese test-preparation schools, has been pirating and selling Educational Testing Service publications — thus compromising their integrity and costing the testing service money by violating its copyrights.” Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the private nonprofit giant responsible for the TOEFL, the GRE and other tests.

ETS began to get suspicious of New Oriental in late 2000 when they saw “a surprising increase in Chinese student test scores,” University Wire reported at the time. In response, ETS sent a letter to American universities warning them to give extra scrutiny to Chinese students. In November of that year, Chinese authorities raided the school where they “seized thousands of illegal copies of the tests that were being sold logo and all in the bookstore of the New Oriental School,” as the AP reported at the time. The tests sold in the bookstore included “live questions” being used on current tests, leading ETS to believe that New Oriental had paid people to take the tests, memorize the questions, and later reproduce them. The school had already been caught hawking bootleg tests in 1996 and 1997, and despite apologies and promises to stop each time, it apparently did not.

In 2001, ETS and the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT, sued New Oriental in Chinese court. In 2002, the school’s founder and president, who had developed a high profile as China’s leading expert on gaining admission to foreign universities, abruptly resigned. The Straits Times reported the resignation was due to the ETS piracy scandal, but the school denied this.

In 2003, a court in Beijing ruled in ETS and GMAC’s favor and forced New Oriental to pay about $1.2 million in fines, along with over $100,000 in legal fees, and required the school to turn over all illegal copies of ETS and GMAC materials, and publish an apology. New Oriental appealed, and while the decision was upheld, the fine was reduced to $774,000 in 2004.

The ruling became a landmark case in Chinese intellectual property law, as it was the first case argued after China joined the World Trade Organization and a rare win for a plaintiff. “This ruling should give international companies more confidence about operating in China and having their significant intellectual property rights recognized and enforced by the Chinese courts,” the president of GMAC said in a statement. The company has since changed its ways; in 2007, New Oriental and ETS made up when they entered into a licensing agreement.

Since September 2006, when New Oriental began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EDU, the price has skyrocketed from just over $5 to $17.44 a share today.

It’s not clear from Romney’s personal financial disclosure forms when his trust purchased the position in New Oriental, and the Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment. New Oriental did not respond to a request either, but has told Businessweek that it doesn’t comment on past litigation. As the campaign has often said of Romney’s investments, his trust, like that of most other politicians, is “blind,” meaning he has no control over how the money is invested and cannot see where his money is kept. While this is true, it still puts Romney in an awkward position to be making money off a company that has a poor record on intellectual property at the same time as he criticizes his opponent for being weak on intellectual property violators.

And while Romney now says that it’s not fair to criticize investments in his blind trust, he did just that in 1994 when running against the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. “The blind trust is an age-old ruse,” Romney said then. “You can always tell a blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.”

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 1, 2012

October 2, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rich American Exceptionalism”: Whose Swiss Bank Account Hedges Against The American Dollar?

No, that’s not a trick question. Yes, the answer is that easy. Of course, it’s Mitt Romney.

According to the manager of his trust, Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank account wasn’t an exercise in tax avoidance—rather, it was a hedge against a decline in the dollar. I’m not qualified to say whether or not his explanation is the full truth, but it certainly doesn’t provide evidence that Mitt Romney hates America. Obviously, an investment that bets on the decline of the dollar might not sound good, but when you have as much money as he does, you’re going to end up placing bets that might not be great soundbites for a campaign. In substantive terms, Romney is going to have a much bigger problem explaining why Bain profited from destroying companies than he will have explaining this.

But while the mere existence of the Swiss bank account doesn’t by itself raise questions about Mitt Romney’s loyalty to America, it provides one hell of a way to respond to Romney when he engages his his now-familiar attacks on President Obama’s loyalty. Despite all the attention paid to Newt Gingrich’s “food-stamp” line, Mitt Romney himself is no stranger to the hate card. His preferred formulation: that President Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, that he seeks to “poison the American spirit”, and that he wants to turn America into Europe and “keep us from being one nation under God.”

Of course, Mitt Romney is nothing like that at all. He’s just the kind of guy who bets on America’s decline to protect his own ass.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Blind Trust Ruse”: Romney Does Not Dispute He Profited From Foreclosures In Florida

ThinkProgress reported Wednesday that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has profited from thousands of Florida foreclosures through a Goldman Sachs investment fund. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) blasted Romney on the trail today for those investments, and re-upped those attacks in tonight’s CNN debate.

Romney attempted to explain away the investments, saying he didn’t control them because they were part of a blind trust:

GINGRICH: Governor Romney has investments in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians. So maybe Governor Romney, in the spirit of openness, should tell us how much money he’s made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments.

ROMNEY: First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments they’ve made, we’ve learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been made in mutual funds and bonds. I don’t own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds the investor has held through mutual funds. And Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Watch it: http://youtu.be/A8Dg4wpZNRo

Notably, Romney never denied the charge that he made money off of foreclosures. Later in the debate, Romney was asked about the $3 million he kept in a Swiss bank account before it was closed in 2010. Again, Romney attempted to brush aside the question, saying, “I have a trustee” who manages a blind trust.

Romney’s reliance on blind trusts is interesting, considering it was he who called them “a ruse” when running against former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) in 1994. And as ABC News noted, the trusts are “not so blind,” since they have been noted on his financial disclosure forms. The trusts are also maintained by Romney’s personal lawyer and don’t meet federal standards for elected officials. Romney’s original investments into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, meanwhile, were never in a blind trust.

 

By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, January 26, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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