Steve Bannon and Louis DeJoy: Different wings of Trump's empire of corruption

With Bannon indicted and DeJoy hauled before Congress, Trump's corrupt regime may be coming unglued at last

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 21, 2020 9:56AM (EDT)

 White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As the Democrats staged a successful virtual telethon-style convention over the past four days, Donald Trump has been running around the country saying that there's no way he can lose the election unless it's "rigged" and telling Fox News that he plans to send law enforcement to polling places, "to Democrat areas, not to the Republican areas, as an example. Could be the other way too, but I doubt it." He's also pretty much endorsed the conspiracy cult QAnon, saying they are people who like him "very much." On Thursday he watched yet another of his 2016 campaign leaders hauled off in handcuffs by federal agents.

It would be just another week in the surreal world of Donald Trump if it weren't for the fact that the election is just around the corner and his rantings have become quite serious. Certainly, seeing his former White House strategist and campaign "CEO" Steve Bannon face indictment, on the same day that another judge ruled he would have to turn over his tax returns to New York prosecutors, may have focused the mind.

Bannon and three others were indicted on federal charges for allegedly siphoning off more than a million dollars of small-donor money from the private fundraising group We Build the Wall, which had promised that all money donated would be spent on President Trump's cherished border wall. This sort of thing is a familiar theme in Trump World: Recall that just before he assumed office in 2017, he settled a $25 million lawsuit over his fraudulent Trump University.

In fact, this isn't all that different from the charges Trump may well face from the Manhattan district attorney's office relating to his licensing and real estate projects. There is evidence that he and others in the Trump Organization have misrepresented how much of their own money was at stake to other potential buyers, banks and investors. And then there's the question of whether they committed tax fraud. (Spoiler: Almost certainly, whether or not that can be successfully prosecuted.)

Trump claimed on Thursday that he was always against the private wall project that got Bannon into trouble, but his image was all over the group's website and Donald Trump Jr. is on video endorsing it. One of the board members, Kris Kobach —who headed Trump's short-lived "voter fraud" commission and keeps losing elections back home in Kansas — is also on video claiming that Trump told him the project had his blessing.

One of the more suspicious connections with this scam was Trump's relentless insistence that a North Dakota construction firm called Fisher Industries should get the contract for the official border wall. According to this Washington Post story from May of 2019, Trump demanded that the military award the job to this obscure company even after its bid had been rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers, which alarmed Homeland Security officials about the appearance of corruption. And guess what?

Even as Trump pushes for his firm, Fisher already has started building a section of fencing in Sunland Park, N.M. We Build the Wall, a nonprofit that includes prominent conservatives who support the president — its associates and advisory board include former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon, Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince, ex-congressman Tom Tancredo and former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach — has guided an effort to build portions of the border barrier on private land with private funds.

Jared Kushner pushed Fisher Industries as well, but in the end the firm didn't get the government contract. It ended up building a small piece of the private wall that has been described faulty and flawed. Trump distanced himself from the We Build the Wall project last month, apparently out of the blue, saying he never believed in it in the first place.

None of this smells right: He spent months pushing the government to award that company a multi-billion-dollar contract, and suddenly their shoddy work makes him "look bad."

On Friday we will see yet another corrupt Trump henchman appear on Capitol Hill when Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor, testifies before the Senate. The sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service in advance of the election is almost certainly the most corrupt act this administration has yet undertaken.

Trump openly admitted that he opposes funding the post office in order to make mail-in voting impossible during the pandemic. It's pretty clear that the point of the various "efficiencies" DeJoy has implemented in the past few weeks, such as destroying sorting machines, removing mailboxes and ending overtime for mail carriers, are designed to make mail-in voting difficult or impossible during this deadly pandemic.

Of course, this has also had the effect of turning the Postal Service into what a small business owner interviewed by the Los Angeles Times described as "Armageddon," with packages of rotting food and dead baby chicks piling up in postal facilities, and deliveries taking weeks instead of days. DeJoy claimed earlier this week that he would not implement any more "efficiencies" until after the election but reports from all across the country suggest the service cuts are continuing.

We can expect that DeJoy will be asked about all this at the Senate hearing Friday and a House hearing on Monday. Let's hope the committees ask him about his reported meeting with the president earlier this month as well:

Trump has said he didn't meet with DeJoy on that date, which is almost certainly a lie. What are the odds Trump didn't tell him he wanted the post office crippled in advance of the election to prevent mail-in voting?

Trump's corruption often has a blatant financial component, of course. Take his aborted gambit to hold the G7 summit at his Trump National Doral resort in Miami, for instance. Maybe there's a money angle for him in the border wall and the post office too. But to be fair, his corrupt gambits aren't always driven by financial gain. They can also be about personal, political benefit, even if that's often based on an ignorant misunderstanding.

According to the Washington Post, Trump's obsession with the Fisher Industries, the obscure North Dakota firm, stemmed from the CEO's frequent appearances on Fox News, in which he promised he could build the wall cheaper and faster than anyone else. Trump's antipathy toward the post office predates his panic over mail-in voting, and reflects his delusional belief that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is so much wealthier than Trump is because he's getting a sweetheart deal from the Postal Service.

These are just two of Trump's many nonsensical and corrupt obsessions, pursued on his orders by flunkies and henchmen who often know their assignments but carry them out anyway. Quite a few of them have been caught bilking the taxpayers and ended up losing their jobs at this point, and there's an ignominious list of Trump's campaign cronies who have been indicted or convicted of federal crimes, to which Steve Bannon added his name this week.

Whether Trump's underlings are motivated by opportunism, careerism or just plain old greed, you have to ask yourself why anyone would sign on to work for this insane, childlike president. Maybe someone will ask Louis DeJoy that question when he appears on Capitol Hill. At this point the country deserves to know. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton