How to debate a missing Donald Trump: Go after his family business

If any Republican candidate wants to open a new line of criticism of Donald Trump, look at the Trump Organization

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 23, 2023 9:58AM (EDT)

Trump family members Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump (Paul Morigi/WireImage/Getty Images)
Trump family members Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump (Paul Morigi/WireImage/Getty Images)

Former president Donald Trump won't be appearing at tonight's GOP presidential debate in Milwaukee. He says he has no need to participate because he's so far ahead in the polls, and he's right. He's also very busy. He needs to get ready to be arrested on Thursday when he turns himself in for booking at the Fulton County jail in Georgia. He's got a lot on his plate. It will be interesting to see if any of the challengers will summon up the nerve to attack Trump for failing to show up or go after him for his legal problems.

I'm sure we'll hear something about Hunter Biden since this will be broadcast on Fox News and they apparently have some sort of contractual obligation to discuss the "Biden Crime Family" every ten minutes or so. I expect the candidates will all be eager to participate. The question really is whether any of the challengers will take the opportunity to tell the audience about the "Trump Crime Family's" global pay-to-play operation.

I'm not expecting much but it's possible that Chris Christie could bring up Jared Kushner's $2 billion payoff from a Saudi sovereign wealth fund almost immediately after leaving the White House. He's done it before. But I didn't hear anything about the Trump family when it hosted the Saudi-backed LIV golf tournament or when they signed a very lucrative agreement with a Saudi real estate company for a Trump hotel in Oman in the early months after Trump was sent packing back to Mar-a-Lago. Considering all the hand-wringing over Hunter's laptop, you'd think someone in that group of misfits would see it as a useful criticism of the frontrunner.

What we do have are these preposterous declarations from Donald Trump's number two son, Eric:

It's a struggle not to laugh hysterically at that bald-faced lie. Trump refused to divest his businesses as other high office-holders have done and instead ran his business out of the White House. According to Forbes Magazine, he left office $2.4 billion richer than when he went in:

If not for the pandemic, there would have been even more. Trump's business was hauling in about $650 million annually during the first three years of his presidency. But in 2020, revenues plunged to an estimated $450 million as Covid infected the business. "It's hurting me, and it's hurting Hilton, and it's hurting all of the great hotel chains all over the world," Trump said in a March 2020 press conference at the White House. "It's hurting everybody. I mean, there are very few businesses that are doing well now."  

That couldn't have been a motivation for him refusing to admit that the crisis was as bad as experts were saying or pushing for normality even as tens of thousands were dying each week, could it? Who could ever suspect such a thing?

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Most of Trump's profits during that period came from his hotels and clubs where people were paying vast sums for access and foreign governments lavishly lined Trump's pockets. The New York Times reported last fall that the governments of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China spent millions at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC "at crucial times in 2017 and 2018 for those countries' relations with the United States." They added that "Republican lobbyists working on behalf of these countries — some operating without registering as foreign agents, as required by law — spent tens of thousands more at the Trump hotel during the same periods."

For reasons that have never been clear, nobody ever seemed that interested in this story despite the full-bore press against Hillary Clinton's involvement in the family's global charity and Biden's son's banal influence peddling.

Trump promoted his properties every chance he got, spending one out of every three days at one of them. He even announced that he was hosting the G7 meeting at his Doral Country Club at one point and only backed down when some of the people he counted on to bail him out of his impeachment were unhappy with the arrangement.

It wasn't just foreign governments that lined Trump's pockets. American taxpayers did too.

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Eric Trump, acting as spokesman for the Trump Organization had assured the media that the company had only charged the government the actual cost of any lodging and amenities:

If my father travels, they [Secret Service agents] stay at our properties free — meaning, like cost for housekeeping. The government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they'd be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50,

He lied. The House Oversight Committee, led by Democrats at the time, released records showing that the government had spent more than $1.4 million for Secret Service to stay at Trump properties since 2017 and had charged as much as $1,185 per night for hotel rooms used by agents.

This week, Eric Trump once again demanded that the American people believe him or their lying eyes, asserting that the Trump family was scrupulous about avoiding conflict of interest despite mountains of evidence to the contrary:

The Trump organization is on record returning $151,470 to the federal treasury in 2018, $191,000 in 2019 and $105,465  in 2020 ostensibly representing all the "profits" they received from foreign governments. It's a joke. There was no public record provided to back up the amounts and when the House Oversight Committee investigated it was clear the "donations" represented a very small percentage of the take. Maybe it was just the Margarita bill.

It's even questionable if he donated his last year's 400k presidential salary to the government as he'd done in the three previous years (and bragged about incessantly.) It's totally believable that he decided to keep the 2020 salary after everything that happened after the election.

All that's just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't include Trump pressuring foreign governments to change laws to benefit his properties, Don Jr. being received in India like a visiting potentate to sell access and condos, Trump's Indonesian resort project getting backing from Chinese investors, and on and on. The level of blatant corruption by the Trump family is mindboggling.

For reasons that have never been clear, nobody ever seemed that interested in this story despite the full-bore press against Hillary Clinton's involvement in the family's global charity and Biden's son's banal influence peddling. If any Republican candidate wants to open up a new line of criticism of Donald Trump that one's ripe. Considering the GOP's Hunter obsession, maybe the Democrats should give it a whirl as well. 

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.

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