Trump's shamelessness could save him

Criming in plain sight: Newly revealed potential corruption out of the Trump White House is oddly old news

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 5, 2024 9:15AM (EST)

Donald Trump on a Twenty Dollar Bill (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump on a Twenty Dollar Bill (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

A few months back I noted a little story in the New York Times about special prosecutor Jack Smith's investigation that didn't get much circulation. It pertained to Donald Trump's classified documents case:

One of the previously unreported subpoenas to the Trump Organization sought records pertaining to Mr. Trump's dealings with a Saudi-backed professional golf venture known as LIV Golf, which is holding tournaments at some of Mr. Trump's golf resorts.

It is unclear what bearing Mr. Trump’s relationship with LIV Golf has on the broader investigation, but it suggests that the prosecutors are examining certain elements of Mr. Trump’s family business.

We knew they were. As the Times had earlier reported :

Federal prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents have issued a subpoena for information about Mr. Trump’s business dealings in foreign countries since he took office, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The subpoena — drafted by the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith — sought details on the Trump Organization’s real estate licensing and development dealings in seven countries: China, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, according to the people familiar with the matter. The subpoena sought the records for deals reached since 2017, when Mr. Trump was sworn in as president.

Since the last flurry of activities around the Mar-a-Lago witnesses a few months ago, that documents case has gone very quiet. It's a national security case so one wouldn't expect any leaking and it's being run by an inexperienced Trump appointed judge who is clearly dragging her feet in order to delay the trial until after the election (or have it canceled if Trump happens to win.)

The corruption was obvious from the start when Trump refused to divest himself of his business and instead put it into a phony "trust" ( from which he could “withdraw profits” whenever he pleased) run by his two sons.

This little episode came back to me when I saw that the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee had issued a report Thursday about the millions of dollars Trump made from foreign countries while he was president. Anyone who's been charged under the Espionage Act, as Trump has been, would have their finances examined with a fine tooth comb, wouldn't they? And according to this new report there is ample reason to be suspicious.

The corruption was obvious from the start when Trump refused to divest himself of his business and instead put it into a phony "trust" ( from which he could “withdraw profits” whenever he pleased) run by his two sons. Everyone knew that he was still in control of anything in the business he wanted to be in control of which made the conflicts of interest unprecedented in the annals of the US presidency. He had buildings, hotels and resorts all over the world, even one right down the street from the White House where the entire Republican Party and administration staff hobnobbed with foreign dignitaries and wealthy offshore businessmen who were spreading around a lot of cash.

The Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee opened an investigation into whether or not Trump was pocketing cash from all these foreign interests in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause which states that a president cannot accept any gifts from Kings and Princes and foreign governments without congressional approval (which he never sought.) They were thwarted at every turn in their attempts to obtain financial documents from the Trump Organization and the case was tied up in court for years. The Supreme Court declined to review one case, upholding the ruling by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that members of Congress lacked the legal standing to sue under the foreign emoluments clause. Later they dismissed two other cases as moot after Trump left office.

We need your help to stay independent

However, in late 2022, Mazar's, Trump's longtime accounting firm, reached a settlement with the Oversight Committee and agreed to start turning over financial information. The House Democrats finally got to see some of what they had been asking for for years. Needless to say, the Republicans promptly shut down the investigation when they took over in 2023 but the Democrats were able to see information about four of Trump's domestic properties and who spent money there in the first two years of his term.

Even with those limitations on their investigation, they uncovered a huge amount of potential corruption. According to the report, over 20 foreign governments put cash into Trump's pockets at just those four properties in 2017 and 2018, to the tune of $7.8 million. The greatest largesse came from just four countries:

-Kuwait paid him at least 300k and moved their lavish holiday party to his hotel, after which he proclaimed that he was proud to ensure they got a big $5 billion sale of American F/A-18 Super Hornet fighting jets.

-Qatar was declared by Trump as corrupt and a funder of terrorism when he first took office. But miraculously, after their Permanent Mission to the United Nations spent $6.5 million for an apartment in Trump World Tower (as well as almost half a million more in other expenditures), he feted their King at the White House and welcomed them as an ally in the fight against terror.

-Saudi Arabia paid Trump over $800k in those first two years, no doubt in gratitude for his unprecedented decision to visit there on his lavish first foreign trip and his decision to bypass congress to sell them 8 billion dollars worth of weapons. And they were very happy to cut him in on their new golf tour after he left office. 

And, of course, there's this:

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

As president, Trump pulled in the most money at his properties during his first two years from China, which is richly ironic considering the current push to impeach President Biden without evidence for allegedly receiving money from China when he was out of office. (Oversight Committee Chair James Comer called the Democratic report "beyond parody" because Trump had "legitimate businesses.")

Chinese interests spent more than $5.5 million at Trump Tower and at his hotels in Washington and Las Vegas including millions from the Chinese Embassy and a state-owned bank which the Justice Department believes helped the North Korean government evade sanctions.

Remember this?

Keep in mind that this is likely the tip of the iceberg. He owns hundreds of properties around the world which were wide open to foreign money and there can be no doubt that this went on until his last day in office and beyond.

Trump was the most corrupt president in American history but the fact that he did so much of this in plain sight seems to have strangely inoculated him from accountability on any of it. It's possible that the special prosecutor is pursuing it as part of his espionage investigation and has discovered more evidence but we may never know about it. Even if we do it looks like it will almost certainly come after the election.

However, this absurd impeachment crusade against Joe Biden may just be the hook that pushes the media and the Democrats to refocus the people on what we know he did. It says everything that this man has so many scandals that corruption on this scale has been considered a minor offense by comparison. 

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