Yesterday, Ted Cruz accused the media of shielding the public from Donald Trump’s track record as a businessman. Cruz alleged that the media was waiting until after the nomination to perform its due diligence and drop “bombshells” on the GOP nominee, essentially using editorial discretion to pick the most vulnerable Republican to face off against Hillary Clinton. Today, however, both CBS News and Bloomberg focus on Trump’s controversial business practices, with CBS offering a more in-depth look at the allegations of fraud at Trump University after having accessed court documents in the civil case:
Court documents reveal that attorneys for the other side zeroing in on Trump’s claim, as seen in a promotional video, that he chose all the instructors.
“If you don’t learn from the people that we’re going to be putting forward, and these are all people who are handpicked by me,” Trump said in the commercial.
But confronted with questions about the instructors’ lack of real estate experience, Trump acknowledged “he looked at resumes and things but didn’t pick the speakers” and some “slipped through the cracks.” …
He was repeatedly pressed on one instructor CBS News told you about back in September, James Harris. Trump said he didn’t know who he was and said, “I wasn’t running it.”
CBS isn’t the only news organization looking into Trump’s past. Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff reports on alleged ties between Trump and a high-roller linked to organized crime back in the 1980s. Robert LiButti cost a Trump casino a $200,000 fine from New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission, not for mob ties but for the racist and sexist abuse LiButti heaped on Trump’s employees while management did nothing about it. Trump has consistently denied knowing LiButti, but LiButti’s daughter alleges that the two were close, and some covert recordings of LiButti seem to corroborate her:
But Edith Creamer, LiButti’s daughter, told Yahoo News in two recent telephone interviews that Trump’s account was false and that Trump and her father knew each other quite well. “He’s a liar,” said Creamer. “Of course he knew him. I flew in the [Trump] helicopter with [Trump’s then wife] Ivana and the kids. My dad flew it up and down [to Atlantic City]. My 35th birthday party was at the Plaza and Donald was there. After the party, we went on his boat, his big yacht. I like Trump, but it pisses me off that he denies knowing my father. That hurts me.” …
ahoo News has also obtained the full transcript of a Sept. 4, 1990, undercover New Jersey State Police tape of a conversation between LiButti and Trump’s top Atlantic City executive, Edward M. Tracy, that appears to lend further credence to Creamer’s account.
The New Jersey police had secretly wired Tracy after two reputed bookmakers for the Gambino crime family told an undercover officer that LiButti was “in Trump’s pockets.” That, police investigators concluded, was a reference to a highly lucrative contract at the Trump Plaza that LiButti had secured for his brother-in-law, Jimmy Roselli, a popular crooner once considered a rival to his childhood Hoboken neighbor, Frank Sinatra .
According to the transcript of the September 1990 meeting, LiButti makes multiple references to conversations he claimed to have had with Trump, telling Tracy, “I’m very close with him” and recounting how he had been advising Trump to unload one of his Atlantic City casinos to resolve his then highly public business problems. “I told him this right in the helicopter with, ah, Ivana and my daughter one night,” LiButti said to Tracy, according to the transcript.
These allegations go back more than a quarter-century, of course. However, a much more recent effort to get financing for a skyscraper used a pitch by Trump to investors from China, using the kind of visas against which Trump and his supporters often rail, according to Bloomberg:
Yet no skills are required of the wealthy Chinese being courted by a Chinese-subtitled video to help finance a huge Trump-branded tower in New Jersey. The video leads viewers behind the wheel of a car into Jersey City with scenes of the tower, all to the tune of the theme song from The Sopranos, “Woke Up This Morning.”
The video was produced to help raise tens of millions of dollars through a controversial government program that offers expedited visas to foreign investors overwhelmingly from China. While the program has many supporters who argue it attracts foreign capital and creates jobs at no U.S. taxpayer cost, congressional overseers and Homeland Security have raised sharp concerns. Applicants are sometimes cleared in less than a month and the critics say the government is essentially selling visas to wealthy foreigners with no proven skills, paving the way for money laundering and compromising national security. …
Trump Bay Street is a 50-story luxury rental apartment building being built by Kushner Companies, whose chief executive officer, Jared Kushner, is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka. It will have an outdoor pool, indoor golf simulator and sweeping views of Lower Manhattan; it adjoins an existing high rise condo, Trump Plaza Residence. The firm that was hired to seek investors, US Immigration Fund, is run by Florida developer Nicholas Mastroianni, who announced a partnership last year with a Trump golf course in Jupiter, Florida.
The visa program is known as EB-5. In exchange for investing at least $500,000 in a project promising to create jobs, foreigners receive a two-year visa with a good chance of obtaining permanent residency for them and their families. In 2014, the most recent year for which records are available, the U.S. issued 10,692 of these visas — 85% to people from China.
Whether or not any of these are on the level, it’s worth noting the timing of these stories. Trump has been running for the nomination for almost a full year now, and almost all of these stories have been available for scrutiny the entire time. That’s not just an indictment of the media — it’s also an indictment of the other Republican candidates, who seemed afraid to take Trump head-on until only very recently. Suddenly both the media and the campaigns have taken an interest in Trump’s background despite the decades of controversy and notoriety of Trump’s public persona and dealings. Had the campaigns started digging these up in April of last year — or perhaps April of 2011, when Trump made his test run at the GOP nomination — the media would have at least been forced to cover them, even if reluctantly.
So what about these stories? The mob-ties allegations seems the most thin (although well sourced by Isikoff) and least serious of the three; the casino paid a fine for allowing a high roller to abuse and denigrate staff, but that had little to do with Trump himself, and any other connection to Trump other than a potential sale of a horse is at best speculative. Trump can explain away the recruitment of investors in China by arguing — correctly — that he’s just operating in the legal and financial environment created by the “establishment” in both parties. The Trump University story will probably do the most damage, especially if it becomes clear that Trump deliberately misrepresented his role in the organization. Being a superior deal-maker and winning non-stop is his big selling point, and the explanation provided in the court documents portray Trump as something akin to an absentee landlord — interested only in collecting the checks rather than providing value to consumers. That goes straight to his identity and strength in this race, which is why Trump gets most flustered when dealing with that particular line of attack.
Of course, if anything new comes up, that may change the calculations. That may be the reason why Trump is stalling on releasing his tax returns. If that’s the case, don’t expect him to release them at all, and that will tell us something about whether vulnerabilities exist that haven’t yet been aired.