The Washington Post has awarded four Pinocchios to claims made by a few high-profile progressives which were allegedly based on a story in the New York Times. Here’s the bit of the Times’ story that got the ball rolling:
As he made his way out of the chamber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the justice.
“Say hello to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Special guy.”
Mr. Trump was apparently referring to Justice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, eventually rising to become the bank’s global head of real estate capital markets, and he worked closely with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer, according to two people with knowledge of his role.
During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most important lender, dispensing well over $1 billion in loans to him for the renovation and construction of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago at a time other mainstream banks were wary of doing business with him because of his troubled business history.
The next day, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, tweeted this outline of a new conspiracy theory:
Just to state this: Justice Kennedy's son gave a billion dollar loan to Trump when no one would give him a dime, and Justice Kennedy has been ruling in favor of the Trump Administration position for 2 years as the Court decides 5-4 case after 5-4 case.
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) June 29, 2018
The following day, Senate candidate Richard Painter tweeted about Kennedy’s resignation and linked to a New Republic story that suggested something shady was afoot. (If you’ve forgotten who Richard Painter is, he’s the person who recently released one of the worst campaign ads ever made.)
The circumstances of Justice Kennedy’s resignation must be investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee before any replacement is considered. The Constitution does not give Trump the power to use underhanded means to induce Supreme Court resignations.https://t.co/S6m5oLg9mV
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) June 30, 2018
Today, the Washington Post took a look at these claims and found them wanting. For starters, the absurd claim that Kennedy is ruling in favor of Trump has a key flaw: Kennedy was always a Republican, albeit one who leaned left on a few issues:
Justice Kennedy will be 82 later this month, well past retirement age. He’s a Republican appointee creating a vacancy for a Republican president. He could have been voting in favor of Trump’s positions because he agreed with them. Although he voted with the liberal justices on numerous cases, and ruled to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015, Kennedy has a rightward bent. He wrote the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC and voted to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act in 2012. Considering his age, party affiliation and conservative views on many issues, it’s not clear why Kennedy would have needed some secret inducement to create a vacancy for Trump.
But there’s an even bigger flaw in the theory floated by Neera Tanden:
Moreover, from 1998 to 2009, it would have been impossible for Justin Kennedy — then at Deutsche Bank — to know that Trump would be the president appointing a replacement for his father on the Court in 2018.
Unless Justin Kennedy has a working crystal ball, this conspiracy doesn’t make much sense. But it goes beyond that, because even the claim that Justin Kennedy was directing a large stream of money at Mr. Trump isn’t accurate. As MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who worked for Deutsche Bank at the same time as Kennedy, explained last month, he was part of one unit inside the bank that did some business with Trump, but some of the big loans at issue involved another business unit and took place after Kennedy had left Deutsche Bank:
I worked at deutsche bank for 8yrs
I worked with Justin Kennedy
I read the stories – reached out to some former colleagues for their reaction
Here’s some broader context/perspective- Neither of which fit in 240 characters
(Part 1/2) pic.twitter.com/Ug8UQxhVlW
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 29, 2018
Here’s part two:
Part 2/2 pic.twitter.com/gV6lXxgSeD
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 29, 2018
Bottom line: Justin Kennedy was not in charge of directing a billion dollars to Donald Trump. Here’s the conclusion reached by the Washington Post:
It would be explosive if Kennedy’s decision to vote a certain way or to retire was based on Deutsche Bank’s dealings with Trump more than a decade ago. Scratching below the surface, there’s no evidence to justify these theories. The New York Times article doesn’t supply it. It says Deutsche Bank loaned Trump more than $1 billion “during” Justin Kennedy’s tenure, not that he was signing the checks or that any rules were broken. What we could piece together about Justin Kennedy’s history doesn’t support these theories, either.
Standing alone, the tweets from Painter and Tanden are incendiary and worthy of Four Pinocchios. Painter says he wasn’t questioning the Kennedys’ actions. Uncorrected, his tweet leaves a different impression, since it relies on a New Republic article raising questions about the justice, his son and Trump.
Another conspiracy theory bites the dust. Kennedy resigned because he wanted to make sure a Republican president and a Republican Senate would choose his replacement. His son’s work at Deutsche Bank a decade ago has nothing to do with that.