What Cohen told us about the Trump Org’s business practices
Welcome to 1100 Pennsylvania, a newsletter devoted to President Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. (and his other companies). President Trump, of course, still owns his businesses and can profit from them.
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What Cohen’s testimony told us about the Trump Org’s business practices
Yesterday long-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee. You probably knew that. Here’s some of what we learned about the Trump Organization’s business practices and how the committee’s investigation may proceed.
“Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified under oath today that he knows of other criminal activity committed by the president—but he can’t talk about it because it’s currently being investigated by federal prosecutors.” By Russ Choma for Mother Jones.
“Mr. Cohen showed lawmakers an Aug. 1, 2017, check to him signed by President Trump, and another signed by his son Donald Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s CFO. He said they were related to the $130,000 payment he made to conceal an alleged sexual encounter between Mr. Trump and Stephanie Clifford, the porn star known as Stormy Daniels.” By Rebecca Ballhaus and Joe Palazzolo for The Wall Street Journal.
“In 2013, months before Donald J. Trump approached Deutsche Bank seeking a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills, a mysterious new asset appeared on his financial statement. It wasn’t a new hotel, office tower or golf resort. It was ‘brand value’ — $4 billion of it, by Mr. Trump’s account.” By Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig for The New York Times.
“Questioned by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who showed that she was almost as effective an interrogator as she is a tweeter, Mr Cohen said that Mr Trump also inflated the value of his assets to an insurance firm, which would count as fraud.” By The Economist.
“Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y…appeared to lay the groundwork on Wednesday for a formal request of Trump’s financial documents, including paperwork from his real estate company and his personal tax returns.” By Tucker Higgins for CNBC.
Cohen provided copies of Trump’s financial statements for 2011 through 2013 and two news articles to substantiate “his claim that Trump inflated and deflated his assets when it suited the situation.” By Katie Mettler for The Washington Post.
“Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank JSC paid Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to help recover stolen money allegedly laundered in the U.S. and has spoken with American prosecutors probing Cohen’s activities, a lawyer for the bank said, confirming part of Cohen’s congressional testimony.” By Erik Larson for Bloomberg.
“Michael Cohen has claimed Donald Trump directed him to find someone to purchase a portrait of himself at a high society art auction. Once the stooge had bought the painting, he was paid $60,000 with money from the Trump Foundation, a charitable organization.” By Sam Wolfson for The Guardian.
Trump received a $28 million payment from the Trump Hotel Las Vegas in 2018 for back fees, by Bryan Lowry for The Kansas City Star.
Tarini Parti of BuzzFeed News shared some background on Trump Org staffers who were mentioned in the hearing (Michael Calamari, Allen Weisselberg, and Rhona Graff
D.C. AG subpoenaed the Trump inaugural committee
From “Washington official subpoenas Trump inaugural committee” by Sharon LaFraniere and Maggie Haberman for The New York Times:
The attorney general for the District of Columbia has subpoenaed documents from President Trump’s inaugural committee, the third governmental body to delve into how the fund raised $107 million and spent it to celebrate Mr. Trump’s swearing-in.
As Justin Elliott of ProPublica and Ilya Marritz of WNYC reported earlier, the Trump inaugural committee paid the Trump Hotel D.C. $1.5 million, including $175,000 for event space. That rate, if found to be excessive, could violate tax laws. (The hotel originally tried to charge $3.6 million, according to Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus of The Wall Street Journal).
Racine, of course, is a plaintiff in the emoluments suit against President Trump that has advanced the furthest in the courts. (On March 19, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the president’s appeal of district court rulings that allowed the case to proceed to discovery).
Believe it or not, former attorney general Jeff Sessions knows how to party, according to Fox News pundit and Trump campaign advisor, Harlan Hill. (Of course, knowing how to party and actually partying are two different skill sets.)
Trump Organization event planner turned HUD region 2 head, Lynne Patton, appeared to lunch at the Trump Hotel D.C. shortly after Rep. Mark Meadows (R–NC) deployed her during the Cohen hearing to debunk allegations that President Trump is racist. Her dining companion was conservative pundit Armstrong Williams. (Patton retweeted the picture.)
History was made when Hill and fellow Trump Hotel D.C. regular Blaze TV’s Eric Bolling finally took a photo together.
Hill made a sexist joke while posing with former editor-in-chief of Breitbart London/UKIP advisor and an associate of Nigel Farage, Raheem Kassam, and Sarah Selip of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs (for 30 years, it has “successfully represented think tanks, associations, public policy organizations, political candidates, political action committees, corporations, book publishers, authors, and foreign governments”).
The vice president and general manager of WKRG/WFNA TV in Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Jesse Grear, dined at BLT Prime. He wants his Instagram followers to know that he’s a Trump supporter and loves his president.
Interns at the pro-limited-government Heritage Foundation Dwayne Clark, Alexander Hyatt, and Elena Ehrlin did Wednesdays a little differently by patronizing the president’s business.
While CPAC is at the Gaylord National Resort in Maryland, this attendee opted to live like a rock star and stay at the president’s hotel.
In town for the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, Christian writer Dorothy Sittler shared this report about the president’s hotel
Other Trump Organization news
“Fox News host boosts Mar-a-Lago” by Eric Wemple for The Washington Post
House investigations, current status (latest change, Feb. 28, 2019)
Financial Services—Sent an inquiry to Deutsche Bank AG on its ties to Trump, according to the bank on Jan. 24.
Foreign Affairs—Chair Rep. Elliot Engel (D–NY) “plans to investigate whether President Donald Trump’s businesses are driving foreign policy decisions, including whether Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution in the process” per CNN on Jan. 23.
Intelligence—On Feb. 6, chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D–CA) issued a statement that said his committee would investigate links or coordination between the Russian government/related foreign actors and individuals associated with Trump’s businesses, as well as if foreign actors sought to compromise or hold leverage over Trump’s businesses. During an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Feb. 10, Schiff said the committee will investigate Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, a major lender to the Trump Organization. Earlier, on Jan. 24, the committee sent an inquiry to Deutsche Bank AG on its ties to Trump, according to the bank.
UPDATED Oversight and Reform—Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings’s (D–MD) staff “has already sent out 51 letters to government officials, the White House, and the Trump Organization asking for documents related to investigations that the committee may launch,” according to CBS News on Jan. 13. In a Feb. 15 letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings said the committee received documents showing White House attorney Stefan Passantino and long-time Trump personal attorney Sheri Dillon provided “false information” to the Office of Government Ethics regarding Michael Cohen’s “hush-money payments.” As a result, Cummings wants to depose both Passantino and Dillon. And on Feb. 27, Cohen testified to the committee about those payments and other Trump Organization business practices, which could lead to the committee requesting the president’s tax returns and allegations of possible insurance fraud.
Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management—Transportation committee chair Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–OR) and subcommittee chair Dina Titus (D–NV) sent a letter to GSA administrator Emily Murphy on Jan. 22 asking for all communication between the GSA and members of the Trump family dating back to 2015, an explanation of how the hotel calculates its profits, profit statements since the hotel opened in 2016, any guidance from the White House regarding the lease, and whether or not Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are recused from participating in decisions regarding the property. GSA has “sent a partial response and the subcommittee is reviewing it,” according to a senior House staffer familiar with the situation. When hearings begin, it is likely that Murphy will be the first person called to testify, according to a person familiar with the subcommittee’s plans.
Ways and Means subcommittee on Oversight—The subcommittee held its first hearing on “legislative proposals and tax law related to presidential and vice-presidential tax returns” on Feb. 7. “We will ask the question: Does the public have a need to know that a person seeking the highest office in our country obeys tax law?” said chair Rep. John Lewis (D–GA). Experts in tax law testified.
Legal cases, current status (latest change, Feb. 22, 2019)
Official capacity—On Dec. 20, 2018, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it would hear the president’s appeal of district court rulings that allowed the case to proceed to discovery, and the appellate court halted discovery in the case. Discovery had started Dec. 3 and was scheduled to run through Aug. 2, 2019, with the AGs having subpoenaed the Trump Organization, including its Scottish golf courses; the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Treasury and the GSA; and the state of Maine. Oral arguments on the appeal are scheduled for March 19. The AGs filed their brief opposing the president’s appeal on Feb. 6, stating, “The President is not entitled to an order requiring the district court to certify for interlocutory review its denial of his motion to dismiss. No court has ever issued such relief.” Trump’s DOJ attorneys replied on Feb. 21: “Plaintiffs fundamentally err, substantively and procedurally.”
Individual capacity—On Dec. 14, Trump’s personal attorneys appealed the denial of their motion to dismiss the case, also to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Dec. 19, the AGs replied to Trump’s motion for a stay pending that appeal by voluntarily dismissing the claims against Trump in his “individual capacity to allow the claims against President Trump in his official capacity to move forward expeditiously.” (The AGs only brought suit against Trump in his individual capacity after the judge suggested they do so.) Trump’s personal attorneys, on Dec. 21, opposed the motion to dismiss at the district level, saying the appeals court now has jurisdiction and accusing the AGs of “gamesmanship.”
196 Democratic senators and representatives’ emoluments lawsuit—On Sept. 28, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ruled that the legislators have standing to sue. Trump’s Justice Department attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal on Oct. 22. On Jan. 30, 2019, the plaintiffs’ filed a notice of supplemental authority, notifying the court of the GSA inspector general’s report that criticized GSA for failing to consider if the Trump Hotel D.C.’s lease was in compliance with the Constitution after Donald Trump became president. Two days later, the president’s attorneys argued that the IG’s conclusion was not inconsistent with Trump’s argument, but that the judge should ignore that report anyway because the IG has no expertise in interpreting or applying the foreign emoluments clause.
CREW et. al’s emoluments lawsuit—In February 2018, CREW appealed its suit being dismissed for lack of standing to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments on that motion were held on Oct. 30.
Cork’s unfair competition lawsuit—Judge Richard J. Leon dismissed the case on Nov. 26, 2018, writing “Cork has failed to state a claim for unfair competition under D.C. law.” On Dec. 10, Cork’s attorneys filed a notice of appeal and on Jan. 10, 2019 they submitted a statement of issues to be raised. The next steps, which don’t yet have a timeline, include setting a briefing schedule and both sides filing appellate briefs.
Employees’ class-action suit alleging racial discrimination—Two of the three plaintiffs did not appear at a status hearing on Jan. 25, 2019; their cases were moved to arbitration. Via email, their attorney, A.J. Dhali, said his clients did not appear at the hearing because their case already had been moved to arbitration last year. The next status hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4.
Health inspections, current status (latest change, Aug. 10, 2018)
❌Hotel: five violations on May 7, 2018; two were corrected on site
❌BLT Prime and Benjamin Bar: nine violations on Aug. 10, 2018
❌Sushi Nakazawa: two violations on Aug. 10, 2018
✔️Banquet kitchen: no violations on Aug. 10, 2018
❌Pastry kitchen: two violations on Aug. 10, 2018
✔️Gift shop: no violations on May 7, 2018
❌Employee kitchen and in-room dining: five violations on Aug. 10, 2018; two were corrected on site
One thing that has nothing to do with Trump’s businesses (I think, tough to tell sometimes!)
Thanks for reading. If you like what you see, tell someone—and support this work by becoming a paying member ($5/month or $50/year). If you’ve been forwarded this newsletter, subscribe for yourself at zacheverson.substack.com. Questions? Read our FAQ/manifesto. Tips or feedback? Contact me, Zach Everson, securely via email at 1100Pennsylvania@protonmail.com or on Signal at 202.804.2744.