So What Trump Investigations Could Be Coming?
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ANDREA BERNSTEIN: Hello, and welcome to Trump, Inc., a podcast from WNYC and ProPublica that digs deep into the secrets of the Trump family business. Today is our special post-midterm edition, and we are recording it Wednesday morning, right after the election results have come in, and we have some changes in the balance of powers, which are going to affect both how we understand what the President's business is doing, and potentially the President's business itself. So we're going to talk about that.
With me is what one listener has called “the 1927 Yankees of Trump corruption”: David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, Adam Davidson of the New Yorker, Eric Umansky of ProPublica, and Anita Kumar of McClatchy. Thanks to everyone for joining us in the middle of a very, very busy day.
ALL: Hi, Andrea. Great to be here. Hi. Hey.
BERNSTEIN: So, people? Well?
FAHRENTHOLD: It turns out there are going to be some investigations.
DAVIDSON: Although the big signal I've been getting from Democratic Party operatives is “Slow and steady wins the race,” that there's so much hunger — uh, this is Adam Davidson, by the way — there's so much hunger for “Let's start the impeachment proceedings tomorrow” from many people in the Democratic Party, but the view among party operatives — or at least a strong view, and I think among House leadership is — we do not want to become the sort of Benghazi committee of Trump corruption. We don't want to look like we're just grabbing everything and throwing everything at the wall, but, rather, let's go slowly and deliberately.
And the — the key in that, that I kept hearing again and again and again, is his tax returns. I sort of had the assumption that — maybe one of the people on this show — will be leaked his tax returns like within hours of, um — the new Congress —
UMANSKY: Are you asking? Are you asking? [LAUGHS]
DAVIDSON: I am asking. I'm definitely asking. Um, but what I heard is, “We have to build a case to the American public for why we need his tax returns.” Some people believe that doesn't even start with Trump. You build a case by really doing oversight of the administration, and taking down more Scott Pruitts of the world, and then slowly build in towards Trump, but it might be months and months and months from now before we really start cutting into what I think a lot of us feel we already know from investigative reporting.
BERNSTEIN: Alright. So, Anita and David, you're both in Washington. Anita, let's start with you. What are you hearing about potential investigations into Trump business at this point?
ANITA KUMAR: Yeah, I thought that point was really interesting, because I do think strategists and leadership are saying that, but for these people that just got elected — for others that are, you know, more progressive — they’re getting elected basically on that they want to investigate, that they want to hold the president accountable. So Donna Shalala, who just won a new district — or, won a district in Miami yesterday, a House district that flipped — she campaigned entirely on holding President Trump accountable. Uh, yesterday at her victory party, she said, you know, “Ready or not, Mr. President, here we come!” So the leadership is going to get a lot of pressure to do more. Slow and steady might be the right way, politically, to do it, but they're going to get a lot of pressure to do it as much as they can, as fast as they can.
FAHRENTHOLD: Well, the thing that I've been focused on is the emoluments issue. Everyone loves the word “emoluments” on this podcast, I’m sure. That's something where the nexus between President Trump's conduct as president and his business interests and potential conflicts-of-interest is so close, whether U.S. allies or other countries that aren't U.S. allies are spending money at Trump's businesses to put money in Trump's pocket, to influence Trump's policy as president.
I feel like that's an issue that we've seen people talk a lot about, and it's an easy thing, I think, to explain to voters — something that Republicans have done a really good job at keeping a lid on so far. And there's already some groundwork laid. You know, there's a couple of lawsuits from some Congressional Democrats and also from the D.C. and Maryland attorney generals that have made some progress in identifying the areas they want to focus on. I see that as an area that — that is much short of getting the Trump's tax returns — it wouldn't require some sort of fight at the Supreme Court, maybe, to get Trump's tax returns — that I think they'll probably start on. And I'm really interested to see where that goes.
UMANSKY: Yeah, and — this is Eric — one thing I think is worth keeping in mind. You know, for the last — what is it? — six or seven episodes, we've defined Trump, Inc. — or, what we focused on is really more broad than simply his family and his business. And really is the question of corruption in Washington and in the administration.
And I have no idea who in Congress is going to focus on what, but that is clearly part of the whole issue here, right? You have — I mean, I think you were mentioning, you know, Zinke, and you have Wilbur Ross, and you can go down the list of cabinet officials — other influential players, many of whom we've dug into, who — around which there are significant questions worthy of scrutiny.
BERNSTEIN: I mean, one of the things I think is really interesting about the cabinet is that Trump has let some people go after lots of stories about corruption. Scott Pruitt is an example. So, while it seems like the rules are suspended when it comes to the President and his family, the cabinet has been much more vulnerable.
I mean, I think that that's a sort of a confluence of the fact that Trump burns through people and he doesn't like people around him that are going to somehow drag him down and he has not displayed a great deal of loyalty.
DAVIDSON: But neither have his supporters. You know, this Trump base seems fine with firing Scott Pruitt. They're not conveying their love of Trump to — to anyone in his orbit. And that's what I think the more slow-moving Democrats are — are counting on. I think Anita made a crucial point. I think there are several camps among the Democrats that are defining themselves. There's an extreme, almost anti-investigation camp, which is very worried about impeachment. They think of impeachment — and I'm not saying I agree with this, I’m just saying what I hear — is Trump's best path to winning 2020, that an impeachment in the House that's not well-orchestrated could create sympathy for him.
FAHRENTHOLD: Followed almost certainly, by the way, by the Senate clearing him.
DAVIDSON: Clearing him, exactly! And some people, apparently, don't want to do too much aggressive investigation because they believe, you pick up any rock, you're going to find something that will almost force you to impeach the President. So that's on one extreme. There is another extreme that is just, “Look, there's an open question. The President of the United States may really be a compromised agent of one or more foreign governments. Who cares about the politics? Let’s find out if that's true.” And there's many colors in between. I think that the battle within the Democratic Party is going to be quite interesting, but, as Anita said, Nancy Pelosi can't control this.
There are too many players — including state A.G.s and others — who have a vote. And so I — I think we're going to see a lot of investigations at a — at a lot of levels.
UMANSKY: Yeah. I mean, one thing I'm actually curious, for those who actually know how Washington works, so I defer to —
BERNSTEIN: You guys in Washington?
UMANSKY: Right! You guys in Washington, as opposed to just, our — us bumpkins in New York. And that is, you know, ultimately, it's not — this is just furthering the point that it's not about, you know, one monolithic decision of the Democratic Party. It's ultimately about players who have agency. And really, it seems like the players who have, um, a whole lot of agency in this are the committee chairs.
Think about who those people are. So you have Jerry Nadler, congressman on — what is it? — the Upper West Side, uh, who's now going to be Head of the Judiciary Committee. And, if you just look up his Twitter feed, is not somebody who is being incredibly cautious here. You have — is it the Finance Committee that Maxine Waters is going to head?
FAHRENTHOLD: Yeah, Financial Services.
BERNSTEIN: Yeah. I just want to interject that we did put out on Twitter that people should give us questions. And one of them are, “What investigations could the House launch? What potential investigation would be most key to expand reporting Trump, Inc. has been doing?” So let's go to Anita and then David on that one.
KUMAR: Sure. You know, Elijah Cummings is the Congressman — Democratic Congressman from Maryland, and he's going to be the Chairman of the Oversight Committee. So he's going to be really key. And he's already talked about what he wants to look at, because he's been trying to look at things for the last two years and has not been able to get the documents he wants. So he was out with a statement early saying, you know, after the election, just basically saying, “We're going to look into all sorts of things.” And he did mention businesses. I mean, I sort of put it into two camps. There's policy things that the Democrats are going to want to look at — things like, you know, immigrant families separated at the border — but then there's also things that deal with all sorts of businesses, the tax returns, things that I consider more personal for President Trump that he's gonna really push back on. Um, so I think Elijah Cummings is really, really important in what's going to go forward.
UMANSKY: And Adam Schiff, who will become the Chair of the Intelligence Committee, he wrote this amazing memo in March of 2018 — a response to Nunes’, um, I think we can say “factually inaccurate” memo about the FISA court — and Schiff walked through, “Here are the people we didn't talk to, and the things we don't know.” And he specifically talked about compelling testimony from Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks — on and on and on.
I mean, he really painted a picture that reminded me right away of the Clinton impeachment hearings, where you just see the closest people to the President, day after day, being either forced to testify, flipping on the President, taking the fifth. It describes a very theatrical 2019.
BERNSTEIN: That report was the House Minority Views Report. One of the things that was quite interesting to me about that is, if you read deep into it, you see that one of their questions is about Trump Panama, which we also had a lot of questions about, and did a lot of reporting about for Trump, Inc. We were not able to compel the testimony of Don Jr., uh, so that could be something that could really add to our understanding of that.
David, I wanted to, uh — we had another question from a Twitter user, this one from @RachelNevins, and she says, “Nothing original here, but how do we get to see Donald Trump's taxes?” Can you address that?
FAHRENTHOLD: Sure. Well, in theory, the way that it works is that the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy, has the statutory authority to request and inspect any person's tax returns, including the President’s.
So, uh, Richard Neal, who's a Democrat from Massachusetts seems like he'll be in line to head that committee, has said that they will, you know — even before the elections — that they wanted to request those tax returns. The two remaining questions being A) Do they release any of the information they see? I mean, it’s — I guess it's a truism that once you show anything to Congress, it's eventually going to leak out, and B) Will Trump or Trump's IRS give it to them?
Obviously, you know, this is not Donald Trump's decision personally, but does the IRS decide to withhold it and make the House subpoena it, and make it be a fight that goes to the Supreme Court? I know they're going to try it. I just don't know whether we're going to see it.
When we were talking earlier about committees, the thing that to me is so important is whether people like Cummings, Adam Schiff — people that are gonna be running these investigations — whether anyone in Capitol Hill knows how to run an investigation anymore. What we've seen from the last few years is that Republicans do not.
Uh, if anybody watched that Benghazi hearing with Hillary Clinton back in 2016, there were 20 Republicans on the committee. Each one of them had a different theory of the case and what had gone wrong. And so there was no effort by them to sort of build up, “Okay. One person asks a question, establishes some information that the next person follows up.” I mean, the Democrats were the same way in the Kavanaugh hearing. Everybody, in their contentious questioning of Kavanaugh, had a different theory of what the most important things were, a different set of facts they were trying to get out. Most of them just yakked the whole time and used up their own time.
Uh, if the Democrats in the House are going to get anything out of Trump, and are going to make something out of these investigations, they're going to have to remember how to run an investigation for sort of maximum knowledge gained and also maximum public visibility.
DAVIDSON: It’s funny. I had a conversation with — with two Democratic Party operatives, uh, yesterday, one of whom said exactly what you just said, David, that “We don't have the capacity, that only three of the incoming committee chairs has ever run a committee at a time when there's a majority. We haven't really had a Democratic Party running an ongoing Investigative Oversight Committee in decades. We have to do this slowly, carefully. We have to build a good team. Wait. It might be March or later before we're ready to hold hearings.” And specifically saying, “Benghazi was a disaster, they abused their power, it was terrible. Republicans used way too many subpoenas, et cetera.” Then another operative said, you know, “Democrats are so afraid of Benghazi. You know what Benghazi got them? The presidency! Benghazi, as Kevin McCarthy proudly said, “It reached its goal.” It got Hillary Clinton's poll numbers down. It gave them avenue to her emails, which almost certainly cost her the election and, you know, led to the Comey — led to everything. So, if you're a street fighter, “let's win at all costs” person, Benghazi might not look like a bad example.
I think, as an American citizen, [CHUCKLES] like, that's not what we want is — is each party just does whatever the ugliest, most vicious thing is. And then whether or not it's good politics is another question.
BERNSTEIN: So I want to talk a little bit about the coverage of the Trump Organization and whether the Trump Organization behavior is going to change and whether Trump's behavior vis-a-vis his businesses is going to change. So, David, did you want to respond to Adam before we get into that?
FAHRENTHOLD: I was just saying, if I was the Democrats, I would rather have new people — I’d rather have new Democrats joining these investigations from the outside world. I think the people who are least qualified to lead any competent investigation are people who have been in Congress a long time, and to whom it does not seem absurd to use your name investigative time — your five minutes of questions — making a long speech. Maybe the people who've just joined from the outside world, you know, from — might be able to better understand what the outside world might want to see from Trump Org.
BERNSTEIN: Alright, so let's talk about the Trump Organization, and Adam and David in particular, you guys have spent a lot of time looking at the Trump Organization. You have spoken to people at the Trump Organization. Is there any sense that the Trump Organization is going to behave differently with more oversight? What are your thoughts on that? Let's start with David, with you.
FAHRENTHOLD: I — uh, I don't believe they will — they will behave differently. Uh, Their whole M.O. for — since time immemorial has been to build a wall of secrecy around their operations where only a small number of people know how it works, know how the money flows, know who their investors are, know anything.
And I think that that circle is still pretty small. And I think they're going to try to — to keep that circle closed. What we've seen from them in the last few weeks, actually — or first few months — has been actually a little bit of a change in that they have gone from kind of just sort of battening down the hatches and not doing very much, being kind of a holding company, to starting to plan some big in places like Ireland and Scotland.
DAVIDSON: It’s not just like Ireland and Scotland. It is — I mean, I always — I like to point out the Trump Organization right now is a Scottish golf course company. [FAHRENTHOLD LAUGHS] That is what it is. It's a company with some legacy assets that it uses to invest in highly risky Scottish golf course assets, which doesn't make a lot of business sense on the — on the face of it, but that is what they are doing now. [LAUGHS]
BERNSTEIN: Anita, from your perspective of the White House and the way Trump behaves regarding his businesses, what do you see coming on that?
KUMAR: Well, you remember, this is one of the things that President Trump said was his red line, right? He didn't want anyone going after his businesses. And I think he was actually referring to the Mueller investigation when he said that that would cross a line, but I'm assuming it's exactly the same for Congress.
He feels like that is nothing to do with what's going on in the White House or his presidency. And he's also very, very protective — as we know — of his children, and his children are now running that organization, the business. So I cannot imagine that he would be any more forthcoming about that at all. I think he'd be very defensive about it, very defiant.
DAVIDSON: I will say — David and I, you know, this is how we've lived our life for the last two years, so we might be biased or we might be in a position to know well — that understanding Trump's business is the only way to get a proper picture of whether or not he is compromised by foreign governments, whether or not he's using the tools of his power to profit himself. And even David and I — who, you know, we're pretty good at this, I think, and we've spent all of our time for two years — there is so much we don't know, so much we want to know that we could know if we had subpoena power and the ability to compel testimony. One other just quick point is, the Trump Organization does not have the capacity to handle what is about to come its way.
Like, if you think of, I don't know, Goldman Sachs or Hilton Hotels, or some properly-run business, you know, they themselves probably have very good lawyers. There's all sorts of firewalls internally. You know, the Trump Organization, the — the legal operation is a very sloppy business. People kind of switch roles all the time, trade information, the finances all going through a very tiny team, led by Allan Weisselberg. So, um, I think —
BERNSTEIN: The CFO.
DAVIDSON: [AFFIRMING] The CFO. I think, “Of course they're going to be resistant! Of course they're going to do everything they can.” But these are not the people you would hire to help you put — fend off a serious investigation by Congress.
KUMAR: Really interesting about what you just said, is I could say the exact same thing — and I have, actually, I've written a story about this — how the White House isn't — didn’t prepare either. This was not unexpected, what happened at the election. You know, the House was supposed to flip, and it did. Democrats were supposed to get into control. And the Trump White House, the Trump Organization — they didn't prepare for it. There are a lot of things that people, organizations, businesses, the White House could do before the election. Hiring the right people, hiring more people — the right people, compartmentalizing different people to do different things. None of those things happened.
The messaging, communications, how are they going to deal with all this? They didn't do any of those things.
UMANSKY: To — to go further off what Anita said, I've been watching this Trump Foundation lawsuit, which is sort of like a — one of the more advanced episodes in which Trump Organization is already dealing with demands for discovery, subpoenas, things like that, because Trump Organization employees effectively ran this charity that's been sued by the New York A.G. In that case, their efforts to fight that have gone pretty poorly. They did comply with a lot of subpoenas. Allan Weisselberg testified in a deposition. They got a lot of information — the New York A.G. did — about where the Trump Org worked, uh, and their efforts — this one Trump lawyer Alan Futerfas, one of their best lawyers — I was just in court with Andrea a couple of weeks ago, watching him try to kind of get the Trump Organization off the hook, pretty unsuccessfully. And that is a tiny, tiny, legal challenge compared to what’s probably coming.
BERNSTEIN: In fact, their argument was “What's the harm here?” I mean, they didn’t — he didn't quite say this, but essentially it was, “Look, the money did actually go to charities, sooooo maybe there were some rules that weren't followed.” [LAUGHTER] I — I am sort of pushing his argument further, but it is sort of “What is the harm if some rules were broken?”
FAHRENTHOLD: We — we were incompetent and maybe broke the law, but our heart was in the right place — which is not really a legal defense. [LAUGHS]
UMANSKY: I mean, I just am thinking of a scenario in my mind — and I'm not saying it's necessarily going to pass — but at some point, right, Trump — Anita, you were saying this — that it is the personal stuff, his business stuff that is going to drive him up the wall and he is going to fight on, right? So what happens if he basically says, you know — creates a firewall, and the firewall is essentially “Screw you. I'm not giving up my returns. This is all a witch hunt. Nobody's going to cooperate.” And you know what ends up eventually happening is it goes up to where? To the Supreme Court.
DAVIDSON: Right? And also — and this is a key point when you play out 2019 — Trump, for the first time in his life, will have a serious ongoing challenge with independent actors who he does not have direct power over. And think of every single thing he's done. Just picture every single thing he's done to date as a reaction to feeling threatened. He has yet to actually be threatened. I mean, Robert Mueller is a silent threat, but hasn't actually come out. 2019 is going to be a constant and real powerful onslaught that he cannot shut down. And what will his brain do?
BERNSTEIN: I — I think this issue of accountability — I mean, I think that last night I was like, “Oh look, Trump may have to actually give us his tax returns. I'm so excited.” And I got some pushback on Twitter, saying, like, “No, no, no. It’s going to go to the Supreme Court. You're never going to see it.” But just the idea that it might come out. I mean, this is Donald Trump, whose father started donating to the Brooklyn Democratic County machine back in the 1930s, which controlled all the D.A.s, and that was the family business model. And the judges — that the mechanisms of oversight would always be influenced by the Trumps. And here we are in a situation, which, as you say, Adam, is new for the Trump Organization, which is they don't control all the mechanisms of oversight and, therefore, we may find out some very interesting things.
UMANSKY: What — of the reporting that we've done, that all of us have done collectively — might be of interest for investigators, you know, might be, uh, hearing-worthy, if you were, right? And I don't know, that's not a prediction of whether or not there would be hearings, but you know what, to us, raises sufficient questions that, you know, we think it would merit, you know, a government body looking at? And, frankly, I mean, it's just — I looked at all of the stories that we've done and it is such a long list it's hard to remember all of this stuff and I'm just like — and I was trying to put it in my mind into buckets. You’re dealing with Trump's business dealings, his record, you know, the — what Adam and you, David, had referred to it, like, “What is Trump's business?” Then you have the question of foreign government spending on Trump's business currently. Then the influencers and accessors in the Trump orbit. So, for example, Sheldon Adelson. You know, did Trump essentially do his bidding? And then you have this whole separate bucket of, essentially, corruption among — in agencies, right, and questions about cabinet officials. We've all, you know, talked about these names. You have Wilbur Ross, you have Zinke. Um, and you know, the list goes on. And I don't know, David, Andrea, am I missing any large buckets here?
BERNSTEIN: I feel like, actually, a lot has changed overnight with regards to our perhaps finding out these things, because we know — just from the court cases that have worked their way through the system — that when there is an outside mechanism saying to the Trump Organization or the Trump administration, “You need to answer,” we find out things.
And now we have a whole other branch of government that can be asking those questions and there may be a whole new flow of information about all of that. I don't — David, I don't know if you want to add to that.
FAHRENTHOLD: You know, I think that the — if I was the Democrats, I would start with the things that affect his presidency and the things that have happened since he became president.
I mean, there's lots of things to be done — as we've talked about — going back and looking at his tax returns and whether he, uh, borrowed the approaches that Fred Trump used, that the New York Times said were fraudulent. Uh, the things that, if I was a Democrat, I would focus on, and the kinds of stories written about that I would react to would be the stories about foreign influence and emoluments at Trump's properties since he became president.
We wrote — a couple of weeks ago — about all the money that Saudi customers have spent at Trump properties, in some cases propping up hotels that are losing customers from other places. Saudi customers come in and sort of boost them. That happened at Trump's hotel in New York. To focus on that first, and the kinds of trademark things for Ivanka Trump, Trump's investments overseas — the things that would give you a nexus between Trump's business and foreign governments since Trump became president.
I would bet those are the kinds of stories they are going to focus on first, just because they have the most relevance to Trump's presidency now, and then maybe work backward from there, and backward in time. So I think those are the things that they're going to look at.
And I think Andrea, you're right. The — the ability we have to see into those things — I did think it really expanded overnight. And you're right that, when asked for documents — at least so far — the Trump Organization has not done what Donald Trump or the Trump campaign did and say, “Screw you. We're not giving you anything.” You know, those are people with law licenses to preserve. Those are people with — who don't want to go to jail. They have responded in — in a pretty forthcoming way. So I think we may see more of that and learn some of the answers to these questions.
BERNSTEIN: So Anita, you did some reporting in the past months about, specifically, the Trump adult children, Eric and Don Jr., and their role on the campaign trail, which was a sort of quite interesting side story to me that I feel never got enough attention, because obviously these are the people that are sort of supposed to be walled-off, running the Trump Organization. Yet they've been — judging by their Twitter accounts — spending every moment of October and early November campaigning for their father's causes. So can you talk a little bit about that?
KUMAR: Sure. And I'll bring you back to last year. Was it last year, or two years ago now when the Trump family said the children were not going to be — they were going to be walled off from their father while he was in the White House? [CHUCKLES] Remember that? They weren't going to really have any interactions. So I'll just remind people of that. But, sure, I think it's really Don Jr., the oldest, who has been the most active politically. Um, he has done, I mean — I’ve — I went to one of his events in Indiana recently. He's done more than 60 political events this year. He has such a great following, like his father, and a lot of people wonder if he's going to actually run for office.
Um, so he's, you know, taking his dad's message all over the place, really using kind of the same lines. You know, there was even a “Lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton at the event I went to. So he's been doing a lot of stuff. I actually — in the story I just recently wrote, Ivanka Trump was doing very little, and people were very upset that she was doing very little politically, and the White House really, really pushed back and said, “Well, she's at the White House and she's not doing it because she's at the White House.” Although we know that lots of people at the White House do political things.
But he's in touch with them. He’s, um, you know, talking to them, he's working with them. Ivanka went out on his last day of campaigning to all his rallies. There's a lot of that going on. I think Eric is probably doing the least amount. And when I asked why that was, they said, “Well, he's really the one, running the business. And so he’s — he’s busy.”
BERNSTEIN: David, can you talk sort of to what this means for the business model? Why the two people supposedly running the Trump Organization with Allan Weisselberg — namely, Eric and Don Jr. — spent so much time on the campaign trail? Was there a business reason?
FAHRENTHOLD: Uh, well, I — I mean, I think there actually is. It’s — it’s the — it's the same thing we've been talking about, uh, for this podcast. The Trump Organization had an enormous amount to lose if the Democrats took the House. Its business interests, in this case, are quite closely aligned with President Trump's political interest, because if there's greater scrutiny of the Trump Organization, that's gonna mean a lot of legal costs that may result in them losing some business. It could cause huge disruptions for them. So in a very cold-hearted, you know, sense, I think they were doing what was best for the Trump Organization, uh, by trying to keep Democrats from gaining any sort of subpoena power over them.
It's been interesting to watch Don and Eric. What we've heard from, uh, Don’s people is what Anita’s heard, which is that Don sort of sees the business as kind of like an asset management business now. He doesn't think it’s — there’s much for him to do there. He's done a few things with the Chicago hotel, but not very much. He’s left it to Eric.
But Eric has also, I think, started to edge into the territory that Don Jr. has been in for a year. He's done more political events. His Twitter feed is all sort of anger at Democrats and the news media. His wife, Lara Trump, runs President Trump's sort of campaign TV stations. It’s really just sort of web videos.
So they're both kind of getting into politics. I think, both because the Trump Organization isn't expanding that much, and also because they see that as kind of a good way to protect its interests.
BERNSTEIN: Anita, one of the things that interested me about Ivanka’s appearances on Monday is that she was delivering the straight-up happy economic news message that Trump refused to deliver, uh, which is something that she has been delivering at the White House, too, in her official capacity, that the economy is going great. And the Trump administration is creating jobs. And I wondered whether that is a signal that, in this upcoming period, she's going to try to sort of run some interference between House Democrats and the White House. I know that she's been trying to keep those lines of communication open in these two years. And I'm wondering if you have any reporting on — on where that might be going?
KUMAR: Yeah, I mean, she has actually — I don't think it's gotten it really, that much of attention — that she has people on Capitol Hill — primarily Republicans, but also some Democrats — that she's in touch with. I mean, she has people to her house for dinner — you know, members of Congress.
She does not invite members of Congress to the White House. She goes to Capitol Hill to see them. So she has people that she calls up and that she's in touch with. Remember, this is a person, [CHUCKLING] you know, when I was doing — reporting on the story you just mentioned, I asked people why they thought — you know, people in Trump’s orbit — why they thought Ivanka wasn't doing more politically.
And they said, “Well, she's really a Democrat.” Now, I don't know if she's really a Democrat, but she's quite liberal, compared to her father. She doesn't share the same views with him in a lot of ways. And so that might've been one of the reasons. Now that Democrats have control, that actually might come in handy.
I mean, she might be someone who can bridge that gap. She did talk about the economy. She has certain projects and policies at the White House that she's very much pushed. Uh, she was involved a lot more than I think people realize in the — the tax cut bill last year. She was talking to individual lawmakers, pushing them on that, talking about things in that bill that she really supported.
A lot of her things are about workforce training, childcare tax credit, things like that, that she — she has been pushing and talking about. You know, what's really interesting about her doing political events, but not doing political events the last couple months is, she has spent months doing what the White House calls “official visits.” So they're not political. They're organized by the White House. She is the Senior Advisor to the President when she goes. She’s been going to all, [PAUSE] you know, different states. She appears with members of Congress — many of them who were on the ballots Tuesday, many people that her father supported. She praised them, they praised her. But they weren't political events. She never said, “Vote for this person.” She just said, “This person is a great member of Congress.” So there's a little wink and nod there. You know, it's not a political event. And — and I'm not saying that it is, but it does get that message out. “Here's someone that my father supports. Here's someone who would be a good ally for my dad.”
UMANSKY: You know, w— this is Eric. One thing that's worth remembering about Ivanka is, I think, probably if you were to look at ratings of the various family members, if such a thing exists, Ivanka would be pretty high on there. But, remember the topic of this conversation, you know, is investigations and, um, there are certainly investigations that could involve her.
I mean, our reporting about how the Trump family and Trump Organization was lying around the world to pump up interest in their real estate deals. Ivanka was very prominent in that. And, um, meanwhile, you have somebody who is a senior White House advisor, whose company was just granted trademarks this week by the Chinese government. I mean, you know, there are lots of things that are worthy and that, you know, may end up being looked at around her.
BERNSTEIN: I have one more question for all of you, which is: What is required reading going forward for listeners who want to be able to understand this nexus of Trump government and business that we have been examining and will continue to be examining for the remainder of the Trump presidency?
So let's start with you, David. What is your required reading?
FAHRENTHOLD: It’s a bit long, but there’s — there's some good dialogue in there. It's worth reading. In, like, 2007 after Trump sued the New York Times reporter Tim O'Brien for a book O’Brien had written in which O’Brien had — had estimated Trump's wealth to be much lower than Trump himself had bragged. Trump opened himself up to deposition and so O'Brien's lawyers hauled Trump in, and for two days, they just — again and again and again — caught him lying, telling lies about various parts of his life. And they had done the discovery — they had done the research to know what his lies had been, and to have the documentation ready that, when they would say, you know, “Tell us again how much you made off this particular speech?” or, “How much — how many condos you sold in the first day of Trump Las Vegas?”, he would say one thing and they’d say, “Well, here's the document showing that you're wrong.”
And Trump would immediately — sometimes correct, sometimes he would tell another lie that they would then disprove. So to see his reaction to the truth and to see how sort of easily disprovable many of his falsehoods were. I think that's a — that's a good sense of the way that Trump, in his mind, approaches the requirement to be truthful, which is that he does not often see a requirement to be truthful at all.
If I was somebody looking to investigate Trump in the House, I would look back to what those lawyers did to prepare to investigate him and to — to understand sort of a scale of the falsehoods in many cases.
UMANSKY: So, I — I — I have a much easier homework assignment. Um, [FAHRENTHOLD LAUGHS] yours is very worthy — it's very worthy. But, uh — but — but mine is a, uh — a story that stuck with me from Axios over the summer that's really just a few hundred words, and what it was, was a leaked list that the Republicans had drawn up of the investigations they expect to happen. And it’s — there were about a hundred of them. And if people want to Google it and see a large part of the list themselves, it literally is, uh, Axios, and the headline is “Republican Secretly Study Their Coming Hell.” [FAHRENTHOLD LAUGHS]
BERNSTEIN: And Adam, what do people need to read?
DAVIDSON: I have two. One, I feel like I'm stealing from Fahrenthold, ‘cause he has definitely earned this, but it's Allan Weisselberg’s deposition for the Trump Foundation case. I think it really gives it a very clear picture of how financial controls — or lack thereof — happen in the Trump Organization. It's very fascinating.
And then I think Adam Schiff’s March 2018 minority memo that really lays out “Here's what we want to know, here’s who we want to know it from.” That will inform what starts to happen in January and February.
BERNSTEIN: Okay. Anita, what about you?
KUMAR: Uh, the — the thing that I want people to read is a brief that was filed by Sarah Chayes, who is a former reporter, actually. She wrote a brief about some of the foreign governments doing favors or getting involved with some Trump developments around the world. And, in so many places, the foreign governments are involved or giving the Trump Organization — or the partner — a break on things or offering to do infrastructure improvements, or different things. So, um, I found that interesting. So that was my required reading.
BERNSTEIN: And my document [CHUCKLES] is a decision by U.S. District Judge Peter Masetti. And this was an opinion allowing discovery to proceed forward in the D.C. emoluments case. And I cite this because it was quite clear about how this judge viewed the entirety of the President's actions in the last two years as potentially violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. So the — the clarity of the language, I think, is very instructive and will be instructive for people's framework of understanding all of this going forward. So we will put all of these reading materials on our website, TrumpIncPodcast.org.
[CREDITS MUSIC UP]
BERNSTEIN: As always, we are looking for your tips at TrumpIncPodcast.org. I want to thank so much, on this very, very busy morning, our guests: Adam Davidson of the New Yorker, Anita Kumar of McClatchy, David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, Eric Umansky of ProPublica. I’m Andrea Bernstein. Thank you, all of you, for joining us on this busy morning.
DAVIDSON: Thank you guys so much.
FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.
BERNSTEIN: Trump, Inc. is produced by Meg Cramer. Editors are Charlie Herman and Eric Umansky. The technical director is Bill Moss. Original music is by Hannis Brown. The managing editor of ProPublica is Robin Fields. Jim Schachter is the Vice President of News at WNYC, and Steve Engelberg is Editor-in-Chief at ProPublica.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.