Trials and tribulations of Trump: Financial empire crumbles by the day
Protester holds up a sign at one of the many trials of Donald Trump. | John Minchillo/AP

WASHINGTON—The trials of former Republican Oval Office denizen Donald Trump are putting him in ever more financial peril in New York as they expose his crimes there and in Florida. Meanwhile, a co-conspirator in his racketeering mob in Atlanta pled guilty and plans to sing.

And that doesn’t even count U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith’s plan for another gag order against the ex-White House occupant in the civil case in D.C. against Trump for arranging, aiding, and inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion, insurrection, and attempted coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol.

Or Smith opposing Trump’s demand that his Florida trial on national security breaches be postponed until after next year’s general election.

All in all, it was not a good way for Trump to start the coming weeks, especially now that Judge Arthur Engoron in the key financial fraud case in State Supreme Court in Manhattan has apparently really shut him up with a gag order—notably on social media—backed by a jail threat if he breaks it.

Trump’s legal and financial travails have had no effect on the lemming-like devotion he gets from his base among Republican primary voters. Or on laudatory hosannas, accompanied by dead silence about his legal problems, from almost all GOP officeholders.

The latest polls show him still well in the lead but with former UN Ambassador Nikki Hailey replacing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in second place. All of Trump’s primary opponents have, to one degree or another, displayed a penchant, like Trump, for trashing constitutional rights.

As for Republican officeholders, they’re either cowed or are, themselves, Trumpite ideologues, as they showed in their Capitol Hill votes w willingness to deny Joe Biden the White House, which he legitimately won.

At one end there is former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who first criticized Trump after the insurrection and then slovenly rushed to kiss hands just days later. At the other ideological end ischief MAGA Trumpite Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who ousted McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair.

Trump, however, doesn’t worry about them on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, his lawyers are throwing up other issues and often losing.

Trump’s real estate empire totters

When Donald Trump stormed scowling out of Judge Arthur Engoron’s State Supreme Court in Manhattan on October 4 and didn’t return the next day for another hearing in his big financial fraud trial, he missed the big show: The beginning of the end of his real estate empire. In short, Trump’s tower is tottering.

The judge told both Trump and his team and New York State Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James, who’s prosecuting the huge asset fraud case, “to agree within 30 days on a receiver to oversee the dissolution of Trump’s corporate assets.” Both have already apparently agreed to recommend retired state judge Barbara Jones, now the independent monitor of Trump’s business actions.

Judge Engoron ordered Trump and his co-defendants, including the Trump organization and several of his adult children, to produce “a list of entities controlled or beneficially owned by Donald J. Trump” and send it to Jones. And if Trump seeks new business or “makes changes to pre-existing entities” of his real estate, he must tell Jones, too.

Meanwhile, in court, testimony continued over how believable the “values” Trump put on his assets are—and whether he knew they were lies. One asset valuation from nine years ago was marked that Trump must OK it. And Trump himself, outside the court days before, freely admitted the figures his financial forms put on his buildings, golf resorts, Mar-A-Lago and his Westchester estate were not to be believed.

How many nukes are on a U.S. sub?

How many nuclear warheads does a U.S. submarine carry? Donald Trump knows. So does Anthony Pratt, a member of Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club. Trump told him in an April 2021 meeting at the club—after Trump had exited the White House. This is something more than just having “Top Secret” papers scattered over the Mar-A-Lago floor.

ABC News, citing sources, reported Trump and Platt, a billionaire Australian corporate CEO, discussed U.S. submarine deals with the Australians when Trump blabbed. Besides disclosing the number of nukes per sub, Trump also told Platt how close U.S. submarines could come to Russian submarines before being detected.

Platt wasn’t sure whether Trump was exaggerating or not, ABC said, but retailed the information onwards to at least 45 other people, including six journalists, 11 of his workers, ten Australian officials, and three former Australian prime ministers. All of this was done while he was obviously not authorized to do any of it.

When they found out about the meeting, Platt also told about the revelations to U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Florida team, whose members deliberately asked him not to reveal the nuke numbers to them.

All this, if correct, elevates the threat to Trump’s long-term prospects of avoiding jail time as a result of the Florida trial, thus far limited to the purloining of White House papers with “Top Secret” stamps, scattered around the floor or stored in boxes in Mar-A-Lago in defiance of both federal law and national security.

And it leaves Trump-named U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon with a lot to weigh in her court in West Palm Beach, Fla., once she disposes of the motion Trump’s lawyers filed in her court demanding the entire trial be postponed until after the fall 2024 election.

Smith and his team vigorously oppose that demand. Cannon has yet to rule, mindful that in an earlier decision, the normally conservative U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta reversed her pro-Trump prior ruling for a special master to review all the Mar-A-Lago papers.

Smith’s team strongly opposed that ruling, due to the delay it would cause. The appellate judges sided with Smith—and added a strong rebuke of Cannon.

The singing starts in Atlanta

When handling complex cases involving multiple people, including racketeering cases involving gangs or the Mob, prosecutors often follow a behind-the-scenes playbook: Charge both large and small fry as part of the same conspiracy, then plea bargain down the lesser actors in return for having them sing.

Well, that’s what Fulton County (Atlanta) District Attorney Fani Willis is doing in the wide-ranging state racketeering trial against Trump, his elections consigliere Rudy Giuliani, and 17 others for conspiring to steal Georgia’s electoral votes after the 2020 popular balloting closed.

On September 30, Willis snagged her first low-level bird among the conspirators and news reports say she’s negotiating with at least two more. And she’s doing it right out in the open.

The Georgia Trump trial will be out in the open, too. Unlike Trump’s federal trials in D.C. and Florida, it’ll be televised. The whole world will be able to see—again—Trump’s conspiracy.

The guilty plea came from bail bondsman Scott Hall of rural Coffee County, Ga. It’s a deep-red county whose elections officials let Trumpite operatives breach voting machines after the election as part of Trump’s conspiracy to flip the state.

Hall pled guilty to five misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties.

Prosecutors said Hall participated in the breach. In return for his guilty pleas, Hall gets five years of probation and will testify in further proceedings, the Associated Press reported.

The counts are all in connection with that breach, which occurred as Georgia was undergoing a statewide recount. Democrat Joe Biden beat Trump in Georgia by 11,779 popular votes.

That prompted Trump’s now-infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, its top elections official and a Republican, to “find me one more” than that, thus swinging the state’s electoral votes into the Trump column. Raffensperger will be a key witness in Willis’s courtroom.

In D.C. he claims immunity from prosecution 

The big news in U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s courtroom in D.C. is that former Oval Office occupant Trump claimed absolute immunity from prosecution for all his actions in arranging, aiding, and abetting the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite invasion, insurrection, and attempted coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol—and that therefore the entire trial should be thrown out.

Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith also plans to seek a wider gag order on Trump there—other than restrictions Trump signed on a court-ordered form at the beginning. Smith hasn’t done so yet.

Trump based his immunity claim on the fact that he inhabited the Oval Office at the time. The catch to his argument is obvious: He doesn’t inhabit it now.

His attorneys also said in their court filing that trying to overturn the election was “within the heartland” of his “official duties.” That echoes the argument by Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Meadows tried to move his part of the Atlanta case to federal court and away from Willis, by claiming attempts to overturn the election were part of his White House duties. Atlanta judges said “Nothing doing.”

And for good measure, Trump’s team pointed out the Senate tried him on the same charges after the House impeached him—and failed to convict him by a 57-43 vote, when it needed a two-thirds agreement. All the Democrats and independents and seven of the Republicans voted to convict Trump. The court should follow the Senate’s lead, Trump’s lawyers told Judge Chutkan.

“In view of the special nature of the president’s constitutional office and functions, a current or former president has ‘absolute presidential immunity from [civil] damages liability for acts within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his official responsibility,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

“No court has addressed whether such presidential immunity includes immunity from criminal prosecution for the president’s official act,” Trump’s lawyers added. They called that “a serious and unsettled question’ of law,” especially under the separation of powers.

Special Counsel Smith, whose D.C. team is handling the civil case against Trump in Judge Chutkan’s court, has yet to reply to Trump’s dismissal try. But Politico dismissed the impeachment verdict excuse by quoting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who after voting not to convict Trump, excoriated him in a blistering floor speech.

“We have a criminal justice system in this country,” McConnell said then. “We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.