Foster: King of the grifters

For sale

As Donald Trump circles the wagons around his administration to ward off impeachment proceedings in the U.S. House of Representatives, more information is coming to light about how Trump is earning a new title in Washington — King of the Grifters.

Since taking office, Trump has flouted the constitution by maintaining ownership of the old postal building property in Washington that he converted to the Trump International Hotel. Trouble is, the contract for leasing the property stipulated that no government employee should benefit from the lease.

Maybe Trump thinks this doesn’t apply to him because he donates his $400,000 annual salary to charitable organizations. But he certainly lives in government housing and enjoys all the perks of Air Force One, Marine One, Camp David, a large staff of servants, etc.

Foreign leaders and lobbyists of all stripes are frequent guests at the hotel for the sole purpose of currying favor with Trump when making deals with the federal government. A Washington Post investigation found that several foreign governments will book rooms at the hotel but stay in only a few, if any, of the booked rooms.

Facing a barrage of lawsuits complaining the president is violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Trump Organization just announced it is looking to sell the hotel lease for a cool half-billion dollars That’s about $330 million more than they said they put into the property to secure the lease.

After returning from the G-7 meeting in France a few weeks ago, Trump raised eyebrows by announcing that his golf resort in Florida, the Doral, would be the site of the 2020 G-7 conference that the U.S. will host next year. Shamed by the outcry — including from his own party — Trump relented and said the conference would be in another location.

The Huffington Post asked the White House about the open appearance of corruption but received no reply to the questions about Trump personally enriching himself from a government decision to host a major conference at his for-profit business.

“Once again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the job of being president, or that the United States is not just his latest business acquisition,” said Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is running against Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination.

Trump already is costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by insisting on playing golf at his properties in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey. He has played golf more than 100 times at his properties and every time he does, the government is billed for housing and feeding scores of Secret Service agents and staff members who accompany him.

At a recent news conference, Trump claimed that accepting the presidency has lost him money. “Probably it’ll cost me $3 billion to $5 billion to be president,” he said.

Trouble is Trump’s actual net worth and income are not knowable because he reneged on his campaign promise to release his tax returns. In doing so, he became the first major-party nominee since Watergate to fail to disclose that detailed information.

Trump put out a press release during the campaign claiming he was worth “in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.” However, it’s unclear whether he’s worth even a billion.

In the 2005 book “TrumpNation,” business journalist Timothy L. O’Brien wrote that Trump was most likely worth no more than $250 million, not the billions he claimed at the time. Trump sued him for defamation, but lost — and in the process lied dozen of time about his business dealings in a deposition taken by O’Brien’s lawyers.

Trump routinely inflates his net worth when applying for bank loans, but then shrinks the values of his properties when the tax assessor comes calling. If his tax returns were available, analysts could determine more clearly his net worth and to whom he owes money. And that’s what he may not want to reveal — the sources of his loans, especially if they are Russian banks.

Back at the Doral, Trump may have more concerns about what’s behind the ornate chandeliers and baroque fountains. During the Republican National Committee meeting last spring, the troubled property appeared to be skimping on maintenance costs, according to Huffington.

Trump’s attempt to host the G-7 conference at the Doral probably was a blatant act to generate funds to keep up the property, which has seen shrinking revenues since Trump became a presidential candidate in 2015. The G-7 is scheduled in June, when business at the Doral falls off during the hot and mosquito-ridden summer months in Florida.

— John Foster, a Carthage resident and former editor of the Panola Watchman, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Email jandmfoster@yahoo.com

Today's Bible verse

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.”

— Psalm 95:2-3

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