72 episodes

He’s the President, yet we’re still trying to answer basic questions about how his business works: What deals are happening, who they’re happening with, and if the President and his family are keeping their promise to separate the Trump Organization from the Trump White House. “Trump, Inc.” is a joint reporting project from WNYC Studios and ProPublica that digs deep into these questions. We’ll be laying out what we know, what we don’t and how you can help us fill in the gaps.
WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts, including On the Media, Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Nancy and many others. ProPublica is a non-profit investigative newsroom.
© WNYC Studios

Trump, Inc. WNYC

    • Politics
    • 5.0, 2 Ratings

He’s the President, yet we’re still trying to answer basic questions about how his business works: What deals are happening, who they’re happening with, and if the President and his family are keeping their promise to separate the Trump Organization from the Trump White House. “Trump, Inc.” is a joint reporting project from WNYC Studios and ProPublica that digs deep into these questions. We’ll be laying out what we know, what we don’t and how you can help us fill in the gaps.
WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts, including On the Media, Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, Nancy and many others. ProPublica is a non-profit investigative newsroom.
© WNYC Studios

    Trump Team Online

    Trump Team Online

    This story was co-published with ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations.

    Donald Trump is famous — and infamous — for his use of Twitter and Facebook. But particularly since the pandemic forced him to largely swear off his favorite mass, in-person rallies, his campaign has been amping up the use of another form of alternative media: YouTube and podcasts.

    The president’s most recent sit-down interview? As it happens, it occurred last week on “Triggered,” a YouTube program hosted by his namesake son. In a conversation in the White House’s map room, Trump Jr. quizzed his dad about everything from who his favorite child is to whether aliens exist — to a Fox News report that Osama bin Laden wanted to assassinate President Barack Obama so that Joe Biden would ascend to the presidency.

    This was no ordinary campaign video, nor was it a random question, this week’s episode of “Trump, Inc.” makes clear. “Triggered” followed the exchange about bin Laden with a campaign ad that repeated the same point, showing how closely the program’s conversations are tied in with campaign talking points. “Trump, Inc.” explores the Trump campaign’s universe of podcasts and YouTube shows, which has expanded since the coronavirus began locking down huge swaths of the country. (The campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)

    Sure, every major candidate has a podcast. Hillary Clinton had one. Biden has one, though it hasn’t been updated since mid-May. But unlike those dutiful and largely ignored offerings, “Triggered” is part of a growing constellation of shows. There’s the campaign’s official podcast, hosted by Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara. (Kayleigh McEnany used to fill in occasionally as host before being promoted to White House press secretary.) And there’s “The Right View.” Just imagine “The View,” conducted entirely on Zoom, if Meghan McCain was considered too liberal to be on the panel and if no one ever disagreed. The programs have combined to create something of a Trump media network, one that takes the president’s bellicose messaging and transports it to an environment of family, friendship and banter.

    People are starting to pay attention. Nightly programming of the unofficial Trump Network reaches upward of a million viewers each week. It’s a realm dedicated to reinforcing even the president’s most incendiary ideas — with no pushback, skepticism or difference of opinion.

    To learn more about how the programs lay out their views of everything from bin Laden assassination plots to the controversy over vote by mail, listen to this week’s episode of “Trump, Inc.”

     

    • 22 min
    The Watchdogs

    The Watchdogs

    This story was co-published with ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations.

    When Congress was considering passing the more than $2 trillion coronavirus bailout two months ago, President Donald Trump made his vision for oversight clear. “I’ll be the oversight,” he said. 

    The CARES Act empowers a number of different offices to make sure the money is spent wisely and without favoritism. Shortly after he signed it into law, Trump ousted the inspector general who was slated to lead the oversight — one of five watchdogs the president has purged in less than two months. 

    Trump also issued a signing statement asserting that he can ignore oversight provisions of the bailout law and that Congress does not have to be consulted. “My Administration will treat this provision as hortatory but not mandatory,” he wrote. 

    We spoke to an official just hired to do one of the jobs Trump cited in his signing statement. She told us that Trump’s moves have made her particularly careful to avoid any “adverse” comments about the administration. 

    Linda Miller began work this week as the deputy executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or PRAC. Miller spent a decade at the nonpartisan, independent Government Accountability Office, where she dug into the case of a crooked Navy contractor nicknamed Fat Leonard. She said she’s learned that corruption often starts at the top. 

    Here is an edited transcript of our conversation with Miller. She spoke with “Trump, Inc.” co-host Ilya Marritz a few days before formally joining the PRAC. (Our episode also includes an interview with Bharat Ramamurti, a member of the bailout’s congressional watchdog.)

    Trump, Inc.: You warned my producer when we booked this interview that there are a lot of things that you can’t talk about or won’t talk about. Just so I know, what are those things?

    Linda Miller: Uh, anything that would be in any way adverse to the administration is something that I won’t be commenting on in any way.

    Trump, Inc.: What do you mean by “adverse to the administration”?

    Miller: I can’t speak negatively about the president or any of the decisions he’s made, particularly when it comes to the IG community. That’s the biggest, probably political football around my new role. The IG community is obviously under a lot of stress and scrutiny.

    There’s a lot of politics, and people have been asking me what it’s going to be like to go work in the inspector general community. I can speak real broadly. I just won’t say anything that’s in any way derogatory about the president because, obviously in my role, I need to stay as neutral as possible in order to basically stay in my role, frankly.

    Trump, Inc.: And that’s your judgment, coming into this job.

    Miller: Right. That’s my judgment.

    Trump, Inc.: I know that your career specialty is detecting risk of fraud. You did this at the Government Accountability Office. You also did it in the private sector. What are some of the frauds that you have uncovered?

    Miller: My specialty is less in investigating fraud and more in helping organizations prevent fraud from occurring. So, often when a big fraud event occurs, I come in afterwards and help the agency or sometimes the private-sector company think about how they were vulnerable.

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the very large Navy scandal, it’s affectionately known as the “Fat Leonard” scandal. A contractor who bribed a variety of senior government officials all the way up to admirals, in order to get information that would give him a competitive advantage.

    That particular scandal was shocking for the scale and the scope. There were bribes involving prostitutes, and meals, and jewelry and all kinds of stuff.

    And I often use that fraud example when I ta

    • 42 min
    New Questions for Trump’s Biggest Lenders

    New Questions for Trump’s Biggest Lenders

    This story was co-published with ProPublica. Our reporting on President Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank was originally published in May 2019.

    A decade ago, loan filings showed Trump Tower in New York City had a reported profit of about $13.3 million. But when the tower refinanced its debt soon after, the profits for the same year — 2010 — somehow appeared higher. A new lender listed the profits as $16.1 million, or 21% more than they had been recorded previously.  

    The next year’s earnings for the building also “improved” between the two filings. Profits for 2011 were listed as 12% higher under the new loan than the old, according to reports by loan servicers and data provider Trepp. 

    ProPublica uncovered the Trump Tower discrepancies by examining publicly available data for mortgages that are packaged into securities known as commercial mortgage-backed securities, comparing the same years in reports for different CMBS. If a bank had held onto the loan, instead of selling it to investors, such information would have been kept private. No evidence has emerged that the Trump Organization was involved in changing the profit figures.

    Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s chief legal officer, said: “Not only were the numbers provided to the servicer accurate, but Trump Tower is considered one of the most underleveraged commercial buildings around.” 

    The discrepancies in the tower profits match a pattern described in a whistleblower complaint filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which ProPublica revealed this month. The complaint accuses commercial lenders of fraudulently inflating the income numbers underlying loans in many CMBS. 

    The complaint named seven servicers and 14 lenders, including two of the country’s biggest issuers of CMBS — Ladder Capital and Wells Fargo. Both were involved in the more recent Trump Tower loan, one as the lender, the second as the financial institution that packaged the loan into a CMBS. The complaint does not say which entities altered specific numbers and does not address whether borrowers were involved in, or knew about, the alleged fraud.

    Wells Fargo declined to comment. Ladder Capital did not respond to questions about Trump’s signature Fifth Avenue tower. Ladder did respond to questions for ProPublica’s earlier article; it acknowledged it had altered historical numbers for two other loans ProPublica asked about, to remove expenses that were not recurring in the future. The lender said its actions were appropriate. (Ladder is a publicly traded commercial real estate investment trust with more than $6 billion in assets. It employs Jack Weisselberg, the son of the Trump Organization’s longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, as an executive director whose job is to make loans. Jack Weisselberg declined to comment.)

    When the Trump Organization refinanced its loan for Trump Tower in 2012, it increased the size of its loan from $27.5 million to $100 million, extracting $67.9 million in cash. The interest-only loan originally represented about 8% of the more than $1 billion in mortgages assembled into the CMBS. (Only the commercial part of the tower — with retail tenants such as Gucci and offices, including for the Trump Organization — served as collateral for the loan.)

    For both 2010 and 2011, data shows the discrepancies in net operating income between the old and new loans for Trump Tower were largely due to the new loan reporting lower expenses. The prospectus for the more recent loan stated that “the historical expenses exclude security associated with Donald J. Trump’s personal services” — though it did not specify dollar amounts for the change. Greater revenues were cited for both years under the new loan, too, but the prospectus did not explain why.

    The whistleblower complaint, filed by a CMBS-industry insider named John Flyn

    • 50 min
    Temporary Presidential Immunity

    Temporary Presidential Immunity

    This story was co-published with ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations.

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday, via teleconference, about the power to investigate the president.  

    President Donald Trump has objected to subpoenas for his tax returns and other financial records. New York City prosecutors have demanded the documents as part of a criminal investigation into the president’s hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, while the House of Representatives has been seeking to investigate the conflicts of interests of a president who still owns a sprawling business. 

    Trump’s lawyers have argued that a president shouldn’t be subject to investigation while in office. “We're asking for temporary presidential immunity,” attorney Jay Sekulow said.

    Andrea Bernstein of Trump, Inc. and NYU law professor Melissa Murray listened to the oral arguments and chatted with co-host Ilya Marritz about what struck them. A few takeaways:    

    • Fights between the legislative and executive branch are not normally heard in front of the Supreme Court. Congress and the White House have typically negotiated solutions to such disputes. “And the fact that we're in court is because this president hasn’t acceded to those norms,” Murray said.

    • A phrase that came up repeatedly: “presidential harassment.” It’s language that Trump frequently uses on Twitter and his lawyers raised in court. The assertion, Murray said, “has transformed what would be considered, I think in other times, ordinary and essential legislative oversight into what accounts to bullying, harassment and mere partisan politics.”

    • A number of the justices — including the liberal Stephen Breyer — expressed sympathy for the White House’s arguments against the House’s demands for documents, but they were far more skeptical about the claim that the president is immune from even criminal investigation. “The court seemed not to be amenable to that kind of argument at all,” Murray said. 

    The justices are expected to deliver a decision in the cases — Trump v. Mazars, Trump v. Deutsche Bank and Trump v. Vance — this summer.

    Related reporting:• The Accountants• Trump and Deutsche Bank: It's Complicated• How Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., Avoided A Criminal Indictment

    • 30 min
    The Accountants

    The Accountants

    On May 12, after a six-week delay caused by the pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the epic battle by congressional committees and New York prosecutors to pry loose eight years of President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

    Much about the case is without precedent. Oral arguments will be publicly broadcast on live audio. The nine justices and opposing lawyers will debate the issues remotely, from their offices and homes. And the central question is extraordinary: Is the president of the United States immune from congressional — and even criminal — investigation?

    The arguments concern whether Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, must hand over his tax returns and other records to a House committee and the Manhattan district attorney, which have separately subpoenaed them. (There will also be arguments on congressional subpoenas to two of Trump’s banks.)

    Trump’s accountants have been crucial enablers in his remarkable rise. And like their marquee client, they have a surprisingly colorful and tangled story of their own. It’s dramatically at odds with the image Trump has presented of his accountants as “one of the most highly respected” big firms, solemnly confirming his numbers after months of careful scrutiny. For starters, it’s only technically true to say Trump’s accounting work is handled by a large firm.

    In fact, Trump entrusts his taxes and planning to a tiny, secretive team of CPAs who have operated at various times from humble quarters in Queens and two Long Island office parks. That team, which has had two leaders with back-to-back multidecade terms, has been working for the Trumps since Fred Trump began using the firm back in the 1950s. It was eventually subsumed into Mazars USA, the American arm of a large international firm, through a series of mergers over decades.

    One theme has been consistent: partners and sometimes the firm itself have faced accusations of fraud, misconduct, and malpractice on multiple occasions, an investigation by ProPublica and WNYC has found.

    This story was co-published with ProPublica; visit their website to read Peter Elkind's full text story on President Trump's relationship with his accounting firm. Stay up to date with email updates about our investigations into the president’s business practices.

    • 37 min
    He Went To Jared

    He Went To Jared

    On April 2, Jared Kushner uncharacteristically took to the podium to speak at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing. He’d been given the task, he said, of assisting Vice President Mike Pence’s Coronavirus Task Force with supply chain issues. “The president,” Kushner said, “wanted us to make sure we think outside the box, make sure we’re finding all the best thinkers in the country, making sure we’re getting all the best ideas, and that we’re doing everything possible to make sure that we can keep Americans safe.”

    That very day, he said, President Donald Trump told him that “he was hearing from friends of his in New York that the New York public hospital system was running low on critical supply.” So Kushner called Dr. Mitchell Katz, who runs the 12-hospital system, which serves, in a normal year, over a million patients. Kushner said he’d asked Katz which supply he was most nervous about: “He told me it was the N95 masks. I asked what his daily burn was. And I basically got that number.”

    In a chaotic environment, the New Jersey boy turned Manhattan businessman turned senior White House adviser is using his clout to help the cities and states at the epicenter of a global pandemic get the aid they need. 

    Yet there’s another side to the equation. Kushner’s role is also a symptom of the dysfunction of the Trump administration, according to critics, some of whom worked in emergency management under Republican and Democratic administrations. The ad hoc nature of Kushner’s mission and its lack of transparency make it hard for people — and government agencies — to know exactly what he’s doing. So far, those officials say, there's little sign Kushner or anyone at the White House is helping New York or New Jersey with their urgent longer-term needs, particularly more testing and billions from Congress to ease the gaping holes that have emerged in local budgets. 

    ”If you can reach Jared, if you can applaud Jared, if you can convince him that you're the most needy, he will deliver for you,” said Juliette Kayyem, faculty chair of the homeland security project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of homeland security in the Obama administration. But his role bypasses long-held tenets of how the federal government should work in a national emergency, she said, without addressing systemic problems, much less reinventing the bureaucracy. “What's outside the box? What process is outside the box? It can't possibly be Kushner's [giving out his] cellphone number,” Kayyem said. “But that's what it appears to be.” 

    Read the text version of this story at ProPublica.

    Related episodes:• Dirt• How Trump Is Eligible For A Coronavirus Rescue• What To Look Out For

    • 33 min

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