- David Cay JohnstonPulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and founder and editor of DCReport.org, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
The New York Times is reporting New York Attorney General Letitia James issued subpoenas late Monday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records related to the Trump Organization. This comes just weeks after Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified before Congress that Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements. New York state regulators subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s insurance broker, Aon, after Cohen’s testimony. The House Judiciary Committee also recently requested documents from 81 people and groups in Trump’s inner circle. We speak with David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, and founder and editor of DCReport.org. His most recent book is titled “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The New York Times is reporting New York Attorney General Letitia James issued subpoenas late Monday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records related to the Trump Organization. This comes just weeks after President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump had inflated his assets in financial statements. The Times reports the New York probe focuses on how the Trump Organization financed several large projects, including Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., the Trump National Doral outside Miami and the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. In addition, the New York Attorney General’s Office is investigating Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills football team five years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes a week after the New York state regulators subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s insurance broker, Aon, after Cohen’s testimony. The House Judiciary Committee also recently requested documents from 81 people and groups in Trump’s inner circle.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, will be back in court Wednesday. Last week, he was sentenced to 47 months—less than four years—in prison for eight counts of bank fraud and tax evasion. This week’s sentencing stems from his guilty plea on two conspiracy charges. He could face an additional 10 years in prison.
We’re joined now by a journalist who’s been closely reporting on Donald Trump’s financial dealings since the 1980s. David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously worked at The New York Times, founder and editor of DCReport.org. His most recent book is titled It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
David Cay Johnston, welcome back to Democracy Now! In a moment, we’re going to talk you about Trump’s new budget, but right now, this latest news of further investigations into President Trump.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald Trump has always been able to stop investigations into his background. He beat four federal grand juries as a young man, for example. And New Jersey casino regulators never did their job digging into him. Now he’s got a New York state attorney general, Letitia James, who ran for office saying, “I’m going to dig into Donald Trump,” and she has the legal tools to do so. We’ve got the Southern District of New York, which is very experienced in these, and we’ve got a host of committees in the House.
We’re going to see Donald Trump’s tax returns. We’re going to see how much money he got from Russian oligarchs. And the Deutsche Bank matter is particularly important, because Deutsche Bank, which has been fined altogether over $22 billion for misconduct, is the second-leading bank in the world for laundering Russian money. Arguably, it is not a bank; it is a criminal enterprise. And, in fact, the German government is trying to figure out how to get rid of Deutsche Bank by folding it into another big bank called Commerzbank.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned Trump’s taxes and the efforts by the House to get at them. Will we ever see Trump’s taxes?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Absolutely.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned that there’s this whole issue of how he once got a STAR tax credit. Could you explain what that is?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, first of all, since—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For our viewers and listeners.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: First of all, since 1924, we have had a law that says Congress can look at anyone’s tax returns. And they do it all the time. If you get a refund of more than $2 million, it’s automatically sent to Congress for review by staff experts who work on the tax committees. So we will see his returns. And if the administration tries not to turn them over, they might win at the first court, but they will lose that fight.
Now, the STAR tax credit is something that if you’re a homeowner in New York state, as I am, if you make less than $500,000, you get a credit on your property tax bill, or, at one point, you got a check in the mail. Donald collected this for, I think, four years. It’s public record who gets it. You only get it if your income on your tax return shows less than $500,000. Donald came up with this—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So that indicates that for four years his official tax returns were saying that he made less than $500,000 a year.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: That’s right. Now, his cockamamie story is, “Oh, there was a mistake about the address.” It doesn’t work that way. It’s what box has this number, and then it’s automatic. In some ways, it’s not unusual for him to report such small income, because Congress has special rules for the real estate business, that Donald lobbied for, that allows real estate people to live tax-free. But there’s plenty of other evidence. Donald was tried two times for income tax fraud, and he lost both cases. They were civil cases. But you will have seen no mention of them in mainstream media, even though they’re in my biography, The Making of Donald Trump, with the court citations. And the judges in those cases were very harsh on him.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you want to see most come out of these investigations, where something like 81 people connected to Trump, and entities connected to Trump, are being requested documents of? What do you think is most explosive?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I think the single most important thing is how much money he got from the Kremlin. The Russian oligarchs are essentially a criminal gang led by Vladimir Putin. And we know they have been putting money into his pocket, as have many other—remember, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the theft of the property of the people of the old Soviet Union. And Donald has been a person who’s laundered money for these people, held money for these people, done deals that make no sense for these people and with them. And we need to understand that Donald Trump is not a loyal American. The kindest thing, Amy, I could say about Donald is he has divided loyalties. His own actions have indisputably shown that. I think he is a Kremlin agent—unwittingly, perhaps, because Donald is not very witting. But he is absolutely, in my view, a Kremlin agent.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean, we have not seen the Mueller investigation yet.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: No, we haven’t.
AMY GOODMAN: But when you look at the number of people who have been charged and the number of people—and the people who are now being sentenced, they’re not being gotten on collusion charges. You don’t have to get President Trump on collusion charges for there to be serious questions raised about him.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: That’s right. You don’t have to show a conspiracy. That would be the criminal charge on this issue. The oath of office is to faithfully execute what Congress tells you to do. So, here we have a man who rejects the advice of our intelligence services and military. And we can sit here and criticize them all day long, because we live in a free society, and we should. But he rejects them and says, “I believe President Xi. I believe Vladimir Putin. I believe dictator Kim.” Really? And so, he is a clear and present danger to us.
But I think that the Mueller report or other investigations are going to show absolutely improper relationships, before he took office, with the Russians. And remember that Donald Jr. said, in response to an email saying, “The Russian government wants to help you win the presidency,” “Love it.” I’m sorry, the only proper response to an intervention by a foreign government, particularly a hostile foreign government, is to call the FBI and say, “I need someone in counterintelligence.” They didn’t do that. They tried to lie about it. They tried to set up a secret communications link using the Soviet Embassy’s cable system. Imagine if somebody in Obama’s administration or George W. Bush’s had tried to do that. You know, they would have been impeached by now, just over that.