In Business and Governing, Trump Seeks Victory in Chaos

Three decades ago, Donald J. Trump waged a public battle with the talk show host Merv Griffin to take control of what would become Mr. Trump’s third Atlantic City casino. Executives at Mr. Trump’s company warned that the casino would siphon revenue from the others. Analysts predicted the associated debt would crush him.

The naysayers would be proved right, but throughout the turmoil Mr. Trump fixated on just one outcome: declaring himself a winner and Mr. Griffin a loser.

As president, Mr. Trump has displayed a similar fixation in his standoff with Congress over leveraging a government shutdown to gain funding for a wall on the Mexican border. As he did during decades in business, Mr. Trump has

  • insulted adversaries,
  • undermined his aides,
  • repeatedly changed course,
  • extolled his primacy as a negotiator and
  • induced chaos.

He hasn’t changed at all,” said Jack O’Donnell, who ran a casino for Mr. Trump in the 1980s and wrote a book about it. “And it’s only people who have been around him through the years who realize that.”

..Mr. Trump was expected to sign off on the deal, but then came the suggestion from conservative critics that he had caved in to Democrats — that he was a loser. It was a perception Mr. Trump could not bear, and he quickly reversed course.

He also reverted to lifelong patterns in business. People who worked with him during those years say they see multiple parallels between Mr. Trump the businessman and Mr. Trump the steward of the country’s longest government shutdown.

His lack of public empathy for unpaid federal workers echoes his treatment of some construction workers, contractors and lawyers whom he refused to pay for their work on his real estate projects. The plight of the farmers and small-business owners wilting without the financial support pledged by his administration harks back to the multiple lenders and investors who financed Mr. Trump’s business ventures only to come up shortchanged.

And his ever-changing positions (I’ll own the shutdown; you own the shutdown; the wall could be steel; it must be concrete; then again, it could be steel) have left heads in both parties spinning. Even after his televised proposal on Saturday to break the deadlock, Mr. Trump has no progress to show.

That book, published in 1987, was intended to be an autobiography of Mr. Trump, who was 41 at the time. Mr. Schwartz said that he created the idea of Mr. Trump as a great deal maker as a literary device to give the book a unifying theme. He said he came to regret the contribution as he watched Mr. Trump seize on the label to sell himself as something he was not — a solver of complicated problems.

Rather, Mr. Schwartz said, Mr. Trump’s “virtue” in negotiating was his relentlessness and lack of concern for anything but claiming victory.

If you don’t care what the collateral damage you create is, then you have a potential advantage,” he said. “He used

  • a hammer,
  • deceit,
  • relentlessness and
  • an absence of conscience

as a formula for getting what he wanted.”

In a brief telephone interview on Sunday, Mr. Trump was not specific in defending his tactics, but he described himself as successful in his chosen fields of real estate, entertainment and finally politics. “I ran for office once and I won,” Mr. Trump said.

The president’s supporters say he gets an unfair rap as a poor negotiator, saying that his style and unusual approach — and unwillingness to accept defeat even in the worst situations — have often had positive results. And in a Washington that doesn’t like outsiders, he has clearly forced his adversaries out of their comfort zones.

“President Trump’s success in business has translated into success as president,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said. “He’s

  • ignited a booming economy with
  • rising wages and
  • historically low unemployment,
  • negotiated better trade deals,
  • persuaded our allies to contribute their fair share to NATO, and
  • secured the release of American hostages around the world.”

.. The bank eventually settled with Mr. Trump, saving him from having to pay the $40 million. Mr. Trump expressed his gratitude to the lawyer who fought on his behalf by not fully paying his bill. “He left me with some costs,” said the lawyer, Steven Schlesinger.

From the time he built his first Manhattan apartment building, Mr. Trump left a string of unpaid tabs for the people who worked for him.

The undocumented Polish workers who did the demolition work for that first building, Trump Tower, eventually won a $1.375 million settlement. Since then, scores of lawyers, contractors, engineers and waiters have sued Mr. Trump for unpaid bills or pay. Typically, he responds by asserting that their work did not meet his standard.

That might sound familiar to furloughed federal workers. Mr. Trump recently retweeted an article, attributed to an anonymous senior official in his administration, arguing that 80 percent of federal workers do “nothing of external value” and that “furloughed employees should find other work, never return and not be paid.”

Mr. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that “maybe most” federal workers going without pay are “the biggest fan” of his use of the shutdown to fund a border wall. In ordering thousands back to work without pay, he has put the pain for the shutdown on them.

Mr. Trump has also embraced his business practice of giving the most latitude and trust to family members, no matter their prior experience.

He put his first wife, Ivana, a model, in charge of an Atlantic City casino and the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. He put his younger brother, Robert, who had some background in corporate finance, in senior positions at the casinos. Not long after three of his children graduated from college, he vested authority in them over golf courses, hotels and licensing deals.

.. In the White House, Mr. Trump has increasingly leaned on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for guidance on dealing with Congress amid the current stalemate. Mr. Kushner, who like Mr. Trump is the son of a wealthy real estate developer, has not always impressed old hands on Capitol Hill.

.. With Democrats now in charge of the House of Representatives, Mr. Trump also has a new set of adversaries, and other old habits from his years in business have re-emerged.

Through his Twitter feed, he has verbally pummeled Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, and tried to drive a wedge between Mr. Schumer and his fellow Democrat, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

.. Barbara Res, who said she enjoyed much about working for Mr. Trump as a construction executive in the 1980s and 1990s, sees in Ms. Pelosi a new challenge to Mr. Trump’s lifelong tactics. One blind spot she observed was that Mr. Trump “believes he’s better than anyone who ever lived” and saw even the most capable of women as easy to run over.

“But there was never a woman with power that he ran up against, until Pelosi,” she said. “And he doesn’t know what to do with it. He’s totally in a corner.”

In the interview, Mr. Trump described Ms. Res, Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Schwartz as disgruntled workers whom he had shunted aside, who had experience with him for relatively brief periods and who were simply using his name for attention.

During his years in business, Mr. Trump rarely displayed an interest in details or expert opinions that might have informed whether his plans would actually work. That pattern has also emerged in the shutdown dispute.

Thirty years ago, his claimed defeat of Mr. Griffin turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Within months of completing construction on his third casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, he could not pay interest to the bondholders who had financed the project. Having overpaid and overleveraged himself on other deals, banks forced him to turnover or sell almost everything.

His wealthy father helped bail him out. But Mr. Trump blamed everyone else. He fired nearly all his top executives and stopped paying contractors who had built the casino.

In describing the border wall, Mr. Trump has expressed unending confidence in its efficacy. Others, including Representative Will Hurd, a Republican whose Texas district includes part of the border with Mexico, have described it as a tall speed bump, nearly useless without technology to spot illegal crossings immediately and dispatch border agents to quickly respond.

Mr. O’Donnell, the casino manager, said long-term consequences never concerned Mr. Trump. He was always willing to pay too much in order to get a deal signed so he could declare victory, he said.

“He just wants to get the deal,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Cohen Hired IT Firm to Rig Early CNBC, Drudge Polls to Favor Trump

Behind the scenes, Michael Cohen hired RedFinch Solutions, then allegedly stiffed it—and his boss

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him both a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.

In a tweet on Thursday, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump knew he was trying to have the polls rigged. “What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of [Mr. Trump],” Mr. Cohen wrote. “I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said of Mr. Cohen’s tweet: “My response will be a cleaned-up version of ‘Bullshit.’”

“This is not true. The president did not know about this if it happened,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview.

Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president.

Mr. Gauger said he never got the rest of what he claimed he was owed. But Mr. Cohen in early 2017 still asked for—and received—a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by RedFinch, according to a government document and a person familiar with the matter.

The reimbursement—made on the sole basis of a handwritten note from Mr. Cohen and paid largely out of Mr. Trump’s personal account—demonstrates the level of trust the lawyer once had within the Trump Organization, whose officials arranged the repayment.

The Trump Organization declined to comment. Mr. Giuliani said: “The real takeaway from your story is, didn’t he steal $37,000?”

.. The reimbursement was mentioned by federal prosecutors when they charged Mr. Cohen in August with eight felonies, including campaign-finance violations for arranging hush-money payments to an adult-film star and a Playboy model who allege Mr. Trump had extramarital sexual encounters with them.

.. Mr. Gauger’s lawyer, Charles E. James Jr. of the firm Williams Mullen, said federal investigators interviewed Mr. Gauger about his interactions over six years with Mr. Cohen, from their first meeting in 2012 until last April, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room.

.. Mr. Gauger, who recounted those dealings to The Wall Street Journal, said that though Mr. Cohen promised him lucrative work for the presidential campaign, his activities related to Mr. Trump consisted of trying unsuccessfully to manipulate two online polls in Mr. Trump’s favor. 

During the presidential race, Mr. Cohen also asked Mr. Gauger to create a Twitter account called @WomenForCohen. The account, created in May 2016 and run by a female friend of Mr. Gauger, described Mr. Cohen as a “sex symbol,” praised his looks and character, and promoted his appearances and statements boosting Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

.. Richard Hasen, an election-law expert and law professor at University of California, Irvine, said Mr. Cohen had an obligation to disclose the payment to RedFinch as an independent expenditure if it was for campaign-related work he didn’t discuss with the Trump campaign. Had he coordinated with the Trump camp, the campaign would have been required to report any unpaid-for work as an in-kind contribution.

.. The connection between Messrs. Trump and Cohen and Liberty University dates at least to 2012, when Mr. Falwell invited Mr. Trump to give a speech and Mr. Cohen accompanied him. Soon after, Mr. Gauger was introduced to Mr. Cohen, helped him set up an Instagram account and gave him his cellphone number should he need more assistance, he said.

Over the next several years, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger for help with services intended to elevate positive content in internet-search results for himself and for friends, Mr. Gauger said. While he didn’t pay for most of what Mr. Gauger did, Mr. Cohen often promised to connect RedFinch with executives at Mr. Trump’s hotel and golf-course businesses, though he never did, Mr. Gauger said.

.. In January 2014, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger to help Mr. Trump score well in a CNBC online poll to identify the country’s top business leaders by writing a computer script to repeatedly vote for him. Mr. Gauger was unable to get Mr. Trump into the top 100 candidates. In February 2015, as Mr. Trump prepared to enter the presidential race, Mr. Cohen asked him to do the same for a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Trump ranked fifth, with about 24,000 votes, or 5% of the total.

After making the cash payment at Trump Tower, Mr. Cohen kept saying he would pay the balance of the $50,000 but never did, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Cohen also promised to get RedFinch work for Mr. Trump’s campaign. He set up two phone calls for Mr. Gauger with campaign officials, who didn’t hire him, he said.

“Mr. Cohen promised but never was able to develop the business he predicted,” said Mr. James, Mr. Gauger’s lawyer.

.. Mr. Cohen did give Mr. Gauger some other paying work. Early in 2016, Mr. Cohen hired RedFinch to help create positive web content about the chief executive of CareOne Management LLC, a New Jersey assisted-living company that had given Mr. Cohen a consulting contract.

Mr. Cohen sent RedFinch checks totaling $50,000 for that work, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Cohen collected $200,000 from CareOne but didn’t pay taxes on it, according to the charging document filed by federal prosecutors, who didn’t identify the assisted-living company by name. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to evading taxes on that income. CareOne didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger to create the @WomenForCohen account, still active in 2019, to elevate his profile. The account’s profile says it is run by “Women who love and support Michael Cohen. 

Strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented and ready to make a difference!”

Mr. Gauger said he last spoke with Mr. Cohen in April 2018, shortly after the raid by federal agents. He said Mr. Cohen told him the investigation was about taxes and how he had accessed money from some of his accounts. “It’s not a big deal,” Mr. Cohen said, according to Mr. Gauger.

 

Saudi Arabia Pumps Up Stock Market After Bad News, Including Khashoggi Murder

The government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has spent billions to counter selloffs in recent months

Saudi Arabia’s government has been spending billions of dollars to quietly prop up its stock market and counter selloffs that have followed repeated political crises in recent months.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of trading data and interviews with multiple people with direct knowledge of government intervention efforts, the Saudi government has placed huge buy orders, often in the closing minutes of negative trading days, to boost the market.

The Saudi stock market is a pillar of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to revamp his country’s economy. Since he ascended to a top leadership position three years ago, the de facto Saudi ruler and his deputies have faced a series of foreign-relations predicaments—most recently the October murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi—that prompted investors to dump Saudi stocks.

The Saudi stock exchange normally discloses how much stock the government buys. The recent purchases after political crises have been concealed from public view. That is because the government, rather than buying stock directly, has routed its money through asset managers at Saudi financial institutions who run funds that don’t need to reveal their clients, those people say.

.. It is a strategy the kingdom used last year after it launched an economic blockade of Qatar, following the arrest and torture of prominent Saudis, a corruption crackdown that some inside the government called a political purge, and after Prince Mohammed detained Lebanon’s prime minister, the Journal found.

Through the upheaval, Prince Mohammed’s government has been keen to show the world that Saudi Arabia remains safe for foreign investors. “We need to highlight to the world that Saudi investment is good,” said a Saudi government official.

.. China and other developing countries have been intervening for years in their stock markets. The Saudi efforts stand apart because they’re geared to attract foreign investors to a market with little foreign ownership. Foreigners only own about 4% of stock on the Saudi market, where all of the companies are Saudi-based and many have some government ownership.

.. Antoine van Agtmael, who coined the term “emerging market” almost 40 years ago, and who now works as an adviser for publisher FP Group, said government intervention makes the Saudi stock exchange “more of a fake market, and that kind of undermines the trust of investors in the long run.”

.. Having a healthy stock market is especially important because the Saudi stock exchange, known as the Tadawul, will be included next year in global emerging-market indexes. That inclusion will result in billions of dollars of foreign capital entering the exchange, which currently has a market capitalization of around $500 billion.

.. To prop up the market, the government has bought stocks via its sovereign Public Investment Fund, or PIF, say people familiar with the matter. PIF has been Prince Mohammed’s main investment instrument at home and abroad, taking a high-profile stake in Uber Technologies Inc. and investing billions of dollars with SoftBank Group Corp.

.. When local share prices falter, one of these people says, Mr. Rumayyan tells deputies to start buying. They use the messaging program WhatsApp to contact managers at institutions including state-controlled NCB Capital Co. who manage PIF funds, this person says.

George Washington’s Fugitive Slave: Ona

A little-known story of how one woman stood up to one of the most powerful men in American history. Her story comes to us from Uncivil, a history podcast from Gimlet where they go back to the time our divisions turned into a war, and bring you stories left out of the official history.