In 2018, impunity came to an end.
Ever since the 2016 election, it’s been common for some people to refer to whatever year we’re in as a synonym for dystopian weirdness. (Last year, for example, CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted “Peak 2017” about a headline saying, “US ambassador denies own comments, then denies denial.”) The world has felt continuously off-kilter, like a TV drama whose writers developed a sudden fondness for psilocybin. Last month astronomers at Harvard wrote that a strange oblong space object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” and it barely made a ripple in the news. There was simply too much else going on.
Amid this ceaseless barrage, things many of us have taken for granted have been called into question, including the endurance of liberal democracy, the political salience of truth and the assumption that it would be a big scandal if a president were caught directing illegal payoffs to a pornographic film actress. Often it feels like in American politics, none of the old rules still apply.
.. But in 2018, they did. (At least some of them.) Alien probes aside, this was a year in which things started to make sense again. The Democratic landslide in the midterms proved that the laws of political gravity haven’t been suspended; Trump’s incompetence, venality and boorishness had electoral consequences. Further, it was a year of justice and accountability for at least some of those who foisted this administration on the country. An awful menagerie of lowlifes was swept into power by Trump’s victory two years ago. In 2018, at least some of them started to fall back out again.
.. At the beginning of 2018,
- Michael Cohen was still Trump’s loyal personal lawyer.
- Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sleeping in his own bed at night.
- Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, had not yet made a plea deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
- Mueller’s investigation hadn’t yet sent anyone to prison.
- The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about work he’d done with Gates for the former Ukrainian president, became the first, in May.
- He was followed by Richard Pinedo, seller of fake IDs and fraudulent bank accounts,
- and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
When this year began,
- Scott Pruitt was still indulging in spectacular corruption as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Omarosa Manigault Newman had just been fired from her senior administration job and had not yet revealed her stash of secret recordings.
- Rob Porter, who has been accused of abuse by two ex-wives, was still White House staff secretary.
- David Sorensen, accused of abuse by one ex-wife, was still a White House speechwriter.
At the start of 2018, the
- casino mogul Steve Wynn was the Republican National Committee’s national finance chairman. He resigned after The Wall Street Journal reported that he’d been accused of committing multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. (Wynn denied assaulting anyone.)
- Elliott Broidy, owner of a private security company, was an R.N.C. deputy national finance chairman. He resigned after The Journal reported that he’d paid hush money to a former Playboy model who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant.
- (Cohen was also a deputy chairman; he resigned in June.)
As this year began,
- Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign head and chief White House strategist, whose sympathy for white nationalists did so much damage in so little time, was still running Breitbart News. He’d not yet burned his bridges to Trumpworld with his comments in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which was published in January. Since then, Bannon has lost considerable pull. He most recently made headlines after he was scheduled to speak at a conference on sex robots; a backlash to his invitation led to the conference being postponed.
- McClatchy reported that the F.B.I. was investigating whether Russia funneled money through the National Rifle Association to aid the Trump campaign. Throughout the year, as evidence of sketchy connections between the N.R.A. and Russia kept emerging, many on the right poo-pooed it. (“This attempt to turn the N.R.A. into another cog in the Russian conspiracy is laughable, but the mainstream media apparently still find it deeply compelling,” wrote Breitbart editor Joel Pollak in March.)
- On Thursday, Maria Butina, a Russian who’d nurtured ties to N.R.A. leadership and to Trumpworld, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The plea described how, after arranging a junket to Moscow for a “Gun Rights Organization,” she wrote a message to her handler that was translated as, “We should allow them to express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
Wynn expressed optimism about Cruz’s chances within the crowded GOP field. Wynn then lambasted Trump, the frontrunner at the time, castigating the real-estate mogul’s record as a “businessman” and “casino owner.” Wynn snickered about how Trump’s Vegas property stood pitifully far from the Strip, the stretch of land coveted by any hopeful casino or hotel owner in the city. “He was just clowning on him,”
.. So when, on the eve of Trump’s decisive victory in the Nevada caucus two months later, the candidate touted his support from none other than Steve Wynn, Cruz’s camp was stunned. Wynn, standing alongside fellow casino mogul Phil Ruffin, beamed from the crowd.
.. In the space of a year, Wynn would become a member of the president’s cadre of informal advisers, his hand-selected finance chair of the RNC, and as such, an indispensable fundraiser for the party.
.. Multiple Republican sources say Wynn’s retreat from the political scene will have a lasting and negative impact on the GOP’s fundraising prowess. “No small number of GOP lawmakers have stayed at Wynn Resorts in the last two years and relied on him for donations,” the Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said. “This could be devastating.”
.. not one seemed to think that the president would simply sever ties with Wynn.
.. The initial bout of friction between Trump and Wynn dates back to the 1990s, when the two engaged in a vicious legal battle over Wynn’s efforts to expand to Atlantic City that included allegations of fraud, money laundering, perjury, and even claims that an investigator working on behalf of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. had become a mole for Wynn’s Mirage Resorts,
.. “They hate each other’s guts. It’s like poison,”
.. The president still nurses the wound of those years and the insults Wynn lobbed at him
.. “It was always just billionaire ego bullshit,” said one Trump campaign official who witnessed their exchanges. “Like, ‘Haha, my building is a couple feet taller than your building.’ That kind of thing.”
.. Yet far from keeping Wynn at a distance, Trump seemed insistent on tightening their relationship. “They became pretty close,”
.. the president took great pleasure in how their roles had reversed.
.. During the transition, Wynn bordered on “sycophantic” in his outreach .. particularly on the topic of China.
.. Wynn, who runs a massive casino operation in Macau, often urged Trump to reconsider his pledge to be “tough on China.”
.. Wynn then volunteered to arrange entertainment for Trump’s inauguration
.. Not even Wynn’s extensive rolodex of celebrities could help him nab the artists he wanted most, including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Elton John. “As soon as he’d get close to bringing one on, word would leak out, and they’d immediately deny,” the source said. “Steve got very frustrated. He was clearly upset.”
.. it raised a record-breaking $107 million in the first three quarters of 2017
.. “He’s been a bigger success as a fundraiser than people thought he would be,
.. Wynn spoke with no notes, “as he’s mostly blind.” (Wynn suffers from a degenerative eye disease.)
.. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wynn hand-delivered a letter from the Chinese government urging the return of Miles Kwok, the Chinese businessman who fled the country, seeking asylum in the U.S.
.. But one source directly familiar with the matter remembered notably how Wynn was able “to work Trump up into a tizzy” over the situation, playing into the president’s well-known desire “to get the bad guys out” of the country.
.. “The president will want to keep Steve around him. He likes him—he’s gonna be last to throw a rock at a buddy of his.” Which means that Wynn’s access to Trump could very well continue unfettered—in the shadows, off the schedule, as it largely has been until now.
Wynn Resorts employees and others described a CEO who sexualized his workplace and pressured workers to perform sex acts. Mr. Wynn responded: ‘The idea that I ever assaulted any woman is preposterous.’
.. Mr. Wynn, turning 76 on Saturday, is a towering figure in Las Vegas and the wider gambling industry. As builder of the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn and Encore casinos in Las Vegas—lavish, multiuse resorts with features such as artificial volcanoes, dancing fountains and French chefs—he brought a new level of sophistication and scale to the Strip.
.. Mr. Wynn no longer owns the Mirage, Treasure Island or Bellagio, but his empire now includes two casinos bearing his name in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, and he is building a $2.4 billion Wynn casino in the Boston area. He is the chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts.
.. Mr. Wynn owns nearly 12% of Wynn Resorts, a stake worth $2.4 billion, and is considered integral to its success. His signature is the company logo. In a recent securities filing citing possible risks to the business, the company said, “If we lose the services of Mr. Wynn, or if he is unable to devote sufficient attention to our operations for any other reason, our business may be significantly impaired.”
.. Mr. Wynn is a regular on his casino floors, known for a keen attention to details and what employees say is a temper that can flare when they fall short. He has frequently had services such as manicures, massages and makeup application performed in his on-site office at the Wynn Las Vegas.
.. Former employees said their awareness of Mr. Wynn’s power in Las Vegas, combined with the knowledge that the jobs they held were among the best-paying available there, added up to a feeling of dependence and intimidation when Mr. Wynn made requests of them.
Some said that feeling was heightened at times by the presence in a confined office space of one or more of his German shepherds, trained to respond to commands in German.
.. Former employees said they sometimes entered fake appointments in the books to help other female workers get around a request for services in Mr. Wynn’s office or arranged for others to pose as assistants so they wouldn’t be alone with him. They told of female employees hiding in the bathroom or back rooms when they learned he was on the way to the salon.
.. he would continually adjust a towel to expose himself. Then at one session, she said, he threw it off and said, “Just get this thing off of me.”
.. She said he wouldn’t let her use a towel to cover his genitals after that, contrary to state licensing regulations, and he also began rubbing her leg while she massaged him.
.. After a few weeks, the former employee said, Mr. Wynn instructed her to massage his penis to climax. The woman said that because he was her boss, she felt she had no choice but to agree to some of Mr. Wynn’s requests, including that one. She said masturbating him became a frequent part of the massage sessions for several months.
.. In subsequent sessions, the woman said, Mr. Wynn asked her to perform oral sex on him and described in detail how he wanted it done. This request she refused, she said.
.. Dennis Gomes, who was an executive at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas when Mr. Wynn was running that casino decades ago, said in a deposition in an early-1990s lawsuit that Mr. Gomes “routinely received complaints from various department heads regarding Wynn’s chronic sexual harassment of female employees,” according to a court filing that summarized his testimony.
.. Mr. Gomes described what he called a “disgraceful pattern of personal and professional conduct” that he said included Mr. Wynn’s directing him to get the home phone numbers of casino cocktail waitresses.
.. The employee and the supervisor said they sought to manage the situation rather than report it because they believed there would be repercussions if they did.
.. a woman who was a salon manager at the time said she filed a written report to human resources. She said she got a call from an executive, Doreen Whennen, castigating her for filing to HR and saying she should have taken the matter directly to Ms. Whennen.
.. Ms. Wynn, who is a co-founder and former board member of Wynn Resorts, is seeking to free herself from restrictions on the control of her estimated $1.9 billion of stock that were imposed by a 2010 agreement with Mr. Wynn.