President Trump ran for president on three promises: He'd build a wall on the Mexican border, repeal Obamacare, and overhaul the nation's tax system. And approaching the 2020 election, Trump's only accomplished one of them — and even that didn't live up to the hype. "It's important to point out is the impact has been not what he said it would be," says Sally Herships, host and co-executive producer of The Heist, a new podcast from the Center for Public Integrity. "It has not been what he promised, which was, a sizable increase in jobs, higher wages ... just kind of this rainbow-like better life for many Americans." “Not only will this tax bill pay for itself," promised Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, "but it will pay down debt.” Yet nearly every analysis said the changes would add more than $1 trillion trillion to the national debt. This episode of The Heist, "Buyer's Remorse," looks at how the Trump administration rushed the law through. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations.
In his new book, "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation," prosecutor Andrew Weissmann offers a new account into the inner workings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Trump. Related episodes:• The Questions Mueller Didn't Ask• Trump's Moscow Tower Problem• Six Tips for Preparing for the Mueller Report, Which May or May Not Be Coming Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations.
This story was co-published with ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations. After the news broke in May of last year that government-sponsored lending agency Freddie Mac had agreed to back $786 million in loans to the Kushner Companies, political opponents asked whether the family real estate firm formerly led by the president’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, had received special treatment. “We are especially concerned about this transaction because of Kushner Companies’ history of seeking to engage in deals that raise conflicts of interest issues with Mr. Kushner,” Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Tom Carper (D-Delaware) wrote to Freddie Mac’s CEO in June 2019. The loans helped Kushner Companies scoop up thousands of apartments in Maryland and Virginia, the business’s biggest purchase in a decade. The deal, first reported by Bloomberg, also ranked among Freddie’s largest ever. At the time, the details of its terms weren’t disclosed. Freddie Mac officials didn’t comment publicly then. Kushner’s lawyer said Jared was no longer involved in decision-making at the company. (He does continue to receive millions from the family business, according to his financial disclosures, including from some properties with Freddie Mac-backed loans.) Freddie Mac packaged the 16 loans into bonds and sold them to investors in August 2019. But Kushner Companies hadn’t finished its buying spree. Within the next two months, records show, Freddie Mac backed another two loans to the Kushners for an additional $63.5 million, allowing the company to add two more apartment complexes to its portfolio. A new analysis by ProPublica shows Kushner Companies received unusually favorable loan terms for the 18 mortgages it obtained with Freddie Mac’s backing. The loans allowed the Kushner family company to make lower monthly payments and borrow more money than was typical for similar loans, 2019 Freddie Mac data shows. The terms increase the risk to the agency and to investors who buy bonds with the Kushner mortgages in them. Moreover, Freddie Mac’s estimates of the Kushner properties’ profitability — a core element of any decision to back a loan — have already proven to be overly optimistic. All 16 properties in the firm’s biggest loan package delivered smaller profits in 2019 than Freddie Mac expected, despite the then-booming economy. The loan for the largest property lagged Freddie Mac’s profit prediction by 31% last year. U.S. taxpayers could be responsible for paying back much of the nearly $850 million in Freddie Mac financing if Kushner Companies defaults and its properties drop significantly in value. During the last real estate crash, taxpayers had to bail out Freddie Mac and its larger sibling, Fannie Mae, to the tune of $190 billion as the agencies plunged into the government equivalent of bankruptcy. (The agencies ultimately repaid the money and more.) The involvement of Jared’s sister Nicole Kushner Meyer adds to questions about whether the family sought to exploit its political influence. Meyer, who shares her brother’s slight build, porcelain features and dark chestnut hair, lobbied Freddie Mac in person on behalf of Kushner Companies in February last year, a timeline of the deal obtained by ProPublica shows. She has previously drawn criticism for invoking her brother’s name while doing Kushner Companies’ business before. In a statement Freddie Mac said it does “not consider the political affiliations of borrowers or their family members.” It called ProPublica’s analysis “random, arbitrary and incomplete” and asserted that the Kushner loans “fit squarely within our publicly-available credit and underwriting standards. The terms and performance of every one of these loans is transparent and available on our website, and all the loans are current and have been consistently paid.” A spokesperson for Kushner Companies did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment. There’s no evidence the Trump administration played a role in any of the decisions and Freddie Mac operates independently. But Freddie Mac embarked on approving the loans at the moment that its government overseer, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), was changing from leadership by an Obama administration appointee to one from the Trump administration, Mark Calabria, vice-president Mike Pence’s former chief economist. Calabria, who was confirmed in April 2019, has called for an end to the “conservatorship,” the close financial control that his agency has exerted over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae since the 2008 crisis. The potential for improper influence exists even if the Trump administration didn’t advocate for the Kushners, said Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University specializing in government and legal ethics. She compared the situation to press reports that businesses and associates connected to Jared Kushner and his family were approved to receive millions from the Paycheck Protection Program. Officials could have acted because they were seeking to curry favor with the Kushners or feared retribution if they didn’t, according to Clark. And if Kushner Companies had wanted to avoid any appearance of undue influence, she added, it should have sent only non-family executives to meet with Freddie Mac. “I’d leave it to the professionals,” Clark said. “I’d keep family members away from it.” The Freddie Mac data shows that Kushner Companies secured advantageous terms on multiple points. All 18 loans, for example, allow Kushner Companies to pay only interest for the full 10-year term, thus deferring all principal payments to a balloon payment at the end. That lowers the monthly payments, but increases the possibility that the balance won’t be paid back in full. “That’s as risky as you get,” said Ryan Ledwith, a professor at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, of 10-year interest-only loans. “It’s a long period of time and you’re not getting any amortization to reduce your risk over time. You’re betting the market is going to get better all by itself 10 years from now.” Interest-only mortgages, which notoriously helped fuel the 2008 economic crisis, represent a small percentage of Freddie Mac loans. Only 6% of the 3,600 loans funded by the agency last year were interest-only for a decade or more, according to a database of its core mortgage transactions. Kushner Companies also loaded more debt on the properties than is usual for similar loans, with the loan value for the 16-loan deal climbing to 69% of the properties’ worth. That compares with an average 59%, according to data for loans with similar terms and property types that Freddie Mac sold to investors in 2019, and is just below the 70% debt-to-value ceiling Freddie Mac sets for loans in its category. “What we generally have seen from Freddie and Fannie,” said Andrew Little, a principal with real estate investment bank John B. Levy & Company, “is they will do 10 years of interest-only on lower-leveraged deals.” Loans right at the ceiling are “not very common,” Little said, adding that “you don’t see deals this size that commonly.” Meanwhile Freddie Mac and its lending partner overestimated the profits for the buildings in the Kushners’ 16-loan package by 12 % during the underwriting process, according to the agency’s data. Such analysis is supposed to provide a conservative, accurate picture of revenue and expenses, which should be relatively predictable in the case of an apartment building. But the level of income anticipated failed to materialize in 2019, financial reports show. The most dramatic overstatement came with the largest loan in the deal, $120 million for Bonnie Ridge Apartments, a 960-apartment complex in Baltimore. In that case, realized profits last year were 31% below what Freddie Mac had expected. “That’s definitely a significant amount,” said John Griffin, a University of Texas professor who specializes in forensic finance and has studied mortgage underwriting. He co-authored a recent paper highlighting as worrisome loans in which projected profits exceeded actual profits by 5%. “It’s a problem when underwritten income is inflated or overstated,” he said. “That is a key metric that determines the safety of the loan.” Griffin’s paper found that 28% of all loans examined had projected profits that were 5% or more greater than what the properties actually earned in their first year. Some instances of underperformance could be caused by bad luck, the paper acknowledged, but “such situations should be relatively rare.” Yet in the case of Freddie Mac’s estimates in the Kushner deal, 13 of the original 16 loans met or exceeded the 5% threshold — many by a considerable amount. Read Heather Vogell's full print story at ProPublica. Related episodes:• He Went To Jared• Dirt• Trump and Deutsche Bank: It’s Complicated The Freddie Mac headquarters building in McLean, Va., Saturday, April 21, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
President Trump has spent years fighting with politicians and prosecutors who wanted to see his taxes. Now we know what he’s been hiding. Co-host Ilya Marritz talks to ProPublica's Heather Vogell and WNYC's Meg Cramer about what's in the groundbreaking new reporting from The New York Times and the new questions raised by 20 years of Trump tax data. Check out some of our own stories from years of covering President Trump's taxes: • The Accountants• The Family Business• The Numbers Don't Match • What We've Learned From Trump's Tax Transcripts• Trump and Taxes: The Art of the Dodge• Trump’s Company Is Suing Towns Across the Country to Get Breaks on Taxes
This story was co-published with ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations. President Trump likes talking about voter fraud. He also likes filing lawsuits. Now his campaign is filing lawsuits across the country, citing the alleged dangers of voter fraud. Plus: ProPublica reporters Mike Spies, Jake Pearson, and Jessica Huseman on secret, Republican-only meetings about election policy.
The Qatari government rents office space in President Trump's most profitable building. No one works there. Dan Alexander is a senior editor at Forbes and author of the new book "White House Inc: How Donald Trump Turned The Presidency Into a Business." This interview is based on an excerpt of the book that ran in Vanity Fair.
The story of the long, strange wind-up to the attack that remade the world… and the chances we had to stop it. A new series from HISTORY and WNYC Studios.
This story was co-published with Time Magazine and ProPublica. Sign up for email updates from Trump, Inc. to get the latest on our investigations. Rick Perry came to Washington looking for a deal, and less than two months into his tenure as Energy Secretary, he found a hot prospect. It was April 19, 2017, and Perry, the former Texas governor, failed presidential candidate and contestant on Dancing With the Stars, was sitting in his office on Independence Avenue with two influential Ukrainians. “He said, ‘Look, I’m a new guy, I’m a dealmaker, I’m a Texan,’” recalls one of them, Yuriy Vitrenko, then Ukraine’s chief energy negotiator. “We’re ready to do deals,” he remembers Perry saying. The deals they discussed that day became central to Ukraine’s complex relationship with the Trump Administration, a relationship that culminated in December with the House vote to impeach President Donald Trump. Perry was a leading figure in the impeachment inquiry last fall. He was among the officials, known as the “three amigos,” who ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine on Trump’s behalf. Their aim, according to the findings of the impeachment inquiry in the House, was to embarrass Trump’s main political rival, Joe Biden. Alongside this political mission, Perry and his staff at the Energy Department worked to advance energy deals that were potentially worth billions of dollars to Perry’s friends and political donors, a six-month investigation by reporters from TIME, WNYC and ProPublica shows. Two of these deals seemed set to benefit Energy Transfer, the Texas company on whose board Perry served immediately before and after his stint in Washington. The biggest was worth an estimated $20 billion, according to U.S. and Ukrainian energy executives involved in negotiating them. If this long discussed deal succeeds, Perry himself could stand to benefit: in March, three months after leaving government, he owned Energy Transfer shares currently worth around $800,000, according to his most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Perry appears to have stayed on the right side of the law in pursuing the Ukraine ventures. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York questioned at least four people about the deals over the past year, according to five people who are familiar with the conversations and discussed them with our reporting team on condition of anonymity. “As far back as last year, they were already interested in events that had taken place in Ukraine around Rick Perry,” including allegations that Perry “was trying to get deals for his buddies,” says one of the people who spoke to the Manhattan prosecutors. Perry is not a target of their investigation, according to two sources familiar with the probes. But two ethics experts say Perry’s efforts were violations of federal regulations. Administration officials are not allowed to participate in matters directly relating to companies on whose board they have recently served. Other experts say Perry and his aides may have broken a federal rule that prohibits officials from advocating for companies that have not been vetted by the Commerce Department. “Even if it skirts the criminal statute, it’s still unethical,” says Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyer in the White House of President George W. Bush, with whom we shared our findings. Through a spokesman, Perry said he “never connected or facilitated discussions” between Energy Transfer and Ukraine’s state energy firm in one of the deals we uncovered. The spokesman declined to comment on the other ventures Perry advanced while in government, including the $20 billion deal, or on the federal probe. In response to written questions for this article, Energy Transfer said, “We are not aware of any contact between Secretary Perry and Ukrainian officials on Energy Transfer’s behalf.” Read the full print story by Time reporter Simon Shuster. Update, Sept. 24, 2020: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter on Wednesday asking the Inspector General for the Department of Energy to investigate Rick Perry’s actions in Ukraine. Citing a joint investigation by the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Senate’s Committee on Finance, Wyden wrote that “witness testimony in this investigation has directly implicated former Secretary Rick Perry in alleged wrongdoing and the Department more broadly in a scheme to undermine anti-corruption efforts that were implemented by Ukraine in partnership with the international community.” The letter noted that a Naftogaz board member testified that Perry “inappropriately pressured the Ukrainian government to place Robert Bensh on the Naftogaz advisory board while Department of Energy officials were also pressuring the Ukrainian government to sign a memorandum of understanding with a private business entity connected to Mr. Bensh, Louisiana Natural Gas Exports.” The letter also cites reporting by ProPublica, Time and WNYC for “Trump, Inc.,” as well as reporting by other media outlets, and asks the IG to investigate what role Perry played in “pressuring Ukraine to make changes to the Naftogaz advisory board”; what efforts Perry and his staff made to “facilitate a deal between any American companies and Naftogaz”; whether the Naftogaz deals “were in Ukraine’s financial or economic interest”; whether Perry “undermined anti-corruption reform efforts in Ukraine” and whether Perry received ethics advice “about his efforts related to [Michael Bleyzer], Mr. Bensh, and Naftogaz.”
Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist and President Trump's niece, talks to co-host Andrea Bernstein about the Trump family, the Republican National Convention, and her book "Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man." Additional reading:• In secretly recorded audio, President Trump’s sister says he has ‘no principles’ and ‘you can’t trust him’ (The Washington Post)• Mary Trump, The President's Niece (Fresh Air) This conversation originally aired as part of WNYC’s Special Convention Coverage 2020.
In this bonus episode of Trump, Inc., co-hosts Ilya Marritz and Andrea Bernstein talk to Politico’s Natasha Bertrand and The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer about the new report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence detailing Russia's role in the 2016 election. Additional reading:• “Russiagate Was Not A Hoax” by Franklin Foer• “The Trump-Putin Relationship, as Dictated by the Kremlin” and “How a Russian disinfo op got Trump impeached” by Natasha Bertrand• Read the full Senate report.This conversation originally aired part of WNYC’s Special Convention Coverage 2020.