Mother Jones Magazine

Can UV Light Slow the Spread of the Coronavirus?

Benjamin Currie

After more than two months on hiatus, Washington, DC’s Sauf Haus Bier Hall and Garten reopened for rooftop dining on May 29. Before customers could sit down to taste the pub’s oversized pretzels and slurp down steins, they were given the option to pass through its new Cleanse Portal—a white entry gate emitting UVC light meant to zap any remnants of the coronavirus on their bodies and in the air around them. The portal is made by Healthe, a “lighting science” company that markets its Cleanse line as a chemical-free way to sanitize air and surfaces in busy environments. “Because let’s face it,” Healthe’s website states, “sharing isn’t always caring.”

Health care workers across the country used UVC light to sterilize N95 masks.

Not to be confused with the UVA and UVB rays that reach us through sunlight, ultra­violet-C light inactivates bacteria and viruses by damaging their DNA and RNA. In the 1930s, scientist William Wells discovered that UVC rays could neutralize infectious disease particles suspended in airborne droplets, and he later used the method to prevent the spread of measles in Philadelphia classrooms. UVC cleaning lamps now sanitize subway cars and hospital rooms, and as the worst shortages of masks and gloves took hold in the spring, health care workers across the country used it to sterilize N95 masks.

But until recently, shortwave UVC light was not beamed directly on humans because the high-energy rays can irritate eyes and skin. That started to change when scien­tists suggested that rays from a sliver of the UVC region of the spectrum—from around 200 to 222 nanometers, known as far-UVC—hurt germs but are too short to penetrate skin cells and corneas. (That said, UVC light should never be “brought inside the body,” as President Trump infamously suggested in April.)

In experiments with hairless mice, led by David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, far-UVC light waves couldn’t penetrate the dead cells sitting on the outer layer of skin, or the film on the surface of the eye—meaning the light couldn’t do harm to living cells—but it killed influenza and MRSA. Now Brenner is researching its effects on the coronavirus. “What we’ve seen so far is that it clearly can kill this virus,” he says. His initial studies found that far-UVC light continuously beamed for eight minutes kills 90 percent of airborne coronaviruses.

Yet the benefits of far-UVC are still being debated. Harvard School of Public Health professor Edward Nardell, an expert on airborne diseases, says his fellow members of the industry group Illuminating Engineering Society have been discussing the use of far-UVC “nonstop” since the start of the pandemic and think it’s safe. But without more long-term studies, some researchers, including James Malley—an ultraviolet expert at the University of New Hampshire and a founder of another industry group, called the International Ultraviolet Association—discourage the light’s use as a human sanitizer. A 2014 study by UK and US scientists suggested that it caused skin cancer precursors (though the scientists pointed out that UVC rays with longer wavelengths could have been responsible for the damage).

In the face of a voracious virus, several lighting companies are betting on far-UVC’s safety. Along with the $20,000 portal used at Sauf Haus as well as New York’s Magnolia Bakery, Healthe also offers the Downlight, which can provide “sanitizing and illumination” at home or in the office. The US subsidiary of Ushio, a Japanese lighting brand, announced a partnership with Acuity Brands on a line of ceiling and wall lamps to be released this year. Analysts predict that the market for UV disinfection equipment will grow by more than $2 billion over the next five years. The new products’ quality and effectiveness may vary, Nardell says: “It’s a little bit of a Wild West.”

“It’s very good for air, but it’s less good for surfaces.”

And it’s unclear which government agency should regulate these contraptions. Healthe pulled the Cleanse Portal from its website for a period of time starting in June “to make some refinements,” says its founder Fred Maxik, and the company has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use application (though Maxik says restaurants can continue to use the portals).

Those who think they’re passing through a portal of immunity on their way to grab a beer should know about the device’s limitations. “It’s very good for air, but it’s less good for surfaces,” Nardell says. Dirt and grime, not to mention the ridges and shadows of our pores, nails, and skin, get in the way. More importantly, a UV portal won’t prevent people from transmitting the virus by coughing, talking, and breathing once they’re inside the establishment. UVC is “never going to be the perfect technique, and absolutely you should not forget about wearing a mask and keeping your distance,” Brenner says. “We see this as a third weapon.”

How Badly Did Trump Want to Say the N-Word?

Previous installments of “How Badly Did They Want to Say the N-Word at the RNC?”: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

The president marked the conclusion of the RNC by giving a classic Donald Trump speech. It was too long, riddled with lies, and caused whiplash for anyone trying to figure out what the message actually was. Afterward, people puzzled over its contradictions—is Joe Biden too tough on crime or not tough enough?—but as with all Trump speeches this one was coherent in the way that matters most to the president and his audience. It was, in ways both subtle and unsubtle, a promise to preserve America’s racial hierarchy.

The Republican Party didn’t even bother coming up with a party platform this time around, and Trump has shown no signs that he plans on actually championing policy in his second term. The party’s aimlessness was well-captured by a convention that couldn’t figure out how to attack Biden or even come up with a new slogan, settling on “Make America Great Again…Again.” But who needs any of that stuff when you can rally white people around whiteness?

It’s rote by now to call Donald Trump a racist. You can look to his past, when he was busy denying housing for Black people or when he championed the racist lie that Barack Obama, the first Black president, was secretly born in Kenya and thus ineligible for the presidency. Or you can look at his presidency, which he began by demonizing immigrants and implementing a Muslim ban, telling four representatives of color to “go back” to their countries, and threatening racial justice protesters with violence. 

So it came as absolutely no surprise that Trump spent long stretches of his big finale on Thursday winking to the racists among us. He presented the election as a choice between him and a candidate who supports violent criminals and anarchists hell-bent on destroying America.

"Your vote will decide whether we protect law abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens."

Extremely subtle.

— Philip Bump (@pbump) August 28, 2020

Trump has been admonishing protesters since widespread demonstrations erupted in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Minneapolis Black man. Protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, are ongoing after Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer, fired seven shots into 29-year-old Jacob Blake’s back. It was in Kenosha that Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white guy from Illinois, killed two protesters—an act of vigilantism that went unmentioned by Trump.

But the president did take time to heap tons of praise on police officers, going as far as to say that if police officers were “allowed to do their job, you’d have no crime in New York.” Interpreting generously, one might conclude he meant mass arrests, which is bad enough. But given the larger context of police violence around the country, it’s likely Trump had other things in mind. “We have to give law enforcement, our police, back their power,” he said. It wasn’t order he was promising. It was control. He riffed about sending federal troops into cities that need help, saying the problem would be taken care within a few hours.

Trump also attacked Democrats for wanting to abolish cash bail, a move he claims would release “criminals” into “your” neighborhoods. It was telling whom he decided to name: Biden, of course; Bernie Sanders, that “wild-eyed” Marxist; and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Black Muslim woman. Maybe it was his odd, overenunciated style of speaking, but the way he said Omar’s name was venomous. Ilhan Omar, he said, like the name of a demon to be avoided at all costs, as opposed to a sitting member of Congress.

.@realDonaldTrump: "When Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called the Minneapolis police department a cancer that is 'rotten to the root,' Biden wouldn't disavow her support and reject her endorsement – he proudly displayed it shortly and later on his website." #RNCConvention

— Jackson Richman (@jacksonrichman) August 28, 2020

 

And where might all these criminals go after being set loose? To the suburbs—not the suburbs as they actually are, increasingly Black and Brown, but the suburbs as he imagines them, lily-white enclaves forever frozen in 1953. For the last few weeks he’s been claiming that Joe Biden wants to abolish the suburbs and that Cory Booker is going to let Black people invade your neighborhoods, to which horrors he added on Thursday the specter of Democrats coming for your guns. “If we don’t win your Second Amendment doesn’t stand a chance,” he said. How will you shoot Black people then, he all but asked.

If half the speech was dedicated to providing fuel for the fever dreams of white vigilantes, the other half seemed to make overtures to Black voters in a last-ditch attempt to siphon voters from the Democratic base. “I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln,” the president said. It’s not the first time he’s made this proclamation and God knows it won’t be the last.

"And I say very modestly I have done more for the African-American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president." – Trump

FWIW "And I say very modestly" was not in the prepared remarks

— Jose A. Del Real (@jdelreal) August 28, 2020

The line earned a round of rousing applause from the mostly white crowd, and as the broadcast cut away to all the grinning white faces it became clear what was really going on. These weren’t overtures so much as reminders—like his stunt naturalization ceremony on Day 2 of the RNC—of who exists in America on the sufferance of whom. 

Trump has spent the last four years like a man perpetually on the cusp of dropping the n-word. He’s done absolutely nothing to slow the spread of a virus that’s disproportionately killing Black and Brown people, and when peaceful protesters gathered in front of the White House to demand racial progress, he gassed them so he could take an awkward photo in front of a church.

Tonight, he spent more than an hour embracing white supremacy, and then he turned around and declared his support for Black people. Trump never seems more racist than when he’s offering assurances of how not racist he is. He was the slave master in these moments, trying to inveigle the house slaves into going outside and telling the field slaves that things will be different this time.

Ivanka Trump’s RNC Speech Was a Preview of the Future

Toward the end of her Thursday night address to the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior advisor, looked out on the crowd on the White House lawn and took one more swing at the piñata of the week: Joe Biden and the “political elite” who backed him. 

“Dad, people attack you for being unconventional, but I love you for being real, and I respect you for being effective,” she said. “Our President refuses to surrender his beliefs to score points with the political elite.”

“To my father, you are the elite.” she continued. “He only cares about scoring points with you.”

Considering how many Republican bigwigs, donors, and cabinet officials (but enough about Wilbur Ross!) were in the crowd, sitting uncomfortably close in front of the stage, it might have been the truest thing she said all night.

But it wasn’t just the explicit message of Ivanka Trump’s speech that stood out—a reprise of her 2016 effort to recast a racist and misogynist grifter as a champion of working women. It was what she symbolized by being there. It’s not just the nepotism and corruption that has in large part defined the last four years. More than anything, she represents the future.

Her father was hardly the only person who cares about scoring points with the Republican elites in the audience. Political conventions are showcases not just for the candidate being nominated, but for everyone who wants to follow in their footsteps. In that respect, the 2020 RNC wasn’t just a preview of this fall’s campaign, it was foreshadowing many, many Republicans campaigns in the years to come. And the politicians, and wannabe politicians, who spoke this week aren’t going away any time soon.

So you could tell a lot about the direction of the party by who was in attendance and who wasn’t. There was no George W. Bush, the only other living Republican president. (No Dick Cheney either.) There was no Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential nominee before Trump. There was no Paul Ryan or John Boehner. The two most popular governors in America, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, had other things on their plates. With the exception of Ben Carson (now a loyal member of the cabinet) and Sen. Rand Paul, none of the candidates who ran against Trump in 2016 spoke.

Instead, over the course of the convention, we heard from the kinds of figures who actually are in good standing with the party these days—people like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley; Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz; Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw; Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton; future North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (in taped remarks from Jerusalem); and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Some of those figures are certain to run for president in 2024. The president’s daughters, eldest sons, and wife all spoke. With the marquee billing given to Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., this led to natural, although certainly not new, speculation about what the future might hold for both of them.

Really looking forward to the Ivanka vs Eric debates in the 2024 primaries.

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 28, 2020

My new theory is that Ivanka and Don Jr. are both running in 2024 and it’s gonna get VICIOUS.

— David S. Bernstein (@dbernstein) August 28, 2020

It’s a little early to start polling Iowa or get too into the weeds about the family dynamics (though I wouldn’t bet against intra-family intrigue where the Trumps are concerned), but a clear lesson of the last four days is that Trump’s political ethos won’t end with Trump. A whole generation of ambitious Republican officeholders now own this, and they’ll run on it too for as long as it works. The 2020 RNC was the future of the GOP for at least, well, the near future.

Festive Protesters Dance and Shout Behind the White House while Donald Trump Speaks

If you noticed a droning, high-pitched noise playing somewhere far off as Donald Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, you may have thought your ears were ringing. Fear not: Those were just protesters raising a ruckus near the back lawn of the White House, attempting to drown out the president.

Protesters are trying to come close to the back lawn of the White House to drown out Trump’s speech with loud music. Police won’t let them get closer. pic.twitter.com/WRHcilKV00

— Ines Pohl (@inespohl) August 28, 2020

The crowd played music, rattled noisemakers, and banged pots and pans to express their opposition to Trump—who made the unprecedented decision to accept the Republican presidential nomination at the White House.

Protest outside the White House on 15th as President Trump gets ready to take the stage. pic.twitter.com/Jf6aXZpq6O

— Kirk A. Bado (@kirk_bado) August 28, 2020

More pleasing to the ear than the scene on the White House lawn, if you ask me.

The RNC Featured an Incredibly Weird and Dishonest Video About New York Public Housing. Who the Hell Was that For?

On the fourth (and thankfully last) night of the Republican National Convention, sandwiched between a live speech from Debbie Flood, a business owner in Wisconsin, and a recorded video message from Ann Dorn, the widow of a retired St. Louis police officer, came a video about public housing in New York City. It was weird to see a pro-public housing video in support of a president with a long history of housing discrimination. It was even weirder trying to figure out who the video was for.

It opens with New York City Housing Authority residents, people who live in the country’s largest government housing project, criticizing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his handling of the housing crisis in the city. Lynne Patton, the HUD official that oversees New York and New Jersey public housing and who is one of the few high-profile Black members of the Trump administration, is also featured in the video. She made headlines in 2019 after spending a week living with NYCHA residents, documenting some of the horrific conditions they must endure.

In some ways, the residents in the video aren’t wrong. NYCHA, which houses half a million people, is in fact in major disrepair: A 2019 investigation concluded that the city needs $32 billion to make repairs. But it wasn’t what I’d call an effective case on their behalf. In the video, there’s plenty of bipartisan criticism to go around for de Blasio, but he’s not running for president. The key point seems to come when one of the NYCHA residents claims that Democrats—as a picture of Biden flashes on the screen—are letting undocumented immigrants live in public housing, while citizens are forced to spend years on waiting lists. Again, it’s true that waiting lists are impossibly long, but blaming it on immigrants doesn’t tell the full story, as I explained last year: 

Even though undocumented immigrants aren’t able to access government housing subsidies, mixed-status families in which there is at least one eligible member, like a child with US citizenship, are able to live in public housing. Federal subsidies only cover the eligible member of the household, but undocumented family members may live there as well. The Trump administration’s new rule, however, would require every member of the household to be eligible for federal subsidies—or the entire family faces eviction. According to HUD’s own regulatory impact analysis, this proposal could affect 76,000 people living in public housing—including 55,000 children—and lead to mixed-status families becoming temporarily homeless.

When HUD first proposed the rule last month, the agency said it was necessary to shorten years-long waitlists for American citizens, but in its analysis, the agency did acknowledge that this rule likely will not achieve that goal.

Beyond this, it’s especially rich that Donald Trump wants to claim the mantel of fair housing. In 1973, the Department of Justice sued Trump for denying housing to Black people. Trump denied the accusations at the time and for decades later, but a New York Times investigation found that his properties had a long history of racial bias. But one not need to look to the past: In recent weeks, he’s fear-mongered to his base by telling them Democrats want low-income people—”minorities”—to move into their nice suburbs. Earlier this week, the white couple in Missouri who pointed their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters also alluded to this invasion as well.

The incoherence of the messaging again begs the question: Who in the world was this video for? The handful of Black conservatives who like to dabble in xenophobia as a reason for the current state of affairs for our community? Is there a Public Housing Lovers Caucus in the Republican party that we don’t know about?

Judging from the verbal tongue bath the president has received this week from everyone from his own children to Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it was probably just to serve his own ego.

Black Lives Don’t Matter to Black Lives Matter, Says Rudy Giuliani

It was an open question what former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani would talk about in his primetime address on the fourth and final night of the Republican National Convention. Would he resurrect the debunked charges against Joe Biden that got President Donald Trump impeached? Would he continue to assert that Biden is experiencing a “serious loss of mental function” and “displaying signs of dementia”? Would he just kind of wing it, enthralled by his own wit, until the producers played him off the stage with Oscars music?

No, Giuliani went with option four: arguing that black lives don’t matter to Black Lives Matter. In a convention full of appeals to “law and order,” Giuliani’s appeal stood out for the sheer audacity—an unabashedly pro-cop ex-prosecutor feigning sympathy with the largest mass protests since the Civil Rights movement, solely for the purpose of tearing it down.

In Giuliani’s telling, the nation had rallied as one after the “unforgiveable” killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The problem, he continued, was that it was too unified for liberals—rather than work with Trump and Republicans, “BLM and Antifa sprang into action and in a flash hijacked the protests into vicious, brutal riots.” The Black Lives Matter protests were hijacked by…Black Lives Matter? Figure that one out.

But Giuliani went further. He argued that the protests against police violence were, in fact, causing a massive surge in crime across the country. “For President Trump, and for us Republicans, all Black Lives Matter,” he said. He rattled off the names of recent victims of gun violence in cities, he noted, controlled by Democrats. “It has been like this for decades and it’s been controlled throughout by Democrats. In fact, shamefully Obama and Biden did nothing at all to quell the carnage. I guess these Black Lives didn’t matter to them,” he said.

Giuliani’s speech wasn’t exactly coherent. He tried to argue that cities were in the midst of a historic crime spike in response to protests (crime is still low by, say, Giuliani-era levels) but also that they’ve always been like this. But mostly it was just a gross permutation of that familiar refrain lodged against critics of police violence—what about Black-on-Black crime? Here was a former mayor who rose to power at the crest of a racist backlash against a Black mayor arguing that the only president to have personally violated the Fair Housing Act cares more about Black lives than the Black people putting their bodies on the line in the streets do. At this point I’m not sure if it’s more depressing if he really believes what he’s saying or if he doesn’t.

Is Anyone Else Having End Times Anxiety? Because, Hoo Boy!

I cannot sleep; at night, my mind cycles through an Arya Stark-esque list of foes that’s too big for a clear revenge plan. A global pandemic. The fires ravaging California, where I live, and Colorado, where my sister lives. The bad actors pulling our democracy apart on multiple levels, taking center stage on TV each night. The officers killing Black men in front of their children. A hurricane that was predicted by experts to be “unsurvivable” that has swept through Texas and Louisiana (though now, the damage seems to be less severe than initially feared). Oh, and an asteroid—?!?!?!?!—that is potentially heading toward Earth. (It has been clarified that there is a less than one percent chance of impact, but still.) Which leads me to the potential signs of the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ, the damn apocalypse: pestilence, affliction. Hellfire on earth. The war being waged over the vast racial inequality in this country, the unrest in the Middle East. The roaring of the sea. Signs in the moon and stars sounds a little more subtle than a freaking asteroid, but far be it from me!

My mind cycles through an Arya Stark-esque list of foes that’s too big for a clear revenge plan.

I was taking comfort in that there hadn’t been an earthquake…until my Utahn colleague Stephanie Mencimer (herself an expert on the signs of the end times in the age of Trump) reminded me that in March, Salt Lake City was rocked by a 5.7 that knocked the angel Moroni right off his spire at the top of the Mormon temple there. (I realize this is not the only earthquake to happen in the world since March, but this one feels particularly loaded, don’t you think?)

When I was growing up, we watched the first Left Behind movie in Sunday school; I think I was 10 or 11. If you are not familiar, then your therapist is probably grateful. Essentially, the film is an imagining of the end times from a Christian perspective, specifically that of two men, the ones who wrote the first book in a series on which the film is based, Jerry B. Jenkins and the late evangelical minister Tim LaHaye. For weeks, I had nightmares about people I love disappearing into thin air—vanishing on the spot, out of their clothes, leaving me alone to obsessively ruminate on why I had been abandoned, what horrible things I must have done to have been separated from my friends and family.

In a sense, that has happened. I am separated from my family, and I don’t know when I will see them again. If I have seen my friends, it has been at a distance, with our faces covered and our attention split between trying to be together and gauge risk at the same time, or their faces look into mine from a screen, disembodied, so they feel somewhat real but far removed from what we once had. My body feels all wrong, from being confined to a tiny granny flat where I live with my dog, my husband, and my husband’s experimental mustache (and in that last case, I do mean live with it); my carefully honed exercise routine has been shattered, replaced by half-hearted yoga sequences done in a futile attempt to unfurl my spine. My anxiety lives in my neck, my jaw, and my shoulders, and especially my hips, and lately, what it really wants to know is, “Oh god, what if I was really, really wrong and this is the end of the world and I am actually going to hell?”

Lately, what my body really wants to know is, “Oh god, what if I was really, really wrong and this is the end of the world and I am actually going to hell?”

I’m writing about this like I’m being completely tongue in cheek, but this is a very real fear. Most of my family members are still very devoted to their faith—and I am devoted to them—but I am agnostic, I suppose. I feel too small to possibly know the universe so intimately that I could know what is out there. Their faith says that I am bound for hell, that my soul will burn for eternity because I am not Christian. It is what it is. It’s not something we talk about, but it’s an edge of fear and anxiety I’ve heard in their voices. I understand it; I am not mocking it. 

And lately, the more things go wrong, the more I feel that old fear creeping around the edges of my consciousness. When I was younger, when belief in a protective higher power came more easily, I vacillated between two minds—one in which I was having a terrible day and I couldn’t wait for the world to end so that I could just go to paradise and experience perfection, and the other in which I wanted to grow up and get married and have children of my own, a life of my own, before everything was taken away. Time is so different when you’re a child, and there’s so much more of it that can be devoted to just thinking and imagining and wondering. As an adult, there is less time for considering my own mortality or contemplating the mysteries of the universe; I have become, as I once would have said, of the world. I made a choice to leave my religion, and what if the cost really is eternal damnation? It’s 2020. Anything feels possible. 

Lunchtime Photo

What is this? Hint: the obvious answer is wrong. It’s not a tennis ball. It’s also not a black-and-white image.

A Top Court Resoundingly Affirms Trans Rights in Gavin Grimm’s Battle for Equality

After a yearslong fight for equal protection in a bathroom access battle that’s made Gavin Grimm a trans hero, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that it’s a violation of Title IX to bar students from bathrooms that match their gender identities. Grimm made national news in 2015 when his Virginia high school refused to let him use the boys’ room. Now 20, he celebrated the “incredible affirmation” not just for him “but for trans youth around the country.”

In a tweet yesterday, he shouted out the relentless solidarity that sustained him: “Thank you to everyone at the @ACLU for inviting me in like family and fighting like hell to make sure justice was served.”

“Fighting like hell” will be familiar if who’ve heard our namesake’s best-known quote, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living”—and it could use an extra beat: Fight like hell for the living, and mark victories when you score them. The fight doesn’t end, but wins dot its path. The trajectory is best seen by revisiting my colleague Samantha Michaels’ powerful 2017 profile of Grimm and enduring look at one of his attorneys.

The victory, just as schools start up, is perfectly timed for students looking for signs of progress as a counterweight to the self-absolution and snarling discrimination of the revisionists onstage at the RNC this week. The headlines are stacked; they’ll keep elevating chilling reminders of the steep climb ahead. But a major win is a major win. Congrats to Grimm. Share thoughts at recharge@motherjones.com.

NBA Players End Strike

Well, it’s over. Multiple reports this morning from inside the Orlando “bubble” say that NBA players have decided to end their wildcat strike. It began on Wednesday when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play the Orlando Magic to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police. And now it ends with a “discussion” that will “include plans of action moving forward on social justice issues.”

That’s a bit of public relations pablum relayed by ESPN’s head of SOURCES, Adrian Wojnarowski, that at minimum suggests Wednesday’s fervor had worn off.

There is a meeting of NBA owners and players set for later today, sources tell @MarcJSpears and me. The discussion is expected to include plans of action moving forward on social justice issues.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 27, 2020

In a few hours last night, the spirit of the NBA strike spread to the WNBA, to baseball, to soccer and tennis and even to one prominent NBA studio analyst. Even as a one-night wildcat strike, the walk-out was monumental. Within the sports context, it immediately reoriented athletes’ understanding of their labor power. There is an idea, the residue of labor’s rollback over the past half century, that a strike has to be done exclusively for direct changes in conditions at your workplace. An exasperated (anonymous!) owner in ESPN’s article on the 24 hours of the strike certainly thinks so: 

“What is it they think the league can do?” one owner wondered. “We have been fully supportive.”

(As Spike Friedman points out, owners aren’t exactly passive actors here. Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, funds both this LAPD initiative and the academic study used to justify it.)

Not all strikes are about the conditions of the workplace being struck. Not all of them are about wages, time off, benefits. There is an ongoing Strike for Black Lives across industries; it includes fast-food workers, Uber drivers, and janitors. The grievances include more than just one workplace’s problems.

At the time of his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis leading a sanitation workers’ strike. During a rally, King delivered his now-famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a crowd of more than just the garbage workers. “Be concerned about your brother,” he implored. “You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

He proposed boycotts of Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, Sealtest milk. The point was to create crossflows of pressure, in solidarity. “As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now only the garbage men have been feeling pain,” King said. “Now we must kind of redistribute that pain.”

A night without basketball is hardly a full redistribution. One wonders what kind of strike could be.

As Trump Accepts His Party’s Nomination, Republicans Double Down on Cheating

As President Donald Trump prepares to formally accept the Republican Party’s nomination for his reelection contest with a speech at tonight’s convention, the last-ditch dismantling of the US Postal Service before the 2020 election lays bare his latest campaign strategy: cheating. Behind in the polls for months, a popular vote win for the president in November looks impossible. A narrow Electoral College victory, like the one that saw Trump win the White House in 2016, appears feasible, but polls show Trump behind in critical swing states. As Trump rages that Democrats are trying to steal the election with mail-in ballots, it’s now clear that disenfranchising those voters is a key part of his panicked attempt to hold onto power. 

When turning to racist scare tactics didn’t improve Trump’s numbers, disenfranchising voters was an obvious next step.

It didn’t have to be this way. But it was also predictable, even preordained. As Trump shirked his responsibility to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and refused to work with Democrats to pass more economic stimulus this summer, polls showed his chances of reelection dim. When turning to racist scare tactics didn’t improve the numbers, disenfranchising voters was an obvious next step. But there was one force that was supposed to keep the president from resorting to such eleventh hour schemes: a competent campaign.

Trump’s reelection effort is, by its own account, the most well-funded, digitally savvy, data-soaked operation in American history. But the campaign has proved unable to pull Trump out of this quagmire because it has fallen victim to the same pitfalls that have defined Trump’s presidency: corruption and incompetence. Just as these ineptitudes prevented Trump from stopping the pandemic and rescuing the economy, they appear to have kept Trump’s campaign from actually doing a good job trying to reelect him. If Trump’s campaign hadn’t been so ineffective, maybe the president wouldn’t be destroying the postal service right now.

No insider’s secret confession is needed to know the campaign has been a disaster. It’s all out in the open, in its public financial records, in its digital ads, and in its haphazard messaging. I’ve been closely watching the campaign for more than a year, wondering when it would mature into a general election juggernaut, curious about all the secretive entities on its financial disclosure forms, and trying to follow the money. But even without a forensic accounting, it is easy to see that it is going to incompetent people profiting off a flailing effort. 

In the midst of the catastrophic events of 2020, the presidential candidates’ campaigns may themselves ultimately play a small role in the election’s outcome. Early this spring, Joe Biden held a polling lead despite spending months doing almost nothing, rarely leaving his house, and with his campaign short on cash and low on staff. Whether they deserve it or not, the winning campaign team usually gets credit. In 2016, press and politicians alike looked to the Trump campaign’s Facebook strategy to explain Trump’s surprise victory, when it could have just as easily been explained by voter suppression, James Comey’s clumsy last minute intervention in the election, Russia’s malign interference, racism, sexism, or Hillary Clinton’s strategic blunders. It’s important to understand the Trump campaign’s failures this year, because if he wins in three months, observers will be tempted to find a secret genius hidden in their strategy. But the evidence suggests there’s no miracle worker ready to rescue Trump. If he prevails, look for the explanation in his cheating and purposeful unraveling of our democracy.

Trump officially filed his reelection paperwork the day he was sworn into office on January 20, 2017. The move allowed him to immediately set up a campaign apparatus, hold campaign events, and begin raising money. It also meant that while Trump’s 2020 challenger would only have months to put together a general election campaign, Trump would have four years. His first high-dollar fundraiser in June 2017 was held at Trump’s DC hotel—an early sign that the campaign would work toward the president’s reelection while enriching his businesses. It also set a precedent that the campaign’s finances could serve multiple purposes. If Trump could direct campaign dollars into his company, surely other campaign executives would be forgiven for doing the same. And for a long time, they were.

His first high-dollar fundraiser was held at Trump’s DC hotel—an early sign that the reelection would enrich his businesses.

In early 2018, Trump chose Brad Parscale, his digital guru in 2016, to run the reelection campaign. Parscale, who’d run a web marketing firm in San Antonio, was still new to campaigns. In fact, he’d learned everything he knew about politics from Trump, and from cozying up to Jared Kushner and Trump’s children. So under his leadership, it was no surprise that the campaign began to resemble the president and the way he does business. Parscale directed significant sums to his own companies for various digital services, and used money funneled into his businesses to pay Trump’s daughter in law, Lara Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Jr.’s girlfriend. He became close with two longtime Republican operatives, Katie Walsh and Mike Shields, a husband and wife duo who also began to profit handsomely from Republican contracts. The campaign became a family business, an apparatus that awarded money to a loyal few. The question was whether it could simultaneously be a good campaign. It could not.

Parscale proved a little green when it came to preparing for 2020. For all the hundreds of millions of dollars the campaign spent on Facebook to energize voters and accumulate small dollar donations, it failed to create the robust fundraising base that it had hoped for. As a consequence, the campaign has been forced to continually spend large sums on small dollar fundraising. With less than three months until Election Day, the Trump campaign is still spending around 40 percent of its Facebook ad budget outside of battleground states to maintain his fundraising base. In June, for example, the Biden campaign raised nearly three times as much money from small dollar donors—those who give less than $200—than the Trump campaign. To try to keep up, Trump is spending millions advertising to Facebook users in blue states like California and New York instead of people who live in battleground states.

By early March 2020, it was clear that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee, and I waited for the Trump campaign to mobilize its massive operation to attack Trump’s challenger. But even now, just a few months from the election, the full might of the “Death Star,” as Parscale unironically dubbed the campaign, has never materialized. This summer, as Biden’s campaign came together and began to outraise the president’s, the Trump campaign began throwing spaghetti against a wall. Some Facebook ads portrayed Biden as too old and senile, though some advisers worried the message would cause them to lose further ground among seniors already upset over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. Some attacked him with false allegations about his work in Ukraine as vice president. As the Black Lives Matter protests heated up, the campaign attacked him as a radical leftist who wanted to defund the police. Though none of the spaghetti appeared to stick, the same themes returned throughout the Republican convention.

To understand how bizarre this situation is just months out from the election, it’s helpful to compare it to a campaign done right. In 2011, a small band of Obama administration staffers formed a super PAC to help reelect their boss in 2012. Before Mitt Romney had clinched the Republican nomination, the group began plotting to portray Romney as a far-right politician. But the message didn’t work. As Robert Draper reported in the New York Times magazine in 2012, when the operatives told focus group participants that Romney supported a plan that would “end Medicare as we know it” while cutting taxes for the wealthy—which was indeed a plan Romney supported—the group was unmoved. They “simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing,” Draper wrote. Voters did not see Romney, the awkward rich guy, as an extremist. So the pro-Obama group pivoted, instead portraying Romney as a corporate raider who had grown rich by destroying the jobs of working class Americans through private equity. In the spring and summer of 2012, before Romney had the time or resources to fight back, this messaging had defined Romney and helped Obama to a second term.

Democratic digital minds are scratching their heads at the Trump campaign’s online message.

This spring, Biden was that same sitting duck. All the incumbent Trump campaign—and its own supporting super PAC flush with cash—had to do was find an effective attack and run it. But Trump’s super PAC, America First Action, was caught flat-footed. As Democratic groups began releasing ads in March slamming Trump for his handling of the coronavirus, Trump’s outside supporters took another month to begin hitting Biden. (Public financial disclosures show the super PAC had spent little to actually prepare for the general election before March.) And the spaghetti approach they arrived at shows that the campaign and its allies never figured out how to attack Biden. Just as voters didn’t buy that Romney was a right-wing extremist, voters don’t seem to be buying that Biden is a radical leftist. Neither do they seem to believe he is the kind of conniving politician who wages foreign policy for personal gain as the Trump campaign claimed with its Ukraine attacks. That gambit comes off as an incredible expression of projection in which they assumed that just because Trump used foreign policy for personal gain, others must do the same. 

This failure to find and prepare a coherent attack has so far extended to Biden’s vice presidential pick, California Sen. Kamala Harris. Though Biden’s search for a running mate lasted months, Harris was always a frontrunner. Yet if team Trump prepared for a Biden-Harris ticket, it’s response didn’t show it, as the campaign responded to her pick by releasing contradictory messages portraying her as both a radical stooge of the far-left and a centrist phony. Only they know if the focus groups thought this confused message was best.

Democratic digital minds are also scratching their heads at the Trump campaign’s online message. It’s a trite but true adage, they say, that incumbent presidents win re-election if the campaign is about their opponent, but lose if it’s a referendum on him. By this logic, Trump should be using his ad dollars to attack Biden, not draw attention to himself. On TV, the Trump campaign has done that, including what are likely some of its most effective ads portraying Biden as a 47-year Washington veteran with a record of failure. (In a revealing move, the campaign pulled its TV ads this week to conserve money while the GOP convention generates coverage.) But, according to an analysis by Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic digital firm, rather than reinforce those attacks online, a majority of Trump Facebook ads from June through early August are about him; just 35 percent mention Biden. The firm also found that even though voters say they care most about health care and the economy, Trump’s campaign has spent more catering to his base with digital messages about “socialism” and “fake news.” These patterns only make sense for a campaign geared toward inciting Trump’s base, raising money off of them, and ignoring the rest of the country’s problems—just as Trump has done as president.

The Trump campaign often brags that it has massive amounts of data on American voters which gives them a leg up when it comes to messaging and targeting. Most Democrats I’ve spoken with don’t dispute that the RNC, which poured significant resources into its data bank after 2012, probably has more and better data. But there’s little outside evidence that that the data is being deployed well. 

These patterns only make sense for a campaign to incite Trump’s base, raise money, and ignore the rest of the country’s problems.

The two Republican firms that led the Trump campaigns’ data targeting in 2016 are no longer on the payroll. Instead, in January, the Trump campaign contracted Matt Oczkowski as a data consultant to help target media buys, direct surrogates, and determine which states would provide Trump’s path to victory, according to Politico. Since then, the Trump campaign has paid Oczkowski $150,000. It’s not a large sum all considered, but Oczkowski is an odd choice for such key tasks. He worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign as a product manager from Cambridge Analytica, but was not in the room when key decisions about data analysis and targeting were being made. Oczkowski currently holds a full-time job running two firms under a penny-stock company in San Antonio that is connected to Brad Parscale. If the Trump campaign is truly outsourcing this work to Oczkowski, it may not be getting the most sophisticated advice. But that may not be the point of an arrangement that ensured a friend of Parscale was placed on the payroll. Either way, it’s an illustration of a campaign that is probably not being run, as Trump once bragged, by the best people.

Trump’s campaign was presented a chance to make changes when Parscale was demoted in mid-July and a new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, took over. Upon gaining control, Stepien announced an audit of the campaign’s vendors and finances. He paused all TV ads for several days in order to review how they were being targeted, even thought that is something the campaign was supposed to have been really good at. The New York Times reported that the campaign would stagger its TV buys so that states with early voting get ads earlier—but with a war chest like his, shouldn’t they have the money to target all key states now? According to New York magazine, Stepien requires people to show up early and work late. He holds regular meetings. In sum, he has made managerial changes—not messaging changes.

Back in May, with Trump down in the polls and the coronavirus spreading uncontrollably, the Republican National Committee announced it was doubling its funding of voter suppression lawsuits to $20 million. Across the country, RNC lawyers are now launching lawsuits that would make it harder to vote by, for example, litigating against moves to send absentee ballots to all voters or to set up ballot drop-off boxes, while forcing requirements like witness signatures on absentee ballots. In other cases, the RNC’s lawyers have intervened to try and stop Democratic efforts to expand access to the ballot. The party, like the campaign whose job it is to support, knows that Trump’s ability to win is tied to how many people it can stop from voting.

Trump didn’t need low poll numbers to induce him to cheat. A president whose corruption goes unchecked by his own party—even when he is caught and impeached for asking a foreign government for help with his re-election—is a president who will continue to cheat as that election nears. Trump’s campaign welcomed Russian election aid in 2016, so it’s no surprise that Trump made requests for help in 2020 not only to the president of Ukraine but also, reportedly, the leaders of China and Brazil. A president who has obsessed over voter fraud conspiracies was always likely to invoke them to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. An administration that has generally sought to dismantle and privatize government functions was always likely to sabotage the postal service.

At the end of the day, Trump has run his campaign like he has run the country, in a way that enriches himself while only being accountable to his base. That might be just enough to re-elect him. But Republicans’ anti-democratic actions suggest that this time, they think they will need a little something extra.

Grocery Spending Remains High in August

The Wall Street Journal says consumers have cut back on grocery purchases over the past month:

With Second Stimulus Checks on Hold, Americans Spend Less at the Grocery Store

Grocery shoppers are cutting back on spending, data show, a sign that Americans are hurting for cash as the federal unemployment stimulus remains on hold for most recipients.

…While sales of groceries, such as frozen dinners, cereal, soup and coffee, are still higher than they were a year ago, sales growth has slowed compared with July and prior months in the pandemic. Sales growth of frozen dinners, for instance, averaged about 9% for the three weeks ended Aug. 16, compared with around 17% for the previous two weeks, according to the IRI CPG Demand Index. Cereal sales, meanwhile, averaged a 2% increase the three weeks ended Aug. 16, compared with about 6% average growth the prior two weeks, the IRI data show.

Ahem. For starters, the BEA just released data for spending on groceries through the end of the second quarter. Here it is:

Spending on groceries skyrocketed during the first two quarters of the year thanks to more meals being eaten at home. It’s pretty obvious that this kind of growth couldn’t last forever, so of course it slowed down in August. It could hardly do anything else.

And despite the Journal’s headline, there’s no evidence that consumers are “cutting back on spending” at the grocery store. There is merely evidence that grocery sales aren’t growing as fast as they did earlier in the year. That’s a very different thing.

There’s little doubt that the end of unemployment bonuses affected spending on food and everything else starting in July. There’s also little doubt that spending on groceries will begin to fall as the country opens back up and spending on restaurant meals gets back to normal. But for now, none of that has happened. Consumers haven’t cut back on grocery purchases, they’ve just hit a new, higher plateau and are now spending at that level rather than continuing to grow forever. That’s all.

We Obtained the Staff Handbook for Trump’s DC Hotel. Try Not to Laugh at the Ethics Policy.

This may come as a surprise to those closely tracking the ethical horror show that is the Trump presidency, but the Trump Organization takes conflicts of interest and nepotism very seriously. At least that’s what it says in an employee handbook for staffers at its DC hotel, which was obtained by Mother Jones. If the handbook’s ethics policies were applied to the hotel’s owner, Donald Trump, he would likely be out of a job. 

The hotel’s policy prohibiting “actual or potential” conflicts isn’t all that unusual save for the fact that Trump’s DC hotel is itself a gleaming monument to conflicts of interest where special and foreign interests can (and do!) channel money straight into the president’s pockets via hotel stays, restaurant and bar sales, and ballroom rentals. The hotel—which this week is serving as an unofficial Republican National Convention venue—also operates out of a building leased from the federal government, making Trump both the hotel’s owner and its landlord. The absurdity of this arrangement was brought into relief this spring when the Trump Organization, battered by the pandemic, asked the Trump administration for a break on its lease payments.

Trump ensured an unprecedented mingling of his personal and political interests when he refused to relinquish ownership and control of his business empire after the 2016 election.

“The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest,” he told the New York Times at the time. This is, at best, a mangling of the facts. The president and vice president are exempted from conflict-of-interest rules that apply to federal government employees, but that doesn’t mean the conflicts don’t exist or that they aren’t problematic. Trump went on to tell the Times that he knew critics would fixate on his then–brand new DC hotel, located blocks from the White House:

They’ll say I have a conflict because we just opened a beautiful hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, so every time somebody stays at that hotel, if they stay because I’m president, I guess you could say it’s a conflict of interest. It’s a conflict of interest, but again, I’m not going to have anything to do with the hotel, and they may very well. I mean it could be that occupancy at that hotel will be because, psychologically, occupancy at that hotel will be probably a more valuable asset now than it was before, O.K.? The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before. I can’t help that, but I don’t care.

Indeed the hotel fast became a hot spot for lobbyists, foreign dignitaries, and all manner of Trump cronies and hangers-on seeking to curry favor. Whether Trump acknowledges it, many guests openly say they are proud to patronize a business putting money in his pockets. 

Ironically, unseemly business dealings by Trump employees are forbidden at the hotel, according to its employee handbook. A section titled “Avoiding Conflict of Interest” instructs employees to steer clear of anything that might create even the appearance of a conflict, noting: “Associates have an obligation to conduct business within guidelines that prohibit actual or potential conflicts of interest.” And the policy goes on to state: 

An actual or potential conflict of interest occurs when an associate is in a position to influence a decision that may result in a personal gain for that associate or for a relative as a result of the Hotel’s business dealings. For the purposes of this policy, a relative is any person who is related by blood or marriage, or whose relationship with the associate is similar to that of persons who are related by blood or marriage.

While Trump has said that he’s turned control of the hotel’s day-to-day operations over to his adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., he remains the majority owner of the hotel and is able to withdraw money from the business when he wants, which would seem to clash with the handbook’s guidelines for the hotel staff. On that note, another arguably relevant section is the ban on nepotism: “The Hotel maintains a policy of not hiring the relatives or family members of current associates” since these relationships “can create an actual, potential, or perceived conflict of interest in the employment setting.”

Trump, of course, disregarded such concerns, when he installed his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in senior White House roles. 

The Trump hotel’s ethics rules are not the only area where its owner isn’t exactly leading by example. The handbook forbids “immoral or indecent behavior that has the potential to publicly embarrass the Hotel” and bans “profane, discourteous, abusive, or rude language or action.” So much for that.

 


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The 8 Types of People You Meet at the Trump Hotel

The Trump hotel has been called a “waiting room to the White House,” likened to the Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars, and described as a “breeding ground” for Republican powerbrokers and wannabes. During the (largely online) Republican National Convention this week, the hotel’s role as a GOP social hub was on full display as it served as an auxiliary convention site, playing host to a familiar retinue of Trumpworld figures, including Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Bolling, and many others. What follows is a guide to the collection of lobbyists, superfans, and cronies who have frequented the hotel over the years, shoveling money into the president’s pockets. 

The Lobby Lobby

In April 2018, the day after his company announced it was merging with Sprint, T-Mobile ceo John Legere was spotted schmoozing in the hotel’s lobby. T-Mobile spent $195,000 at the hotel as their deal was reviewed by federal regulators. Legere was seen chatting with former Trump campaign manager and T-Mobile adviser Corey Lewandowski there on the day the ceo testified before Congress about the merger. Surprise: The deal was approved. Other companies, trade groups, and special interests that have booked the hotel: Unilever, the National Mining Association, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, and the Border Patrol Foundation.

The day after his company announced a merger with Sprint that federal regulators are sure to review, T-Mobile's CEO John Legere was at the Trump Hotel DC. https://t.co/dyfGLgkklt pic.twitter.com/FJtbH4ZU7Y

— Zach Everson (@Z_Everson) May 1, 2018

Checks and Balances

Nearly two-thirds of Republican senators have been seen at the hotel or reported spending campaign funds there. (Look—there’s Sen. Ted Cruz by the Christmas tree!) Members of Congress have patronized the hotel at least 253 times, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Those visitors include four of the six Republicans on a House subcommittee with oversight of the hotel’s lease, including Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.), the veep’s brother (whose campaign spent $45,000 at the hotel). Democratic lawmakers have largely steered clear of the hotel, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a notable exception.

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Great meeting Governor LePage tonight! #dc #mepolitics

A post shared by Samantha Rocci (@samantharocci) on Feb 7, 2018 at 7:39pm PST

No reservations

Republican and conservative groups have paid financial tribute to Trump by holding fundraisers, conferences, and other events at the hotel. Among them: Vice President Mike Pence’s Great America Committee, which has dropped $237,000 there; the Republican National Committee ($640,000), the rnc’s Trump Victory committee ($250,000), and the Trump campaign itself ($178,000). Combined with the pro-Trump America First Action and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) fundraising apparatuses, those groups have funneled $2 million-­plus into the hotel. Virginia Women for Trump holds annual Tea for Trump birthday parties at the hotel (“hats mandatory”). Its 2018 confab featured a runway show scored in part to the North Korean national anthem.

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Family dinner. Tag a friend who should be sitting at the table with us.

A post shared by Kevin McCarthy (@repkevinmccarthy) on Feb 12, 2020 at 7:01pm PST

Rudy the Regular

On any given day before the pandemic, there was a fair chance of bumping into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the hotel’s bar or steakhouse, blt Prime. He’d even display a plaque at his usual table: “Rudolph W. Giuliani, Private Office.” You might have seen him smoking a cigar in a wine-stained tux after Steven Mnuchin’s wedding or dining with members of Trump’s legal defense team. But Giuliani did his real dirty work at what his indicted associate Lev Parnas called “our blt office on the second floor.” And Parnas and alleged co-conspirator Igor Fruman dined with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel just hours before they were arrested at Dulles Airport with one-way tickets to Vienna.

Even an All Star legal team has to eat. pic.twitter.com/DmcRfU2hHK

— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) March 28, 2019

Red carpet treatment 

As the center of the maga social scene, the hotel is a frequent party venue for Trump sycophants and surrogates. Diamond and Silk premiered their film Dummycrats there and once held a benefit for their long-dormant nonprofit Stepping Into Self Truth Awareness and Success (sistas). During better days, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen posed with the duo by the hotel’s Christmas tree after joining them for coffee and cookies. Sean Spicer celebrated the release of his book at the hotel, as did Turning Point usa’s Charlie Kirk. (Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Rep. Matt Gaetz were among his guests.) Sarah Huckabee Sanders held her goodbye party in the Franklin Study. At least six administration members have gotten married at the hotel, including Omarosa and Stephen Miller (not to each other). But it hasn’t been all good times. Singer Joy Villa, who attended the Grammys in a sequined maga gown, accused Lewandowski of assault after he allegedly slapped her on the butt during a 2017 party at the hotel (Lewandowski maintained his innocence and the district attorney declined to prosecute). And Cameron Dorsey, a onetime Trump appointee at the Commerce Department, alleges her chin was gashed by a piece of glass from a sabered champagne bottle. She’s suing the hotel.

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos poses with Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. at Trump Hotel DC for Museum of the Bible opening gala https://t.co/SRap91vULs pic.twitter.com/YvVXZL1YuC

— Zach Everson (@Z_Everson) November 17, 2017

Embassy Suites

Ten days after Trump’s election, an Asian diplomat told the Washington Post, “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’” Many foreign officials, embassies, and other overseas interests similarly wagered that the best way into Trump’s good graces was through his wallet. Weeks before Trump took office, the embassy of Azerbaijan hosted a Hanukkah party in the Lincoln Library. The Kuwaiti Embassy held parties there for three years. The governments of Bahrain and the Philippines also booked events. Also spotted: Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s son; Ukrainian politician and businessman Vitaliy Khomutynnik (who drew scrutiny from Robert Mueller); Ontario’s premier; Nigeria’s main opposition candidate; Ecuador’s trade minister; and Pakistan’s federal minister for maritime affairs.

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Richard Grenell will be an amazing Ambassador to Germany. Congratulations! #MAGA

A post shared by Katrina Pierson (@katrinapierson) on Apr 27, 2018 at 9:04pm PDT

Prophet Sharing

Trumpiness is next to godliness—at least as far as a number of evangelical groups and Christian right mainstays are concerned. The hotel has played host to various multiday religious gatherings, including Revolution 2018: Commissioned by Fire; The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering; and the Family Research Council’s 2019 Christian Heritage Tour and Summit. In 2017, the Museum of the Bible held its $2,500-per-person opening gala at the hotel; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Jerry Falwell Jr. were guests. In 2020, Trump addressed a gathering of evangelicals, including megachurch pastor turned White House staffer Paula White. The audience laid hands on Trump during a prayer, and the president spoke to them from behind a Trump Hotel lectern.

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@adonicashowardbrowne & I and @ericgonyon @broc.patnode @jayswilliams @allenhawes @ankit_rambabu Meeting with Washington DC Beltway Pastors re: our meetings in July 2019 @celebrate_usa 5 Churches 5 Regions #anointing #souls #fire #thegreatawakening #Jesus #harvest

A post shared by Rodney Howard-Browne (@rodneyhowardbrowne) on Mar 7, 2019 at 2:08pm PST

Barr Flies

At least 27 of the 35 people who have served in Trump’s Cabinet have been spotted at their boss’s hotel. When he moved to DC, Treasury head Steve Mnuchin moved into the hotel. Former Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon also lived there. Last year, Attorney General William Barr booked a $30,000 holiday party there. (It reportedly was postponed.) Also spotted: Energy sec Rick Perry, Interior sec David Bernhardt, Commerce sec Wilbur Ross, and Labor sec Alex Acosta.

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Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC. #Trump2016

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on Mar 31, 2016 at 7:09pm PDT

Stay to Play: Inside the Sordid History of Trump’s DC Hotel

Last fall, the Trump organization dropped an October surprise: It was thinking of selling its luxury DC hotel, a towering, granite symbol of Trump’s takeover of official Washington—and of his unprecedented, for-profit presidency. The timing was notable. It was nearly three years to the day that the Trumps used golden scissors to snip the ribbon on the just-renovated property, housed in a historic, Romanesque Revival–style federal building that had served as DC’s main post office until World War 1. By contract with its landlord, the General Services Administration, this anniversary was the first chance the Trumps had to offload their lease. The proposed price tag: $500 million, one of the highest amounts per room that any hotel has ever commanded.

But why put the hotel on the block now? “People are objecting to us making so much money on the hotel, and therefore we may be willing to sell,” the president’s son Eric told the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story. The hotel had become known as one of Trump’s most brazen conflicts of interest. Yet Eric’s rationale didn’t add up. By his logic, the Trump Organization hoped to halt ethical questions over the hotel by creating a gigantic new conflict of interest, since the motives of any potential buyer would be in question.

A glossy sales brochure that CNN obtained put forth another reason: The hotel wasn’t earning its full potential. As if anticipating questions about why the hotel wasn’t raking in more, the sales pitch claimed the Trumps had lost out on $9 million in revenue in 2019 by not seeking business from foreign governments. (Trump pledged to donate profits from foreign government business to the Treasury when, in 2017, he refused to fully relinquish control of his business empire.) “Tremendous upside potential exists for a new owner to fully capitalize on government related business,” the brochure stated. It wasn’t just here that revenues were lackluster. They were coming up short at a number of Trump businesses—even before the pandemic hit. 

November’s election is a definitive moment, not just for Trump’s White House residency but also for his Old Post Office tenancy. If he loses, his prized hotel could easily revert to what it was before his 2016 win—discounted and empty. The sycophants, the Levs and Igors, the One America News Network propagandists, the Nigerian politicians, the America First Action fundraisers, the bankers jetting in from Oklahoma, and the White House staffers and administration alums will be gone. As will the Trump-appointed lackeys at the GSA currently overseeing his lease and approval of its possible sale.

Oh, and Joe Biden will be Trump’s new landlord.

Related

The 8 Types of People You Meet at the Trump Hotel

At the hotel’s grand opening on October 26, 2016, less than two weeks before Election Day, Trump boasted that his project was “under budget and ahead of schedule.” Neither claim was quite true, according to a person familiar with the project, but the more dubious assertions were buried in the business plan, which industry experts considered about as realistic as expecting Mexico to underwrite a border wall. Trump’s Old Post Office bid was part of a nine-year stretch, between 2006 and 2014, in which his company spent bigly, often with cash, to acquire 18 properties. When the GSA solicited bids for the property in 2011, Trump offered the agency a higher rent payment than any of his rivals, according to one of those competitors. And his company pledged $200 million to renovate the Old Post Office, $170 million of which was lent by the good folks at Deutsche Bank. That loan and five others—totaling about $479 million—come due over the next four years, creating a possible financial squeeze for the Trump Organization and a whole new ethical morass. Trump committed to pay the GSA $250,000 a month over a 60-year lease, with possible rent increases pegged to the Consumer Price Index. And if undisclosed revenue thresholds were met, the GSA would receive additional payments from Trump, starting at 3 percent of the profits for the first 10 years of the lease and increasing by 0.5 percentage points for five decades thereafter.

The GSA has said the projected room rate for all bidders on the project averaged $626 a night. But to recoup its massive investment, the Trump Organization needed to charge at least $750 a night on average, industry experts calculated, according to the Washington Post. (Ivanka Trump—who, like brothers Don Jr. and Eric, holds a 7.4 percent stake in the project—has disputed that estimate, but she would not share her projections. The Trump Organization did not respond on the record to questions from Mother Jones.)

In its 2012 appeal of the GSA’s decision to go with Trump’s bid, BP-Metropolitan Investors, a rival consortium that included Hilton Worldwide, took both the agency and the Trump Org to task, saying the project couldn’t succeed because the lease payments were too high:

[The] minimum base lease proposed by Trump would require Trump to obtain hotel room revenues which are simply not obtainable in this location based on the concepts for the redevelopment…GSA, instead, improperly scored the Trump proposal and hastily elected to choose the highest ground rent absent a sound economic and business foundation.

The following year, the GSA and Trump, a six-time veteran of hotel bankruptcy proceedings, signed the lease to redevelop the Old Post Office into a luxury hotel.

When the hotel opened three years later, BP-Metropolitan Investors’ prediction that it would be a money pit seemed spot-on. The hotel’s rates during its opening weeks were about $625 a night—$280 more than what other downtown DC luxury hotels were charging, per STR, a data hospitality benchmarking firm. And with that premium, guests were being asked to associate with the brand of a racist, sexist, almost-certain loser. “Trump hotel not worth the trouble for wedding planners, travel agents” a CNN headline declared. Analyses by NBC News and New York magazine found plummeting prices and available rooms on dates when other DC luxury hotels, including the historic Hay-Adams, were sold out or charging higher rates. By the week before the election, room rates at Trump’s new hotel had dropped to $400, Emily Jane Fox reported in Vanity Fair. In her feature on the newly opened hotel, she used the word “empty” six times.

Then its owner became president.

This lesson probably isn’t taught in business school, but it turns out that being elected leader of the free world can buttress even the iffiest business plans. At least for a while.

After Trump’s election, the hotel jacked up its already lofty drink prices (the cheapest cocktail hit $24) and room rates surged back to among the highest in the city. (Mar-a-Lago also capitalized on Trump’s victory, doubling its initiation fee to $200,000.) In a pre-inauguration press conference, Trump made it clear that his word was the only guarantee that he’d wall himself off from his business interests. Further, a revision to his trust documents allowed him to withdraw money at any time from his companies.

The hotel and Trump political entities quickly tag-teamed to establish the business as the social hub of the new presi­dent’s realm. Trump’s inaugural com­mittee dished out more than $1 million to the hotel for four days of event-space rentals, an expenditure so grand that after it came to light, the DC attorney general sued the group, alleging it “improperly wasted” nonprofit funds by “grossly overpaying” the hotel. (The case is ongoing.) Undeterred by the troubling optics, top officials, including Cabinet members Steve Mnuchin and Linda McMahon, moved in, briefly making the hotel their weekday residences. Meanwhile, prior to Inauguration Day, the hotel hosted a reception for about 100 foreign diplomats, the Washington Post reported, luring business from overseas governments. The event came before Trump said he would forgo profits from foreign government officials, but the hotel employed a “director of transient and diplomatic sales” until 2018. (The Trump Organization has annually paid over its foreign-­government profits to the Treasury, but those figures are unaudited and based on overseas offic­ials self-reporting their visits.)

The Trump Organization had initially projected that its new hotel would lose $2.1 million in the first four months of 2017, per confidential documents the GSA accidentally posted online.

Instead, the company turned a $1.97 million profit.

Jan Feindt

By Trump’s inauguration, the hotel was firmly entrenched as both a Republican hangout and a way to curry favor with the new president and funnel money into his pocket. Allow Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associate and eventual hotel fixture Lev Parnas to explain: “It was like a breeding ground at the Trump Hotel,” he told Rachel Maddow earlier this year. “Every event would be there, so everybody would hang out there afterwards. All the meetings would be there. So it’s basically you would see the same people every day, all the same congressmen that supported the president would be there.”

The hotel became as central to the plot­lines of the Trump presidency as the red room was in Twin Peaks. Convening with Parnas and fellow Soviet-born American businessman Igor Fruman, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani discussed his effort to create Ukrainian dirt on Joe Biden, a scheme that was connected to Trump’s impeachment. White nationalists Richard Spencer and Evan McLaren were seen at the lobby’s Benjamin Bar around the time they were plotting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville—about which Trump infamously declared there were “very fine people on both sides.” In 2017, the hotel hosted a conference aiming to improve US-Turkish business relations, organized by a group whose chair’s company once paid retired Lt. General Michael Flynn more than a half-million for pro-Turkey lobbying that Flynn failed to disclose.

If Trump loses the election, his prized hotel could easily revert to what it was before his 2016 win—discounted and empty.

And it became a regular Instagram backdrop for Beltway Republicans. Most mornings, photos from the hotel would pop up on the social media accounts of junior Hill staffers, lobbyists, and Trump stans “just hangin’ out” with the likes of Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, and Anthony Scaramucci (for an 11-day stretch anyway). Finding a daily stream of conflicts of interest, I soon made covering the business my full-time beat, launching the 1100 Pennsylvania newsletter in 2018. By scouring social media and camping out in the airy lobby, I’ve published 340 issues documenting Trump’s transactional presidency.

Representatives of at least 31 foreign governments have popped up at the hotel, as have numerous foreign candidates for office and political operatives. To prove he was permitted to enter the United States after being implicated in the 2009 bribery conviction of then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Atiku Abubakar, the main opposition candidate in Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election, stayed at the hotel where he livestreamed a town hall. “You said I cannot step my foot on American soil. Here I am, not only in America, but in the hotel belonging to the president, Donald Trump,” Abubakar reportedly said later. Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo later gave Voice of America an interview from a comfy couch in one of the hotel’s signature suites. The business has also hosted parties for various embassies, including those of Bahrain, Kuwait, and the Philippines.

“If he loses, that hotel goes in the tank. They’ll be broke and we’ll be repossessing it.”

Along with foreign dignitaries and true DC power brokers, the hotel has enjoyed a steady flow of business from lesser swamp things, such as the Fourth of July 2019 gathering of QAnon disciples that included an appearance from the disheveled, fedora-wearing fellow who some Q acolytes believe is JFK Jr. (who staged his death in 1999 to avoid the deep state, natch). In 2018, a self-proclaimed prophet fighting off Trump’s political foes by speaking in tongues convened a three-day conference at the hotel to “focus on real-­time prophetic revelation with governmental authority,” whatever that means.

Trump’s revenue (he doesn’t report profit) from the hotel in the first three years of his term topped $121 million. White House staffer (and hotel spa namesake) Ivanka Trump’s take has been more than $11.7 million.

That influx of cash came while many other Trump properties appeared to struggle. Hotels in Toronto and Panama and six buildings in New York that had marketing deals with the Trump Org cut ties; at Trump’s resort in Doral, Florida, income plunged by 69 percent over two years while profits dropped even more dramatically at Trump’s Chicago hotel and tower. His golf clubs in Scotland, meanwhile, have hemorrhaged millions (as another story from this issue details). 

The Trump Organization is a private and notoriously secretive company. But as part of its lease with the GSA, the company is required to provide the government with the hotel’s monthly financial statements. At first, the agency shared redacted versions of those documents on its website. But that transparency stopped the month after the tenant became the president (and effectively the landlord). And despite being asked numerous times since, the GSA’s Trump-appointed leadership has refused to provide lawmakers with the hotel’s unredacted financial information unless they pledge not to make it public—even defying a congressional subpoena. The GSA’s public buildings commissioner, Daniel Mathews, however, provided a clue to the hotel’s finances when he testified that the Trump Organization did not pay the agency any funds beyond its base rent in 2018. That meant business wasn’t booming—its gross revenues were below the threshold that would have given taxpayers a cut of the profits. Supposedly. As Mathews also explained, neither the agency nor an independent party audits the hotel’s financial statements. Instead, the US government just takes the Trump Organization at its word, which has not worked out well for many other Trump business partners.

Jan Feindt

But, anecdotally anyway, it appears that—notwithstanding a surge in the wedding business from Trump administration staffers—the DC hotel is struggling like its counterparts elsewhere. After the initial rush, the only embassy known to have returned to party at the Trump Hotel was Kuwait’s, and even that three-time customer decided not to make it a four-peat in 2020. After hosting two consecutive conferences at the Trump hotel in DC, the Turkish American business confab decamped to the Ritz-Carlton. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Institute of International Bankers, and the climate-change-denying Heartland Insti­tute were one-and-done customers. (This summer, Trump twice delayed filing his 2019 personal financial disclosure, temporarily preventing the public from getting a clearer picture of his company’s financial health.)

If you get them in private, some members of Trumpworld’s lesser castes complain about the hotel’s pricy drinks and slow service. They still frequent the business, but it’s more of an obligation than a choice. Some now pregame at a nearby dive bar, called Harry’s, to avoid dropping big bucks at the Benjamin Bar.

And that brings us to October 25, 2019—the day before the third anniversary of the hotel’s grand opening—when the Trump Organization’s contract with the GSA allowed the company to sell the lease and the news broke that the Trumps were planning on doing just that. Despite the eye-popping, half-billion-dollar price tag, there was some initial interest. Entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, the co-founder of BET and the owner of a handful of resorts, confirmed she had her eye on the property. DC developer Brian Friedman thought about making a serious play but decided against it after getting a closer look at the hotel’s financials. “I was really considering bidding heavily, but then another opportunity came up,” he said. “The asset is not performing to where I need to bid. I’m not sure the economics make sense…As I look under the hood, it’s not good news.”

Then COVID-19 hit and the sale of the lease was put on hold. While DC deemed hotels essential businesses exempt from closing, Trump’s was obliged to shutter its bars, steakhouse, conference facilities, and spa, reopening them in stages. As with the rest of the hospitality industry, the pandemic pummeled the Trump Organization, which laid off or furloughed 2,800 employees, including 237 staffers at the DC hotel. The pandemic also created more conflicts. At one point, Trump’s company reached out to the GSA to inquire about getting a break on the hotel’s rent, the New York Times reported. (In May, the GSA said it had not granted any relief because it had not received a formal request from the Trump Organization; the agency declined to respond to questions.) Notable sightings during the lockdown dwindled to Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), in town to protest COVID-19-related closures; supporters of Tiger King’s Joe Exotic, who were seeking a presidential pardon for the imprisoned iconoclast; and a sex worker who Instagrammed a video of herself popping a bottle of champagne on a bed in one of the hotel’s guest rooms. Caption: “Life is so good.”

Jan Feindt

While much is unique about the president operating a guest lodge down the block from the White House, the arc of Trump’s stewardship of the Old Post Office is largely a replay of his washout with New York’s Plaza Hotel: a highly leveraged acquisition, with a shaky business foundation, that ended up on the market a few years after it opened to great fanfare.

In 1988, after outmaneuvering competitors and assuming millions in debt, Trump secured possession of the iconic landmark positioned on one of America’s most prominent corners. Business bustled early on, with Trump’s connections, real and aspiring, helping fuel a busy events business and lofty room rates.

But the financials underlying Trump’s hefty vanity purchase didn’t work. By 1992 the Plaza Hotel was available for a steal.

As for what happened next—and what it may tell us about the future of Trump’s DC hotel—the Plaza filed for bankruptcy. Valued at just 64 percent of what Trump had paid for it, the celebrated hotel ended up in the hands of creditors. They in turn sold it to two business partners: a billionaire entrepreneur from Singapore and a billionaire prince from Saudi Arabia. “[Trump’s] the only owner to ever bankrupt the hotel in its 112-year history,” said journalist Julie Satow, author of The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel. “And that includes someone who ran the hotel when he was in a prison cell in New Delhi.”

Yes, that backstory, as well as Trump’s five other hotel bankruptcies, had been well reported by the time the Obama-era GSA awarded him possession of the government-owned landmark. And if the agency hadn’t been aware of that history, BP-Metropolitan Investors pointed it out in its appeal of the decision:

Either GSA failed to properly assess the hundreds of publicly accessible rec­ords regarding Trump entity bankruptcy and loan defaults related to real estate development projects that Trump had a duty to disclose; or alternatively Trump’s proposal failed to fully disclose these bankruptcies and loan defaults, and hence did not comply with the RFP.

For good measure, the consortium provided the GSA “media and public records regarding Trump bankruptcy, loan defaults, project terminations, and litigation.” The dossier ran 76 pages.

Jan Feindt

Reelection puts every president’s legacy on the line. But for Trump the financial stakes are almost as great.

“If he loses, that hotel goes in the tank,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in January. DeFazio chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has oversight of the lease. “They’ll be broke and we’ll be repossessing it,” he said. While the true believers may still congregate at the temple of their “god-emperor,” foreign leaders, lobbyists, GOP lawmakers, industry groups, trade war casualties, the newly unemployed, and onetime Trump supporters who lost loved ones to COVID-19 don’t seem likely to return.

Further, a Biden-helmed GSA’s loyalty would likely be to taxpayers rather than the Trump family. And the agency will have approval over successor tenants, so the vetting process could be far stricter than one undertaken by Trump officials. A de-Trumped GSA might also provide the oversight that Trump’s appointees have failed to do—even retroactively.

“I just hope if there is a Biden administration, it doesn’t adopt the ‘Let’s look forward, not back’ mistake that the Obama administration made with regard to torture,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University’s law school, who specializes in government ethics. One possibility Clark envisions: an independent audit of the hotel’s books from the past four years to see if it did in fact meet the revenue thresholds that would have triggered the profit-sharing clause in its contract.

In August, Trump told the New York Post he’d had second thoughts about putting the hotel on the market. (So much for his pre-inauguration pledge that he would divorce himself from the operations of his business!) “I like it. It does well,” he told the paper. The agent marketing the property declined to comment on Trump’s claim that his company was no longer seeking to sell the property.

If Trump is reelected and does decide to hang onto the hotel, there’s no reason to think the next four years would be much different than the first four. In fact, he wouldn’t even need to pay lip service to ethics obligations. And if his company resumes its search for a buyer for the lease, any bid “other than a bargain-basement or fire-sale-level offer…at this point, must be viewed skeptically and assumed to be driven by something other than bargain forces,” says Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University Law School. “Or in other words, a bribe, gift, or something other than what it appears.”

For now, Donald Trump and his family are continuing to cash in. After months of depressed business due to the pandemic, the hotel was buzzing with activity once more during the Republican National Convention this week. “This is sort of like a convention extension,” Rudy Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal. Trump himself was expected to attend a fundraiser at the hotel on Thursday hours before his convention speech. Trump’s allies appear to be banking (or at least hedging) that he will hold onto power: The Trump International Hotel Washington, DC, has no rooms available on Election Day 2020. It’s also booked for next year’s inauguration.

New Hot-Mic Video: What Trump Told His Lawyer When He Didn’t Know a Camera Was Rolling

On December 10, 2015, Donald Trump took time off from campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination to spend hours sitting for a videotaped deposition in a lawsuit alleging that he and Trump University had defrauded people who had plunked down thousands of dollars to learn the secrets of his financial success as a developer. During a break in the proceedings, the camera continued to roll. And Trump and his attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, apparently unaware they were being recorded, were captured discussing the case.

In this 13-minute hot-mic video—a copy of which was provided to Mother Jones—Trump boasted about how his company threatened the Better Business Bureau to change the D rating it had assigned Trump University to an A. He complained about the federal judge overseeing the suit, Gonzalo Curiel, elliptically talking about how to challenge him and referring to “the Spanish thing.” Trump also griped that he had been sued personally in this case, and Petrocelli had to explain to Trump that he, not just Trump University itself, was in the legal crosshairs because Trump had been accused of making false statements to promote the venture. And Petrocelli pointed out that the case was not a lock for Trump because some of Trump’s “guys” had been “sloppy.”

This tape shows Trump in the wild, trying to figure out how to contend with a judge who he believed was not on his side (perhaps with the use of a racist attack), bragging about pressuring a group that had given his business a low rating, and grousing that he was being held personally responsible for a Trump enterprise accused of scamming people. 

Video

Hot-mic video catches Donald Trump during a 2015 deposition: 

During the 2016 campaign, Trump had to contend with three lawsuits accusing him and Trump University—which was not an accredited as a university—of hoodwinking students who had paid between $1,495 and $34,995 for real estate seminars. Trump, who had personally promoted this endeavor and vouched for the instructors (“handpicked by me”), vowed that he would never settle the cases, and he succeeded in pushing the trial until after Election Day. Shortly after the election, Trump settled the lawsuits, agreeing to pay $25 million without admitting wrongdoing. 

The entire 2015 deposition was videotaped, and Curiel granted Trump’s request to seal the videotape of the deposition; only a written transcript was made public. Trump and Petrocelli seemingly did not realize that a camera was still on while they talked during this break in the question-and-answer session.

Art Cohen, the lead plaintiff in one of two Trump University class-action lawsuits, gave a copy of this recording to Mother Jones. “I wanted to get this out before the election so people better understand how Trump behaves behind the scenes,” Cohen says. “Staying quiet all this time has been frustrating for me, and I wish everybody had gotten the chance to see Trump’s behavior as I did before the 2016 election. With 20/20 vision, we now have the opportunity to better understand his true nature and the gangster persona he shows in this video.” Cohen maintains that Trump’s ability to avoid a trial during the campaign cleared a major political obstacle for him, and he adds, “The Trump University legal saga is a footnote to history, but it helped Trump hone his blueprint for attacking the judiciary by publicly berating judges he deems adversarial.”

Mother Jones sent Petrocelli a list of questions about the conversation, which took place with several other people in the room. In response, Martin Checov, the general counsel of O’Melveny & Myers—the law firm where Petrocelli practices—sent a letter to Mother Jones, “on behalf of Trump University and President Donald J. Trump,” demanding that Mother Jones “not publish the video or any article relating to it and immediately destroy the video.”

The Trump-Petrocelli discussion came after close to six hours of questioning in a Trump Tower conference room that often generated contentious back-and-forth. In the late afternoon, Jason Forge, an attorney for Cohen and other plaintiffs, asked Trump if he had any “personal knowledge as to whether the instructors for these [Trump University] seminars had any experience buying or selling real estate.” Trump said he believed they did. When Forge pressed for a clearer answer, Trump said, “All I can say is it was too long ago.” Forge continued to push on this point, asking Trump if he had ever said “good things” about people “even though those things weren’t true.” Petrocelli instructed Trump not to answer. And Trump, according to the written transcript, taunted Forge, saying, “Am I frustrating you?…Don’t get frustrated.” The session became heated. Forge demanded that Petrocelli stop waving his finger at him. Petrocelli called Forge “an amateur” and demanded that people in the room “stop snickering.” Forge wondered aloud if Petrocelli’s blood sugar was low and said to him, “You’re out of control right now.” Petrocelli ordered Trump to remove the microphone, and a short break ensued.

After the timeout, Petrocelli and Trump returned to the room and took their places at the conference table for what would be the last hour of the deposition. And for more than 10 minutes, while they waited for the plaintiffs’ legal team to return, their conversation was recorded. Trump complained that he was being sued “personally” in this case. “There is a reason for a corporation,” he told Petrocelli. Trump added, “You know I’ve got hundreds of cases and I never get sued. I don’t even get sued.” Petrocelli responded, “Because they are saying you are personally involved in making false, in making false statements.”

Trump then turned to the subject of Curiel and asked Petrocelli, “Is he an asshole or does he just want me in his courtroom?” The lawyer answered, “Latter,” and said, “He’s an average judge. He’s not nuts. He’s from the wrong side of the aisle, too. That’s not helping.” Trump replied, “What about the Spanish thing?” It’s not clear what Trump was referring to. But months later, Trump publicly attacked Curiel, calling him “a hater of Donald Trump” and saying Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” Trump claimed that because he proposed building a wall on the US–Mexico border, Curiel was biased against him. (Curiel was born in Indiana.)

Continuing to discuss Curiel with Petrocelli, Trump referred to an earlier judge involved in the Trump University cases whom he seemed more fond of, adding, “Then I got this guy. Nothing!” 

Trump asked Petrocelli to assess the odds of winning the case. “If we had to try this case I think we would win this case,” Petrocelli said. “I think you’re a big reason why, because the jurors like you.” Trump interrupted, “You think it’s an easy one?” The lawyer answered, “Um, honestly, no…I put it at like about 50 percent.”

A few minutes later, after complaining that the plaintiffs’ lawyers had not yet returned, Trump asked Petrocelli, “How’s our Barrack man doing?”—apparently referring to his friend and ally Tom Barrack, a private equity mogul and Trump fundraiser. “He’s got a new bride, couple new kids,” Petrocelli said. Trump asked, “What’s that all about? When did he get married?” Petrocelli answered, “Got married about a year ago.” Trump quickly shot back: “Is she beautiful?” And Petrocelli responded, “Yeah, young. She’s 38, 37.” Trump enquired, “How old is he, 65?” Barrack was then 68. “He gets a kick out of this,” Trump continued. “Can you believe this? Sitting here with this bullshit?” Petrocelli responded, “With everything on your mind, I don’t know how you’re doing this. I really feel bad for you.”

Trump then returned to Petrocelli’s chances of winning the case, asking the lawyer if he would ever tell a client the odds were better than 50 percent. Petrocelli answered, “You never go above 70 percent in a case.” Trump asked, “Even if it’s a lock?”

There’s always an “X-Factor,” the attorney explained. Trump replied, “You mean, if you think you got a lock, you’re not going to tell the client?” Petrocelli said he had “never gone above 75 percent.” That prompted Trump to tell Petrocelli how he discussed his own chances in the presidential race: “‘What are your chances of getting the nomination?’ I said 50. Even though I’m at 40. You understand?…I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to get it.'” He once again asked Petrocelli to rate the Trump University case. Petrocelli replied, “I would rate this above average, but I have had stronger cases…I think the guys under you sort of let you down—a little sloppy.”

Trump said he was optimistic about the case. “Can I tell you something? Everybody that’s involved in this a little bit, they are so professional. Honestly, [unintelligible]. The other thing is, big charts and the books and the whole thing. They walk out with a whole pile of stuff. I think you’ll be okay. I think better than 50 percent.”

Trump brought up Trump University’s run-in with the Better Business Bureau, a private nonprofit organization that reviews businesses and charities and rates them, using a scale of A to F. Shaking his head, he told Petrocelli that the bureau “gave it a D…a D. You know what that is? That’s a kill for you.” But then, Trump noted, someone called the Better Business Bureau and said, “We’re going to sue you. [Unintelligible.] An A, got the D removed.” Explaining this episode, he referred to “my guy upstairs” and described him as “an Alan Garten type, he’s tough”—referring to the Trump Organization’s top lawyer. Petrocelli asked, “Works for you upstairs?” “Yeah,” Trump said.

Trump’s troubles with the Better Business Bureau would become a campaign issue three months later. During a Republican presidential debate, Megyn Kelly, then a Fox News host, asked Trump about the Trump University’s D- rating. Trump insisted, “Right now it is an A.” (Trump University had shut down in 2010.) During a commercial break, Trump claimed to Fox journalists that the Better Business Bureau had just sent a message affirming the A rating. But several days later, the BBB said it had not sent any document to the Republican debate. It noted that Trump University “does not currently have an A rating” and had a “No Rating” since 2015. “Prior to that, it fluctuated between D- and A+,” the bureau said. 

The BBB’s statement explained the history of Trump University’s rating: “During the period when Trump University appeared to be active in the marketplace, BBB received multiple customer complaints about this business. These complaints affected the Trump University BBB rating, which was as low as D- in 2010.” The bureau noted that after Trump University closed there were no new complaints and that complaints older than three years “automatically rolled off” and “Trump University’s BBB rating went to an A in July 2014 and then to an A+ in January 2015.” That is, according to the BBB, Trump’s business got A ratings years after it had closed. 

The Better Business Bureau did not respond to a request for comment regarding whether anyone connected to Trump or Trump University threatened to sue the bureau over the D rating and successfully pressured it to change the rating to an A.

Trump’s conversation with Petrocelli about the Better Business Bureau grade was cut short, as the deposition resumed. Petrocelli complained that Forge had kept them waiting. Forge replied that Petrocelli and Trump had shown up half an hour late, following the earlier lunch break. “Eating your free lunch we provided you,” Petrocelli snapped. “I didn’t eat it,” Forge said.

“You didn’t eat?” Trump asked. “Let’s go,” Petrocelli said. “Next time we’ll get you some vegetables.”

Here’s the full hot-mic video:

Tucker Carlson Says Teen Charged With Killing Kenosha Protesters Did What “No One Else” Would

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson defended the actions of the white teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, stating Wednesday that the armed vigilante acted to “maintain order when no one else would.” 

“Those in charge, from the governor on down, refused to enforce the law,” Carlson told viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” amid reports that the suspect had a history of idolizing police and supported Donald Trump. “They’ve stood back and watched Kenosha burn. Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?”

He added, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

For months, conservatives of all stripes—from the president to senators in the opinion pages of the New York Times—have called for “law and order” forces to shut down the racial justice protests that have continued in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May. Those calls continued this week as protests broke out in response to yet another police shooting of a Black man, this time Jacob Blake, whom police shot multiple times in front of his young sons on Sunday as Blake attempted to enter a car.

As my colleague Nathalie Baptiste writes, “law and order” isn’t meant for everyone:

As this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

So in some ways, Carlson is correct: Many of us aren’t shocked. Those who have watched a president relentlessly promote violence against protesters while sending federal agents to crack down on peaceful demonstrations predicted that such incitement could motivate armed vigilante groups to take action. For Carlson and his ilk, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who allegedly used a semi-automatic weapon to shoot three protesters, two fatally, delivered the “law and order” they’ve been clamoring for. 

Tucker Carlson: "How shocked are we that 17 year olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" pic.twitter.com/6jf59YW60U

— Brendan Karet (@bad_takes) August 27, 2020

Betsy DeVos Rewrote Campus Sexual Assault Rules, But Survivor Activists Aren’t Backing Down

Frances Kendrick, a 18-year-old pre-nursing student at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, was scrolling through Instagram this spring when a post caught her attention. A black-and-red graphic, posted by the sexual assault survivor advocacy group Know Your IX, warned that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was about to institute new regulations that would reduce schools’ responsibility to respond to sexual misconduct among their students. Kendrick, who had made a sexual assault report to her school months earlier, was alarmed that the new rules would eliminate the 60-day timeframe for investigating reports; her own case was still dragging on, and she felt unsupported by NC A&T, a historically Black public university. “I automatically made that connection,” she says. “Like, oh hell, if this is how they’re treating us now, wait ’til they actually don’t have to be accountable.”

The panel convened to hear Kendrick’s case ultimately found the other student not responsible, and her appeal was denied. But Kendrick was already beginning to organize. The day after her hearing in June—which took place over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic—she wrote an open letter a friend posted on Twitter. “I went to an HBCU because I wanted to live in a space where I was cared for,” she wrote. “But it is clear that this school does not care about me as a survivor.”

She started a group, Aggies Without Fear, and launched an online petition demanding the school to go “above and beyond” the requirements in DeVos’ new rules, which let schools resolve cases within a “reasonably prompt” time. Kendrick’s letter asks for investigations and hearings to be conducted within 30 days; her own case had taken nearly 200. (NC A&T associate vice chancellor Todd Simmons declined to comment on Kendrick’s case due to federal privacy laws.)

Students have always been the drivers of the movement against sexual violence in schools. Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, has been their most powerful tool since 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that a 10th grader could sue her school for not intervening after she reported being harassed and sexually abused by a teacher. But anti-rape advocates say much of the law’s utility to survivors has been undercut by the Trump administration’s reinterpretation of Title IX, which took effect on August 14. Now, as campuses across the country must adapt to the new rules while grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, students like Kendrick are adapting as well, looking for new ways to pressure their schools to assist students at all levels who endure sexual abuse or harassment.

“Historically, we viewed Title IX as a great tool to improve campus policies. Now, it’s a bit more figuring out how to get around Title IX.”

“Historically, we viewed Title IX as a great tool to improve campus policies,” Sage Carson, the manager of Know Your IX, told nearly 200 victim advocates and students during a webinar about the new regulations last week. “Now, it’s a bit more figuring out how to get around Title IX.”

Trying to get school administrators’ attention while many students are not physically on campus also presents a new challenge for activists. “Often survivors have to use interruptive tactics to get schools to pay attention,” Carson says in an interview. “They need to occupy buildings. They have to make noise on campus. They have to make themselves a nuisance for schools to even listen to them. And it’s much harder to make yourself a nuisance when someone can simply block your emails, or when someone can just ignore your phone calls.”

DeVos’ new regulations follow nearly a decade of activism, conflict, and backlash over campus sexual assault policy. Survivors-turned-advocates have filed a wave of complaints with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and pressured the department to hold schools accountable for violating the law. They found a sympathetic ear in the Obama White House, which launched a national task force on campus sexual assault and issued guidance on how schools could respond “promptly and equitably” to sexual misconduct complaints. Many colleges and universities began taking sexual assault and harassment more seriously, changing or adopting new policies to address it. 

But the momentum shifted after President Donald Trump took office. DeVos quickly pulled the Obama-era Title IX guidelines, declaring that they had gone too far in complainants’ favor and had created a system that “lacked basic elements of due process and failed to ensure fundamental fairness.” She issued new temporary guidelines followed by proposed regulations that reduced schools’ legal obligations to respond to survivors, in part by narrowing the definition of sexual harassment.

The regulations were framed as a way to ensure fairness for both survivors and students accused of sexual misconduct. They required colleges to adopt live, courtroom-like sexual misconduct hearings in which an accused abuser’s advisor—or attorney—could cross-examine the complainant. A recent investigation in the Nation found the rules were partially written by the main funder behind the men’s rights group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, which pushes the untrue narrative that false sexual assault allegations are rampant.

The final rules were met with fierce opposition from survivor advocates. “Students should have a right to receive an education free from violence, and not have to be tangled up in incompetent, really half-assed, dangerous rules that protect no one,” says Kenyora Parham, executive director of End Rape on Campus. Multiple groups, including the ACLU as well as attorneys general in 17 states and Washington, DC, sued the Education Department to stop the new regulations from taking effect. Federal judges blocked their attempts earlier this month.

Now colleges and universities are rolling out new Title IX policies to comply with the administration’s requirements. Some, such as Harvard and Princeton, established two separate processes for handling claims: one that covers the Education Department’s new, narrower definitions of prohibited conduct, and another for everything the new regulations do not cover, such as sexual assault on study abroad trips. NC A&T’s interim sexual misconduct policy, announced on August 14, hews closely to the new regulations, though it adds that sexual misconduct may also be covered by other campus policies governing workplace violence, harassment, and discrimination.  

“Students should have a right to receive an education free from violence, and not have to be tangled up in incompetent, really half-assed, dangerous rules that protect no one.”

Still, some schools have not announced any changes, according to Carson. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what exactly is required by the new rules, which were released in their final form three months ago along with about 2,000 pages of accompanying legalese, sending college administrators scrambling. “My impression is, everybody’s trying to write the paper and get it in on time,” one Title IX coordinator told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Student activists like Kendrick have tried to influence this process by pressuring their schools to go beyond what’s required of them. For instance, DeVos’ rules permit, but do not require, that schools use a higher standard of evidence in sexual assault hearings; Aggies Without Fear’s petition asked NC A&T to opt for the Obama-era standard. At Carnegie Mellon University, the Graduate Student Assembly has been negotiating with the Title IX office for months, says Divyansh Kaushik, the assembly’s director of external affairs. Kaushik, a language technology grad student, is concerned that the DeVos regulations do not cover violence or harassment in off-campus housing. (All 7,500 Carnegie Mellon grad students live off-campus.) 

Even though some school administrators may choose to investigate cases not covered by Title IX under the DeVos rules, the Education Department will no longer hold the schools accountable if they mishandle those cases. To Carson, this is a major setback. “The reason that survivors have fought so deeply for Title IX is because schools haven’t done the right thing in the past,” she says. “Now we’re met with a really messy, complicated Title IX that is weak around enforcement, weak on survivor protections, and only requires schools to do the bare minimum. While survivors can use that to demand that their school do that absolute bare minimum, that’s not exactly helpful for most people.”

Rather than focusing on Title IX, student survivors may begin turning to other laws. During last week’s webinar, National Women’s Law Center director of justice for student survivors and senior counsel Shiwali Patel pointed to the Clery Act, a federal law governing campus safety. Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky suggested that survivors who need accommodations from their schools might find disability discrimination laws “more powerful” tools than Title IX, particularly if they experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Parham, who plans to focus End Rape on Campus’s work on supporting survivors who have been marginalized because of their backgrounds or identities, says that advocates need to think more seriously about using other federal anti-discrimination laws.

At least 20 states already have laws that require schools to provide services to survivors, mandate sexual assault prevention programs, or govern responses to reports of harassment or violence. According to Carson, state legislation offers a lot of promise at a time when survivors feel abandoned by the Education Department. Know Your IX is recruiting students to push for new state-level sexual assault laws across the country. A group of current students and young alumni called the Every Voice Coalition has written bills that have been introduced by lawmakers in several states.

“Once it became clear that this DeVos administration was not going to be listening to students and survivors, we took the only recourse we could think of, which was to push for stronger protections at the state level,” says John Gabrieli, Every Voice’s co-chair. “Fortunately, the one silver lining with these regulations is that they’re a floor, not a ceiling, for what states can do.” In July, Gov. Chris Sununu signed Every Voice’s bill into law in New Hampshire. The group plans to introduce similar legislation in Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia.

This spring, shortly after Gabrieli quit his job to work on Every Voice full-time, the pandemic sent students and lawmakers home. COVID-19, he says, “totally crushed our legislative momentum.” At NC A&T, Kendrick, who just moved back into her apartment on campus, is figuring out how to continue building Aggies Without Fear despite social distancing. Last Friday, she received a response from the school to her petition; it said that parts of its newly issued interim Title IX policy already go “above and beyond” DeVos’ minimum requirements. It also offered to listen to her feedback. Simmons wrote in an email that the school “strives to create an environment that is free from sexual misconduct and violence and that supports survivors, as well as respects due process,” and that it would be working to improve through “listening sessions” with students.

Kendrick is trying to keep up the pressure, using social media to push out information about Title IX and campus sexual assault while negotiating with the school. “Our goal is to say, regardless of COVID, regardless of where your students are,” Kendrick says, “you still are accountable to us. “

The Trump Administration Is Trying to Sabotage the Census. Can They Get Away With It?

There are only five weeks left to complete the Census, and more than a third of Americans have yet to fill out the questionnaire. The coronavirus threw a wrench in the Census Bureau’s plan for its decennial headcount, making it difficult for the agency to reach people who didn’t immediately respond online or return the forms they received in the mail. But instead of oiling the gears to boost response, the Trump administration tried dismantling the machinery.

The Census determines the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. It dictates the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars of government funds for the next decade. The profile it paints of the nation determines where governments will build roads and schools, and where businesses will chose to locate. It informs public health data and allows us to determine, for example, what percentage of the US population has recovered or died from the coronavirus.

But President Trump has sought to undermine the Census for years by suggesting that it ask respondents about their citizenship status, and by pushing for the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from congressional apportionment after the Supreme Court found an outright count of non-citizens unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the social distancing requirements associated with the coronavirus pandemic have dogged the Census Bureau’s attempts to physically count each household that has not self-responded. After the Trump administration announced a series of political appointees to the Census Bureau, the agency said that it would cut enumeration—the dispatch of a fleet of door-knockers who follow up with people who haven’t responded on their own—a month short.

With the likelihood of a fully accurate Census count growing slimmer each day, Justin Levitt, a constitutional law scholar at Loyola Law School who worked on voting rights at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, walks us through the impact of the current administration’s assaults on the Census Bureau—and explores the legal possibilities for rectifying an incorrect count.

Before you read any further: Have you filled out the Census? Have your friends and family? Here’s the link to the questionnaire.

The president recently issued a memorandum ordering that undocumented immigrants be excluded from congressional apportionment. Would it be constitutional for the president to deliver a count that excludes the undocumented population?

The answer is no, and it’s not even close. Flatly, clearly, no.

The 14th Amendment says abundantly clearly that when you’re counting the population for purposes of apportionment, you count everybody, “the whole number of persons in each state,” period. In order to come up with any different conclusion, you have to decide that people who are undocumented aren’t persons, or they’re not in a state. That is, “persons” doesn’t mean “persons,” or “in” doesn’t mean “in,” are the only available options for the president’s argument.

The other thing that’s abundantly clear is that the enumeration has to be a count. It can’t involve an estimate. In order to remove the undocumented population from the count, you have to have a count of the undocumented population, and we don’t have that. So in addition to it being blatantly unlawful, it’s also impossible.

“The Census is the largest peacetime mobilization in the country, and you can’t just snap your fingers and have a do-over.”

The president’s memorandum actually contemplates this. There’s an operational component that directs the Census Bureau to give him the information on the undocumented population so that he can exclude it from the apportionment count where consistent with applicable law and as practicable. What the general counsel of the Department of Commerce should come back with is, “Mr. President, we have read your memorandum. We have complied with your memorandum. I’m giving you a piece of paper with all of the information that would be consistent with applicable law and practicable.” And that piece of paper should be blank. It’s like saying, “Go rob a bank, but only if it’s legal.”

So the intent of the memorandum seems pretty clear.

There’s no question. He wants to convey the notion that we should, in his view, exclude the undocumented population in the apportionment count, and he wants to pretend like he will.

The Census Bureau recently announced that it would cut in-person enumeration short by a month. How will this affect the likelihood of an accurate count?

The pandemic substantially affected census operations. The Census Bureau acknowledged this when they originally made a request to Congress to extend follow-up into the end of October to take more time reconciling the results of that follow-up in getting the apportionment data out to Congress, and to take more time to get redistricting data out to the states. Then the Census Bureau came back and said, “Hey, remember when we told you we needed more time? We actually don’t need all of that extra time. We can do it in a month or less.” And I think there have been a lot of very disturbing questions and very little transparency about why the Census Bureau originally said they needed until October and then came back and said, “Nah, never mind.”

The Trump administration has also added several new political appointees to the Census. Why is this concerning?

There have been so many irregular appointments through this administration that I don’t know that they’d be raising particular eyebrows at other times, or when there weren’t also these attempts to manipulate the Census count. But a lot of people have very real questions, independent of the qualifications of the individuals he’s appointed, just because he has done so much damage to people’s ability to trust his administration and execution of basic functions related to self-governance—witness the brouhaha at the post office. I think people are very concerned about why now, why there, and why these people?

In the event that there is an inaccurate count or a severe undercount, is there anything that can legally be done to remedy that?

The big and obvious response is, can’t we just do a do-over? And the short answer is, we could, but the Census is the largest peacetime mobilization in the country, and you can’t just snap your fingers and have a do-over. The preparation for the 2020 census started in 2007. Preparation for the 2030 census is already underway. It is possible, but it’s a slow train and enormously logistically complicated and enormously expensive.

Could, legally, Congress order a supplement to the Census? Yeah, but the further you get from April 1, 2020, the less accurate the information becomes. That’s partly why it’s really important to do nonresponse followup in May and June, and even knowing that can’t be done, why it’s really important to do the followup as soon as possible.

Could Congress refuse to reapportion House seats based on this year’s data and just go with the numbers from 2010?

Unclear. They have actually neglected to reapportion Congress; curiously, the last time they did that was 1920, which was right after the last pandemic. But that was before a series of Supreme Court cases in the ’60s saying that you have a constitutional right to live in a place where our representatives are equally allotted, where we each have the same amount of representation. The courts haven’t had to deal with the question of what happens when we’re not sure what equal is, or when we know that the figures we’ve got via census are bad. The real answer is we don’t know.

To what extent can the Census Bureau rely on administrative records, like Social Security and USPS data, to fill in the blanks?

Two points on that: The administrative records for most of us are very good, but for some of us are not, and the people who get left out of the count are more likely to also not be in the administrative records. So you can only fill in the blanks so much.

And, again, you can’t estimate for purposes of apportionment. It’s okay to use records that you have for actual people, but the efficacy of those administrative records runs out at some point. That’s where the non-response follow-up, in terms of actually getting information house to house, is so very important to avoid an undercount.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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