The worthless clause
Judge Arthur Engoron’s ruling this week granting the New York AG’s petition against Donald Trump’s business organization got to the heart of the method to Trump’s madness ... he is a fraud. New York State Attorney General, Letitia James’ victory is well-earned after she had waged a dogged investigation of Trump and his fraudulent enterprises and has endured his wrath for her efforts. It places her— as well as the Judge— in the crosshairs of the Trump loyalists who will continue their unhinged vitriol against anyone who finds Trump and his associates accountable for his illegalities. In her understated response to the Judge's granting judgment on the first count in her suit, James took the high road and pressed on:
Today, a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud. We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial.
— New York State AG, Letitia James
James has beaten Trump in court before, but this suit may be a civil coup de grace. Judge Engoron has perhaps for the first time gotten to the core of the deceit that will doom the real estate developer who migrated to Manhattan from his family home in the outer borough of Queens. The Judge notes in his ruling that the Trumps, Donald and his sons, had inserted in their Statement of Financial Conditions agreements, The Judge notes in his ruling that the Trumps, Donald and his sons, had inserted in their Statement of Financial Conditions agreements, a “Basis of Presentation” clause used as a disclaimer for all claims made in the documents they submitted for business dealings. Trump has called it the “worthless clause” and it states in part:
“...the use of appraisals , capitalization of anticipated earnings, recent sales and offers, and estimates of current values as determined by Mr. Trump in conjunction with his associates and, in some instances , outside professionals. Considerable judgment is necessary to interpret market data and develop the related estimates of current value. Accordingly , the estimates presented herein are not necessarily indicative of the amount that could be realized upon the disposition of the assets or payment of the related liabilities.”
— Trump Org. “Worthless Clause”
A master stroke in double talk, the clause essentially asserts that the figures the Trumps submit for loans, sales, and other business dealings are mostly whatever the Trumps say they are. In a deposition asking for clarification of the clause, Donald Trump stated under oath:
DJT: Again, you know, I hate to be boring and tell you this. When you have the worthless clause on a piece of paper and the first literally the first page you're reading about how this is a worthless statement from the standpoint of your using it as a bank or whatever whoever may be using it, you tend not to get overly excited about it. I think it had very little impact, any impact on the banks.
OAG: So am I understanding that you didn't particularly care about what was in the Statement of Financial Condition? I didn't get involved in it very much .
DJT: I felt it was a meaningless document , other than it was almost a list of my properties , with good faith effort of people trying to put some value down. It was a good faith effort.
--— Hon. Arthur Engoron, SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK NEW YORK COUNTY ruling
Based on the brief submitted by Trump’s attorneys and his deposition, the judge awarded NY Attorney General, Letitia James, a summary judgment that essentially stopped Trump’s businesses from operating in the state of New York.
pants on fire
Engeron’s order included a final insult to the Trump attorneys fining them each $7500 for their antics in relitigating issues that the court had already ruled out. He also appointed a monitor to ensure that the “persistent fraud” that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had proved to the court would cease until the final disposition of the case was ordered. This was as close as it gets in a civil case to a corporate death sentence for Trump and his sons.
The fraud has clearly been found by the court to be longstanding and continuing. It is a trait that is in keeping with Donald Trump’s character in all facets of his life, He is a cheat, a liar, a fraud. For Donald, it would have to be a character flaw learned at his equally despicable father’s knee and amplified by his business mentor, and adult father-figure, Roy Cohn. For the Trumps, fraud was the main course at the business lunch they served in all their transactions, but also found its way into their private lives. The parallels are there for all to see. For Donald, cheating on spouses was an expectation, as was rape and sexual assault. Lies only leavened the scams paving the way for bankruptcies and furthered their schemes. When Donald unleashed his “birther” scandal on Barack Obama in 2011, the basis of his unhinged claim that Obama was not born in the U.S. and, therefore, was an illegitimate president, his lie was remarkably similar to his later claims that Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate. The truth, for him, was always whatever he said it was. His allegation in each case was always enough as the lies were presented without even a pretense of evidence. Ends, for Trump, not only justify any means, but they also create an alternate reality to operate within.
As Judge Engeron cuts through the lawyerly bull cocky, he asserts the central theme of the moral and ethical conflation that blur Trump’s personal and business interactions:
Exacerbating defendants obstreperous conduct is their continued reliance on bogus arguments, in papers and oral argument. In defendants world : rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party's lies; the Attorney General of the State of New York does not have capacity to sue or standing to sue (never mind all those cases where the Attorney General has sued successfully) under a statute expressly designed to provide that right; all illegal acts are untimely if they stem from one untimely act ; and square footage subjective.
That is a fantasy world, not the real world.
— Hon. Arthur Engoron, SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK NEW YORK COUNTY
There it is, the raison d'etre for Trump's behavior in all aspects of life— everything is subjective when it accrues to his bottom line. He has cultivated a network, not unlike the mobsters that coalesced around Cohn because they had transactional interests that he could turn to in times of need. Certainly, his father was in that network, bailing out his prodigal son when necessary. Trump has elevated his game in that respect by cultivating international criminal regimes whose interests intersect with his. As Judge Engoron notes in his ruling, Trump justifies his criminal overvaluation of properties by claiming that “a buyer in Saudi Arabia” would pay any price he asked. What Trump forgets to add to the ledger is the cost of reciprocation— and the party who would ultimately pay that price. One can only wonder had things worked out and Trump Towers Moscow had gone forward, what would Putin have demanded in return? And what might Trump have traded while in the presidency to Putin in return for Putin’s overt support of Trump?
dead Russian View
I cannot help but recall the passage from another Russian— Fyodor Dostoyevsky— who seems to have been describing the rationale that drives a man like Donald Trump:
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill -- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing...."
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, Chapter 7, The Brothers Karamazov
There may be other examples of this perspective on lying and the damage it does to both the liar and his victim, but I suggest there is no more pointed description of Donald Trump— the liar and fraud who is at once loveless and unloved, powerful and fragile, hateful and hated.
Judge Engoron’s ruling will undoubtedly earn him a place among the former president’s enemies along with Jack Smith and Judge Chutkan. It will mean that he will be targeted by the crazies who have fallen for the sham. In Trump’s distorted view of justice, punishment if it is visited on him, should be shared among the accused and his accusers. The vile threats and unhinged distortions he spews against all his accusers and those who will stand in judgment of him (all but Judge Cannon at the moment) intensify with each bad turn. Unquestionably, he hopes that someone like his Daddy or Roy Cohn— or an assassin, it doesn’t much matter— will rescue him. No such luck. The punishment is at hand.
Dostoyevsky has another quote I think that is appropriate and gives us more insight into just how deviant a character the nation elected in 2016 and who stands more than a fighter’s chance at a second non-consecutive term:
"If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake; that will be punishment — as well as the prison."
— Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment
A corollary to Raskolnikov’s insight is required for the men and women who cheer him on even while knowing what he has done to the country. Donald Trump avoids the call of conscience by never acknowledging his sins. It is his way to distance himself from the rest of humanity. That may be his ultimate punishment but it would be only the smallest piece of our satisfaction.