By Dana Milbank
President Trump isn’t really trying to overturn the election. He’s simply running one more scam before he leaves office that would enable him to enrich himself.
That’s the way it appears, at least, from the scores of fundraising emails his campaign has sent out since the election. He seems to be asking for funds to challenge the election, but the fine print shows that the money could let him line his own coffers. The tin-pot-dictator routine looks more as if it’s about passing the tin cup.
“They’re trying to STEAL this Election,” declared one such Trump campaign fundraising missive from “Donald J. Trump, President of the United States” on Wednesday afternoon. “I promise you my team is fighting the clock to DEFEND the integrity of this Election, but we cannot do it alone. We need EVERY Patriot, like YOU, to step up and make sure we have the resources to keep going. … Please contribute ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to DEFEND the Election.”
But at the provided link to the “OFFICIAL ELECTION DEFENSE FUND,” the legalese at the end says something rather different:
Sixty percent of the contribution, up to $5,000, goes to “Save America,” Trump’s newly created leadership PAC. And 40 percent of the contribution up to $35,500, goes to the Republican National Committee’s operating account, its political (not legal) fund.
Only after reaching the first maximum would a single penny go to Trump’s “Recount Account,” and only after reaching the second maximum would a penny go to the RNC’s legal account.
“It’s a straight-up bait and switch,” Paul S. Ryan, the vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, tells me. Such email solicitations target small donors, so for the “overwhelming majority of people contributing … none of their money will end up in recount accounts” or be used for otherwise challenging the election.
Rather, it will be used to extend Trump’s influence over the RNC during the Biden presidency and to build up his leadership PAC, which amounts to a “slush fund” for Trump’s personal use. “There is no limit to how much Donald Trump can pay himself or any member of his family under ‘Save America,’” Ryan notes.
Earlier versions of the “election defense fund” email solicitations indicated the funds were to be used to retire Trump’s campaign debt. “Presumably he raised enough to retire that debt,” says Ryan, “and he’s building this new slush fund.”
Should we be surprised?
Trump has used the presidency itself for self-enrichment, so there’s no reason to think an election defeat would stop him. He has funneled vast amounts of taxpayer dollars and political supporters’ funds to his hotels, golf clubs and various properties around the world. Over the years, he has used his charity for self-benefit, he has had favorable treatment by foreign governments, and he has had hundreds of millions in debt forgiven by creditors.
As The Post’s David Fahrenthold wrote last month, Trump’s properties have billed taxpayers at least $2.5 million for such things as: $7,000 for a dinner, $6,000 for flowers, $17,000 monthly for a cottage, up to $650 a night for hotel rooms, $1,000 for drinks for the White House staff and even $3 for drinking water.
The president isn’t the only one in Trump world apparently misleading well-intentioned contributors.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, faces federal charges that he defrauded contributors who thought they were giving money to build a wall on the Mexican border. Arrested on a Chinese billionaire’s yacht, he’s accused of stealing more than $1 million from funds donated to “We Build the Wall.”
But the contest-the-election scam is a dangerous game. Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the Biden transition jeopardizes national security by leaving the United States vulnerable in a way the 9/11 Commission specifically warned about. It’s further discrediting the institutions of American democracy (the Trump-backing Republican secretary of state of Georgia now faces calls for his resignation from fellow Republican officeholders and death threats for simply doing his job). And it’s further paralyzing the country by falsely convincing millions of Trump supporters that something untoward happened in the election.
The New York Times reported that it contacted election officials in all 50 states and not one, Democrat or Republican, found evidence that fraud or irregularities played a role in the election outcome.
The Post reports that the administration is 0 for 6 with its fraud claims so far, as courts reject the frivolous and unsubstantiated allegations.
Republican lawmakers, led by the shameless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Senate provocateur-in-residence Ted Cruz (Tex.), are indulging Trump’s nonsense claims, regardless of the harm to national security and confidence in U.S. elections.
And in doing so, they’re helping to scam their own supporters into further enriching Trump.