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Commentary Election 2020

Frank DeFilippo: Between Trump and Debtor’s Prison

President Trump boards Air Force One last month at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain.

There is a spreading notion, whether by evidentiary conviction or wishful thinking, that the presidency is the only block between Donald Trump and debtor’s prison.

The presidency, of course, includes the institutions that go with it or extend from it – Attorney General William Barr, the Department of Justice and the third, albeit independent branch of government, the U.S. Supreme Court, whose justices are appointed by the president – and every other agency of government that fits his whim. Trump’s betting short odds on that taxpayer-provided protection. Clinging to power may be his lifeline to personal liberty.

Trump is trailing Joe Biden in most polls. His contemptuous performance in last week’s debate put an additional drag on his reelection bid as will his spoil-sport refusal to debate under new rules.

What’s more, Trump’s coronavirus infection, along with that of first lady Melania Trump, removes him from the campaign trail, which supplies the energy of his reelection hope. The vagrant germ also provides a handy excuse for withdrawing from the remaining two debates, if Trump chooses, or if he is ruled not up to the task.


Frank A. DeFilippo

If Trump loses the presidency, all of the legal protections that go with the office would be stripped away, including the controversial Justice Department legal memo that restrained the Mueller Commission from declaring overtly that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. He would then be subject to the same legal treatment as any other citizen.

When law enforcement could pin little else on Al Capone, they nailed and jailed him on income tax charges. And another righteous citizen and associate of Bugsy Siegel, the ruthless California mobster Mickey Cohen, after a lifetime crime-spree of murder, racketeering and high-level bribery, was finally sent to prison for tax fraud and lying.

We have, in Trump’s own word(s), that gaming the tax system was “sport” in the 1980s-90s among developers like himself, a braggard’s slip of the lip that may come back to bite him if all of his skullduggery eventually fails.

Trump is singular among recent presidents and presidential candidates in that he has refused to make public his tax returns. Well, The New York Times performed the public service for him. And what a revelation. But the rational public already sensed the cover-up based on Trump’s resistance and belligerence.

Congressional committees, the New York state attorney general, the Manhattan district attorney, Trump’s niece, and countless lawyers for those whom Trump has aggrieved – such as women who claim he abused or assaulted them – have been after his tax returns for years, either in pursuit of fraud, in the one sense, or recompense in the other.

They now have it, or at least part of it, leaked or otherwise. Trump is a liar, a cheat, a con man and a fraud. But the public already knew that, too. His sister has said it. His niece has documented it. And if any further proof is needed, he conned his father out of his fortune and screwed his family in doing it, according to published reports. Nice guy.

The Times peeled through 20 years of Trump’s tax returns and revealed that for many years he paid no income taxes at all and that, for each of the first two years of his presidency, Trump paid only $750 in income taxes – far less than most working Americans.

Throughout those years, Trump’s companies were hemorrhaging millions upon millions of dollars, contrary to the brash business mogul’s image he created for himself with the gullible connivance of New York’s tabloids.

The Times’ report also showed that Trump claimed $70,000 in deductions to have his hair shellacked for television appearances and that his organization paid Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, $750,000 in consulting fees at the same time she was a salaried employee of Trump’s company. Woe is Ivanka. Thanks to daddy, she has problems and she’d better lawyer up.

Also in the report is the nugget that Trump is still fighting the IRS over a $72.9 million refund he received in 2010 – the protective shield that Trump fraudulently uses as an excuse for not releasing his tax returns. There is no IRS prohibition against releasing tax returns while an audit is underway.

But here are the hidden sticks of dynamite in the Times’ report: Trump has $421 million in outstanding loans that he has personally guaranteed and which fall due during the four years that he would still, theoretically, be a sitting president – if he’s reelected.

There is no indication as to who Trump borrowed the money from or to whom he owes the debt. But there has been speculation that if the money is debt to foreign lenders, Trump might be vulnerable to national security pressures and Mata Hari shakedowns inimical to America’s interests.

Here’s the dipsy-doodle that Barr and his servile Justice Department have created for Trump: They’ve traipsed through the courts with the notion that a president cannot be prosecuted for any official action while in office. They’ve stretched the definition of official action to cover whatever Trump says while president about something that happened a dozen or more years ago – long before he was president.

The lower courts have been nimble in agreeing that Trump’s legal argument on withholding his tax returns is kind of thin, very thin. Yet another test is pending before the Supreme Court — although the high court had already cleared the way for the release of the records to the district attorney for New York.

And now Trump, abetted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is rushing to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s third Supreme Court appointment in nearly four years – which would tilt the court to a decidedly 6-3 conservative majority for decades to come. (If Trump is reelected, he could possibly get three more Supreme Court appointments.)

Front and center in Trump’s legal tangles and the court appointment is the presidential election on Nov. 3, whose results may not be known for days or weeks because of counting delays brought on by the pandemic.

Trump needs the presidency and the White House to protect him from the oncoming posse. He thus appears to be deliberately agitating to undermine the election as a pathway of getting the issue before the Supreme Court and its newly created (he hopes) conservative majority. He must believe that this is his Maginot Line of protection. Revealed wisdom suggests that it is never wise to second guess a judge or a jury.

Keep in mind, though, that in the contested Florida vote-count in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush was handed the presidency by the Supreme Court after losing the popular vote and then winning the electoral college by one vote after the court awarded him the Florida election.

Al Gore would have been president if he had not challenged the Florida vote and taken the case to the Supreme Court.

Trump refuses to say whether he will relinquish the presidency if he loses. Trump appears to believe that he will retain the presidency – and remain beyond the reach of the law – if he takes the election results, one way or the other, to the Supreme Court and his newly created conservative majority. Factoid: It is 9.5 miles from New York’s Trump Tower to Rikers Island.


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Frank DeFilippo: Between Trump and Debtor’s Prison