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Another 'Russiagate' Like Trump Scandal Which Isn't One

Published: December 21, 2020
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Some of the 'Russiagate' fanatics dream of indicting U.S. President Donald Trump as soon as he leaves his office. But they never explain what crime he should be indicted for. What did he actually do wrong?

Yes, he killed foreigners. But no U.S. president will ever be indicted for that. It is seen as a part of the job. Trump may have old tax issues. But those are usually solved by negotiating about the amount of money in question. As soon as the negotiated amount is paid such cases get closed.

But now the Russiagaters have new hope. There is a new Trump scandal!

Russiagaters on Twitter are in an uproar about a story the Business Insider broke today:

EXCLUSIVE: Jared Kushner helped create a Trump campaign shell company that secretly paid the president's family members and spent $617 million in reelection cash, a source tells Insider

The story seems well researched but is carefully arranged to put Trump and his family into a bad light.

The first graphs:

President Donald Trump's most powerful advisor, Jared Kushner, approved the creation of a campaign shell company that secretly paid the president's family members and spent almost half of the campaign's $1.26 billion war chest, a person familiar with the operation told Insider.

The operation acted almost like a campaign within a campaign. It paid some of Trump's top advisors and family members while shielding financial and operational details from public scrutiny.

When Kushner and others created the company in April 2018, they picked Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump, to become its president, Vice President Mike Pence's nephew John Pence as its vice president, and Trump campaign CFO Sean Dollman as its treasurer and secretary, the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.
The shell company — incorporated as American Made Media Consultants Corporation and American Made Media Consultants LLC — allowed Trump's campaign to skirt federally mandated disclosures. The tactic could attract scrutiny from federal election regulators.

While that sounds like Trump pushed campaign money into the private pockets of his family there is no evidence in the story that he or his family did so.

There are in fact several exculpatory details in the different parts of the long story. When one puts those into chronological order the real story comes to light:

1. Trump wanted to put Brad Parscale, the successful digital media manager of his 2016 campaign, into the campaign lead:

In February 2018, Trump and Kushner elevated Parscale, the digital communication mastermind of Trump's 2016 election victory, to campaign manager.

2. But Parscale was a known grifter who had enriched himself by channeling campaign advertising money through a company he owned:

American Made Media Consultants was born out of a different scandal: rampant accusations that Parscale had been enriching himself off of Trump's reelection bid.

3. Trump asked his lawyers to come up with a construct that would keep Parscale away from the campaign money used to buy media time. That budget item is usually the biggest expense for any campaigns and 'private commissions' for media buys are not unusual. The lawyers came up with a good solution that had earlier been used by another campaigns:

One month later, a small team of campaign staff met with Trump's coterie of lawyers at the Jones Day law firm, the person familiar with the founding of AMMC said. The Jones Day lawyers, some of whom had worked on Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, said they had an idea for Parscale.

Romney had relied on a pass-through company, American Rambler, to make the most expensive purchases of his campaign: TV ads.

Ben Ginsberg — a Republican superlawyer who recently retired from Jones Day, the Trump campaign's preferred law firm — suggested Parscale and his team try the same. One month later, Kushner signed off on a plan to have Trump's family and campaign staff run the shell company, the person familiar with AMMC's operations said. American Made Media Consultants was formally incorporated on April 18, 2018, according to Delaware incorporations records.

To keep Parscale and other grifter away from the company Trump and Pence put family members onto its board. They were not paid:

"Lara Trump and John Pence resigned from the AMMC board in October 2019 to focus solely on their campaign activities, however, there was never any ethical or legal reason why they could not serve on the board in the first place. John and Lara were not compensated by AMMC for their service as board members," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told Insider on Friday.

4. As planned the company bundled all media buys for the Trump campaign:

Some of Trump's own campaign leaders even seemed stumped by the AMMC arrangement. Generally, they knew that AMMC was being used to buy pro-Trump TV, radio, and digital advertising and pay for other media.

5. The bundled buys of media time and the exclusion of Parscale's 'private commissions' led to less expenses:

The person familiar with AMMC said the rates its vendors charged the Trump campaign were often cheaper than what an outside political firm would have demanded.

The story, when seen as above, makes sense and is far from scandalous.

While there may have been illegal moves of money through AMMC there is nothing available in the story that would support such a claim. I for one see no legal problem in what the campaign did. The construct may have muddled reporting issues under campaign law. But that is a very minor transgression no one really cares about.

The Trump family members have long known that everything they are doing can (and will) come out. In the hostile Washington environment any misstep they would make would certainly be used against them. That is why believe that they did not illegally ask for or take any money from the campaign. The risk, especially before the election,  would simply have been too high.

Those who predicted that this or that Russiagate story would soon, anytime, lead to Trump's indictment have been disappointed. Now they have a new 'scandal' they can be OUTRAGED about. 'The walls are coming in' and any day now Trump will be led to prison.

Unfortunately for them this story will, like all others, just flame out.  

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