Pardon the Crime

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S1: The following recording may contain explicit language I can’t get more explicit than May with literal say it may. It’s Tuesday, February 18th, twenty twenty from Slate. It’s the gist. I’m Mike PESCA. Over the next few days and in fact, you’ve been listening over the last few.

S2: I have been critiquing the critiques of one Michael Bloomberg. Why am I a huge Bloomberg fan? I did live in this city for 12 years. I thought he did a good job. I understand that he disquiet about a guy who’s spending that much in a way that candidates don’t usually spend.

S1: But I have to say, it’s not because I’m pro or anti Michael Bloomberg that I’m critiquing the critiques. I’m just motivated by pointing out and critiquing bad critiques, critiquing bad critiques. That’s kind of my thing. If I have a belief system, it’s that in general, arguments should be sound, factual and accurate. An inaccurate argument in service of what someone says is a noble goal, not acceptable. Or at least I don’t accept them. I find it too hard. I find it in fact epistemological impossible to determine when are the arguments or the cause is so good that the process by which we arrive at the conclusion that these are the right causes. That process can be totally excuse for sloppiness or inaccuracy or bad faith or purposefully misleading the audience in order to get to this great end result. I guess I’m further down the food chain of morality than a lot of people who are out there arguing. Because I don’t know. They either don’t have critical facilities or I think it’s more likely that many of them think they have such a good cause that it’s okay to truncate a clip this way or to selectively edit an audio file that way or to point to an unrepresentative statement and say, Aha. That stands for the whole. They also must be pretty secure in knowing that if they’re ever caught or found out in the process of turning a blind eye to inaccuracy that the average reader or listener won’t conclude. Oh, maybe the overall point isn’t so good that you have to be inaccurate in order to get there anyway. I am a journalist. I’m not an activist, although sentiments that used to just be Derek Gore. All of this in the specific is a kind of big windup to talk about Michael Bloomberg and his supposed A.I. Muslim beliefs. It is true. As mayor, the Bloomberg administration surveilled dozens, if not hundreds of mosques and Muslim Americans. He did authorize the surveillance. The courts ruled against him. But I still say that is a policy that you may disagree with. I think that especially towards the end, when it was clear that it wasn’t working, we should all disagree with, but it wasn’t motivated by anti-Muslim animus. Why? What’s the big deal?

S3: Well, there’s something about calling person racist and sexist and anti-Muslim that grates or at least I worry that that is all the information that the average voter who doesn’t know the full story might get. So here’s a little more of the big picture. And this was when there was this controversy called the Ground Zero Mosque, which wasn’t at ground zero. And it wasn’t technically a mosque. It was a community center. But Muslim Americans wanted to build this near ground zero and many on the far right. And then the not so far right. And then the Fox affiliated. And then people who have become Trump Maestas, they objected to this. There was a kerfuffle at the time. And there was Bloomberg, a man supposedly motivated by anti-Muslim animus right in the middle of it. And what he was saying was, in a word, perfect. It was perfect. He led the city perfectly and said perfectly correct things during this time. I dug up a tape of him speaking on Governors Island. It was a windy August day in 2010. There’s some of what he said.

S4: He would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans. If we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan, let’s not forget that Muslims among those murdered on 9/11 and our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans, we wouldn’t be crying and playing into our enemies hands. We want to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, caved.

S5: Popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

S1: Now, those are his words. And you could say, well, monitoring Muslim community centers, other Muslim community centers. That’s his deeds. And judge a man by his deeds, not his words. And I get that. But I also think that his overall policy was consistent with someone who was asked to lead a city months after the 9/11 attacks and had to get it right. The penalty for getting it wrong couldn’t have been more stark. And we were facing an enemy that we didn’t even understand or know that was in many ways invisible to us. The enemy, by the way, was never Islam. He never thought it was Islam. He thought it was radical Islam. And he did what he could to find out if radical Islam had taken root in his city. And I think that that’s a reasonable inquiry to engage in how he did it and the duration of how they did it. Well, that went too far. And I think the courts agree. Also, he hasn’t really fully apologized for it. And I think he should. But again, putting this all together, putting together his attitudes towards Muslims, I find that many commentators are now trying to judge the inner workings of his mind or soul and coming to conclusions like he is anti-Muslim. And when I see headlines like In the Week magazine or online magazine, the headline quote, Mike Bloomberg is not the lesser of two evils, talking about how he’s no different from Donald Trump among in many ways, his attitudes towards Muslim-Americans. I can’t believe it. I simply can’t believe it. Because here rememberthe like I need to remind you, this is Donald Trump. I think Islam hates us. And here this is Michael Bloomberg.

S6: It’s not politics as far as I’m concerned. This is a basic fundamental right granted by the constitution. And it is one of the things that differentiates America. Somebody said to me recently, you know, you can’t build a church in some other countries and yet they want to build a mosque there. I don’t know who they are, but let me tell you. That’s right. That is the difference. That’s something you should think about before you go to bed. You can have your religious organization.

S3: You want to say Bernie or Biden or anyone running for the nomination is your preferred candidate specifically when it comes to Muslim issues? That makes sense to me. But saying that Bloomberg is no better than Trump. Have we lost our minds? And when you make that case, that weak case, the weak, you’re being ridiculous anyway. Watch this space for more reluctant defenses of not necessarily just Michael Bloomberg, but probably also Michael Bloomberg on the show today. I shpiel about the beneficiaries of Trump’s latest pardons from Louds to scoundrel’s. There’s someone for everyone. But first, the book is American Oligarchs. But it’s not about any Bloombergs because the subtitle is The Kushner’s, The Trumps and the Marriage of Money and Power.

S1: Andrew Bernstine is back to talk about some of the less savory characters affiliated with those two clans.

S3: Andrew Burnstein, author of American Oligarchs The Christians, the Trumps and the Marriage Money in Power is Back. Last time she was on, we talk mostly about Trump and his dealings in his family. But now let’s expand the net, if you will, and talk about characters like, well, Michael Cohen, when Michael Cohen struck a deal with prosecutors, he gave over some information, but it seems not all. So I started by asking Andrea, what else do investigators want that Michael Cohen is not giving them?

S7: There were many, many, many questionable. Michael Cohen, business deals that still remain a mystery. And Michael Cohen did not cooperate fully with the southern district of New York. The prosecutors that Twitty pled guilty to making false statements to a bank. The Stormy Daniels case. He didn’t cooperate with them, which means he would have to go into a room and say here all of the crimes I might have ever committed. He didn’t do that. There is a variety of speculations as to why he was protecting his wife was one of them. Another one was he want a book deal and he thought that would be bad for the book deal.

S8: But in an uncertain future, clawbacks. Son of Sam law. It’s something like that. I mean, it’s unclear if it would help sell.

S7: It’s it’s really unclear to me exactly what that was, although that has been mentioned. But so all of that we don’t know. But what we do know is he never made full disclosure and they were angry about it when he went in for his sentencing. The prosecutors in the southern district of New York were quite clear. Michael Cohen is not a cooperating witness. He didn’t tell us everything that he did. We don’t think he should get a benefit from having pleaded guilty. So we don’t know. A lot of those things will be likely lost to history, especially given the current state of the Justice Department, which is, you know, Bill Bar putting his thumb on the scales. pro-Trump I mean, the Justice Department intervened in the lawsuit, Trump v. Vance. So this is the case where the Manhattan district attorney is trying to investigate Trump’s business from before he was president. And it stems from the Stormy Daniels case, because in that they paid Michael Cohen this, quote unquote, retainer fee. And you’re not allowed to book something as a retainer fee if it’s not a retainer fee. That is a felony in the state of New York. So they’re investigating that. And in the course of investigating that, Trump sued to prevent them. And Trump’s lawyers said a sitting president cannot be investigated, even investigated by a local prosecutor. That’s their position. OK. And the Justice Department weighed in on their side. So the Justice Department position is not only can a sitting president not be indicted. The Justice Department position is a sitting president can’t be investigated by anyone so long as he’s president. So the implications of that are staggering. I mean, the impeachment acquittal is not the end of the line. There is this court case that is coming to the U.S. Supreme Court in March. And that really is the end of consequences. If the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s side and says nope, can investigate him because then he theoretically could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue under the law and not be investigated. So long as he’s president, so long as he’s president.

S1: But that is the exact parameters of the case. So afterwards.

S7: Right. The thing is, is that, you know, if you commit a homicide, you can be investigated when you are no longer president. Yes. But there are many things you can do that would be subject to a statute of limitations. Right. And this was one of the arguments of the Manhattan D.A. is that if the president is president through 2024, many of the crimes that they are investigating would have expired and then he would escape consequences.

S1: We haven’t talked about the Kushner’s. There’s so much talk about. Let’s just focus on 6-6-6 Fifth Avenue. Was this, what, the worst real estate deal when they bought it in the history of America?

S8: So it depends on what you want out of a real estate deal. Right. And I want to profit. Let’s say we’re OK if you buy. To by a profit if you’re motivated by a profit motive.

S7: It was not a successful release, a hotel. What was the price paid $1.8 billion, which was market raider. Well, that building the previous sale had been, I think, for five hundred million, maybe half a decade earlier. So it was a lot of money. I mean, you know, New York real estate was going up in price. It was right before it crashed. So it was rapidly increasing. But one of the things that I reported is that Charlie Kushner told people, I want to buy a building between 1 and 2 billion dollars. It’s an unusual way to purchase a building. Normally you say, okay, I want to buy a building in this location.

S8: So he wanted to know when I go on Zillow, sometimes they do the pro search terms, right. That’s where you want if you want to just buy a billion, you go anywhere.

S7: Well, he wanted to buy a building to make a statement. And the statement was so he was just getting out of prison. As a matter of fact, some this deal was negotiated while he was in a halfway house in Newark, a call. And he wanted to make a statement that he had arrived in Manhattan, that he wasn’t this Jersey real estate developer, but that he was in Manhattan, real estate guy who was buying this big building on Fifth Avenue. Who’s that remind you of near MoMA? Exactly. Not being a dude from Queens. And that he wanted to send the message back to Chris Christie, who had prosecuted him in New Jersey. I don’t need you. Chris Christie was a at that time a prosecutor with a political future. And so if your category if your criteria for success is. Yeah. Bought a big building and made a statement. They did do that. Now the market crashed. They had to refinance it. They a lot of people that were there had done deals with them around the initial purchase. Lost money. And basically they had to take it. They had to take their losses, haircuts, as they call it, in the business. And Jared Kushner was involved with the refinancing and really through the skin of their teeth, they get it done. They get the refinancing done in 2011. It’s a very difficult refinancing. And the lesson that Jared Kushner took from that is not I should be more cautious. It was look, I can take as much risk as I want because somebody else will pay. And that became the template for not only his real estate deals, but then he went on to join Donald Trump’s political campaign as a very senior figure with a similar attitude.

S9: But it was refinance, but it still wasn’t a comfortable financial situation. And Kushner comes into office, as it were, still owning this white elephant of a building that pigs don’t think he’s ever going to be able to unload.

S7: Right. Exactly. And the. Presidency sort of has been complicated for the Kushner family business. So he had they had a balloon debt. They had a billion dollars of debt coming due during the early part of the Trump presidency. And at first it looks like all these foreign investors are going to be interested in onbut that the Chinese insurance company makes an offer and they start talking about a $4 billion deal. And there’s a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. And the deal is Obama sealed and then it becomes public. And there’s criticism because it’s obvious that the Chinese government, by being willing to pay four billion dollars to the company of the son in law of the president, is seeking to buy the building for the same reason that the Kushner’s did, which is not for how much money it’s going to make them, but how much status it’s going to win them. And so that deal falls apart. And there comes this very tumultuous period where they’re trying to refinance it in a meaning with a lot of people. And they meet with Cutter. They meet with other people around the world. They start to have trouble because suddenly these people who want to buy the access are worried that with the access is going to come a lot of scrutiny. And that’s actually not going to help them.

S8: And also, maybe holding not worth the purchase price is that they work well. They got a lot of money. I mean, it’s sort of you know, it’s like, again, it’s sort of what you’re seeking.

S7: But I think one of the complexities of the cutter situation is that they were in talks with the kushnir companies around the time of the cutter embargo. And there were certainly people that interpreted Jared Kushner support of that embargo as retaliation. Was it retaliation? We have no way of knowing. But that’s the complexity of having Jared Kushner involved in his family company still financially tied to it. At the same time, he has this incredibly powerful position in the White House.

S9: So what happened with 6-6-6 was that Brookfield bought it and they’re a huge developer, bought Brookfield is owned, partially owned, majority owned by the Sovereign Wealth Fund of.

S7: Right. So I did a lot of reporting on this. And I mean, it looks to me like there were could’ve been legitimate motivations all around the company that bought it. Felt like we got a great deal. We got we got a great price for this building and we’re gonna be able to make money for it. And we actually have a plan to do that. So but I think the problem is, is that, you know, the sort of original sin here is that Jared Kushner did not fully divest from his company. So that everything he does, especially in this administration, where his father in law is so blatant about mixing business and personal can be interpreted as that. And that is the problem, because you have people coming from all of these countries around the world where that’s the way you do business. So how else are they to see how Jared Kushner treats them?

S9: But just to lay this out, Brookfield is owned by katamari book. Brookfield is its cartel, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Qatar.

S7: There is a there is a Gortari piece of Brookfield. Yeah. But to the best of my reporting, to the best of how I’ve been able to track it down. They were not involved in the purchase of 6/6.

S9: That seems very fair. And furthermore, I always I never could mentally assemble the through-line of what Kushner’s motivation might be, because we know on the one hand he does a lot of deals with m.b.a.s and he’s maybe friends with m.b.a.s or maybe m.b.a.s of Saudi Arabia has some dirt on him like he does with Bezos and a phone, whoknows?

S1: Anyway, he’s in good with m.b.a.s m.b.a.s his sworn enemy or the Khatami’s. So why is he doing Drei with the Khatami’s if he wants to curry favor with the Saudis anyway? And then the connection through the guitars is this very legitimate wealthy company from Canada, Brookfield. So I never could. It wasn’t as simple as some of these other.

S7: No, I mean he wanted to. It wasn’t as simple and I really did report it out. And I mean, I think that you can’t fault people for asking questions, but because a lot of times in the Trump administration. There actually are direct lines between business deals and public actions. But in this Gwon case, it does seem like the building. I mean, they still on the underlying land, but they basically are out of 6-6-6 Fifth Avenue, I mean, out of the ownership structure and consider that they bought it for 1.8 billion dollars and didn’t make a huge profit that a instead of real absolute real estate terms would not be judged as a success. Right.

S1: And they didn’t want it changed to 660 to get away from this attack.

S7: They didn’t want to change it to 660. They wanted. They had this whole model that Zaha Hadid was going to do an 80 storey building. You right. A rocket ship coming out of an opera house. And they were marketing it around. I mean, one of the things that I learned was that during the campaign, as Trump was winning primaries. Jared Kushner was going to potential investors. Each time that would be a primary win. He would. Feel empowered to go ask more and more people for money and you know, there’s a chapter in a book called The Infomercial, which is how Michael Cohen described the campaign. And I sort of trace all of the ways that Trump and the people around Trump are trying to monetize the campaign. One of those people was Vladimir Putin. And the way he was trying to monetize the campaign was by getting rid of sanctions. So that would be a way for him and Russia to make more money if Trump won.

S1: Andrea Bernstine is the host of Trump Inc. From WNYC and the author of American Oligarchs The Kushner’s, The Trumps and the Marriage of Money and Power.

S10: Thanks for coming by. Thank you so much.

S3: And now the schpiel. A few presidential pardons came down today and I came down. I mean, drag down our democracy further than it’s been done. Drug one was Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois governor, found guilty of a case related to political fraud. Then there was Eddie debartolo Jr., former chairman of the San Francisco forty nine ers who pled guilty to a charge related to bribery. Bernie Kerik, former New York City police commissioner, convicted of tax fraud, Michael Milken. He was corrupt in business and he was convicted for that sort of fraud. That conviction is still on. The books should be said that he’s rehabbed his image a little bit with philanthropy. We should say the Constitution has no definition of what warrants an acceptable or unacceptable pardon. In fact, it gives the president a king like power to pardon. And for years, legal experts have debated, well, what criteria should be met for a presidential pardon? But on this quartet of men convicted of tax fraud, political corruption, bribery and securities fraud, Trump is articulating a clear principle of why he issues pardons. And that is, quote, well, nothing worse than I’ve done. With the exception of Milken, who really did warp markets to make hundreds of millions of dollars, these pardons are literally all for actions that Trump himself has undertaken. But worse, he benefited from Fred Trump’s manipulation of estate tax laws. That’s been amply documented. That’s far worse than Bernie Kerik’s tax misdeeds. Blagojevich is, quote unquote, selling of Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. Definitely the sort of thing Trump would do. In fact, he’d do it right on Twitter or in front of the cameras. And thereby everyone would say, well, we can’t really convict him or charge him with that.

S1: Eddie debartolo failed to disclose that he paid a bribe to the governor of Louisiana to get a casino license. Trump failed to disclose a bribe to the Iranian National Guard to build a hotel in Baku. What’s worse, Trump not only engages in what experts deem violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He’s a vocal proponent of legalizing bribery. In 2012, he was on CNBC. He called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act a horrible law. And because of it, he said the world was laughing at us and said of bribery.

S11: Every other country in the world is doing it. We’re not allowed to.

S3: So again, his criteria. Mom, nothing worse than I’ve ever done. debartolo and Kerik. By the way, have exhibited a loathsome this that transcends the merely illegal. In 1992, a cocktail waitress named Gina Barras was attacked and sexually assaulted. She alleged by debartolo at a party in his house that was backed by a detailed police report. But the district attorney at the time said, quote, He felt he couldn’t win conviction despite evidence that could support the allegation, such as the woman’s torn pantyhose and underwear and some bruises. That was from the Deseret News report. At the time, debartolo didn’t admit guilty, did pay her $200000. Then there is Bernie Kerik strap in. Former New York City police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani and Oprah Book Club Selectees. Actually, after leaving the force, Kerik worked for Giuliani and Associates to train the Iraqi police force. If you follow the news about the Iraqi police force, you know that that did not go well, although maybe in a way, Kerik does have a legacy, according to a recent survey by Transparency International. A third of all Iraqis say they’ve personally bribed an Iraqi police officer. Killed, by the way, told The New York Times that he prepared for this job by watching A&E network documentaries on Saddam Hussein. He was not jailed for that. He was sentenced and served prison time for tax evasion and also for lying to White House officials, if you remember. Well, again, let’s just also make this out. If you talk about lying to White House officials, Trump does that all the time. But remember what happened? Kerik was tapped to maybe be George W. Bush’s homeland security administrator. But then he lied about having an undocumented housekeeper. And from that lie, other lies unravelled. And it turns out that New York City’s former top cop had to cop a play. But the play about tax evasion and some bribery and a Staten Island dirt company that we’re gonna get into. Stan Hollander company. That was what he was convicted for. What he wasn’t convicted for is even better during his tenure as interior minister of Iraq. Oh, my God. Kerik secretly accepted a bribe or it was more genteel. He described a $250000 interest free loan from an Israeli billionaire who did business with the governments of Iraq, Israel and the U.S.. This guy’s name was eaten. WERTHEIMER When Kerik left his job in the police department. He gave out these authentic seeming golden blue badges that declared the recipients honorary police commissioners. Guess who got one of those eaten? WERTHEIMER Also receiving one of, quote, The New York Times was Judith Reagan. Then Mr. Kerik’s lover and publisher, the real estate developer, Steven C. Wycoff, who paid more than two hundred thirty six thousand dollars in rent for Mr. Kerik, also received one of the badges. Well, well, his lover. But he and his lover. Yes, Judith Regan. Remember Judith Regan? She was a publisher. She had a show on Fox. She was conducting an extramarital affair with Kerik. Well, let’s be very clear. For him, it was an extramarital affair. For her, it wasn’t. But the problem for the lovers was that it was actually an extra, extra marital affair for Kerik. He actually had a second girlfriend in addition to his wife in New Jersey. And that second girlfriend found out about Judith Regan. Or they found out about each other. And the jig was up. They met Kerik and Reagan in an apartment, an apartment that was also tainted with patriotic glory because it’s right next to the World Trade Center rubble in a building owned by a guy named Anthony Bergamo. Luckily for Kerik, Bergamo was this big police fan, said to be fascinated by police work. So when Kerik, quote, went to Bergamo ask. For an apartment for emergency service workers, according to New York magazine, Bergamo agreed. So Kerik takes his apartment meant for 9/11 responders, uses it as his love den for Judith Regan. Now, to be fair. Kerik or someone for Kerik started paying below market rents for the apartment. But maybe that was maybe he was able to afford it because Steven C. Wycoff, remember that guy who got one of those fake police badges? He also paid Bernie Kerik’s rent for his Upper East Side apartment. All right. Tabloid headlines, Bookham top cop stops. Foxy Fox host Bernie gets Rancho with Judy book honcho. I love those tabloids. In another weird detail that I saw just last week before Kerik was even in the news for any real reason. There’s this really bizarre case about this con man, criminal guy who took up residence in his daughter’s college dorm room and turned her friends into prostitutes. He essentially became a cult leader and turned a couple into prostitutes and stole their money. That guy was the best man at Bernie Kerik’s wedding. Of course, Kerik said he and the guy had a falling out because Kerik is, of course, at heart a cop who says his out when someone is no good. Oh, no, that’s not why. It’s because the sex called con man guy testified against Kerik in a bribery case. That case involved Kerik receiving a quarter of a million dollar home renovations from a pair of mobbed up brothers who came to investigators attention. And I just I. The story winds around to allow for this detail, which is my favorite detail that I’ve seen in a week. These guys who built a free, I don’t know, home extension for Bernie Kerik, including a marble staircase, and maybe weren’t prosecuted by Bernie Kerik because they gave him $250000 a free home repair. These brothers first came to prosecutors attention because of a suspicious purchase of a durch transfer station on Staten Island bought from the brother in law of Sammy The Bull Gravano. If you’re not steeped in New York murky mob lingo, just know that is a quadruple word. Score on shady as hell underworld scrabble. This is who Trump pardoned. Tax cheat first responder cheat feather Néstor mobbed up sex cult adjacent bribe taking dipshit tough guy blowhard durch transfer station.

S1: Yes, it’s called the Oval Office.

S12: And that’s it for today’s show. Priscilla Lobby, the just associate producer, played tambourine in the 1970s outfit, the Staten Island Dirt Transfer Station. You remember their hits. Dirty Woman I’m Gonna Roam Till I Love Them. Fondly remembered. To this day, Daniel Shrader, just producer, once tried to bribe the former governor of Rhode Island to get a license for riverboat gambling, only to be told where out of rivers you need top your offer. The gist After my time at the Staten Island Dirt Company, I founded the Massapequa Soil Concern. Was it a front organization for Frankie Tulips? Who Palani? I reject the accusation as a perfectly legitimate business man who pre-death to Peru. And thanks for Lizanne.