Is the battle to stop the Kavanaugh confirmation ongoing? Or really, is it over? No official admission of defeat has been issued by Senate Democrats or any of their allies. Yet there are many clues out there, and they all seem to be pointing in the same direction: “this is over.” Of the many clues, which one is the most definitive?
Here are some of candidates:
An early clue was the emergence of second and third accusers Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick. Could these two transparent frauds have been better selected if the only purpose was to undermine the potential credibility of the only potentially credible accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford? I mean, in case you might have been inclined to give an apparently damaged woman (Ford) the benefit of the doubt, and in case you might have thought it unlikely that there could be anyone out there so malicious and so overcome with hatred and anger for all things Republican that they would make up completely fake stories about old sexual assaults, now you know.
A second potentially key clue was when Dr. Ford’s story started to spring a new leak every few hours. She can’t come to Washington to testify because of her fear of flying? Not really. She built a second door to her house as an escape route because of anxiety stemming from the assault? Not so much. She never used her expertise to help a friend prepare for a polygraph test? Just kidding. Notes from therapy sessions are privileged when Republicans ask for them, but have previously been turned over to Democratic staff and to the Washington Post? How does that work? Since sharing the notes with the Post unquestionably waives any privilege, you can be forgiven for concluding that the refusal to let doubters see them can only mean that they would reveal major discrepancies in the story.
Or maybe the really important clue was when leading Democratic Senators started walking away from the Ford story and advancing newly-created reasons to oppose the nomination. Bernie Sanders wants Kavanaugh investigated for perjury (for admitting to underage beer drinking, but not to enough underage beer drinking). Diane Feinstein now thinks the real reason not to confirm Kavanaugh is that he lacks “judicial temperament” because he got angry about the accusations against him.
Those are all good candidates. But as usual, to find the best and most definitive candidate, you must look not to what is stated, but to what is not stated. I recommend looking to the front page of the print edition of today’s New York Times. And what will you find? You will find not one single word about the Kavanaugh confirmation. It’s completely gone. We’ve moved on!
So what’s the new thing? Of course, it’s a brand new attack on Trump. It’s splayed across all six columns of the top of the front page (four columns of pictures and two of text) — and then across all of pages A10, A11, A12, A13, A14, A15, A16 and A17. Wow! I have been getting Pravda for a good forty years and I can’t recall any single piece ever remotely approaching this one in length. (Sure, they have devoted that much space to one event, like maybe the World Trade Center attacks; but that would consist of many separate articles. This one is all one article.)
Clearly they have been working on this for months. Why publish today, with the Kavanaugh confirmation vote just a few days away at most, and this being your last chance to finally come up with the magic McGuffin to stop him? Now you understand. The magic McGuffin doesn’t exist. The Kavanaugh war is over.
Can you even guess what is the subject of the big new “exposé”? It’s Trump and taxes. Notice that I did not say “Trump’s taxes.” The headline in the print edition is “Trump Took Part in Suspect Schemes to Evade Tax Bills.” (In the online version it’s “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.”) Do you have the impression that this has something to do with taxes owed by President Trump, or maybe with his tax returns? Wrong! This is not about Trump’s personal taxes, nor about the taxes on his businesses, nor, as far as I can tell, about any tax return actually signed by President Trump. Apparently, they still don’t have any information on that. This story is instead about the tax maneuvers of Trump’s father Fred in transferring his wealth and his real estate business to his heirs, including Donald and his siblings. (Did you understand that from the headlines?) When they say that President Trump “took part in” or “engaged in” the “suspect schemes,” that does not mean that he signed the tax return, nor that he owed any taxes that were not paid, but apparently only that he received the money from his father. (For those who don’t know, all federal gift and estate taxes are the responsibility of the donor or the estate, not of the recipient.)
Words like “deception,” “obfuscation,” and “fraud” pervade this piece. Like this:
[T]ax experts briefed on The Times’s findings said the Trumps appeared to have done more than exploit legal loopholes. They said the conduct described here represented a pattern of deception and obfuscation, particularly about the value of Fred Trump’s real estate, that repeatedly prevented the I.R.S. from taxing large transfers of wealth to his children.
So it looks like “value” of assets is their big claim? To elaborate:
“The theme I see here through all of this is valuations: They play around with valuations in extreme ways,” said Lee-Ford Tritt, a University of Florida law professor and a leading expert in gift and estate tax law. “There are dramatic fluctuations depending on their purpose.”
Let’s have a for instance:
In an episode never before revealed, Mr. Trump and his siblings gained ownership of most of their father’s empire on Nov. 22, 1997, a year and a half before Fred Trump’s death. Critical to the complex transaction was the value put on the real estate. The lower its value, the lower the gift taxes. The Trumps dodged hundreds of millions in gift taxes by submitting tax returns that grossly undervalued the properties, claiming they were worth just $41.4 million. The same set of buildings would be sold off over the next decade for more than 16 times that amount.
Are you convinced? Of course, they don’t tell you specifically what buildings are at issue or what are their particular circumstances. But here are a few things I know. The years from 1997 to 2007 were a time of a tremendous increase in value of New York City real estate. This was particularly true for outer-borough rent-regulated apartment buildings — the main component of the Fred Trump real estate empire. Rent regulations were substantially eased in the early 90s, but the effect of that on values was only beginning to be felt by 1997. Also just beginning to affect values by 1997 were the dramatic Giuliani-era reductions in crime.
I myself own interests in two pieces of New York City real estate, one purchased in the early 90s, and the other in the mid-90s. Both have increased in value by well more than a factor of ten. Do I find something inherently fraudulent in a sixteen-fold increase in value in the decade 1997 - 2007 (remembering that 2007 was immediately before the crash and recession)? I do not.
Here are some other things I know. A gift tax return for a $41 million gift of real estate based entirely on an appraisal has a 100% chance of being audited by the IRS. It also would show up accompanied by a check in excess of $20 million. This is not something that just slips by them. With 100% certainty, the IRS looked at this and signed off. Did they maybe think about challenging the valuations? They could entirely well have done that. On the other hand, they could have asked another appraiser and the valuations might have come in lower; or, alternatively, if another appraisal came in substantially higher and they demanded a pile more money, Fred could have said, forget it, I won’t give the kids the buildings, and you can just wait until I die, which could be 20 years from now. (As it happened, Fred died less than 2 years later, but who knew?) And don’t forget that Bill Clinton was the President. Are you starting to understand now why the Trumps gave so much money to the Clintons? Somehow that issue never gets mentioned in this article.
Anyway, the whole thing looks like a big nothing burger to me. Maybe one of you readers can go through this whole thing (very difficult to do and maintain your sanity) and find some instance where it looks like Pravda has something more than just some friendly law professor to throw around words like “deception” and “obfuscation” in circumstances where those words clearly do not apply. But I think I have focused on the single biggest supposed “gotcha” in the article, and it is a total bust.
Meanwhile, I predict 55 votes to confirm Kavanaugh. Anyone want to start a pool?