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Trump’s tall tales finally caught up with him

His father, Fred Trump, had built a real estate empire in Brooklyn and Queens with far more modest upscale touches, like an extra closet and garage under every row house. Now Donald Trump was taking this idea to the next level, using a number of tricks (renumbered floors, bigger ballroom) to grab attention and boost profits. People who had balked at paying $20 a night to stay at the Grand Hyatt’s predecessor were thrilled to shell out many times that amount to stay in essentially the same building once it was glass-encased and touted as the ultimate. At Trump Tower, residents paid high prices for condos and seemed unaware that their view was no better than that available from adjacent buildings on floors that were the same height but labeled with numbers nine digits lower. They wanted to partake in Trump’s garish version of super luxury and glamour, and if the spectacular combination of pink marble, mirrors and shiny brass on offer at Trump Tower was perhaps a little over the top, all the better.

The precariousness of the fortune that Donald Trump supposedly made would manifest itself in a series of corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s, but the fallout for Trump himself was relatively minor. He had turned the Trump brand into something perceived to add such value that the banks he owed nearly a billion dollars let him walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist. He was a world of heads, I win, tails, you lose, and he was an expert. With the providential premiere of the television show “The Apprentice” in 2004, he regained his reputation as a business genius in living rooms across the country. It was initially a smashing ratings hit, but in typical hyperbolic fashion, Trump said it was the best show on television for years. even when it didn’t make the top 20. Over the next decade, he developed the political tricks and gimmicks (challenging Obama’s citizenship, accusing Mexican immigrants of being rapists, promising to appoint anti-abortion Supreme Court justices) that got him into the White House.

But the falsehoods that had worked to sell condominiums and attract bank loans worked less well in Washington. Redrawing a weather map with a black Sharpie, promoting unproven remedies for Covid victims, and pressuring Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to investigate Biden’s son in exchange for weapons they had already appropriated created problems rather than solutions. A vast federal bureaucracy had replaced the small, intensely loyal staff Trump had controlled as a real estate developer, and the same media outlets that had enabled his rise to stardom were subjecting him to unrelenting scrutiny.

What had been passed off as exaggerations, misstatements, or even jokes (Trump just being Trump) was exposed as fabrications, and he responded with mockery, malicious accusations, and an all-out assault on the truth. Anyone who disagreed with him was a loser; the press coverage that questioned his actions was fake news. Disruption, controversy, and grievance were what he was selling now, and his salesman’s instincts were even more finely tuned. In effect, he had undermined the very idea of ​​truth, replacing it with what his senior White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, called “alternative facts.”

In the process, what had once been his superpower, hyperbole, crossed the line from what Trump called “truth” and Stephen Colbert might have described as “truth” to outright lies. Financial statements used for loans and appraisals claimed his 11,000-square-foot apartment was 30,000 square feet and worth a staggering $327 million, nearly $100 million more than the most expensive condo sale in New York history; that Mar-a-Lago and other properties could be subdivided into McMansions despite conservation easements; and that cash controlled by a business partner was his. Such actions were not innocent exaggerations; They were violations of the law.

And finally, even though Trump eschewed emails, text messages and paper documents, there was evidence, plenty of it. Citing more than 65 witnesses, millions of documents, and a decade of inaccurate annual financial statements containing more than 200 grossly misleading assessments, Attorney General James filed a civil lawsuit in state court and sent a criminal referral to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. and tax fraud. referral to the IRS.

When I was writing my biography of the Trump family, I interviewed a real estate attorney named Eugene Morris who had worked for both Donald Trump and his father. Morris’s first cousin was the notorious political mediator Roy Cohn, who served as Donald Trump’s lawyer and mentor, and Morris told me that the younger Trump seemed particularly impressed by Cohn’s ability to avoid prison despite being indicted. of tax fraud. Donald Trump no doubt expects the same fate, but he must be careful what he wishes for. James filed a lawsuit in civil court, which cannot sentence a defendant to jail, but if he wins, he will demand repayment of the $250 million he allegedly pocketed through fraud and that he and his children cannot do business in New York permanently. The Trump Organization would be devastated, but in an O. Henry twist, Trump and his children would actually be sharing in what could be seen as the equivalent of Cohn’s ultimate fate, being disbarred two months before he died.

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