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Trump Inc – a podcast series from ProPublica and WNYC – #45 – An Intimate Dinner with President Trump

08/05/2020

About the series

Podcasts are a good form for presenting the surreality of this era, Eric Umansky, an editor at ProPublica, told me recently. “You can capture the absurdity in ways that you can’t in text,” he said. The excellent investigative podcast that he works on, “Trump Inc.,” from WNYC and ProPublica, began in February and concludes next week. Its premise is at once straightforward and audacious: it asks big, specific questions about Donald Trump’s famously mysterious business dealings, including those concerning possible connections between his Presidency and his profits; investigates them; and encourages listeners to pitch in and help. It features several personable, savvy-sounding reporters: Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, of WNYC, and Jesse Eisinger and Heather Vogell, of ProPublica, and it has a collaborative spirit. Reporters from other outlets (including The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson) offer additional information and insights. One episode features David Fahrenthold, of the Washington Post, answering listener questions; another was inspired by a comment that Fahrenthold made about Trump suing local municipalities in which he had businesses; a listener tip resulted in a mini-episode about Trump commissioning golf-tee markers with the Presidential seal on them. Umansky told me that one “superfan” listener “went to the courthouse in Westchester to look up cases for us.” Everybody gets to be a detective. Or, as the show’s Web site puts it, “Help Us Dive Into the Swamp.” 

 

 

About this episode – An Intimate Dinner with President Trump

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman have attained notoriety for their parts in the Ukraine mess. They’re both Soviet-born U.S. citizens who worked closely with the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, serving as emissaries in the campaign to oust then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and press Ukraine’s government to investigate Joe Biden’s son. 

But Parnas and Fruman also exemplify the shattering of norms when it comes to the influence of big money in politics during the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Parnas and Fruman are not the first people that we’ve seen fit this mold of someone with deep foreign connections, who’s never given campaign contributions before, suddenly starts giving large amounts of political contributions and then shows up at exclusive events,” said Robert Maguire, the research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. But he says they can be a model for what to look for: political newcomers suddenly making big donations, often using an LLC to obscure their identity.

Parnas and Fruman now face federal criminal charges for, among other things, allegedly funneling foreign money into U.S. elections and trying to hide its source. (They’ve pleaded not guilty.)

The law is clear on this: “At the most basic level, one is not allowed to solicit, accept, or receive any foreign money in connection with a US election at the state, federal, or local level,” said Ellen Weintraub, a member of the Federal Election Commission. In practice, though, it’s perhaps easier than ever for foreign money to enter the American political system undetected

 

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