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A collaboration with WNYC’s Trump, Inc. podcast.
On April 30, 2018, nine top executives from T-Mobile checked in to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., with their names on a list of VIP arrivals. They landed in Washington at a critical moment: Just the day before, T-Mobile had announced plans for a merger with Sprint. To complete the deal, the company needed approval from the Justice Department, one block away on Pennsylvania Avenue. Hanging out in the lobby in his trademark hot-pink-and-black T-Mobile hoodie, then CEO John Legere was instantly recognizable to hotel guests. His company wasn’t just patronizing the president’s hotel. It was advertising that it was doing so.
That evening, in a closed-door suite just off the hotel lobby, a small group of political donors got to have dinner with the president of the United States. The guests included a steel magnate, who complained to the president about rules limiting the number of hours a trucker could be on the road, and a property developer, who suggested holding the next summit with Kim Jong-un at a site he had built near Seoul.
Also in the mix were two then-obscure businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. They had secured an invite to the dinner after promising a $325,000 donation to a Trump-aligned super-PAC. Like the other guests, they came with an agenda. Parnas and Fruman wanted to build an energy business in Ukraine but felt the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch, stood in their way. Parnas fed the president a fabrication that was sure to get his attention: that Yovanovitch was an anti-Trumper. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s going to get impeached,’ ” Parnas told the president. Trump was enraged.
Parnas and Fruman and the T-Mobile executives were pulling the same lever that night. And they all got results. T-Mobile’s merger was later approved, and Ambassador Yovanovitch was abruptly removed from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev. Later, Parnas and Fruman were indicted on a campaign-finance-violations charge (they had concealed the origins of their super-PAC donation) and were arrested with one-way tickets to Vienna in hand. (They have pleaded not guilty and face trial in 2021.) Trump claimed he did not know them.
This is the Washington Trump has built these past four years, where people who patronize Trump businesses can expect preferential treatment, where a deputy secretary can oversee a bailout that benefits his family’s company, where administration officials fly in private jets paid for by the public — and where top government officials don’t bother to divest from industries whose policies they oversee.
It started at the top, of course. Just nine days before his inauguration, Trump held his first news conference as president-elect. Presiding over a table with towering stacks of folders, Trump’s lawyer suggested there would be a “wall” between Trump’s business and his presidency, even though Trump himself made it quite clear that he would not be divesting. “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president,” Trump said. “I could run the Trump Organization, great, great company, and I could run the company — the country,” he added. “I’d do a very, very good job, but I don’t want to do that.”
Trump never separated himself from his company in any meaningful way. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, also didn’t fully divest from their business interests. The couple made tens of millions of dollars from an array of limited-liability companies while also serving in the White House. Trump’s Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, pledged to Congress that he would largely sell off his assets, then took dozens of meetings with executives to whose companies he had personal financial ties. Others did divest, but then proceeded to use their agency budgets as their personal piggy banks.
Friends, donors, and hangers-on also thrived. Top GOP financier Elliott Broidy leveraged his fundraising into access, including a meeting in the Oval Office. Broidy attempted to use that access as a calling card with foreign officials from whom he sought security contracts.
Like several other beneficiaries of Trump’s generosity, Broidy eventually found himself in legal trouble, pleading guilty to violating foreign-lobbying laws on behalf of Malaysian and Chinese clients. But many Trump affiliates benefited in ways that are perfectly legal. Attorney William S. Consovoy, who argued before an appeals court last fall that Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and be shielded from all consequences (the judges were unpersuaded), brought in $2 million from the RNC and Trump-campaign committees. Others sought the ultimate benefit: freedom. Roger Stone, who would not turn on Trump despite the threat of jail time, was one of many Trump loyalists and allies to receive clemency from the president.
To be sure, a lot of people found ways to benefit from Trump’s time in office: journalists, progressive nonprofits, high earners — Trump donors or not. But Trump profiteers went far beyond what used to count as standard-issue Washington swampiness. New York partnered with WNYC’s Trump, Inc. podcast to identify 51 such insiders, whose unprecedented ability to gain from the Trump presidency will go down in history. Their schemes became ever more brazen these past four years, even as their goals shifted. The initial grifts tended to be strictly transactional on the model of the Trump Organization itself, through which the Trump name could be had by nearly anyone for the right price. Later on, not just money but power became the president’s currency. The quids became subtler: shielding Trump from legal consequences, investigating a political opponent, providing an intellectual rationale for understanding the presidency as Trump sees it — not as a civic duty but as a business.
—Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz
A to Z
Contents: Adelson, Sheldon | Arpaio, Joe | Ballard, Brian | Bannon, Steve | bin Salman, Mohammed | Blagojevich, Rod | Branstad, Eric | Broidy, Elliott | Christie, Chris | Consovoy, William S. | diGenova, Joe | Ellison, Larry | Erdogan, Recep Tayyip | Flynn, Michael | Fuentes, Zachary | Giuliani, Rudy | Hannity, Sean | Harder, Charles | Herring, Charles and Robert | Icahn, Carl | Kim Jong-un | Kushner, Charles | Kushner, Jared | Kushner, Josh | Legere, John | Luksic, Andrónico | Manafort, Paul | Mnuchin, Steven | Moynihan, Brian | Mulvaney, Mick | Murray, Robert E. | Muzinich, Justin | Parscale, Brad | Perry, Rick | Price, Tom | Prince, Erik | Pruitt, Scott | Putin, Vladimir | Ross, Wilbur | Schwarzman, Steve | Sekulow, Jay | Short, Marc | Slaoui, Moncef | Stone, Roger | Toensing, Victoria | Trump, Donald Jr. | Trump, Eric | Trump, Ivanka | Warren, Kelcy | Zinke, Ryan
Republican megadonor and casino magnate
The billionaire casino mogul was one of Trump’s largest donors in 2016, when he and his wife, Miriam, gave $20 million to a Trump-supporting super-PAC and $5 million to the president’s inaugural fund. This year, the Adelsons outdid themselves, giving $75 million to the pro-Trump Preserve America PAC. Adelson and the president speak roughly once a month, often about a chief concern of Adelson’s: Israel, where he has made huge media investments, including in the country’s largest daily newspaper, the Trump-boosting Israel Hayom. Israel is an area where Trump has been uniquely decisive; he cut aid to Palestinians, moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, and hosted treaty signings with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Adelson, until recently, had one opportunity he called his “holy grail”: a Japanese casino license. His close relationship with the president bore fruit in February 2017, when, according to ProPublica, Trump raised the issue of Adelson’s casino bid with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Although Adelson would drop the bid amid the coronavirus pandemic, opening a casino in Japan could have earned his company tens of billions a year.
Former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona
As sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio was maniacally focused on going after suspected undocumented immigrants — targeting Hispanic neighborhoods and detaining people without evidence they had broken the law. A judge ordered him to stop his immigration roundups, but he didn’t, and in July 2017, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the order. Arpaio, who campaigned for Trump in 2016, faced up to six months in prison. Then Trump granted his first pardon. A White House statement praised the former sheriff for “protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” Arpaio thanked Trump in a tweet, likening his conviction to “a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department.” (Like Trump, Arpaio had promoted the false conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States.)
Pardoning loyal political allies has become the norm under Trump. According to an analysis by Lawfare, the majority of Trump’s pardons or commutations have been self-serving in some way. (SEE ALSO Blagojevich, Rod; Stone, Roger.)
Politico called him “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington,” with a client list ranging from Amazon to Zimbabwe. Ballard’s mystique flows from the fact that his clients really do get results; one of them, private-prison builder GEO Group, scored a number of big contracts after signing with Ballard. While representing Turkey and a Turkish-owned bank that was then under investigation for sanctions violations, Ballard’s lobbyists had conversations with Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, a number of White House advisers, Mike Pence’s chief of staff, and top people in the State Department and Treasury. Ballard makes sure the money flows back to Trump, too: He’s a top Trump fund-raiser, and Ballard’s clients are patrons of Trump properties.
Former strategic adviser
Trump catapulted Bannon from fringe right-wing-media provocateur to household name. After being forced out of the White House in August 2017, Bannon sought to capitalize on his celebrity abroad, meeting with the likes of Marine Le Pen and planning a right-wing boot camp in an Italian monastery. Back home, he helped lead a crowdfunding campaign to construct a privately funded border wall that raised $25 million. But federal officials allege that Bannon, along with three other businessmen, in fact constructed fewer than five miles of shoddy, subpar wall and looted the campaign’s coffers for themselves. (Bannon is alleged to have pocketed $1 million.) He has pleaded not guilty.
bin Salman, Mohammed
Crown prince of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, known as MBS, wasted no time in cozying up to Jared Kushner — early in Trump’s presidency, the two were said to have had long phone calls and multiple visits, during which they stayed up late into the night talking about the future. Trump has tolerated the kingdom’s bombing campaign in Yemen, its decision to send oil prices plummeting, and, most notably, the state-ordered murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. And he made clear why: “They buy massive amounts … of military equipment,” he told Meet the Press. “As long as they keep buying, you’ll overlook this behavior?” asked NBC’s Chuck Todd. Trump responded, “No, but I’m not like a fool that says we don’t want to do business with them.”
Former governor of Illinois
When Trump took office, Blagojevich (whom Trump had fired on Celebrity Apprentice) was serving a 14-year sentence after being convicted of bribery, wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy. Then Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, began appearing on Fox campaigning for her husband’s early release. She flattered Trump, criticized President Obama’s Justice Department, and drew comparisons between Blagojevich’s prosecution and investigations into the Trump campaign. Trump took notice. When he commuted Blagojevich’s sentence in 2020, he claimed the prosecution had been perpetrated by “the same people.” Blagojevich’s commutation was one of many acts of clemency that served the president’s personal or political interests. (SEE ALSO Arpaio, Joe; Stone, Roger.) The former Democratic governor has since endorsed the president, declaring himself a “Trumpocrat.”
Former Commerce Department aide
“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast,” Trump tweeted on May 13, 2018. The unexpected declaration, coming one month after Trump’s Commerce Department had banned ZTE from purchasing American-made parts because it had sold technology to North Korea and Iran, floored his own national security adviser, John Bolton, who later called it “policy by personal whim and impulse.” But it must have delighted Branstad.
At the time, Branstad was working at the lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs, which had a $75,000-a-month contract with a law firm hired by ZTE to roll back the sanctions. According to the Intercept, Branstad took the gig at Mercury just months after stepping down from his job at the Commerce Department. Even more troubling, Branstad’s father, former six-term governor of Iowa Terry Branstad, was serving as ambassador to China.
Though Branstad never registered as a lobbyist for ZTE, in June 2018, he and a ZTE lobbyist at Mercury did travel to China, where they met with Chinese-government groups. In an interview with the Intercept, Branstad denied involvement with Mercury’s ZTE account and said he had traveled to China to “culturally connect and show good feelings.” (Ethics rules clearly prohibit former officials from lobbying their own departments for five years after they leave.) He now works as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
On October 20, the defense contractor and longtime Republican fund-raiser pleaded guilty to using his access to the Trump administration to make millions by secretly lobbying on behalf of foreign governments. Prosecutors allege that a Malaysian businessman paid Broidy $6 million to lobby President Trump and senior administration officials to end an investigation into the multibillion-dollar embezzlement scheme known as 1MDB; Broidy and his associates stood to make $80 million if their intervention was successful. This is just one way Broidy tried to trade access to the president for contracts from foreign countries, including Romania, Angola, and the United Arab Emirates.
Former governor of New Jersey
Christie was ousted from Trump’s transition team after Jared Kushner — whose father Christie had sent to prison — took “an ax” to Christie’s head, as Steve Bannon described it, per the former governor. But Christie has maintained a channel to Trump, dining with him in the White House and prepping him for the first debate. That relationship came in handy during the pandemic, when Christie began lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of companies seeking coronavirus relief funds. He registered to become a lobbyist in June; since then, his firm has already collected $600,000 in fees, according to Senate filings. When he first started advertising his services earlier this year, he made it clear he was selling his unique access, saying in one pitch obtained by Politico that he had “worked closely during three presidential administrations with the executive office of the president and Cabinet-level officials across the U.S. government.”
Consovoy, William S.
Attorney and partner at Consovoy McCarthy PLLC
While many of Trump’s lawyers work to translate the president’s incendiary rhetoric into legalese, Consovoy, a former law clerk to Clarence Thomas, is one of Trump’s fiercest defenders. He has fought to keep Trump’s personal financial information private, defended Trump in an emoluments case over his D.C. hotel, and argued that a sitting president can’t be criminally investigated. Work for the Trump campaign and the RNC has earned his firm more than $2 million.
(See Toensing, Victoria)
Co-founder and executive chairman of Oracle
In September, Oracle beat out Microsoft in a bid for TikTok’s U.S. operations, an outcome that Trump, whose threatened ban had prompted the high-profile bidding war, had recently voiced support for. “I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it,” Trump said in August, calling the Silicon Valley software giant “a great company” and Ellison “a tremendous guy, a tremendous person.”
Conveniently, Ellison had held a fund-raiser for the president at his house in February — the same month that, FEC filings show, Oracle gave a $500,000 contribution to the host committee tasked with putting on Trump’s convention. Ellison was also one of at least three Trump donors who privately advised the president at the start of the pandemic.
Erdogan, Recep Tayyip
President of Turkey
John Bolton called the Turkish strongman’s connection to the American president a “bromance.” Erdogan understands that Trump is suggestible, particularly by phone. After Erdogan sweet-talked him in October 2019, Trump abruptly ordered a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria, effectively handing the area to Turkey’s military and abandoning longtime U.S. allies the Kurds.
Former national security adviser
In a court hearing in October, Flynn’s lawyer made an unusual admission: She had met with President Trump to discuss legal strategy in her client’s long-running struggle with the U.S. Justice Department. Early on in the Trump administration, Flynn was caught lying to the FBI about communications with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. When he pleaded guilty to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, it seemed to indicate that he would cooperate with the probe. But then Flynn clammed up and hired the Fox News personality Sidney Powell to represent him.
Not long after, the Justice Department moved to dismiss Flynn’s case. If Flynn has anything to say about the president, we don’t know what it is. But we do know what the president has to say about Flynn. A typical Trump tweet, from April: “What happened to General Michael Flynn, a war hero, should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again!”
Former deputy chief of staff
Fuentes — nicknamed ZOTUS, for “Zach of the United States” — left the White House in 2019. This year, he won a $3 million federal contract to provide respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals. The April deal was brokered less than two weeks after Fuentes had incorporated his company. He reportedly purchased the masks from FDA-registered Chinese manufacturers; the Indian Health Service later tried (unsuccessfully) to return 1 million of them, saying they did not meet standards.
Personal attorney to the president
The former New York mayor is all in on the Trump presidency, using his Fox News appearances on behalf of Trump to drum up business and even placing a placard (RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, PRIVATE OFFICE) on his regular steakhouse table at Trump’s D.C. hotel. One innovation of the Trump presidency has been to hand over much of Trump’s business to private citizens, who aren’t subject to disclosure laws. So we really don’t know how or from whom Giuliani is making his money. But some ways in which he has profited can still be gleaned: receiving speaking fees from a Kremlin-backed event in Armenia; acting as an adviser to the mayor of Kiev; working as a consultant on the wrong side of a Romanian anti-corruption effort. Last fall, in the midst of the Ukraine scandal, Giuliani confirmed that he had made $500,000 from Fraud Guarantee, a company owned by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the Soviet émigrés now under indictment in the Southern District of New York for inviting foreign influence in U.S. elections. Giuliani’s role in the Ukraine affair is infamous, but to Rudy, it’s just one part of the global publicity blitz on which he has fed since Trump became president.
TV personality at Fox News
Hannity’s direct line to the president has made him invaluable to Fox News. In 2018, he earned $36 million, ranking him as the only cable-news host on Forbes’s annual list of the world’s 100 highest-paid celebrities. In August, Hannity helped the RNC raise money for Trump’s reelection campaign by offering signed copies of his then-forthcoming book to supporters. Federal records show the RNC spent at least $145,000 on the copies, and the book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. The arrangement appeared to violate Fox News policy against personalities participating in campaign events, guidance Hannity had already flouted by appearing in a 2016 Trump campaign ad.
Attorney at Harder LLP
According to Federal Election Commission receipts, Harder is among the Trump campaign’s highest-paid law firms, raking in more than $3 million since 2018. The lawyer whose suit on behalf of Hulk Hogan brought down Gawker, Harder has worked for the Trump family since at least 2016, when he sued the Daily Mail for defamation after the paper reported that Melania Trump had worked as an escort before her marriage; the Mail retracted that story and settled. From there, Harder became a regular part of Trump’s legal team, issuing numerous threatening letters to authors (Michael Wolff, Mary Trump) and media outlets (the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN) on behalf of the president or his campaign — threats legal experts describe as “frivolous” and “all but certain to fizzle and fail” but that nevertheless can have the effect of chilling speech by raising the specter of expensive litigation.
Herring, Charles and Robert
President and founder, respectively, of One America News
The romance between Trump and the upstart channel One America News began in 2015, when OAN became the first cable network to carry Trump’s campaign speeches live and in full. For the rest of the campaign, OAN founder Robert Herring and his son, OAN president Charles Herring, prohibited the network from reporting on polls that were unfavorable to Trump, according to the Washington Post. The Herrings have continued their hands-on approach to the network’s editorial process, which, over the past four years, has aggressively defended and promoted the president. Trump has taken notice and occasionally encouraged his supporters to forsake Fox News for OAN. Though OAN’s viewership figures are hard to come by, the president’s cheerleading has undoubtedly boosted the profile and influence of this small, fringe network. Robert Herring claims ratings are up 55 percent this year, and in January, Hicks Equity Partners, a company connected to RNC co-chair Thomas Hicks Jr., expressed interest in buying a $250 million stake in the network, according to The Wall Street Journal.
When Trump wanted help staffing his administration, he turned to a former investor in his Atlantic City casinos, the billionaire Icahn. Icahn backed the Cabinet appointments of his friends Steven Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross and went on to become a special adviser to the president on “issues relating to regulatory reform.”
But Icahn did not divest from his vast holdings, which included a controlling stake in a refinery business, even as he advised on regulations that could benefit him personally. For just one example, current regulations require refineries, including Icahn’s, that don’t use biofuels to purchase credits; Icahn made a bet that the price of such credits would drop. And so they did, shortly after Trump took office, when Icahn proposed changes to those regulations. (The EPA later rejected his proposed changes.)
Icahn defended his role: “I own a refinery. Who knows it better than me?” he said to Bloomberg News. Icahn stepped down as an adviser in August 2017, ahead of a New Yorker article about his conflicts of interest. In a statement, he said, “I never sought any special benefit for any company with which I have been involved and have only expressed views that I believed would benefit the refining industry as a whole.”
North Korean dictator
During Trump’s first term, the North Korean leader went from being “Little Rocket Man” to a presidential love interest. “Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day,” Kim wrote to Trump on Christmas 2018, after their first meeting in Singapore.
Despite the sparks flying — the summit was the first time a sitting American president had met with the North Korean leader — plus subsequent meet-cutes in Vietnam and along the DMZ and a 2019 Trump tweet referring to a “strong Denuclearization Agreement” between the two countries, Trump was never able to persuade Kim to unwind North Korea’s nuclear program. Instead, the country has been actively building new missiles. Trump’s realization that he could not use his go-to negotiating tactic may be partly to blame, at least in the president’s own assessment: “You can’t mock Kim,” Trump told Bob Woodward in his book Rage. “I don’t want to get in a fucking nuclear war because you mocked him.”
Founder of Kushner Companies
When Jared Kushner left for the White House, he was finishing up negotiations with the Chinese company Anbang to redevelop the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue. But when the obviously outsize $4 billion deal became public, it fell through. The incident became a warning: Mainstream banks and real-estate developers were chary of making deals with Kushner Companies because of the “headline risk.” The business Charles Kushner founded, from which Jared did not fully divest, has found ways to benefit from the Trump administration.
Just two examples: The Kushners’ business stands to gain from the Opportunity Zones provision of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a law Charlie’s daughter-in-law, Ivanka Trump, personally lobbied for, allowing wealthy investors in poorer Census tracts to get big tax breaks. (We’ll likely never know how much it might have made for them, since that would require reviewing their private tax returns.) In another instance, in 2019, the Kushner companies received $800 million in government-backed loans on unusually favorable terms after Jared’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, held a personal meeting with loan officials.
Presidential adviser and son-in-law
Like his wife and father-in-law, Kushner declined to divest his business assets when he joined the White House. In 2019, Jared and Ivanka Trump earned somewhere between $36 million and $157 million in income, money they made passively from their suite of family businesses — real estate, hotels, golf clubs, and Ivanka Trump merchandise — while serving as senior advisers to the president. In 2018, that sum was between $29 and $135 million; the year before, it was between $82 million and $222 million. Trump’s companies, as we now know from his tax returns, were losing money during those years. But Jared and Ivanka? They were winners. (SEE ALSO Trump, Ivanka; Kushner, Josh.)
Co-founder of Cadre, founder and managing partner of Thrive Capital
In May 2017, The Wall Street Journal called out Jared Kushner for his undisclosed passive stake in Cadre, the online real-estate investment firm he had co-founded with his younger brother, Josh (who also co-founded insurance start-up Oscar), and which, in July 2017, was valued at $800 million. Like Kushner Companies, Cadre was able to take advantage of the Opportunity Zones tax-law provisions that Josh’s sister-in-law Ivanka had lobbied for. After the law passed, Cadre announced it would launch a major Opportunity Zones fund.
And Josh may have been helped in other ways: While his brother was discussing Mideast policy, he attended an investors conference in Riyadh, where, according to the Times, “as others sat through speeches in a gilded conference hall … the younger Mr. Kushner frequently ducked out for more exclusive conversations with Saudi officials.” A year later, Josh’s Thrive Capital raised $1 billion; a spokesperson declined to disclose to the Times whether any Saudis were among the investors.
Former CEO of T-Mobile
Legere spent 52 nights at Trump’s Washington hotel while lobbying for a merger with Sprint. He personally made $100 million after the approval went through.
Just before Trump took office, billionaire Luksic purchased a $5.5 million mansion in Washington, D.C., reportedly with the intention of leasing it to an incoming member of Trumpworld. Luksic, whose family controls the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, found renters in Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Luksic and the Kushner-Trumps all say it was rented at market rate. Still, Luksic quickly reaped benefits from the new administration. Obama-era policies were reversed, clearing the way for Luksic’s company to open a Minnesota mine on land that contains, according to his company’s 2016 lawsuit against the Department of the Interior, “one of the largest untapped copper and nickel resources in the world” and is “conservatively estimated at more than $40 billion of in-ground mineral value.”
Former Trump-campaign manager
Manafort was fired from the 2016 Trump campaign after the Times discovered his name on a handwritten ledger recording millions of dollars in secret payments linking back to the corrupt former strongman ruler of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Getting canned didn’t prevent him from attempting to cash in on his ties to Trump. During the transition, Manafort tried to finagle the job of secretary of the Army for a banker who had given him an outsize (and allegedly illegally obtained) loan for his Brooklyn brownstone. (The banker didn’t get the job.)
Manafort is now serving house arrest on a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence for conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, fraud, and other crimes. But as late as 2018, while already under indictment, he was working on a poll to test a Russian-backed idea for carving up Ukraine. The plan, former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann says, would have entrenched Russian power in Eastern Ukraine and pleased Manafort’s former oligarch clients. The missing ingredient was an approving “wink” from Trump. It came to naught. After his guilty plea, Manafort promised to cooperate with prosecutors but then did not, all the while continuing to communicate with the White House (Trump praised Manafort as “a brave man!”). After Manafort’s sentencing, Attorney General William Barr’s top deputy personally saw to it that Manafort would stay in a more comfortable prison.
Secretary of the Treasury
Mnuchin was the project manager for the 2017 tax overhaul that slashed corporate tax rates, delivered a bonanza of new tax-avoidance widgets to property developers, gave the middle finger to high-income blue-state taxpayers, and added more than $1 trillion to the national debt. The biggest beneficiaries, thanks to a cut in top income-tax rates and lowered estate taxes, are the wealthiest Americans. Mnuchin himself is worth $400 million, by a 2019 Forbes estimate. Asked in 2018 how he personally stood to gain, Mnuchin demurred, “I don’t believe I’m personally benefiting from the tax bill. But again, what I am benefiting from is hopefully the American economy will do better.”
CEO of Bank of America
As a member of the president’s advisory committee on reopening the economy, Moynihan met or spoke with the president, Ivanka Trump, and Steven Mnuchin regularly as they crafted the Paycheck Protection Program this spring. Ultimately, banks would be responsible for distributing PPP checks, and so far they have collected at least $13 billion in fees doing so. Bank of America may have received some $767 million in fees. Moynihan promised that any profit derived from those fees would go to programs to support small businesses and communities, but the bank’s CFO recently said he does not expect much, if any, profit. “Brian, you’ve been fantastic,” Trump said during a meeting at the White House in April, “and Bank of America has been incredible.”
Former acting White House chief of staff
After Mulvaney left his White House job in March 2020, Trump appointed him the top U.S. diplomat supporting the peace process in Northern Ireland. That role could become increasingly important as the U.K. and Europe navigate the thorny details of the Brexit transition along the Irish border. Meanwhile, Mulvaney announced that he is starting a hedge fund that seeks to capitalize on the chaos he’s leaving behind. “Politics is going to be a very turbulent thing for the near future,” he said. “And I think it creates opportunities for those who understand how Washington works.”
Murray, Robert E.
Former CEO, Murray Energy
Murray, then CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately held coal company in the U.S., donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration. A month or so later, Murray sent Vice-President Pence an “action plan” of environmental rollbacks for “getting America’s coal miners back to work,” including striking down the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, cutting the staff of the EPA by at least 50 percent, and gutting regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, ozone-layer protections, and mine safety. Less than a year later, the full list of requests was made public by the New York Times, which reported that the White House and federal agencies had fulfilled or were on track to complete most of the 16 agenda items. (Murray stepped down as CEO in 2019, and this fall, the company rebranded as American Consolidated Natural Resources, Inc.) Murray died on October 25.
Deputy secretary of the Treasury
Muzinich never fully cut ties with his father’s $38 billion investment firm. Instead of selling his stake of at least $60 million, he transferred it to his father in exchange for a kind of IOU; his father will pay him for it, with interest, but no principal is due for nine years. Now Muzinich oversees key parts of the federal coronavirus bailout program, which has helped to prop up firms including the one his father runs. Muzinich & Co. has reversed billions in losses since the shutdown in March. A Treasury spokesperson told ProPublica that the arrangement with the family’s company was approved by the Office of Government Ethics and that Muzinich “takes his ethics obligations very seriously” and “any suggestion to the contrary is completely baseless.”
Former campaign manager
Among those in Trump’s inner circle, few have enjoyed closer proximity to the vast sums flowing through his political operations than Parscale. It began in 2016, when the then-40-year-old Texas political novice emerged as Trump’s digital guru. As the conduit for most of Trump’s ad spending, Parscale’s firm became the campaign’s single biggest vendor, receiving $94 million from various political committees that year. Precisely how much went into Parscale’s pocket remains a secret.
After the inauguration, Parscale relocated his business to Florida, but he never stopped working for Trump — or getting paid for it. Since then, his political-consulting firms have received more than $40 million from the Presidential Inaugural Committee, three different Trump campaign committees, the Republican National Committee, and a pro-Trump super-PAC, America First Action, and its sibling “dark money” group (which he co-founded). Parscale was named Trump’s 2020 campaign manager in February 2018, but he claimed he was personally collecting a relative pittance — that the vast majority of the payments to his firm simply reimbursed costs. But much remains undisclosed, including salaries his firm was reportedly paying to Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the wife and girlfriend, respectively, of Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr.
After Parscale was named campaign manager, Parscale Strategy stopped receiving direct payments from the America First super-PAC and the dark-money group, ostensibly to avoid running afoul of laws barring them from coordinating with the Trump campaign. The America First entities instead began making those payments (more than $2.5 million total) to an obscure, newly formed corporate entity, Red State Data and Digital, which employed Parscale’s wife. In separate complaints to the Federal Election Commission citing Parscale’s multiple roles, Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center have accused the Trump campaign of illegally coordinating with America First and using Parscale’s firms to illegally hide the ultimate recipients of millions in campaign funds.
Parscale was demoted in July 2020, after the president’s campaign blew through a massive fund-raising advantage over Joe Biden even while Trump’s poll numbers steadily declined; after embarrassingly poor attendance at a Tulsa campaign rally that Parscale had touted as drawing more than 800,000 ticket requests; and after media reports, certain to anger Trump, of Parscale’s lavish spending, including a $2.4 million waterfront Florida home, two $1 million condos, a yacht, a Ferrari, and a Range Rover. In late September, Parscale’s wife summoned police to their Fort Lauderdale home, warning that her husband was armed and had threatened to kill himself. After being involuntarily committed, Parscale issued a statement announcing that he was stepping away from the campaign to focus on his family and deal with “overwhelming stress.”
Former secretary of Energy
The former Texas governor, two-time presidential candidate, and erstwhile Dancing With the Stars contestant began 2017 as the chief regulator of some of America’s dirtiest, most lucrative industries. His arrival in D.C. that year immediately paid dividends for his former employer and patron Kelcy Warren, a Texas energy magnate, whose Dakota Access Pipeline was quickly greenlit by executive order after being blocked by Obama over environmental concerns. Perry was a former board member of the pipeline’s operator, Energy Transfer, and frequently met with oil and gas execs; he described himself as a salesman for “American product.” The ever-affable Perry was snagged in Ukraine-gate as one of the so-called “three amigos” working with Rudy Giuliani. Perry refused to explain his role in the scheme to Congress and quit Energy at the end of 2019. One month later, he returned to the warm embrace of Warren’s Energy Transfer.
Former secretary of Health and Human Services
When president Trump nominated Price as his pick for HHS secretary, the Republican congressman from Georgia was already under scrutiny for trading hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock in health companies at the same time he was voting on legislation impacting the industry. He took office at HHS anyway and promptly pursued two major actions: repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and taking private jets as often as possible (billing at least $400,000 in airfare to taxpayers). His fondness for taxpayer-funded travel led him to resign after less than a year in office.
Prince had been on the outs in Washington ever since his notorious private mercenary group, Blackwater, killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007. But after his good friend Mike Pence became vice-president and his older sister, Betsy DeVos, became Education secretary, Prince found himself with unusual access to the president. Steve Bannon as well as Donald Trump Jr. took a liking to Prince’s rugged, ultramacho approach to foreign conflict. In January 2017, when the Putin-tied Russian businessman Kirill Dmitriev was looking for a back channel to the incoming Trump administration, Prince flew to the Seychelles to meet with him.
Prince maintained access to the White House, playing a curious role of unofficial emissary and adviser. He pitched the administration on privatizing the war in Afghanistan and held secret meetings in Venezuela with the embattled government of Nicolás Maduro. Prince has bragged to Chinese business partners of his friends in high places, even telling his Chinese investors during the 2016 campaign that Trump would make him secretary of Defense.
Former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Before becoming head of the EPA, Pruitt used his position as Oklahoma attorney general to sue the agency over climate change, a phenomenon he once suggested could help humans flourish. He resigned the post after 16 months, which he spent rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations, racking up expensive travel bills (nearly $124,000 on “excessive airfare” over a ten-month period, including a taxpayer-funded trip to Italy), and asking his staff to pick up his dry cleaning and track down a favorite moisturizer sold at Ritz-Carlton hotels. His conduct prompted at least 14 investigations by EPA, White House, and congressional watchdogs. Today, Pruitt is registered as a lobbyist in Indiana and works as a consultant for the energy industry; his lawyer said he would not violate a five-year ban on lobbying his former agency.
“Do not congratulate,” Trump’s national-security advisers warned after Putin was reelected Russian president in what foreign-policy analysts said was a rigged election. Trump did it anyway. It was just one of the many ways he has bucked conventional diplomatic wisdom in navigating the U.S.-Russia relationship. Trump has occasionally taken a tough stance with Russia, but he also looked the other way when Russia put bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers, meddled in U.S. elections, and allegedly poisoned an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in London.
Many have speculated as to why Trump has been so generous with Putin — was it that he still wanted to fulfill his dream of a Trump Tower in Moscow, or that he owed the Russian strongman and his oligarch friends huge sums of money, or that he was somehow part of a Russian money-laundering scheme? The public still doesn’t quite know the motive, but it does know the result: ever-greater impunity for the Russian strongman.
Secretary of Commerce
Former vulture capitalist Ross is the second-wealthiest member of Trump’s Cabinet. As Commerce secretary, he has napped during agency meetings, reportedly threatened the NOAA at Trump’s behest, and insisted that a citizenship question be added to the U.S. Census. Ross has a tangle of financial conflicts that he has been repeatedly dishonest about. During his confirmation, he pledged to divest from his vast holdings; he delayed doing so, held on to some assets, and gave others to close family members. He has since inaccurately reported his stock holdings to the Office of Government Ethics and refused to comply with a House Oversight Committee investigation into his potential conflicts of interest. He maintained financial ties to Russia and China while simultaneously overseeing trade policy with those countries. Notably, he owned a substantial interest in Navigator Holdings, Ltd., a shipping company with close ties to Vladimir Putin, and is the former vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has financed a number of Russian oligarchs. Forbes reported that Ross held dozens of meetings with representatives of companies tied to his financial interests.
CEO of Blackstone Group
The Blackstone group CEO is a longtime friend of Trump’s and has been one of his most stalwart supporters on Wall Street. He has also been one of Trump’s closest outside advisers, chairing the Strategic and Policy Forum and regularly chatting with the president about the market. Although Trump may have railed against China throughout his 2016 campaign, he quickly walked back his promise to label the country a currency manipulator — a move that would have damaged Blackstone’s portfolio. Many financiers have ended their support of the president’s reelection campaign, but Schwarzman has spent more than five times as much in 2020 as he did in 2016 on Republican campaigns.
Attorney at American Center for Law and Justice
A consistent presence on Trump’s revolving team of personal lawyers, Sekulow joined the president’s defense in 2017 in response to the Mueller probe and went on to argue on his behalf during the impeachment and before the Supreme Court last May. His company, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, has been paid more than $600,000 by the RNC.
Chief of staff to the vice-president
Short holds between $506,043 and $1.64 million worth of stock in companies tied to the federal government’s pandemic response, including 3M, Honeywell, and Abbott Laboratories. He declared some of his holdings to be potential conflicts of interest after joining Mike Pence’s staff last year but did not divest from them. Lately, he has been publicly name-dropping some of them, mentioning Pence’s visit to a 3M factory on Fox Business and praising Honeywell for producing respirator masks.
Former chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline
The pharmaceutical exec turned coronavirus-vaccine czar refused to sell roughly $10 million worth of shares in Glaxo-SmithKline, which has a deal to receive up to $2.1 billion in federal funding to develop the vaccine. (The Trump administration coded Slaoui as a “contractor” to sidestep ethics rules against profiting.)
Notorious republican dirty-trickster Stone spent decades helping elect people to office, then hiring himself out to businesses and others who wanted to influence those elected officials. Trump has been an occasional client since the 1980s. In 2000, Stone helped push through a secretly Trump-backed campaign to stop the expansion of gambling in New York (less competition for Trump’s Atlantic City casino).
In 2016, Stone was sidelined from the Trump campaign, though he still spoke to Trump and his campaign officials dozens of times. He played a key role as the perceived intermediary between the campaign and WikiLeaks, which had received stolen Hillary Clinton emails from Russian military intelligence.
After Trump was elected and the investigations began, Stone seemed to have the biggest prize of all, information — dirt, possibly on Trump. But despite an indictment, a conviction, and sentencing, Stone would not turn on his former boss. Before his prison term was set to begin, Trump awarded Stone his freedom, commuting his sentence.
Attorney at diGenova & Toensing
The circle of favors stemming from Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to discredit Joe Biden also benefited Toensing and Joe diGenova, married celebrity lawyers who often defend Trump on TV and have acted as informal advisers to the president. Giuliani’s associate Parnas arranged for Dmytro Firtash — a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin who had been charged with bribery in the U.S. — to hire the couple to fight his extradition. The lawyers scored a rare in-person meeting with Bill Barr, whose Justice Department is trying to extradite Firtash. In the meantime, an affidavit in the case that conveniently supported Giuliani’s claims about Biden’s record in Ukraine appeared in a column by the conservative journalist John Solomon, another Toensing and diGenova client. The Times reported that, for their efforts, the pair received $1 million over four months.
Trump, Donald Jr.
Son, author, executive vice-president of the Trump Organization
“I wish my name was Hunter Biden,” Donald Trump Jr. once groused. “I could go abroad, make millions off my father’s presidency — I’d be a really rich guy.” Don Jr. has hawked condos in India and promoted Trump-branded golf resorts in Bali and Java while his father has been in office. But he has lately built a career out of decrying the purported corruption of his father’s opponents and their relatives. Last fall, Don Jr. published a book, Triggered, that hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Despite initial denials, the RNC had spent $94,800 on a bulk order of the book, classifying the payment as “donor mementos.”
Son, executive vice-president of the Trump Organization
Trump’s supporters frequently patronize the Trump Organization, and the president and his entourage regularly stay at Trump Organization properties when traveling. Eric Trump has said the family’s hotels would charge the federal government a minimal fee for their rooms — “effectively housekeeping cost,” he told Fox News earlier this year — but federal spending records show taxpayers are footing significantly higher bills for government guests. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that Trump properties had been paid nearly $1 million from taxpayers.
The company was hit hard by the pandemic, losing around $1 million a day at its peak. But Eric’s father’s presidency has provided steady lines of income for the business: Just after Trump’s election, Mar-a-Lago doubled its joining fee to $200,000; spots like the Trump International Hotel in D.C. and the Doral resort in Miami have become go-to spots for supporters of the president to gather; and the Trump Organization continues to explore international expansion.
Daughter, presidential adviser
Soon after her father was elected president, Ivanka Trump was tasked with negotiating rates at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. A nonprofit, the PIC was charged 35 times what another nonprofit was charged for a ballroom, and it was assessed $300,000 for an event for Ivanka and her brothers — an “unconscionable” sum, the D.C. attorney general called it. In total, the Trumps’ hotel received over a million dollars in fees from the inauguration. Like her husband and father, Ivanka did not fully divest from her family companies when she joined the government, and the perceived and real conflicts have been legion. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, for instance, threw what amounted to a three-day party for Ivanka just months before her brother Don Jr. traveled to India to sell condos. (SEE ALSO Kushner, Jared.)
Chairman of Energy Transfer
Warren, the chairman of the company responsible for a slew of energy projects, including the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, is a major Trump fund-raiser. In June, he hosted the president’s first fund-raising event since the pandemic, at which some 25 couples raised $10 million for his campaign, the RNC, and state parties. Warren also gave $10 million of his own money last month to a Trump-friendly PAC. Those donations came after Energy Transfer got a big contract from the Trump administration: In May, the company’s subsidiary Sunoco was awarded a contract to provide storage for 6.2 million barrels of crude oil at the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (SEE ALSO Perry, Rick.)
Former secretary of the Interior
Zinke was serving as Trump’s secretary of the Interior, which regulates the oil industry on public land, when Politico reported that David Lesar, the then chairman of Halliburton, then the country’s largest oil-services company, was backing a massive commercial development in Zinke’s Montana hometown, a deal that would raise the value of property Zinke owned. While he was Interior secretary, Zinke met with Lesar and others involved in the deal. This was one of several investigations into the policy and spending decisions Zinke had under way when he stepped down in 2018. And yes, the deal still went through.
*This article appears in the October 26, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!