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Trump biographer: dictatorship a real risk if Americans put ‘master con-artist’ back in White House

by David Cay Johnston | Jun 5, 2024 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

Donald Trump’s three-times biographer and friend of Michael West Media, David Cay Johnston, writes about the con-man he has known for 30 years; and prospects of another Trump presidency.

Donald Trump is a felon.

I’ve waited 36 years to write those words, ever since on Sunday, July 10, 1988, I became the first journalist to write about the prospect of this master con-artist becoming the American president.

And yet, after documenting decades of Trump’s crimes and misconduct, I watched as the American people put him in the White House in 2017. If they are believed, polls show he may get back there in 2025.

Complacency can put Trump back in the Oval Office. Being smug and staying home out of a false belief that Trump cannot claw his way back to power now that he’s a felon on Election Day is precisely what Trump hopes.

You should be troubled about the spin in news coverage of Trump’s conviction because it’s already going badly for truth, justice, and the American way.

Please don’t make the mistake of believing it’s curtains for Trump’s candidacy now that a jury has found him guilty of conspiring to pay off a porn star to hide this one example from his life of despicable conduct. It won’t be over until the last vote is cast and counted—and then only if Trump loses both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

David Crook and I launched DCReport as the Trump administration began in 2017 as an antidote to awful and shockingly naïve coverage of Trump, which we expected would continue during his presidency. Our work at DCReport is not done.

Would be dictator

For a half-century, Republicans have branded themselves as the party of law and order. Still, by submitting to Trump, the GOP has made itself into the party of lawlessness and disorder.

Every Republican candidate who supports Donald Trump, especially those who want voters to ignore his 34 felony convictions, is undermining the rule of law to put us under the boot of an ignorant, immoral, and incompetent power monger who has repeatedly declared his intent to become America’s dictator.

Already, Trump’s obsequious acolytes are busy lying and denying, trying to brush away verdicts that would have ended the career of any other office seeker.

Biden conspiracy and the big lie

Just hours after the jury came in, I was a guest on the News Nation program Dan Abrams Live, paired with a Trump operative. The other guest insisted that Joe Biden was behind this prosecution (brought by an elected local district attorney), that the charges are bogus (ignoring the jury verdicts), and that our federal government is “occupied” by an illegitimate tyrant (ignoring that Republican elections officials say Biden handily won the 2020 election fair and square).

The Big Lie often works. And it can put Trump back in the White House if it takes hold as the dominant narrative in American politics. Below are some little-known hard facts to help you counter Trump’s Big Lie.

TV lessons

A lesson Americans have not learned since the television era dawned about the time I was born in 1948 is that many people uncritically accept what the TV tells them.

People who buy gummies and chocolate drinks believing the promises in TV commercials that these foods will make them thin are just as likely to accept Trump’s absurd claims that he is their one and only saviour, the victim of a corrupt judge, and that making him dictator will improve American lives.

In the past few weeks, a growing chorus of American oligarchs, many of whom had distanced themselves from Trump, are now pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into his presidential campaign. They bowed to Donald after he promised, behind closed doors, to end most regulations on business and further cut the taxes of the wealthiest Americans and the corporations they control.

You can read about Donald’s blatantly corrupt—that is, criminal— quid pro quo promises here, here, and here.

Meeting Trump in 1988

Soon after meeting Trump in the Spring of 1988, I realised that while Trump sold the illusion of a modern Midas with the golden touch, he was, in fact, a crime boss, the third generation ahead of what is now a four-generation white-collar crime family.

Trumps don’t break legs; they break contracts.

The Trumps are far from alone among the leagues of people who perpetrate ever more costly crimes in the suites even as taxpayers focus law enforcement efforts on the steadily diminishing rate of crime in the streets.

Many of my best sources were Donald’s executives, advisors, big casino players, and his competitors. A few government regulators had the integrity to quietly point me to damning documents gathering dust in Casino Control Commission and other government file rooms.

Soon, I realised that Donald was not an entrepreneur who builds wealth through enterprise but a financial vampire who drains firms of cash until they collapse, leaving workers, vendors, and governments unpaid.

He never invested a penny of his own money in many of his businesses, including all three of his Atlantic City casinos. Instead, he borrowed all the money and took a fee, sometimes $5 million, from the loan proceeds.

Everywhere I looked, it was clear that Donald Trump was a crook who had learned just how far he could go without indictment. And yet, in nearly all the news reports I read, watched, or listened to, he was lionised as a business titan. Journalists failed to probe Trump’s facades, which, with checking and cross-checking, collapsed.

Moral larceny

The late great Wayne Barrett, the first journalist to seriously cover Trump and a close friend, once wrote, “Trump won’t do a deal unless there’s something extra—a kind of moral larceny—in it. He’s not satisfied with the profit. He has to take something more. Otherwise, there’s no thrill.”

Donald tried to bribe Barrett, offering Wayne a Trump Tower apartment if he would stop critically examining his conduct. That is when Donald learned that not everyone has a price.

Constant threats of lawsuits are central components of Trump’s effort to suppress critical news. He even killed a brilliant documentary, keeping it from being seen for 25 years: Trump: What’s The Deal. Now you can watch it on YouTube for $3.99 – and it’s worth every penny.

Trump schemed to compromise Wall Street Journal reporter Neil Barsky, who broke damning Trump stories. A minor misstep ruined Barsky’s reporting career.

Donald tried to compromise me when he saw my middle son, who was then 17. Donald had his photographer shoot a photo of them, then sent by messenger a framed copy with praising words written with his Sharpie. I realised that Donald would soon claim I had blackmailed him into this to force me, like Barsky, off the story. However, I outsmarted Trump thanks to unwavering support from strong-spined Philadelphia Inquirer editors.

Over the decades, I wrote about how he did extraordinary favours for one of the biggest cocaine traffickers in America, favours that made no sense unless they were in business together. His casinos plied children ages 12, 13, and 14 with liquor, limousines, and hotel suites because they had money to gamble in his casinos, where anyone under 21 is barred.

Trump secretly did a corrupt real estate deal with a pair of stone-cold Mafia assassins. He often lied on bank and government documents. Twice, judges ruled that Donald had committed major league income tax fraud but treated as civil instead of criminal matters despite proof that Trump committed forgery. When I broke that story in 2016, the big news outlets ignored it.

All the while, Donald claimed to be worth billions. He would say he was worth $3 billion, hours later say $5 billion and ultimately more than $10 billion. Nonsense. His net worth wavered between negative $300 million and a few hundred million in the black.

Serial fraud boasts

For all those 36 years, I watched my peers in journalism, with a few exceptions, regurgitate Donald’s lies and nonsense with only the vaguest pushback. Indeed, the book that made him nationally known, The Art of the Deal, received an extraordinary amount of positive news coverage. Reporters and reviewers somehow missed that the book chronicled serial frauds shamelessly boasting about cheating. Maybe they only read the press release.

The 2016 campaign coverage by The New York Times was so terrible that the publisher and executive editor ran a front page mea culpa. Their apologia came after I tried, and failed, to persuade my former editors at that newspaper to pursue many stories about Trump’s misconduct from the criminal to the morally repugnant, only to be told “everybody knows” he’s a fraud.

While that is arguably true in Manhattan, not so across the country where tens of millions of people believe to this day in his faux gold image because they’ve never been exposed to the damning facts that Trump hid through threats of litigation and, in some cases, massive document dumps to bury a single piece of paper (outsmarted him there, too).

Not a single major news organisation reported that when a strike initiated by mobsters shut down concrete pouring in New York City liquid stone kept being poured at only one construction site: Trump Tower.

Media conventions exploited

The conventions of journalism, which have served the public well for more than a century, simply are not up to the task of telling the truth or merely the inconvenient facts about Donald Trump because the news reporting conventions were never designed for exposing con artistry.

I’ve learned since writing my first paid newspaper article in 1966 that newspapers tend to be stodgy, with only the occasional editor encouraging reporting and writing outside the box of convention.

David Crook, who created and for 15 years edited the fabulously profitable Wall Street Journal Sunday, and I understood that Trump had mastered the conventions of journalism and manipulated them for his benefit. We both watched, in horror, as the 2016 campaign coverage gave credence to his audacious and easily disproven claims.

We anticipated that our peers would not be up to covering Trump and his audacious lies once you get up to the White House, so at Crook’s urging, we started nonprofit and advertising-free DCReport.

While the Washington press corps did much better than Crook and I expected, they also missed so many stories hiding in plain sight that through DCReport, we steadily and consistently broke important news. Big news organisations frequently picked up many of our stories without crediting DCReport.

Manipulating news 

An excellent example of how convention limits news coverage is the Trump rule that all cameras at his rallies must point only at the stage. That Trumpian rule, which persists to this day, hides knowledge of the many empty seats at his rallies.

DCReport easily defeated this rule. We sent novice reporters, usually two at a time. We instructed them to engage Trump supporters and then shoot selfies, which allowed them to capture the empty seats in the back and sides of the forum without alerting the security guards, whose job was to throw out anyone photographing empty seats.

Would be dictator

For nine years, ever since Trump and Melania descended that Trump Tower escalator on June 16, 2015, I’ve been warning people that Trump seeks to be our dictator. Early on, several prominent journalists bluntly told me I was way out there and risked destroying my credibility. They didn’t know the hard facts about Trump, just his bluster and lies.

In The Making of Donald Trump, my 2016 Trump biography, I wrote that Donald would never leave the White House peacefully, one of innumerable predictions that proved spot-on accurate. Indeed, only one carefully qualified prediction has yet to come true: to delay paying E. Jean Carroll $88.3 million in defamation damages, he might file personal bankruptcy.

In the years ahead, I’m sure Trump will seek refuge from creditors in Bankruptcy Court. As the wheels of justice grind, agonisingly slowly, toward holding Trump civilly and criminally accountable, he eventually will run out of money unless he gets back to the White House and proclaims himself dictator, as he promised to do on his first day.

For now, though, the challenge is to get the truth about Trump out to enough people to motivate a majority to vote against him, especially in the states that could go either way).

By all rights, Trump should get trounced in November along with the Republicans who support his vicious anti-American plans to kill our representative democracy so he can rule as a dictator, free to murder opponents, loot the Treasury, and control women.

Complacency can put Trump back in the Oval Office. Being smug and staying home out of a false belief that Trump cannot claw his way back to power now that he’s a felon on Election Day is precisely what Trump hopes.

Thwart Trump’s hopes. Do your duty. Be a citizen and save our Constitution and our freedoms.


DCReport’s founder and editor is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, author of seven books including ‘The Making of Donald Trump’ and ‘It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America’. His reporting persuaded two presidents to change their tax policies, stopped tax dodges that Congress valued at more than $250 billion in the first decade alone, and promoted the passage of many federal and state laws and regulations. The Washington Monthly calls David “one of America’s most important journalists.”

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