A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Donald Trump, Mob Boss (Then and Now)
By David Corn August 17, 2023
Donald Trump campaigning in Iowa on August 12, 2023, two days before he was indicted in Atlanta for allegedly heading a “criminal enterprise” that tried to overturn the 2020 election. Charlie Neibergall/AP
In yet another historic indictment, Donald Trump was charged by an Atlanta prosecutor with essentially being a mob boss.
In an expansive indictment that accuses Trump and 18 others of mounting a wide-ranging and illegal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election—with an emphasis on actions taken to fraudulently reverse the results in Georgia—Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis declared Trump the head of a “criminal enterprise.” The first of 41 counts in the indictment alleges Trump and his co-conspirators violated the state’s version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law that has been used by local and federal prosecutors—including defendant Rudy Giuliani, when he was a US attorney in the 1980s—to pursue Mafia chieftains who were often able to insulate themselves from the criminal deeds of their henchmen. Given Trump’s past ties with mobsters—a significant piece of his biography that has often been overlooked—the use of RICO has an especially sharp resonance.
When Trump ran for president in 2016, I was one of the few reporters who examined his shady record of organized crime connections—particularly his history of making false or contradictory statements about these relations. As I noted then, “when asked about his links to the mob, Trump has repeatedly made false comments and has contradicted himself—to such a degree it seems he has flat-out lied about these relationships, even when he was under oath.” I detailed several of these instances—which have even greater relevance now that Trump is the lead defendant in a RICO case. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
* In 2007, Trump sued journalist Tim O’Brien for libel—asking for $5 billion in damages—after O’Brien in his book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald reported that Trump was no billionaire and only worth between $100 million and $250 million. That book referenced an already established fact: that in the early 1980s Trump began his casino empire in Atlantic City, New Jersey, by leasing property owned by Kenneth Shapiro and Daniel Sullivan. Shapiro, O’Brien wrote, was a “street-level gangster with close ties to the Philadelphia mob,” and Sullivan was a “Mafia associate, FBI informant and labor negotiator.” (Trump also had obtained Sullivan’s assistance when he had trouble with undocumented Polish workers who were demolishing the Bonwit Teller building in Manhattan to make way for Trump Tower.)
During a deposition for that libel case—which Trump would lose—Trump was asked, “Have you ever before associated with individuals you knew were associated with organized crime?” Trump, who was testifying under oath, answered, “Not that I know of.” Yet when O’Brien had interviewed Trump two years earlier, Trump had told the journalist that he believed that Sullivan was mobbed up and “the guy that killed Jimmy Hoffa.” He also described Shapiro as a “mob guy.”
Moreover, after New Jersey regulators in 1982 granted Trump a casino license, they compelled him to buy the property that he had leased from Shapiro and Sullivan because of their backgrounds. Shapiro later told a federal grand jury that he had illegally funneled thousands of dollars to the Atlantic City mayor on Trump’s behalf—a charge Trump denied. So though Trump was well aware that Sullivan and Shapiro were mobbed up, in that 2007 deposition he stated he had never associated with persons with such ties.
* In 1999, when Trump was considering running for president as the candidate of the Reform Party, he was interviewed on Meet the Press by Tim Russert, who asked Trump about his “relations with members of organized crime.” Trump denied having any such connections. He neglected to mention that he got his start in Atlantic City via that business deal with Shapiro and Sullivan. Nor did he refer to working with a cement company owned by Mafia captains and with a mob-linked union official when he was building Trump Tower. Yet eight months earlier—when Trump was not making moves to run for president—he acknowledged that he had done business with organized crime figures. Talking to the Associated Press, Trump remarked, “Usually, I build buildings. I have to deal with the unions, the mob, some of the roughest men you’ve ever seen in your life.”
* Trump also denied interacting with Robert LiButti, a famous horse breeder and high-stakes gambler with ties to infamous Mafia boss John Gotti. In 1991, the Philadelphia Inquirer asked Trump about his connection to LiButti. At the time, New Jersey regulators were investigating allegations that the Trump Plaza casino had repeatedly removed women and Black people from craps tables after LiButti griped about their presence while playing. “I have heard he is a high roller, but if he was standing here in front of me, I wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump told the newspaper. And when Yahoo News in 2016 asked Trump about this 1991 investigation, which resulted in a $200,000 fine, Trump answered, “During the years I very successfully ran the casino business, I knew many high rollers. I assume Mr. LiButti was one of them, but I don’t recognize the name.”
Edith Creamer, LiButti’s daughter, had a different take. She told Yahoo News that Trump’s account was false and that he and her father knew each well. “He’s a liar,” Creamer said. “Of course he knew him. I flew in the [Trump] helicopter with [Trump’s then-wife] Ivana and the kids. My dad flew it up and down [to Atlantic City]. My 35th birthday party was at the Plaza and Donald was there. After the party, we went on his boat, his big yacht. I like Trump, but it pisses me off that he denies knowing my father. That hurts me.”
The Yahoo News story by Michael Isikoff (my occasional co-author) also reported that a 1991 book written by John O’Donnell, the former president of the Trump Plaza casino, recounted a 1988 meeting between Trump and LiButti aboard Trump’s private helicopter. On this flight, according to O’Donnell, Trump discussed buying a racehorse for $500,000 from LiButti. Isikoff also obtained the transcript of a wiretapped meeting in 1990 between LiButti and a top Trump executive in which LiButti made numerous references to his conversations with Trump and described an occasion when Trump personally handed him a check after he lost $350,000 at the craps table. (It was a supposedly a gift to keep LiButti happy so he would continue gambling at the Trump Plaza.)
To Yahoo News, Trump claimed he did not even recognize LiButti’s name. Yet a few months later he told the Wall Street Journal, “LiButti was a high-roller in Atlantic City. I found him to be a nice guy. But I had nothing to do with him.”
All these episodes establish a pattern: Trump associated with mobsters and lied about these relationships. Yet Trump’s links to criminals never became an issue during the 2016 campaign or subsequently. (No coincidence, Trump’s longtime attorney and mentor, Roy Cohn, who died in 1986, was also a lawyer for such mobsters as Fat Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti.) Yes, the United States was led for four years by a failed casino owner with ties to organized crime. And Trump’s criminality in office was hardly shocking, as he often behaved like a Mafiosa (Nice little country you got there, President Zelenskyy. You want more weapons from us? Well, I’m gonna need you to do us this little favor.) Now Trump has been indicted the way a mob boss gets nabbed. There is no telling how this case—or Trump’s other criminal prosecutions—will play out. But this much is clear: Willis has delivered one of the most poetic indictments in American history.
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Dumbass Comment of the Week
This week could be an all–Michael Flynn contest. The off-his-rocker former national security adviser declared in an interview that 600 globalists are poised to use their power to turn off your credit and bank cards to seize control of the world. And he told a group of pastors that the US Constitution is based “primarily on the Bible.” But he outdid himself with comments about the Holocaust in which he suggested that the Jews willingly went along with the Nazis as they were shipped to death camps because “there weren’t many guards.”
But Flynn was overshadowed by Republicans spreading violent rhetoric. In Michigan, state Rep. Matt Maddock at a fundraising pool party exclaimed, “If the government continues to weaponize these departments against conservatives and the citizens that are then the taxpayers, you know what's going to happen to this country? Someone's going to get so pissed off, they're going to shoot someone. That's what's going to happen. Or we're going have a civil war or some sort of revolution. That's where this is, where this is going.”
Maddock wasn’t calling for violence. But he seemed to suggest that it could be viewed by some on the right as justified. By the way, his wife, Meshawn Maddock, a former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, is one of the 16 fake electors who Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel criminally charged in July.
Our perennial contender, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), took it further. Introducing Donald Trump at a rally at the Iowa State Fair, he told the crowd, “Only through force do we make any change in a corrupt town like Washington, DC.”
This was an outright endorsement of violence. Gaetz added, “And so to all my friends here in Iowa, when you see them come for [Trump], know that they are coming for our movement, and they are coming for all of us." Encouraging paranoia and validating the use of force in politics—this is dangerous stuff.
The Iowa State Fair is supposed to be full of family-friendly fare—and fried food. Gaetz was using it to spread fascism. There are dozens of contests at the fair. For instance, Brooks and Weston Arendt of Hedrick, Iowa, won the fair’s look-most-alike contest for twins or triplets under the age of one. Gaetz took our prize.
We’ve fallen behind on our mailroom duties these past few weeks. Many apologies. But it’s August and...well, that’s it. Lots of readers expressed concern about No Labels, the dark-money group I wrote about that may field a presidential candidate in 2024 who impedes President Joe Biden’s reelection effort.
Leon Wolf emailed:
Can't someone or even the IRS use legal means to declare No Labels a political party, thereby forcing donor disclosure? How can they say they are not?
Good question. But the IRS does a bad job of policing nonprofits and rarely challenges the charitable tax status of organizations. No Labels says it’s not a political party, which means it does not have to disclose its donors. Yet, as I’ve reported, in various states it is setting up chapters that declare themselves political parties. So a group creating political parties is claiming it is not a political party so it can hide its source of funding. This is enough reason to be suspicious of the outfit.
John S. Brookes had a different take:
For a long time now, David, it has been my belief that this country needs a strong third party. In my mind, were I to start one, I'd call it The American Party or maybe the Red White & Blue Party. Regardless of the name, it would seek to appeal to an audience of people with common sense and decent moral principles, and utilize Solomonic wisdom (i.e., "split the baby") on hot button issues and, ideally propose novel solutions to some of our problems facing our bloated federal bureaucracy.
It would be interesting to see what the establishment of a viable centrist party would do to American politics. I can envision all sorts of scenarios. But the issue regarding No Labels now is that if it fields a presidential candidate, it could likely boost Trump’s odds of regaining the White House. That would put the United States closer to authoritarianism. There’s nothing more important than preserving democracy and the right to hold honest debates about crucial policy matters. No Labels’ intervention in the 2024 presidential contest threatens that.
Cynthia Evans wrote:
I find [No Labels’ potential presidential plans] horrifying and have since I first read about it. Anything that could even slightly pull votes from President Biden and Vice President Harris is, simply, a bad idea driven by outsized egos and not by any sense of service to our country and its citizens. Sen. Joe Manchin, a possible No Labels candidate, is the poster child for such despicable behavior.
My husband and I, along with our son and his family, will be researching places where we can move should Trump win the Republican nomination. I want to be ready to become an ex-pat should the unthinkable occur. This is a more difficult choice given the rise of the right around the globe.
I will never understand why this turn toward fascism is occurring and I am truly disheartened by it. I wish I had stayed in France when I studied there 50 years ago. I am getting old, so I suppose it is not as consequential for me, but I despair for my grandchildren, one who is five years old and the twins who are three years old.
My hunch is that at the end of the day, Manchin won’t run as a No Labels presidential candidate. Does he really want to end his political career as a loser who helps Trump return to the White House? This prospect might be enough of a disincentive to keep him out. But it is certainly in his interest to flirt with this possibility for as long as possible. It keeps him in the spotlight and boosts his political influence. As for the future of the United States, I counsel folks to not despair until it is absolutely necessary. Until then, fight like hell.
Lisa Spears corresponded to say she enjoyed participating in the Our Land Zoom get-together last month:
I want to express my thanks to you for opening up your schedule, and personal space, to me and your other subscribers. I enjoyed hearing the variety of point-of-views expressed from subscribers in various locations. I also appreciated seeing that many of the concerns participants expressed were the same concerns I have. It felt somewhat soothing to know that there are citizens from around the US that are savvy to the “kray-kray” such that they subscribed to Our Land to zoom with David Corn. Another item of appreciation is how you briskly kept the discussion moving along while simultaneously providing substance to the responses you gave to participants questions, mine included.
Side note: Our Land, as currently presented, is the right amount of information, in the right amount of length, and your and Moxie’s personality shine through it all.
Thank you, Lisa. It was indeed fun to hang out via Zoom with so many premium subscribers to this newsletter. The questions were smart, and I appreciated the feedback about Our Land. We will try to arrange another session next month. Speaking of Moxie...
“What’s on the other side of all that water?”
“About balls, squirrels, and my favorite humans?”
“Exactly, Moxie. Exactly.”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
August 12, 2023: From the Our Land archives: In Ohio, sex sells freedom; and more.
August 8, 2023: Ron DeSantis—not dead yet; Our Land on Cape Cod; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Mike Pence campaign); and more.
August 5, 2023: From the Our Land archives: The tale of Jeffrey Clark (Trump’s “co-conspirator 4”); Hightown, a crime drama that explores the underside of Cape Cod; and more.
August 1, 2023: What the Trump indictment won’t fix; the Covid wars; Freedy Johnston’s songwriting craftsmanship; and more.
July 25, 2023: Oppenheimer: a masterwork with a missing piece; wait, wait…I’m on a different news quiz show; the Our Land Zoom meeting report; summertime schedules; Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Barbie; and more.
July 22, 2023: How dangerous is No Labels?; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Kevin Lincoln); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
July 18, 2023: RFK Jr.’s antisemitic lunacy; George Santos and Miles Guo—a Trumpland love story; the current relevance of the 1965 Night of Camp David; and more.
July 15, 2023: RFK. Jr.: Should we give a damn?; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Lawrence Summers); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
July 11, 2023: Don’t forget Rudy Giuliani was a Russia disinformation stooge; Elliott Abrams, again; the tantalizing Silo; Chrissie Hynde as Frank Sinatra; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.