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If Trump did financial fakery, is that a crime?

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

They call him Mr. Fibs

With Robert Mueller in the rearview mirror, eyes are turned to the rest of the investigations, including those looking at Donald Trump's business finances.

Capitol Hill Democrats and New York State investigators are collecting documents Trump submitted to would-be lenders, investors and insurers that indicate a habit of inflating his net worth, The Washington Post reports. How? By omitting properties that carried big debts, overvaluing assets or entering numbers that were just plain wrong.

Examples: A 2011 financial statement said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California, but city records show there were only 31. He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.

But did Trump cross the line into fraud? That's not clear. The Post says Trump is far from the first real estate developer to inflate his projects or wealth, and the legal consequences could depend on whether it could be shown he intended to mislead — and that he gained from it. 

Another factor that could weigh in his favor: Just as Trump's actions to fight the Russia investigation may not have been criminal obstruction, according to Attorney General William Barr, because many occurred in plain view, Trump's financial exaggerations may have been too obvious and brazen to be taken seriously.

Speaking to the Post, Kyle Welch, an assistant professor of accountancy at George Washington University, said Trump's numbers were so far off from reality that he wondered whether any real bank or insurer could have been fooled. “It’s humorous,” Welch said. “It’s a humorous financial statement.”

Then again, there wasn't much laughter from those who bought into Trump's ventures over the years — only to get stuck by bankruptcies and defaults.

Janison: Past fail

Any case against Trump for transgressions before he took office faces a big hurdle for those with impeachment still on their minds, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

There's an unwritten rule that pre-presidential conduct lacks relevance for impeachment. It's why the obstruction-of-justice question, covering actions as president, seemed a worse potential problem than campaign collusion for Trump while the Mueller investigation was underway.

Bill Clinton's foes tried to oust him based on perjury and obstruction of justice while defending himself in a sexual harassment lawsuit drawn from his days as Arkansas governor. But the impeachment articles resulted from his sexual relationship in the White House with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Mercy beaucoup?

Privately and publicly, some of Trump's closest advisers and allies are warning him not to pardon former aides nailed in Mueller's probe. "I think for President Trump to pardon anyone in his orbit, it would not play well," Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

But that may not stop him. In a nearly 45-minute phone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Trump avoided giving a definitive answer when asked if he would consider pardoning his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

"Many, many people were in­cred­ibly hurt by this whole scam,” said Trump, referring to the investigation. “I don’t want to talk about pardons now, but I can say it’s so sad on so many levels.” For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

'Only blows sometimes'

Clearly still tickled that the Mueller report delivered only a "maybe, maybe not" on obstruction, Trump let loose this week with some risible statements reminiscent of the former Vice President Dan Quayle. They involved energy and geology.

For one thing he told Fox's Sean Hannity Wednesday night that he knows "a lot about wind," that it "only blows sometimes" and "if it doesn't blow you can forget about television for that night." He didn't account for a little thing called battery storage, as one can learn on his Energy Department's website, but there's more.

"I support the Great Lakes. Always have," Trump said during a speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "They're beautiful. They're big. Very deep. Record deepness.” 

He didn't know or care that they are not among the deepest in the United States.

Justice sicced on Jussie

Trump tweeted Thursday that the FBI and Justice Department will look at the case of Jussie Smollett after a local prosecutor dropped charges that the "Empire" actor staged a hate crime against himself.

"FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago," Trump wrote. "It is an embarrassment to our Nation!" After Smollett was arrested, Trump denounced him for having portrayed his supposed assailants as Trump supporters spewing racist and homophobic slurs.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while also furious that the charges were tossed, said Trump should "just sit this one out." He said his city will try to recoup from Smollett the costs of a police investigation into an incident they later determined was bogus.

Emanuel argued that Trump forfeited his moral authority to weigh in on the Smollett case with his widely criticized response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent. 

It's a Betsy loss 

Trump isn't going to be giving any trophies to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who spent three days defending a budget plan to end federal funding for the Special Olympics in the face of a bipartisan outcry on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. As she tried again Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told her it deserved "a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity."

By the afternoon, Trump decided he'd heard enough. “The Special Olympics will be funded. … I just authorized the funding of the Special Olympics,” Trump told reporters. “I have overridden my people.”

But the Cabinet official, bristling at being hung out as a Cruella DeVos, tried to deflect the blame, saying she was the one who wanted to keep the funding all along. “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue, and that he’s decided to fund our Special Olympics grant,” she said. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”

Quite a page-turner

There's a lot more to the Mueller report than the four-page summary put out by Barr over the weekend. It runs more than 300 pages, a Justice Department official said, and has a long list of footnotes.

Barr discussed the length of the report in a call with House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who is pressing for release of the full report and the underlying evidence Mueller collected.

Meanwhile, Trump and congressional Republicans hammered House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), demanding he resign for continuing to suggest there was collusion with Russia by Trump, which Mueller did not find, according to Barr's synopsis.

Schiff shot back by reciting a litany of the contacts between Trump’s family and associates with Russia during the 2016 election. "You might say that’s all OK. You might say that's just what you need to do to win,” Schiff said. “But I don't think it’s OK. I think it's immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And yes, I think its corrupt and evidence of collusion.” For more, see Tom Brune's story for Newsday.

What else is happening:

  • Trump took another victory lap over the end of the Mueller probe at a Grand Rapids, Michigan, campaign rally, saying, "Democrats have to decide if they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous [expletive], partisan investigations, or whether they will apologize to the American people."
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked at a House hearing when the long-promised Mideast peace plan by Jared Kushner would be unveiled. “I think we can say in less than 20 years,” he joked.
  • Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who wants a meeting with Trump over the president's moves to curb hurricane-relief aid, may not have helped his cause in a CNN interview. He said he wouldn't let his officials be bullied by the White House: "If the bully gets close, I'll punch the bully in the mouth." 
  • Trump said he's taken better care of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricanes than "any living human being."
  • The Democratic National Committee announced it will host the party's first presidential debates for the 2020 election in Miami on June 26 and 27.
  • Trump is celebrating a dip in ratings at MSNBC and CNN since the summary of the Mueller report. "Fake News never wins!" he tweeted.
  • Trump on Thursday signed a one-year extension of a humanitarian program that allows Liberians to live and work in the United States. They were admitted as refugees from environmental disasters, the Ebola virus and war. Trump said last year conditions had improved enough to end the program, but now favors a longer "wind-down" period.

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