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The Grifter in Chief

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History will remember 2018 as the year it became increasingly clear that a grifter — and likely a felonious one — is living in the White House.

No matter what you think of tariffs, border walls and tax cuts, there should no longer be any illusions: What we're seeing isn't normal, or the product of some entrenched deep state, some Democrat-led conspiracy or a biased news media. No, what we're seeing is the result of a man — and a family — that repeatedly puts personal gain over all else, the rule of law be damned.

Amid all the speculation about Robert Mueller's probe into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and whether he then obstructed justice, not to mention the daily barrage of tweets, it's easy to lose track of the fact that there has been an abundance of detailed reporting this year to show that everything Trump touches ends up bilked and it shouldn't be lost on anyone that the Trump Organization, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the Trump presidential campaign, the Trump Inaugural Committee and Trump himself are all currently under investigation amid substantial and extensive allegations of wrongdoing.

And it bears noting that we know about all this because of dedicated reporting from the nation's news media. As we've noted, the national media is more fragmented and siloed than ever, with consumers in bubbles digesting news thinly disguised punditry as news. The constant, minute-by-minute news cycle also makes it hard for the general public to separate the information wheat from the chaff. Simply put, too much energy is expended breathlessly dissecting the latest perceived slight or distilling the day's news through the lens of the partisan horse race that our national politics has become.

As you read through our cover package of this year's Top 10 stories in Humboldt County, we encourage you to consider how each story relates to and has been shaped by the national discourse about the environment, immigration, healthcare and human rights. After all, we are all connected, despite how much some among us may make believe the Redwood Curtain is some impenetrable barrier.

And please keep in mind that good reporting is vital and, thankfully, something that still thrives, both locally and nationally.

Back to Trump.

Reporters have uncovered extensive evidence that Trump's family committed extensive fraud to dodge hundreds of millions of dollars in inheritance taxes from the estate of Trump's father, Fred Trump. The scheme, as detailed in the New York Times, included a shell company and systemic devaluation of properties through shady appraisals.

Reporters have also detailed how Trump used his charitable foundation as a piggy bank, the best evidence of which can be seen in its single smallest and largest donations: $7 the foundation used to pay Donald Trump Jr.'s Boy Scout entry fee and $264,231 gifted to the Central Park Conservancy to restore a fountain directly in front of Trump's Plaza Hotel, according to reporting in the Washington Post. The New York Attorney General's Office — which alleged the foundation engaged in a "shocking pattern of illegality" as, under a judge's supervision, it forced the foundation to dissolve — is also investigating the interplay between the foundation and the campaign, as Trump infamously used an Iowa campaign rally to hand out $100,000 in oversized checks from the foundation to Iowa charities.

Also while on the campaign trail — you know, while he was repeatedly denying having any "deals" in Russia — we now know that Trump signed a letter of intent with a Russian firm that set the terms for Trump Tower Moscow, which included a $4 million initial payment to Trump, who bore no up-front costs, and a percentage of profits over the life of the property, according to CNN. (We also know that, according to Trump's former personal lawyer, the Trump Organization discussed with a Russian official an offer to gift the property's $50 million penthouse to Russian President Vladimir Putin if the tower got the government's OK, arguably a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.)

But let's not get too far into those Russia weeds. Instead, let's look at that inaugural committee, which is also under criminal investigation. Trump's inauguration cost $107 million, more than twice as much as President Barack Obama spent in 2009, which had previously held the inauspicious title of America's most expensive inauguration. The committee's tax filings leave more than $40 million unaccounted for and federal investigators are now looking into how that money was spent. Unsurprisingly, it now looks like a sizeable chunk of it was shunted back into Trump's personal coffers. Emails obtained by Politico show that while many venues donated space for inauguration festivities, the Trump Organization tried to charge rents in excess of $700,000. Additionally, Politico's reporting showed the inauguration made sure folks brought in to work on the inauguration were put up at the hotel, where they ran up bills in excess of $200,000.

And then there's Trump himself, who is now an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony campaign finance case. While some are tempted to smirk and dismiss Trump's allegedly directing his personal lawyer to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money payments through shell companies to two women alleging they had affairs with the then presidential candidate, it is a serious matter. If nothing else, if true, the allegations show that even on the cusp of ascending to the nation's highest office, Trump worked to keep voters in the dark while subverting the law and attempting to cover his tracks.

Now, none of this is a surprise to folks in New York and New Jersey, where shady Trump deals have been steady news fodder since the 1980s. It shouldn't even really be a surprise to those of us who followed the Trump University class-action lawsuits, which the president ultimately settled for $25 million.

In recent weeks, amid the torrent of conspiracy theories that make up the president's Twitter feed, he's referred to a government witness as a "rat." Indeed, history will remember 2018 as the year the American people started to realize that if the president acts like a criminal and talks like a criminal, he's probably a criminal.

As a local detective recently described a bank robber to the Journal: "It's not guesswork. That's what he does." This is what Trump does. He's proven himself time and time again to be the type of man who, if you met him in the street and shook his hand, we'd encourage you to check your rings, watch and wallet afterward.

This isn't about politics. It's about the rule of law and the fact that there's a body of evidence — growing by the day — to indicate that the man living in the White House may belong in prison.

Here's hoping for a more just 2019.

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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the Journal's arts and features editor. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or jenn@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com.

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