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Donald Trump’s charity is an ‘empty shell.’

That’s how New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood described the Donald J. Trump Foundation in a lawsuit filed on Thursday. The lawsuit seeks to dissolve the foundation, bar Trump from serving on another charity’s board for ten years, and force him to pay at least $2.8 million in penalties. In a series of tweets, Trump vowed not to settle the state’s lawsuit.

The alleged grift is extensive: New York’s 41-page lawsuit accuses Trump and his eldest children—Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—of violating state and federal laws for more than a decade by using the foundation’s tax-exempt coffers as a personal expense account of sorts. In perhaps the most egregious breach, Trump sought donations from the public at a 2016 Iowa fundraiser for veterans’ groups and then funneled roughly half of the proceeds to the foundation. The Trump campaign then drew upon those funds to make high-profile donations during the Iowa caucuses in the foundation’s name, effectively giving him a political boost for charitable giving made with other people’s money.

One can’t help but be reminded of another one of the president’s Potemkin enterprises: Trump University, which marketed real-estate learning courses using its namesake’s reputation for business acumen in the 2000s. Class-action lawsuits brought by former customers depicted Trump University as a predatory scheme that sought to inflame those customers’ financial insecurities, then offered to soothe them if they paid tens of thousands of dollars for real-estate seminars that yielded few insights into long-term success. (Trump settled the lawsuits for $25 million last year.)

The two schemes differ in targets and tactics, but share a common goal: shameless self-enrichment, obscured by the thinnest veneer of legitimacy, facilitated by Trump’s public image of wealth and success and conducted without regard for ethical or legal boundaries.

June 27, 2019

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This is Democratic speed dating.

The opening debate is always a “get to know you” debate. That’s especially true of the first of two opening Democratic debates, given that it’s frontloaded with candidates no one knows (Tim Ryan, John Delaney), candidates almost no one knows (Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Julián Castro), and candidates already in need of a campaign reset (Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke).

But it’s hard to make an impression when there are nine other people, many of them desperate, on the stage. The general strategy in the opening thirty minutes of the debate is for candidates to talk as fast as they possibly can, guaranteeing that they can maximize their short minute of allotted time. This is, of course, familiar to anyone who’s been in high school debate—a combination of nerves and peacocking, showing the audience just how much they know. This has been exacerbated by the manic opening of the debate, which has touched on issues from climate change to health care to antitrust, without much effort to try to get the candidates to actually talk to each other. (De Blasio, arguably the most desperate on the stage, is the only guy really trying to pick a fight.)

If there’s a byproduct of the pace of the debate so far, it’s that it does showcase just how many ideas the Democratic candidates have on the table. But mostly, it just showcases just how many candidates there are on the stage, and how many of them seem not that different from one another. (I’m looking at you, John Delaney and Tim Ryan.)

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Is cruelty a winner?

As the Democrats take the stage for the first debate, I am expecting—hoping, even—that there will be ample outrage over the warehousing of migrant children at the southern border.

The last week or so has seen an uptick in attention—because of the brutality at the Clint facility, because of the drowning deaths in the Rio Grande—on what has been the shame of a nation for most of the Trump administration. Several presidential candidates in Miami will be making the short trip to Homestead, a for-profit shelter for unaccompanied minors. The facility was, it must be said, first opened under Obama, but it was re-opened and doubled in size by Trump to cage hundreds of migrants in their teens.

Today, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar made separate visits there. Neither were allowed inside, but Warren stood on a step ladder and peered over the fence at what she said were kids being marched in lines. She turned to the assemblage of media and supporters and called it “a moral stain inflicted by Donald Trump.”

“Following a policy that can be boiled down to one basic idea—and that is maximizing the pain inflicted on families who flee to the United States to try to build some security and safety in their lives—is fundamentally and morally wrong.”

Warren’s right, of course, and it is refreshing to hear strong condemnations from one of the Dem frontrunners. But then I thought, is that going to matter?

Adam Serwer famously wrote last October that “the cruelty is the point,” that the through line that connects what seems like a chaotic carnival of policy misfires is the joy at inflicting pain on people Trump and his fans see as “other.” That premise has become almost universally accepted by those opposed to this administration and the Republican Party that embraces it—and so, it is likely that many in Miami will try to score points by voicing righteous and rightful outrage at the serial meanness of Team Trump. But is that outrage a winner for the campaign trail?

This question applies to both the primaries—where every Democrat will hopefully be vocally opposed to the Zero Tolerance “policy”—and the general, where the issue energizes the GOP while seeming to enervate Democrats. The last thing you want to do is exhaust your base, after all.

But beyond that: Does Trump’s cruelty engender a real feeling of powerlessness? Is opposing cruelty basically negative campaigning—campaigning without hope, when your best advisers will tell you to close with hope?

June 26, 2019

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Welcome to TNR’s coverage of the Democratic debates.

Yes, the debates are upon us, a mere 16 months before voters will cast their ballots to decide whether President Trump should get a second term. In that time, babies will be conceived and born, the earth will orbit the sun and then some, and Democrats will, with any luck, choose a champion from the two dozen candidates running for the nomination. It all begins tonight, with the first of two debates in Miami this week featuring the 20 candidates—ten each round—who qualified to participate by either polling at 1 percent in three surveys or receiving 65,000 individual donations.

The staff of The New Republic will be watching the proceedings, offering running commentary and post-debate analysis, and hopefully answering any questions readers might have. Who’s up, who’s down? Who, if anyone, seems qualified to stall America’s spiraling descent into a fiery wasteland overseen by Trumpian kleptocrats? And who is Eric Swalwell, anyway? Pop by TNR’s Minutes blog at 9 o’clock EST tonight and tomorrow night to find out!