Political Hay

Shakedown Schneiderman

Donald Trump battles the politics of extortion.

By 11.5.13

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“He’s a businessman. I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” -- Vito Corleone in The Godfather 

Donald Trump.

Eric Schneiderman.

Al Sharpton and Jon Corzine. 

President Obama and Obamacare.

It is a huge mistake to see the attack on Donald Trump by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a $40 million lawsuit over Trump University, as an isolated, Trump-centric event. 

But let’s begin with Donald Trump. Who last week filed 150-plus pages of court documents requesting a complete dismissal of the lawsuit, itemizing in devastating detail the bogus nature of Schneiderman’s case. Labeling the lawsuit as “nothing more than a baseless attempt to garner publicity and further his own political ambitions,” Trump also announced he would be filing an ethics complaint against Schneiderman with the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics. 

Let’s begin specifically by thinking of Donald Trump’s multi-billion dollar, resoundingly successful company -- The Trump Organization -- as Khartoum the race horse. 

Khartoum the race horse? 

You remember Khartoum the race horse. The scene is immortalized in the Oscar-winning film The Godfather

The rich and famous Hollywood producer Jack Woltz, owner of the $600,000 Secretariat-like race horse Khartoum, refuses to put Mafia Don Vito Corleone’s favored godson Johnny Fontane in a movie. One fine morning, Woltz awakens, horrified, to find the severed head of his beloved race horse -- whom he has lovingly described beforehand as “the greatest racehorse in the world” -- in his blood-soaked bed. As seen here in the legendary scene from the film version of Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel. Message delivered, Don Corleone’s god son Johnny Fontane gets his movie part from the thoroughly terrified movie producer.

Now.

Think of Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, supposed progressive “icon of the left” and a wannabe governor -- as a dime store Godfather. Vicious, but Vito Corleone without the gravitas. 

The role of Johnny Fontane, the god son who wants the movie part? That would be played by Mr. Schneiderman’s cherished political career. A career that depends on getting as much money, connections, and favorable publicity as possible to push him into the governor’s office as the Next Great Progressive Hope in the manner of two of his attorney general-predecessors, the infamous Eliot (Client Number 9) Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

The AG’s career also depends on Schneiderman keeping his coattails free of corruption charges, which thus far has been dicey. A federal sentencing memorandum on Schneiderman’s ex-State Senate colleague Shirley Huntley prompted Huntley’s attorney, according to the New York Daily News, to allege her client had information “about corruption involving Eric Schneiderman.”

This doesn’t even count the murmurs from Schneiderman’s political base of New York’s hard left that he is, among other things, a “water boy” and “transactional.”

What does any of this have to do with Donald Trump?

And what does any of this have to do with Al Sharpton? With ex-New Jersey Governor, Goldman Sachs boss and Democrat fundraiser/financier Jon Corzine?

Not to mention President Obama and Obamacare?

It all comes clear as one reads through the recent comprehensive court filings -- over 150 pages -- by Donald Trump in response to the lawsuit filed by the man we call here “Shakedown Schneiderman.” Schneiderman’s nickname won by virtue of a hard-earned reputation for shaking down targets for either money or publicity to advance his gubernatorial yearnings. As seen here in this Reuter’s story of another Schneiderman lawsuit that has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

The core of Shakedown Schneiderman’s Don Corelone-style method of operation is captured by the famous line from the Don himself. As Puzo immortalized the line in The Godfather, the Don would get Johnny Fontane the desired movie part in unique fashion, saying of producer Woltz: “He’s a businessman. I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

The offer, of course, was Khartoum’s severed head. The blunt message? Next time it would be Woltz’s head.

What was Scheiderman’s “offer he can’t refuse” to businessman Donald Trump?

In Schneiderman’s own words to Trump’s counsel, as documented in the Trump filing, Donald Trump would be forced to settle the lawsuit Schneiderman was threatening because Trump would not “want all of the bad press.”

As in: Nice business ya got there Mr. Trump. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

To underline his threat to Trump, Trump’s family and business associates, Shakedown Schneiderman first “leaked the issuance of a subpoena” to the New York Times -- the Trump associates getting a call from the Times literally within minutes of receiving the subpoena. Then, filing his lawsuit on a Saturday afternoon -- which would put Schneiderman in the Sunday papers -- Shakedown (in the words of the Trump filing) “went on a nationwide media blitz.” The purpose of which was, as the filing puts it, “to publically [sic] discuss the merits of his case.”

Which is to say, Schneiderman’s version of making an offer Donald Trump could not refuse was to appear on NBC’s Today Show, CNBC’s Squawk on the Street,MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, Fox News’ Fox and Friends, CNN’s New Day, the CBS Evening News and ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA). Every minute of every one of these Schneiderman appearances -- in a national media heretofore uncaring about a mere state attorney general -- devoted to giving Donald Trump a black eye. 

As it were, Schneiderman had just delivered a severed horse head to Donald Trump.

Notably, Trump first learned of the Schneiderman lawsuit not because his lawyers were formally and properly notified but from “a producer at GMA.” All these Schneiderman appearances were, in 21st century media-blitz style, actively promoted by Schneiderman on “Twitter and other social media” -- a decidedly unethical practice in the legal world, not to mention for a New York state attorney general. 

And in the run-up to all of this? Just as Don Corleone was asking for that movie part for his godson Johnny from Hollywood producer Jack Woltz?

What do you think did Eric Schneiderman wanted from Donald Trump?

Why, the obvious. Money, of course. Campaign contributions. Connections. 

That’s right. In the run-up to this lawsuit Shakedown Schneiderman was busy trying to shakedown not only Donald Trump but “members of the Trump family, their attorneys and representaives” for cold hard cash and more, specifically “soliciting campaign contributions, political support and other personal favors” for himself. In the words of the Trump filing, Shakedown “repeatedly solicited campaign contributions and sought other favors from members of the Trump family and its representatives during the pendency of the two-year investigation” into the Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative (TEI), formerly known as Trump University. Telling them as he requested that campaign cash, political support and “other personal favors” that the case against TEI was “weak,” that he had “no intention of moving forward,” that TEI should be “patient” and “let things play out” and that he, Schneiderman, would “never file the lawsuit.” Indeed, Schneiderman looked Ivanka Trump right straight in the eye -- at a campaign fundraiser, of course -- and flatly stated “this case is going nowhere.”

These “blatant improprieties” are to be the subject of Trump’s forthcoming complaint on Schneiderman to the Public Ethics commission. So too is Schneiderman’s spectacularly brazen comment to Trump’s lawyer that the filing of a lawsuit against Donald Trump would “increase his [Schneiderman’s] political capital.”

The filing points out that when Schneiderman was asked about soliciting Trump family and business associate campaign cash, Shakedown “did not expressly deny the allegations, but instead stated that ‘prosecutors are used to people making wild accusations.’”

Or, as Bill Clinton might say, “it depends on what the definition of is, is.”

Schneiderman also said that he was merely “going through the motions” to, in the words of the filing, “satisfy the lower members of his staff.” We’ll come back to that Schneiderman jewel in a minute.

And if Trump and family and friends didn’t comply to Shakedown’s satisfaction? 

They would get the severed-horse-head-in-the- bed treatment.

In this case appearing as a Schneiderman media blitz on every major American television network, cable and broadcast, whether said network was liberal, conservative, or just breathing. And don’t forget all those social media twittering and Facebooking away 24/7, along with those old fashioned print presses. 

Print presses running headlines like these: 

  • USA Today: “N.Y. AG sues Trump, 'Trump University,' claims fraud”
  • New York Daily News:   “New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman files Donald Trump 'University' $40 million fraud suit”
  • New York Times: “Trump University Made False Claims, Lawsuit Says”
  • Chicago Tribune: NY attorney general sues Donald Trump investment school”

And just recently, as Trump fought back, the New York Daily News again:

  • More victims of alleged Trump University scam come forward supporting suit against The Donald

“More victims” defined as a laughably paltry 100 people. Responded Trump lawyer Jeffrey Goldman in the Daily News: "If someone told you that something you were happy with four years ago you could now possibly get money back, wouldn't your perception change? Goldman said. "Where were they during the three years of the investigation?" Goldman added that the Schneiderman charges were “intellectually dishonest, factually inaccurate, intentionally or recklessly deceptive and misleading, and legally unsupportable.”

All of these appearances and stories -- every last one of them -- designed to intimidate Donald Trump into giving Shakedown what he wanted. Either Trump and family and friends ponied up more appropriate bucks to Schneiderman -- or a massive and prolonged Trump-dumping publicity binge lay ahead. With Schneiderman using his office both to punish Trump for not sufficiently tending to Schneiderman’s career -- and using Trump to make Schneiderman seem as if he were some sort of fearless legal giant-killer devoted to protecting the little guy.

Schneiderman’s problem? Trump had no intention whatsoever of being pushed around. He was damned well not going to “settle” this bogus lawsuit. He would, as it were, have his own legal team wrap up the severed horse head and deliver it right back to Schneiderman. Launching not only his own detailed legal response but taking Shakedown directly to the state’s ethics commission.

The Trump legal response details Schneiderman as so hell-bent on his desperate “no holds barred quest to make a name for himself and propel his own political ambitions” by scoring headlines designed to intimidate Trump that the AG ignored the fact the three-year statute of limitations on the charges presented had expired. Expired by “not one, not two, but as many as five years… and eight years after the causes of action at issue… first arose.” But there’s no legal window on publicity -- so Schneiderman, greedy for the publicity of a tangle with The Donald, eagerly went ahead anyway. 

There was the insistence that Trump had violated state law by using the name “university.” An astonished former 16-year Counsel and Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Education Department (SED) has filed an affidavit in support of Trump saying she couldn’t “recall a single instance during my 16-year tenure as General Counsel” where someone “was fined, asked to pay restitution to students or assessed a civil penalty for identifying itself as a ‘university.’” No attention is paid to the fact that when Trump’s colleagues were notified of this they quickly agreed to change the name of the venture to the Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative. Last but not least was the hilarious notion that out of the 10,000 students who voluntarily -- say again voluntarily -- filled out student surveys on their experience, “as many as 98% of the students who took TEI courses were overwhelmingly satisfied with their experience.” The Trump filings present one example after another of the handwritten evaluations of various seminars. Among the accolades comments that “the seminars have exceeded all my expectations,” “you are a great group of instructors,” “I just want to keep coming back,” “it was excellent, high energy, very informative,” “a standard of excellence." And on… and on and on.  

The Trump lawyers than proceed to go through those students who have “complained” -- listing them by name and methodically demonstrating the complaints “are all deliberately vague” and “so rife with deliberate omissions and misstatements” that the Court should disregard them entirely. Trump is prepared to submit “approximately 10 bankers’ boxes of evidence” to back up this particular point. To show in meticulous detail that there is zero “evidence of a pattern and practice of deceptive and fraudulent conduct.”

To the point?

The obvious question: Why in the world would billionaire Donald Trump, of all people, ever think of going to all this trouble to scam $35,000 a pop from students? It makes no sense. There is no reason. No possible motive. What there is here is an attempt to juice a political career by a prosecutor using Mafia tactics. 

So. Let’s see how Shakedown plays his game, shall we? Because there is more to this story -- much more.

Remember this line from the filing? The direct quote from Schneiderman that he was merely “going through the motions” in considering whether to file the lawsuit? In the words of the filing, Schneiderman admitted he was going after Donald Trump to “satisfy the lower members of his staff.”

Hello? The “lower members of his staff”?

Who are these people? The filing doesn’t say.

But it is more than worth noting that the routine news stories out of Albany on Schneiderman and his staff -- stories that have nothing to do with Trump -- paint a picture of a the state’s chief legal officer staffing the Office of the Attorney General with far left political activists. 

To be specific:

  • Micha Lasher: Schneiderman’s chief of staff, Lasher is not a lawyer but rather a longtime Democratic operative who once worked years ago on Schneiderman’s state senate campaign. Lasher was, says the New York Timesa founding partner of the political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker.” What the Times does not say is that the managing directors of the firm Lasher founded include former Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and Schneiderman’s ex-wife Jennifer Cunningham, described as “the most powerful woman in Albany” by virtue of her lobbyist status and close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo.
  • Neal Kwatra: Now departed as Schneiderman’s chief of staff, Kwatra, like Lasher, is not a lawyer but a political operative whom New York magazine described as someone who “sees life as a campaign.” That would be a political campaign. Kwatra’s background for his central role in the AG’s office was as a union organizer,Campaign and Elections depicting Kwatra as “a slick and aggressive young operative, he’s widely credited for turning the small union into a power player at both the city and state levels.”
  • Melissa DeRosa: DeRosa, who recently departed the Schneiderman office where she was deputy chief of staff and later acting chief of staff (she now works for Cuomo) has, according to the Albany Times-Union, “served as New York State Director of Organizing for America, President Obama’s national political action organization. While at OFA, Ms. DeRosa developed and oversaw the grassroots strategy to lobby New York’s Congressional Delegation to vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.”
  • Damien LaVera: A “senior adviser and chief spokesman” for Schneiderman in the attorney general’s office, LaVera has worked previously for the Obama Energy Department (where he defended the Obama/Solyndra crony-capitalism deal) and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean at the Democratic National Committee.

In other words, while the Trump filing does not identify “the lower members” of Schneiderman’s staff that Schneiderman is said to have fingered as being responsible for pushing the Trump lawsuit, it is crystal clear that the Attorney General’s staff has been and is now staffed with far-left political activists who could easily have every political reason to target Donald Trump -- a famous Obama critic and Republican. When the Trump court papers speak of the Schneiderman lawsuit as “nothing more than the AG seeking to use the significant publicity from a lawsuit against famed real estate developer and business mogul Donald J. Trump, also a Republican antagonist, to propel him toward next year’s election for Governor or Attorney General,” it is important to note that Schneiderman has made it a point to staff his office with political operatives. Just as Vito Corleone employed Luca Brasi as his personal enforcer (it was Luca, in a later Godfather sequel, who is revealed as dispatching the racehorse Khartoum and personally delivering the severed horse’s head to Jack Woltz’s bed), Eric Schneiderman employs political enforcers.

Let’s move on to Al Sharpton. That would be the Reverend Al Sharpton to you, the host of MSNBC’s Politics Nation to the universe of which the Reverend Al is allegedly the center at a salary of some $600,000 smackers.

Did you notice that one Schneiderman Trump-bashing media appearance was on MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Al Sharpton? Where Schneiderman repeatedly and cozily addresses the host as “Rev” and talks about “one set of rules for everyone”? As in -- bold print for emphasis provided:

“Glad to be here, Rev,” or “I mean, you’ve known me for a long time, Rev,” or “This [suing Trump] is not the kind of thing that I shy away from.In fact, it's important to send a message that no matter how powerful you are, no matter how famous you are, there is one set of rules for everyone.”

Interesting. Particularly when you realize that there was this story in the Village Voice by Wayne Barrett back in September of 2010 when Schneiderman was running for attorney general. The story in this famously liberal paper was headlined:

Al Sharpton and the 'Times' Endorse Eric Schneiderman: You Gotta Be Kidding

Wrote Barrett:

Here's what astonished me. Schneiderman could have just said "Thank you, Rev."

Instead, obsequious Eric said how great it was to get "the Good Housekeeping seal of approval from the man from the House of Justice," which is what Sharpton calls his National Action Network (NAN) headquarters in Harlem.

Schneiderman cited Sharpton's pursuit of justice and said he would "seek to follow that model as AG," adding: "The House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state."

Got that? The last sentence? Shakedown gushes that Sharpton’s “House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state.” Here’s a video version if you prefer.  

As Mr. Barrett pointed out, Sharpton was prominently listed by the State of New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance in September 2009 as a tax “scofflaw.” Sharpton’s name popping up as number 177 on a list of 400 personal and corporate income tax scofflaws. In fact, reported the Albany Times Union:

As for Sharpton, the civil rights activist weighed in at No. 177 on the list for his new warrant of $103,156. But if you add in outstanding 2008 warrants of $492,612 and $392,057, his debt is much larger.

This, mind you, barely a year before Sharpton received his lavish praise from Eric Schneiderman as the New York State tax scofflaw provided his endorsement with much fanfare -- as that video clearly shows.

Here’s the Village Voice on Schneiderman’s performance as he got that Sharpton endorsement, again with bold print for emphasis:

It was craven excess, an unconscious declaration of how transactional Schneiderman actually sees the office he seeks. No one really expects a Sharpton cubicle in Schneiderman's office, but the AG-to-be was declaring that an organization that the current officeholder, Andrew Cuomo, investigated just two years ago would have an inside track with Schneiderman because its leader was helping to make him AG. The Federal Election Commission recently levied its largest fine ever on Sharpton's presidential campaign -- $285,000 -- and one reason was that the House of Justice's NAN, and other Sharpton entities, had illegally covered $387,192 of Sharpton's campaign expenses. Sharpton went nuts when federal subpoenas were served on his ex-chief of staff and many others in the NAN posse. Federal prosecutors wound up indicting no one but forced Sharpton to agree to a payout plan on his taxes. NAN is one hell of a strange annex for a top law enforcement officer

Strange indeed. Very strange that Schneiderman would be well aware of Sharpton’s problems and the actions of Andrew Cuomo when Cuomo was attorney general. The New York Post (here) had listed the following about Sharpton’s problems with New York taxes and the fact that Cuomo had not only begun files on Sharpton but turned them over to the feds:

  • The $1.9 million in payroll taxes and penalties that NAN owed as of 2006.
  • The $175,962 in state taxes that Sharpton’s profit-making company owes.
  • The $1.3 million in federal and local taxes that Sharpton owes personally. 
  • The rev’s 2004 presidential campaign, in which federal matching funds -- tax dollars -- financed Sharpton’s stays in swanky hotels.

Unless, of course, one realizes that Shakedown Schneiderman is “transactional” (Village Voice) and has a penchant for the “shakedown” (Reuters). There’s nothing more “transactional” than getting a big endorsement from his friend the “Rev” –- Schneiderman’s benefactor the Rev a star not just on MSNBC who gets his figurative “annex” to the attorney general’s office and quickly supplies Schneiderman with national air time to trash Trump on the Rev’s very own MSNBC show. The NY tax scofflaw list? What’s that to Schneiderman? He checked with the Sharpton annex to the Office of the Attorney General. The Rev isn’t the problem. So it must be Donald Trump who is the problem.

Notice anything here?

Just like his refusal to investigate ex-New Jersey Governor, Goldman Sachs poohbah and Democrat fundraiser extraordinaire Jon Corzine  for Corzine’s role in the spectacular crash of MF Global, there’s not a peep from Schneiderman about Sharpton.

In the case of Corzine, the New York Post reported that “critics suggest that Schneiderman’s reward for looking the other way on MF Global came when Obama appointed him to head a much-hyped task force to investigate mortgage-foreclosure fraud.” Which means that since Schneiderman looked the other way on Corzine’s loss of a billion dollars in MF Global investor money -- he was rewarded. By…yes, indeed… the President of the United States.

In the case of Sharpton? There was the all-important, very public Sharpton endorsement for Schneiderman and the Schneiderman line that "The House of Justice will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of the state."

But Trump was less than enthusiastic. So…..in a “transactional” bid for more “political capital”…here comes Schneiderman’s shakedown.

Which is to say, Donald Trump was targeted for political extortion. 

So. 

What are we really seeing here? 

Recall in the first term of the Obama White House when then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn -- now the managing director of the Schneiderman chief of staff’s old consulting firm -- waged a campaign to “delegitimize” Fox News? When a furious effort was made to remove Rush Limbaugh from the air in the Sandra Fluke episode? Recall the IRS going out of its way to use IRS power to wreck the Tea Party?

Now it’s Donald Trump’s turn.

It is a fool’s errand to think of Eric Schneiderman as a lone actor. Over the course of the Obama presidency the American Left has deliberately, brazenly, and repeatedly used the iron fist of government or the government’s political comrades to try and silence or intimidate its critics. Whether the target is Donald Trump today or Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, or the Tea Party yesterday the goal is always the same. In some cases even the people doing the targeting are the same. All of them at work to break up the “old order” of America’s founding principles of freedom, liberty, free markets, and a free press. This is what lies at the root of the Obamacare chaos descending on millions of Americans, stripping them of their insurance in the name of “social justice” and “fairness.” It is all of a piece. And make book that down the road, whenever what happens with Donald Trump has receded into the political rear view mirror, someone out there will be next.

But the story today is Donald Trump.

And when all is said and done, after all the posturing of Eric Schneiderman and his political cronies running the New York Office of the Attorney General, the barefaced reality of the Schneiderman shakedown lawsuit against Donald Trump is that it is about nothing more complex than the basest of motives camouflaged with the ethics of a Mafia Don: 

Common theft.

Extortion.

Who will investigate that?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.