by John Lawrence
As we move into the congressional summer recess, there is less news from Capitol Hill than usual (if that is possible), which provides an opportunity for me to reflect on a few topical issues that relate to my own experiences working in the House.
As with all current political discussions, it seems, let me mention Donald Trump. Yes, I must. His hysterical xenophobia concerning those who emigrated to the United States without being invited by current residents has led me to recall the day he testified in Congress in 1993. Ironically, he was testifying (if you can call it that) about Native Americans, who have had their own concerns about uninvited émigrés.
In 1988, Congress had passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which established procedures to permit tribes to conduct gaming on their tribal lands. While many in Congress had qualms about encouraging tribes to move into gaming as a source of revenues, the fact is that other efforts to lure investment to tribal lands had failed miserably and gaming offered the prospect for addressing the crushing poverty that impacted (and still does pervade) many reservations.
The October 5, 1993 oversight hearing was intended to look into the implementation of the 1988 law, and witnesses included various officials from the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. As staff director of the Committee on Natural Resources, I was working with the subcommittee staff on the hearing when a special request was forwarded to me.
Donald Trump, who controlled the Taj Mahal and other casinos in Atlantic City, shared the concern of many in the gaming industry that competition from tribal casinos would undercut their business. Trump had requested permission to testify as a public witness, which was granted. But on the morning of the hearing, Trump’s assistant was asking that he not have to wait until all the federal officials had completed their testimony. He wanted to be included in the opening panel of departmental officials.
I did not have the impression that Mr. Trump, or his assistant, were familiar with the regular order of congressional hearings, so I explained that, no, he would have to wait until all of the federal officials had completed their testimony. It will come as no surprise that Mr. Trump’s representatives did not accept that answer cheerfully and made the request a little more emphatically. Thus, I was able to exercise one of the great pleasures of being a staff director with a supportive employer: I told Trump’s person he could testify in his designated place or not at all.
Trump also did not understand seating protocol at the hearing, and arrived very late to find all seats occupied. As a result, he had to stand for over two hours before it was finally his turn to testify. (At least he did not ask to sit on the dais with the Members, an option which I imagine briefly flitted through his orange covered head.)
I suppose the refusal on the order of his appearance and all that time standing in 1324 Longworth unhinged something in Trump’s demeanor that morning, because when his time at the witness table finally arrived, he was filled with invective and insults. “I had a long and boring speech,” Trump began. “It was politically correct and something that would have gotten me into no trouble whatsoever.” Why go there?
Instead of his seven-page script, Trump launched into a blasphemous and unsubstantiated tirade that, quite literally, left Member, staff and other mouths agape for its sheer mendacity and crudity. The essential charge Trump leveled was that Indian gaming (unlike the non-Indian style which is known for its extreme propriety) was riddled with organized crime; and if it wasn’t already, it soon would be. The infiltration of the casinos by “will be the biggest scandal ever, the biggest since Al Capone,” Trump warned. “Organized crime is rampant. People know it. People talk about it,” but no one was doing anything to stop it, certainly not Native Americans who were incapable of policing their casinos. “An Indian chief is going to tell Joey Killer to please get off his reservation?” Trump asked, sounding more like a character from Goodfellas than a real estate developer. “There is no way Indians are going to protect themselves from the mob. This is gonna blow.”
Trump also challenged the legitimacy of many of the tribes setting up casinos through the labyrinthine procedures required by the law and BIA’s regulations. Commenting on Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequots, who developed the massive Foxwoods Casino, Trump confided to the legislators, “They don’t look like Indians to me. They don’t look like Indians to Indians.” Asked later what Indians look like, he employed the same dismissiveness he now shows reporters who ask tough follow-up questions, “You know,” he said. “You know.”
Lest any critic suggest Trump was more insensitive to Native Americans than he is today to Latinos and immigrants, the future candidate assured the panel, “Nobody likes Indians as much as Donald Trump.” His concern, he professed, was that “the Indians are being had by mobsters” and that the substantial profits earned by the casinos were not being shared with the tribal members. “It’s unbelievable to me,” he asserted, that Congress was unaware of the scandal.
It was also unbelievable to Connecticut State Police Lt. Col. Robert Root who claimed he was unaware of any allegations of criminal activity at Foxwoods. Laurence A. Urgenson, acting deputy assistant attorney general, said there were no data supporting the claim that the mob was infiltrating Native American casinos. And Jim Moody, section chief of the organized crime/drug operation division of the FBI, testified that his office had uncovered “no evidence of skimming, money laundering, theft or any other criminal activity in Indian gaming.” Moreover, seven years later, additional probes by the FBI, the Justice Department Criminal Division, and the Office of Tribal Justice found no evidence of organized crime in casinos. William Johnson, an official with the Mystic Lake Casino in Minnesota, dismissed Trump’s mob allegations, saying, “It is wrong; it is ludicrous, and it is based on unjustified jealousy.”
I am unaware if there have been subsequent cases of criminal activity in tribal casinos; there may well have been some. But I do know that between 2003 and 2005, according to papers filed in federal court in March, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service has conducted four examinations of Trump Taj Mahal that identified repeated significant violations” of the Bank Secrecy Act, and that in 1998, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network “assessed a $477,000 penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for BSA violations.” The recent document concluded that between 2010 and 2012, the Trump Taj Mahal violated numerous recordkeeping and reporting acts, including requirements to report more than $10,000 cashed in or out on one day (shades of Denny Hastert!) and “failed to implement and maintain an effective anti-money laundering program.” The Taj also filed for bankruptcy three times since 2004.
Wow, that sounds like that “big scandal” Trump was warning the Subcommittee about! If the violations had focused on Indians instead of Trump’s organization itself, he would have been right on the money back in 1993. The proposed fine for all this hanky-panky was determined to be $10,000,000 by the Director of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
The six-hour hearing ended with Members and participants incredulous at Trump’s willingness to use a formal government inquiry as a forum to spew his unsubstantiated and prejudiced opinions. “In my 19 years” in Congress, said Rep. George Miller, the committee chairman, “I don’t know that I’ve heard more irresponsible testimony. For his part, Trump professed only that he was not afraid to compete with Indians, but given tribal sovereignty and tax treatment, he wanted “to compete on an equal foot.” His first step should have been to remove his foot from his mouth. Or, considering his current ravings, just leave it there.