President Donald Trump is of course a man whose words and deeds frequently command our headlines and attention. We should of course pay attention to both. On the subject of veterans, he typically speaks with great reverence. He attempted to turn the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. into a celebration of our veterans and the nation’s military might. He hired many multi-star Generals into his original Cabinet, though he has since fired the bulk of them as well.
The longer he is in the White House, and with the way Democrats appear intent on making these Impeachment proceedings almost as partisan as possible, their words versus deeds can also use some measurement and scrutiny. And as we look forward to the elections of 2020, we should also look back, as with veterans and others, this president often takes a public posture and position, which are often not supported later by his actions or the facts.
On the eve of the Iowa Presidential Caucus, in Des Moines on January 28, 2016, then candidate Trump chose to decline participation in a Presidential Candidate Debate, and instead host his own Trump for Veterans Rally and fundraiser just down the street. According to the Trump campaign, this rally, put together in just a few days, would set Iowa event attendance records and raise a projected $6-million for veteran causes and charities.
Though plenty of veterans were in attendance, they were not consulted, nor meaningfully included in event planning. The Trump Foundation accepted all donations, including several large checks from friends and supporters of the businessman candidate. The event netted $2.8 million, a tidy sum, but roughly half what the President had boasted.
Days later, Senator Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus, with Trump a very close second place finisher in a large field. Months after the fundraiser, The Washington Post, began asking which veterans organizations had received how much from the event or the Trump Foundation, as the President had earlier discussed and his campaign had released a list of veteran charities which Trump or his foundation had previously supported.
Research by the Post and later the New York Office of Attorney General would find that Trump used the foundation more as a personal piggy back, for personal expenses, campaign expenses and other disallowed uses. The Trump Foundation was later disbanded in December of 2018.
On the anniversary of his election week, Trump signed a settlement agreement with a New York Judge presiding, to pay a settlement of $2-million. In the settlement agreement, Mr. Trump acknowledged, with the legal protection of non-profit status, that Trump and his family frequently used the foundation for personal expenses, ranging from $10,000 for a portrait of the President, now hanging in one of his hotels, to a variety of lesser campaign expenses.
The funds which did eventually pass through to veterans were predominantly direct gifts by Trump friends and supporters, and only a tiny fraction of the announced event gate of the Veterans Salute in Iowa. And while admitting guilt, violations of state and federal tax law and misstating the benefit and proceeds to veteran causes, the President again views himself as the victim of these proceedings:
“I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give money to charity ($19-million), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State,” Tweeted by President Trump the evening that the settlement was reached.
Perhaps coincidentally, the President announced he would be changing his legal residence to Florida the very same week. And though the veterans event would have had expenses, the foundation had no employees, no offices and a board which only rarely met, which would tend to tamp down expenses. The President has since characterized the $2-million in damages he is paying as a contribution which he is now all too happy to donate to worthy groups. I will also note here that the President donates his Presidential salary to a wide array of charitable causes on a quarterly basis.
Veterans and their families are quite accustomed to broken promises, from the VA to other areas of promised government support. Yet as we recognize and salute their commitment and sacrifice, we should also hold ourselves and others accountable for honoring those promises.
Perhaps Trump’s opponents should try running this one up the flagpole and see how the public and veteran communities salute or react to that.