When Donald Trump delivered his “American carnage” inaugural address nearly two years ago, he was joined by a traditional group of people: members of Congress, members of the new president’s family, former presidents, etc.
But they were joined by one Republican Party megadonor: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. As regular readers may recall, it was the first time in recent memory a new president welcomed a major campaign contributor literally onto the inaugural dais. Soon after, Adelson attended an exclusive luncheon with Trump and congressional leaders at the Capitol.
Not surprisingly, the access continued well after Jan. 20, 2017. ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has a lengthy new piece on Adelson, which includes a rather extraordinary anecdote about developments in February 2017, when the billionaire casino magnate dined at the White House with Trump and top members of the new president’s team.
Adelson was in town to see the Japanese prime minister about a much greater sum of money. Japan, after years of acrimonious public debate, has legalized casinos. For more than a decade, Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands, have sought to build a multibillion-dollar casino resort there. He has called expanding to the country, one of the world’s last major untapped markets, the “holy grail.” Nearly every major casino company in the world is competing to secure one of a limited number of licenses to enter a market worth up to $25 billion per year. “This opportunity won’t come along again, potentially ever,” said Kahlil Philander, an academic who studies the industry.
The morning after his White House dinner, Adelson attended a breakfast in Washington with Abe and a small group of American CEOs, including two others from the casino industry. Adelson and the other executives raised the casino issue with Abe, according to an attendee.
Adelson had a potent ally in his quest: the new president of the United States. Following the business breakfast, Abe had a meeting with Trump before boarding Air Force One for a weekend at Mar-a-Lago. The two heads of state dined with Patriots owner Bob Kraft and golfed at Trump National Jupiter Golf Club with the South African golfer Ernie Els. During a meeting at Mar-a-Lago that weekend, Trump raised Adelson’s casino bid to Abe, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
One of the people briefed on the exchange told ProPublica that Trump told Abe he should strongly consider Las Vegas Sands for a license. Japanese officials were reportedly “a little incredulous that he would be so brazen.”
The piece, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added, “The president raising a top donor’s personal business interests directly with a foreign head of state would violate longstanding norms.”
Yes, it would. If the reporting is correct, it would also add additional evidence pointing to systemic corruption on Team Trump.
Indeed, the scene the ProPublica piece described is almost cartoonish: Trump invited the Japanese prime minister to his private club that that the American president still profits from; they rubbed elbows with wealthy contributors who donated to Trump’s campaign; and the American president reportedly lobbied the foreign head of state to improve the interests of one of his most generous supporters.
During the Republican presidential primaries, Adelson reportedly favored Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for the GOP nomination, which annoyed Trump. The New York Republican tweeted at the time, “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!”
Who’s the perfect little puppet now?