During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah's at Trump Plaza. The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward's father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort's builder. Edward's son, Paul, who was the firm's accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. "That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company... which has been around since my grandfather," he said.
The front page of USA Today's print edition features an all-caps, above-the-fold headline that Republicans probably didn't want to see: "Trump's Trail Of Unpaid Bills." And while the headline is rough, the article hits like a sledgehammer.
USA Today recently broke some news, noting that Trump and his business enterprises have been involved in "at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades." But this new report goes one step further, noting much of the litigation involves ordinary Americans -- mechanics, plumbers, painters, waiters, dishwashers, etc. -- who sent Trump bills for completed work, and the New York Republican simply refused to pay.
The new report added, "The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump's sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether."
Adding insult to injury, the Wall Street Journal published a related report overnight, documenting the same problem. In some instances, Trump-owned businesses felt they had leverage over small businesses, so when bills came, Trump's enterprise would offer part of what was owed -- take it or leave it -- knowing that the small businesses couldn't afford to get tied up in a lengthy court fight.
This really is brutal. It's hard to say whether this news will be overshadowed by the institutional Democratic support Hillary Clinton has picked up over the last day or so, but by some measures, these Trump revelations are absolutely devastating.
Keep in mind, Trump has picked up voter support over the last year in part by touting his private-sector successes. These new reports suggest his business background may actually be the most controversial aspect of Trump's life.
It's easy to see the ads: Deadbeat Donald claims to be a successful billionaire, but he doesn't pay his bills and has repeatedly stiffed small-business owners. How in the world will he respond?
Postscript: Keep in mind, at one point last year Donald Trump had 16 rivals for the Republican nomination, not one of whom did any real opposition research on him. Any of the GOP campaigns could've tracked down this information and put it to use during the primaries, but they just didn't have their act together.