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Why the controversy surrounding Trump's media venture matters

Donald Trump, who spent his term boasting about getting tough with China, has partnered with a dubious Shanghai firm for his equally dubious media company.


After Donald Trump was forced from the major social-media platforms for violating their terms of service, the Associated Press reported in March he would soon launch his own site. Jason Miller told Fox News at the time that the former president was poised to "completely redefine the game" with his new tech initiative.

It was against this backdrop that Fox News reported in May that Trump and his team had launched a new "communications platform," powered by a "digital ecosystem." The phrases wildly oversold what was actually a rudimentary blog, utilizing technology that's existed for many years.

A month after its launch, the website was permanently scrapped — due to lack of reader interest. The game had not been "completely redefined."

Apparently undeterred, the Republican and his team made a related announcement the week before Halloween, launching the Trump Media & Technology Group, which apparently has multimedia ambitions — it says it intends to compete with both Twitter and Netflix — and even hired a high-profile CEO: Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said he'd resign as a Republican congressman to lead the nascent company.

And while that's certainly of interest, what makes this story amazing is what we're learning about the behind-the-scenes financing of the initiative. The New York Times published this report the week after the company's launch.

[The former president] agreed to merge his social media venture with what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. The result is that Mr. Trump — largely shut out of the mainstream financial industry because of his history of bankruptcies and loan defaults — secured nearly $300 million in funding for his new business. To get his deal done, Mr. Trump ventured into an unregulated and sometimes shadowy corner of Wall Street, working with an unlikely cast of characters....

That cast includes a small Chinese investment firm with a curious record. (This may seem a little convoluted at first, but be patient, because this is going somewhere.)

A few years ago, for example, the firm helped create a company called Atlas Technology International, and it claimed in its Securities and Exchange Committee filing to be a company that made cupcakes. Soon after, Atlas filed a new annual report, saying it had made the transition from cupcakes to touch-screen devices, which was a bit odd.

The same folks behind that operation — a Chinese firm called Arc Capital — said they also ran a smart-phone sales company in south Florida, which did not appear to have ever sold anything to anyone at any time. They also claimed to have a drone software company, which somehow existed without any employees.

The SEC took a closer look and came to the conclusion that these companies were, for all intents and purposes, fake — which is a problem, because in the United States, fake companies are not supposed to be publicly traded.

The SEC intervened and took the unusual step of issuing a "stop order," preventing the companies from selling public shares.

And now, as The Washington Post reported, these same guys in Shanghai have partnered with the former American president and the Trump Media & Technology Group.

A Chinese firm helping former president Donald Trump take his new media company public has been the target of investigations by federal securities regulators, who say the firm misrepresented shell companies with no products and few employees as ambitious, growing enterprises, documents and interviews show. Arc Capital, an investment advisory firm based in Shanghai, has repeatedly helped create or finance companies with little or no revenue, no customers and office locations that point to P.O. boxes, according to a Washington Post review of regulatory and court filings.

It's quite a marriage, isn't it? On the one hand, there's Trump, who's been accused of running fraudulent operations such as Trump University and the Trump Foundation, while on the other hand, there's a Chinese firm that's also been accused of launching highly dubious operations.

Keep in mind, the Trump Media & Technology Group, launched to great fanfare in October, does not appear to exist in any meaningful way, at least not yet. It has no products, no customers, and no sources of revenue. A securities lawyer told the Post, in reference to the partnership between the the former president's operation and Arc Capital, “There’s a shell company basically merging with another shell company."

Nevertheless, the Republican's friends in Shanghai are raising hundreds of millions of dollars from the public that will ostensibly go towards Trump's media company that, again, still doesn't exist.

All of this has recently drawn the interest of investigators at the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which typically investigates things like insider trading.

So, let's recap. Trump, who spent his White House term boasting about getting tough with China, has partnered with a dubious firm in Shanghai, which doesn't have any offices in the United States, but which is nevertheless financing his first — and for now, largely aspirational — post-presidency business venture. All of this is now facing federal investigations, in part because of the Chinese firm's history of fake businesses.

I can appreciate why expectations surrounding the former president are low, but this is farcical.