Ever since Donald Trump began lawyering up to fight accusations of scandal involving Russia, a lot of people have wondered why he would ask Jay Sekulow to represent him. Sekulow made his name as someone who fought against church/state separation. He doesn’t do law enforcement investigations or obstruction of justice cases. He doesn’t have expertise in the one job he was hired to do. It makes as much sense as hiring an orthopedic surgeon to perform brain surgery.
While that description could apply to a number of Trump appointments, it’s unusual that Trump would hire someone whose ineptitude would hurt Trump himself instead of the American people. Maybe, some suggested, it was because Trump liked seeing Sekulow on TV. Maybe it’s because he wanted to build an even stronger bond with evangelical Christians, the largest segment of his base who look away every time people point out Trump’s incompetence, hypocrisy, and outright lies.
Here’s another possibility: Trump found a lawyer who’s as corrupt as he is.
According to the Guardian‘s Jon Swaine, there’s evidence that Sekulow pressured poor people into funding his lavish lifestyle. We already knew Sekulow and his family made a lot of money through their groups Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case) and the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ).
But how much and through what methods?
Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month [June of 2009] approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.
Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.
It’s not just that Sekulow’s group was asking people for money. That’s what all non-profits do. It’s that he didn’t care if the people he wanted money from had none to give him. He wanted it anyway. And not just to push forward with his group’s missions. The people running his groups (i.e. his family members) were compensated far beyond what anyone would call reasonable.
For example, fundraisers for the ACLJ were told to tell the people they called up about topics like “abortion, Sharia law and Barack Obama” in order to freak them out and get them to believe they had to fight back.
If the victim said she had “no money” or was “unemployed,” the caller was supposed to deliver this pre-planned response:
I’m sorry — I didn’t know that Mr(s) ____. I can certainly understand how being unemployed/having limited funds would make it EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to help with a gift right now. And we don’t ever want to put you in a financial bind. Could you possibly make a small sacrificial gift of even $20 within the next three weeks? If not, I understand.
That “sacrificial gift” from the poor helped Sekulow and his family members rake in millions of dollars each. Just as Jesus wanted.
Even more than that, there were times Case (run by Sekulow) rented office space from another company (owned by Sekulow), then paid more than $225,000 above what they needed to for rent over the five-year lease. Why the excess? They attributed “some of this total to telephone and utility bills.”
Shaaaaaady. And it’s not a singular event either.
In another deal, Sekulow’s wife Pam, Case’s treasurer and secretary, bought a “retreat property” in North Carolina from Case in 1998 with help from a $245,000 loan out of the nonprofit’s funds. The Case board, controlled by her family, then decided to forgive $217,742 of what Pam owed and count this as compensation, the previously unreported accounts say.
Case separately loaned Jay Sekulow $209,968 in 1999. Over the following years, the Case board voted to forgive $211,305 of the loan and interest payments — more than the original amount Sekulow had borrowed — and classify all this as compensation.
No wonder Trump loves this guy.
To be sure, part of me appreciates this arrangement. Trump needs all the help he can get, and Sekulow can’t give any to him. If that hurts Trump, that’s too damn bad. Maybe Trump surrounding himself with buffoons will finally catch up to him.