Jackson, “But what about…”

Punta Pacifica at sunrise: The former Trump Ocean Club in Panama — the tower shaped something like a sail — is also the subject of civil tax fraud allegations. The purchaser in bankruptcy — who later sold to an international hotel chain — said that the former Trump management concealed unpaid Panamanian taxes with respect to the operation. The building in question is at the left side of this archive photo by Eric Jackson.

Adding Panama to the list, not just to change the subject

by Eric Jackson

Trump supporters are notoriously playing “whataboutism,” as in pointing to other matters to demonstrate alleged hypocrisy. It was a tactic notoriously lampooned by June Foray, the voice of Pottsylvanian secret agent Natasha Fatale on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. But as the indictments come down, Trump detractors are also bringing in extraneous matters, and several criminal investigations are also working toward additions to the list of the former US president’s legal woes.

So where might Panama fit into the list? There was the swarm of unsavory allegations, situations and connections flying around the former Trump Ocean Club in Panama City’s Punta Pacifica neighborhood. As in thuggish people selling for The Trump Organization, corrupt people of various nationalities on the premises and a major sales effort to attract Russians in particular, all of which might be brushed off as below-the-belt “guilt by association” blows. There was this suspicious fire at the project’s adjacent marina for which, however, there have been no arrests or convictions.

But then, as it all came falling down in US bankruptcy proceedings, there were the Trump efforts to hold onto his company’s management contract that reportedly involved White House efforts to get Panama’s president at the time, Juan Carlos Varela, to waive various Panamanian laws in order to thwart a US court order to sell the property to a Cypriot bidder in a judicially mandated auction.

Panamanian condo owners have the right to vote a management company out, which they did as to The Trump Organization. But when the new owner arrived, Trump company goons prevented him from entering the building. It got resolved in Panama’s courts, not to Donald Trump’s liking.

There are legal gray areas and novelties as to the situation. The US Constitution arguably — not explicitly — makes personal acceptance of something of value from a foreign power an impeachable emolument. But what if it’s a favor instead of tangible property? What if the favor was only solicited but never delivered?

The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act explicitly makes it a crime to bribe an official of a foreign government. But what about bullying, browbeating or blackmailing a foreign official to do a valuable favor? The law surely covers an improper move aimed at “influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, including a decision to fail to perform his official functions….” Would a White House lean be an inducement contemplated in that statute?

Under the impeachment clause, would the acceptance of such a favor amount to “Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” within the meaning of the Constitution? Then you get a step or more removed to soliciting or conspiring to acquire such a thing.

Were a case to get before a US jury, under whatever theory, then there would be another knotty problem. Just what did Trump, or somebody on his behalf, say to Varela, or to somebody on the former Panamanian president’s behalf, to try to get the latter to waive enforcement of the law? It’s a problem because Varela is quite the impeachable witness, facing an upcoming mass trial for graft and money laundering as he is.

It’s a case that probably won’t get to court, but a legend that’s likely to outlive the people involved — or thought to be involved — in the annals of unsavory US-Panamanian relations.

But Boris...
Any allegation that Russian women were induced to invest by a redhead gun nut operative’s glowing descriptions of moose and squirrel hunting in Panama is probably exaggerated. Screenshot of a sales hype advertorial in womanadvice.ru.

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