A month before he sat down in the White House, Donald Trump put in a call to the prime minister of Vietnam. The call made headlines in Vietnam, where the call was recorded and even broadcast. It came as a surprise to the US State Department, which had not arranged the call, and a snub for US allies who traditionally are first to receive such calls. But ProPublica reports that Trump made the call by special request.
The contact with Vietnam was not set up by the State Department. Instead, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, helped arrange the call.
And why would one of Donald Trump’s endless array of attorneys want the freshly elected Trump to deliver his first call to Vietnam?
Kasowitz had another client with a keen interest in Vietnam: Philip Falcone, an American investor with a major casino outside Ho Chi Minh City. After the Trump call, Kasowitz traveled to Vietnam with Falcone. They met with government officials as part of an effort to persuade Vietnam to lift a ban on gambling for its citizens. Such a shift would deliver vastly more gamblers to Falcone’s casino.
So Donald Trump’s first act of “international statesmanship,” was greasing the rails for a casino operator by making it clear that his request was backed up by connections to the incoming administration. In fact, that was the entire reason for Trump’s call.
And of course, Falcone is an admitted criminal who took investors’ money out of a hedge fund and used it as his own.
President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the Internal Revenue Service that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.
And Trump certainly didn’t have an issue with using his new position to boost a crooked casino operator at the request of one of his attorneys.
“Phil asked if Marc could arrange a phone call between the president and prime minister of Vietnam,” said a person familiar with the call. “Marc did that.”
The White House won’t say if Trump directly mentioned the casino in the call. But he certainly got across the point that there’s a new kind of leadership in Washington. The sleazy kind.