Chicago banker Stephen Calk was appointed as an economic adviser to the Donald Trump campaign in the summer of 2016. By no coincidence at all, that appointment came just after Calk had helped Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort grab $16 million in loans using applications that were littered with obvious lies. The mini-conspiracy of greed between Calk and Manafort has already generated charges for bank fraud, and now it’s coming back for a second course of bribery.
On Wednesday, Calk was indicted for bribery over the assistance he gave Manafort in gaining two multi-million dollar loans. In exchange for his help in what was just one stage of Manafort’s ongoing money-laundering scheme, Calk got not just his name on the list of Trump’s “Best People” advising the campaign, but a spot on the list for a role in a potential Trump White House. As Bloomberg reports, Calk even provided the campaign with a list of roles he was willing to accept—from secretary of the treasury down to a lowly post as the mere U.S. ambassador to France.
However the role Calk, who served a tour in the Army thirty years ago, wanted most was over at the Pentagon. With Manafort’s help, Calk even interviewed for a slot as undersecretary of the Army. At the time of that interview, Manafort still had $6 million in loans pending. With that edge and his role in the campaign, Calk might have thought he was a shoo-in. As The Wall Street Journal reported back in 2018, Calk was certainly acting as if he already had the job.
Calk made numerous calls “to the Pentagon and specifically to Army headquarters” asking for people to brief him on military topics and to help him prepare for his new job. Unfortunately for Calk, at that point not only was Manafort officially off Team Trump, the campaign chairman was already under heavy scrutiny from the FBI and state prosecutors looking into the apparent gap between his income and his income as reported to the IRS. And his repeated calls to the Army insisting that this unknown person get briefed on confidential military matters did not weigh in his favor.
So Calk helped Manafort to millions of loans he didn’t deserve, and all he got for it was … whatever trinket comes with being an official economic adviser to the Trump campaign. That, and a fresh bribery charge.
According to the documents filed in court, Calk handed out those millions even though there were “significant red flags regarding [Manafort’s] ability to repay the loans.” That included the fact that Calk knew Manafort was lying about his assets and covering up previous loan defaults.
In other words, Calk was willing to hand Manafort $9.5 million, and a promise of $6 million more, for a role in the Trump White House. If that sounds like a lot to pay to be part of a place where the revolving door spins at turbo speed, it helps to remember that it wasn’t Calk’s money. He was paying Manafort’s bribe by taking money from his bank, investors, and the people who didn’t default on their loans but have to cover the costs of people who do. Like Manafort. Or, of course, Trump.
As The Washington Post reported in August of 2018, the CEO of the bank Calk and Manafort robbed by mutual agreement, testified as a witness during Manafort’s trial. That CEO spoke to the unusual level of attention and “involvement” that Calk gave to Manafort’s loan application. Overall, the information on file makes the case against Calk seem the definition of open and shut.
Because you don’t have to have an underlying crime to commit felony obstruction, and you don’t have to get the job to commit felony bribery. Maybe Calk and Manafort can collaborate again … at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan Township.