(Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky)
SIn the grand scheme of his many legal and regulatory conflicts, President Donald Trump’s spats with state regulators over damaged wetlands and excess water use at his New Jersey golf courses seem almost trivial. Trump ultimately was fined $147,000 — less than he banks from a couple of new memberships at the two private country clubs where he was cited for breaking state law. Both disputes were resolved during his presidential campaign and went unnoticed in the press.
Yet, as small as the sum was for a man like Trump, these two episodes are telling, not just because his resistance to oversight seems so disproportionate to the underlying allegations, but also because they provide a revealing anatomy of the five primary stages of Trump response. They could be summarized as Delay, Dissemble, Shift Blame, Haggle and Get Personally Involved. (The elements can be used in any order, more than once.) Often, there’s a sixth stage, too: Offer a job to one of the key players on the opposing side. Trump deployed those tactics again and again in his titanic real estate battles in New York, and his mega-dollar fights over casinos in New Jersey, according to Wayne Barrett’s biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”
The stakes may have been smaller on the golf courses, but documents and interviews show the playbook was the same. Historically, Trump’s approach has proved effective, and so it was in New Jersey. The Trump Organization’s repeated infractions at the two clubs lingered unresolved for years. In the end, Trump paid just a fraction of the penalties that state law allows. Then the key regulator, who helped negotiate the generous terms, signed on to a job in the Trump campaign.
The conflicts with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began on a 500-acre property once owned by disgraced carmaker John DeLorean, which Trump bought for $35 million in 2002. Situated in horse country 40 miles west of Manhattan, the site is now familiar as the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster. It’s where President-elect Trump paraded cabinet aspirants before the media; where he plays golf on warm-weather weekends; and where he’s spoken about wanting to be laid to rest after his final deal is done.
Trump transformed the property, building two golf courses, a 25-meter heated pool, tennis courts, clubhouse, fitness center, guest cottages and a helipad. The president has a home at the club; so do Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who were married there. The membership fee has been variously reported at between $100,000 and $350,000.
The violations at Bedminster date back to 2009. At the time, Trump had recently added a second golf course and was making improvements on the first. In the process of reshaping the land — building tee boxes and cart paths and clearing lines of play — his workers chopped down trees, uprooted vegetation and covered open waters. Trump was legally permitted to make changes on the property, but state law required that certain portions, particularly sensitive wetlands, be …read more