On August 21, my wife and I went to the well-deserved dedication of naming the street in front of Young Israel of Kew Garden Hills, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld Way. I had no expectation of being involved in the ceremony. All of a sudden, when Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld was in the process of pulling the cover off the sign, it became stuck. They asked for a tall person to help pull it off and someone called my name. I was right near them and sprung into action. I ended up pulling off the cover. It was a great honor for me to end up completing the removal of the cover of the sign in memory of someone who I respected. This is one more example where I am able to work with Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld despite our differences.
In his prior column, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld asked a number of questions. The same week, someone wrote me complaining that I have been focusing on Trump for years with repeated criticism and that it is time to speak about Biden. I agree that I have spent a significant amount of time writing about Trump. I wish that I could ignore him. However, his conduct and his being the de facto leader of the Republican party has made that impossible. I believe that my prior articles have answered all of Rabbi Schonfeld’s questions. Moreover, it is impossible to respond to Rabbi Schonfeld’s questions in one column. Thus, I will take a different approach.
Pump and Dump has been a strategy that has been used since the beginning of equity markets. It is the concept to buy a stock at a low price, falsely tout its value to the public to raise the price, and when the price is high, cash out. Then the truth of the worthless value of the security becomes known. Those who cashed out make a fortune. A variation of this approach has been with the so-called “meme stocks.” They are stocks of established companies that are on stock exchange which have become duds. They have high short positions, meaning that experts expect that the stock will go down. These stocks have been touted on social media as good investments. The trading platform of choice has been Robinhood, which ironically has lost most of its value since its IPO (Initial Public Offering). There have been some individuals who made money playing this game. However, many individuals lost money. The most recent example of this “scam” is what happened with Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY). At one time it was a profitable enterprise. However, it has been losing a lot of money and has a horrible balance sheet. One individual, Ryan Cohen, took an 11 percent stake in the company. Then BBBY became part of the meme stock frenzy. From July 27 to August 17, BBBY stock took off. It went from $4.54 a share to $30 a share. Then it was first revealed in a filing on August 18 that Cohen had sold his entire stake in the company including his options on August 16 and 17. Within two days, the stock fell back down to $11.03 a share. Cohen made more than $58 million profit while those who bought BBBY are left holding the bag. Those who bought the stock feel betrayed. They have no one to blame but themselves for relying on the nonsense stated on social media sites. The accurate information about the stock was accessible. The company is in financial trouble. Every stock traded on the major exchanges has to file reports and other documents about the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission. If there’s anything in the report that’s false, those who involved in preparing the reports could be subject to civil or criminal sanctions.
This dichotomy between what’s said on social media, where there is no fear of reprisal, versus what is written or said under the penalty of civil or criminal sanctions also applies in the political realm. It’s easy to make statements on social media or at press conferences that have no ramifications if they’re false. It’s different when a person is called to testify or submits an affidavit, which could subject them to criminal charges. Although Trump has had plenty of opportunities to make statements under oath, he has repeatedly refused to do so. When he was finally forced to answer questions in the New York State Attorney General’s probe, he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.
Unlike Trump, plenty of individuals have testified under oath relating to conduct involving the former president. There were the hearings in the first impeachment trial, the Muller report, and the January 6 commission hearings. I call on Rabbi Schonfeld and others who continue to defend Trump to read those documents and listen to the testimony. The video of the January 6 commission hearings is available on YouTube. Read the transcript of the calls between Trump and Zelenskyy and Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State. Although these conversations were not under oath, portions of the conversation indicate improper conduct by Trump. Also, read the approximately sixty court decisions which rejected Trump and supporters’ claims concerning irregularities with the election.
Even in the case involving the search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s rhetoric has not corresponded with what he has done in the litigation. The case, available for public view, is United States v. Sealed Search Warrant. Trump had a copy of the warrant and the receipt listing what was taken. Yet Trump did not release a copy or apply to the Court that it be released. The DOJ, after repeated attacks by Trump that it was hiding the warrant and the receipt from the public, made the application to release these items to the public. Trump has repeatedly stated that he wants the underlying affidavit to be released. Yet Trump did not bring an application to the Court to release the underlying affidavit used to obtain the search warrant. It has been various media organizations, including those on both ends of the political spectrum, who made the request. The DOJ filed papers opposing it. Trump did nothing. He did not file any papers taking a position on the issue. Then, when the Magistrate heard the motion, Trump’s lawyer, although given a chance, did not take a position. Trump has repeatedly assailed the search and the magistrate who signed the warrant. Yet Trump has not made an application to the Court to recover all the documents and to have the Judge removed because of bias. Trump, through counsel, finally made an application on August 22 in the case titled “In the Matter of the Search of Mar-a-Lago” for (a) an appointment of a Special Master; (b) enjoining further review of seized materials by the Government until a Special Master is appointed; (c) require the Government to provide a more detailed Receipt for Property; and (d) require the Government to return any item seized that was not within the scope of the Search Warrant.
Rabbi Schonfeld ignores Trump’s bias and interest. Trump wanted to be reelected as President. Although he lost the election, he was not willing to accept it. As indicated in the January 6 hearing, he took a multi-pronged approach to remain in power, whether it was to pressure Vice President Pence or the secretary of state or other officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, or Pennsylvania to engage in conduct for which they had no authority. He also made false claims of election fraud, riled up an armed crowd to make to the Capitol, and did nothing for more than three hours while the mob was ransacking the Capitol.
Likewise, Trump has an interest in attacking the FBI and the DOJ. The fact that it will cause violence is irrelevant, just like it was irrelevant on January 6. Trump is afraid that he will be charged with a crime. Trump’s tactics, including his over-the-top rhetoric, are nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the DOJ, warning them that if you decide to arrest me, bad things will happen with my heavily-armed supporters acting against law enforcement. Already an individual came to an FBI office in Cincinnati with a nail gun, which he fired along with an AR-15 style rifle.
Trump and the stock touters on social media have something in common: They can say what they want for their own benefit, which will not cause them any problems since it is not under oath. Those who show the fallacy of what they claim have made statements under oath. This information is available if people are willing to search.
The American economy depends on a stock exchange that investors have confidence in that is above board. That is why there are many regulations. When individuals engage in conduct that may enrich themselves but cause public to lose confidence in the financial system, it is dangerous for the country.
Similarly, in a democracy, the bedrock is the belief that elections are fair, and if a person loses and they decide to challenge the results, they accept the results once the challenges are decided. Likewise, it is necessary to have confidence in law enforcement and the judicial system. Anyone who falsely claims election fraud and repeatedly spreads that lie and repeatedly falsely attacks the FBI and DOJ for his own interests must be repeatedly condemned. I am not even considering whether Trump has engaged in conduct that was criminal. Trump has done more than any one individual to undermine confidence in the pillars of our democratic system. Unlike other politicians from both parties who may criticize the government, Trump is unique since he has a vast following who have repeatedly shown that they will follow his wish and command. If you think it’s derangement to call out Trump for his conduct, then called me deranged. I think it’s being deranged to ignore and justify such conduct.