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The billionaires who abandoned Trump rush back to his side despite guilty verdict

The convicted candidate has promised to lower taxes on the rich and big businesses. His campaign received $53 million in donations in just 24 hours

Former U.S. President Donald Trump
Donald Trump in New York, on Friday.Spencer Platt (Getty Images)
Miguel Jiménez

Donald Trump has turned his problems with the law into a cash cow. Barely a few minutes after a New York jury found him guilty of 34 felony counts over falsifying business records, his campaign’s online donation platform crashed. The avalanche of money overwhelmed the system. In 24 hours, the campaign received $53 million. Along with contributions from individuals, the former president has been recovering the support of the big billionaires who turned their backs on him after the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Now they are supporting him again despite his legal woes.

As soon as he left the courthouse on Thursday, after a brief two-minute address, Trump headed to a fundraising event on Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side. Among the attendees was the co-founder and CEO of the Blackstone group, Steve Schwarzman, one of the most important figures on Wall Street, who has an estimated fortune of $41 billion. Schwarzman is one of the businessmen who distanced himself from Trump after the assault on the Capitol on January 6, recognized Biden’s victory and called for a peaceful transfer of power. But now he is criticizing President Joe Biden’s economic, immigration and foreign policies. “I am planning to vote for change and support Donald Trump for president,” he said in a recent statement.

Many billionaires care more about Trump’s promised tax cuts for the wealthy and big business than about the former president’s honesty and democratic commitment. Others, like Schwarzman himself, are Jewish donors who are backing Trump because they believe him to be a stronger supporter of Israel and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet others have subscribed to Trump’s thesis that he is the victim of political persecution to justify supporting a convicted felon.

“This verdict will have less than zero impact on my support,” Omeed Malik, president of 1789 Capital and a Republican donor, who was a co-host of a Trump fundraiser at the prestigious The Pierre hotel two weeks ago, told Bloomberg. Malik described the hush-money trial in New York as the “weaponization of the legal system.” At the event at the Pierre Hotel, located on Fifth Avenue, across from Central Park — on the same sidewalk as Trump Tower — Wall Street billionaires handed down their own verdict, according to Bloomberg: even If the jury found the former president guilty, Trump would still be their choice for the White House.

“The democratic commitment of Americans is not as deep as we think. The proof is businesspeople. On January 7, 2021 they were saying they would never fund or support someone like Trump, but today they are giving him money, just in case he wins,” Steven Levitsky, a professor of political science at Harvard and author of How Democracies Die, told EL PAÍS last week.

The second-richest man in the world, Elon Musk, with a fortune valued at more than $200 billion, also came out in defense of Trump after hearing the jury’s verdict: “Great damage was done today to the public’s faith in the American legal system. If a former president can be criminally convicted over such a trivial matter — motivated by politics, rather than justice — then anyone is at risk of a similar fate,” he posted on X. The last part of this message is almost identical to what Trump said at his press conference at the Trump Tower on Friday.

Both business magnates have also gone from distancing themselves from one another, to freely communicating. Trump indeed is considering Musk for an advisory position in the White House if he wins the election.

After the assault on the Capitol, billionaire Nelson Peltz, the founding partner of Trian Partners, said: “I voted for him in this past election, November. Today, I’m sorry I did that.” After that public apologies, Peltz announced last March that he will vote for Trump again — despite the fact that Trump’s authoritarian drift has intensified, and that the former president continues to call the rioters arrested for the assault on the Capitol “hostages.”

The founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, Bill Ackman, retweeted several pro-Trump messages after the verdict was announced, including a long message from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, which began: “Today’s verdict represents the culmination of a legal process that has been bent to the political will of the actors involved: a leftist prosecutor, a partisan judge and a jury reflective of one of the most liberal enclaves in America — all in an effort to ‘get’ Donald Trump.”

Ackman — a Jewish businessman who was very vocal against the pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses and contributed to the fall of the Harvard president — supported Nikki Haley in the primaries but is preparing to openly express his support for Trump, according to a report in the Financial Times.

And the Israeli-born Miriam Adelson, widow of the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a top Republican donor, plans to play a major role in funding Preserve America, a pro-Trump political action committee founded during Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, according to Politico. The PAC is now being reconstituted with the purpose of helping Trump’s candidacy for the November presidential elections, and it plans to raise more than $90 million — the amount that the Adelsons donated four years ago, making them among the biggest donors of the Trump campaign. Adelson preferred to stay out of the Republican primary battle.

Tech investors David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya are hosting a Silicon Valley fundraiser for Trump on June 6. As soon as the verdict was announced, Sacks posted: “There is now only one issue in this election: whether the American people will stand for the USA becoming a Banana Republic.”

Although Trump receives many donations from the party’s rank and file, the growing support from billionaires has helped his campaign to raise around $76 million in April, the first month in which the Trump fundraising efforts surpassed Biden’s, which raised $51 million. Trump raised more than $50 million at a single event with billionaires earlier that month.

In another recent event organized by his super PAC at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s mansion in Palm Beach (Florida), the former president asked oil company executives to contribute $1 billion to his campaign. Several Democratic senators opened an investigation into the event following reports that Trump had asked for donations in exchange for rolling back environmental regulations, speeding up permit and lease approvals, and preserving or improving the tax benefits for the oil and gas industry if he returns the White House. The senators sent letters with information requests to the directors of companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Occidental and Cheniere, among others. “Such an obvious policies-for-money transaction reeks of cronyism and corruption,” the letters state.

Trump has no qualms when it comes to asking for money. According to The Washington Post, at the May meeting at The Pierre Hotel, Trump told the group of billionaires in attendance that a businessman had recently offered a million dollars to his presidential campaign and wanted to have lunch with him. “I’m not having lunch,” Trump said he responded. “You’ve got to make it $25 million.”

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