Impossible to pin down

The president-linked sex crimes investigation you haven't heard about

It’s President’s Day. I don’t know who needs less celebrating than the forty-five men who have been this country’s chief executive, but two of them had birthdays that were kind of close to one another, so here we are. Holiday traditions include sales on mattresses and Apocalypse Meat, figuring out what to do with your toddler on yet another day off from preschool, and more people than usual showing up to hog the racks at a late morning session at the gym. Also, there’s a parade in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

As a special President’s Day gift to you, my dear Racketeers, I’m going to share a story that tangentially involves an ex-president that you are unlikely to have heard. It involves a Hollywood billionaire who is currently under federal investigation for sex trafficking and assault. This billionaire isn’t just an old friend of the ex-president. He isn’t just married to one of said ex-president’s former cabinet secretaries. He is accused of using a condo that was managed by said ex-president, while he was president, for some of the most depraved coercive sex acts alleged against him. In fact, the victim alleges that said ex-president’s resident building manager was the one who introduced her to the entertainment mogul in question.

Did you guess it yet? The accused billionaire is World Wrestling Entertainment founder Vince McMahon. And the ex-president — and would-be next president — is Donald J. Trump.

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I probably wouldn’t have heard about the McMahon imbroglio either if it weren’t for my friend Tom Scocca’s recent interview with Tim Marchman in his newsletter. They note the extensive ties between Trump and McMahon, which go well beyond a formative 2007 storyline in which the two ended up co-headlining that year’s WrestleMania — an event that both helped re-popularize Trump to his future base, and, many have noted, gave Trump a blueprint for his violence-soaked psuedo-populist rallies.

It also may have inspired Trump’s reliance on political kayfabe: a term of art that originally referred to professional wrestlers’ pretense that their staged and scripted matches and characters were real, and now invokes the fact that the audience is also (mostly) in on the bit, but acts in the audience as if they’re at a genuine sports event. More on that later.

Trump and McMahon have been friends, business associates, and political allies for decades. McMahon’s wife, Linda, was Trump’s administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2017 to 2019. She currently heads the pro-Trump America First Action Super PAC, and the America First Policy Institute. As noted above, Trump managed the Stamford, Connecticut, building — the former Trump Parc Stamford tower — where McMahon and his wife shared a 3,900-square-foot penthouse they bought for $4 million in 2009. One of the principal alleged victims, Janel Grant, also lived in the building.

Trump with Linda (then secretary of the small business administration) and Vince McMahon

Grant alleges in a federal lawsuit that in 2019, following the death of both of her parents, she turned to the Trump building’s resident manager for help finding a job. The manager offered to introduce her to McMahon; a prospect she accepted “enthusiastically.” McMahon allegedly told Grant he “ he didn’t just want to give her a job, but ‘give [her] a life.’” On the day before a job interview he’d arranged, she says, he touched her leg and insisted she give him a hug. His one “pointer” for the interview, she says, was that if anyone asked how she and McMahon met, she should say it was “through a mutual friend.”

Grant says that McMahon ultimately coerced her into sex with him and other men on promises he would advance her career, and engaged in what she alleges was “psychological torture and physical violence.” This includes a session at the Trump building in which, to quote the lawsuit, he “defecated on Ms. Grant during a threesome, and then commanded her to continue pleasuring his ‘friend.’”

She is one of at least five women making similar allegations against McMahon, according to the Wall Street Journal. A sixth woman, former wrestler Ashley Massaro, accused McMahon of sexually harassing her and covering up her rape at Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base during a WWE tour of the Middle East and Afghanistan in 2006. Massaro died in 2019 in an apparent suicide.

McMahon resigned from WWE and its parent company, TKO Group, last month, one day after Grant’s allegations were reported by the Wall Street Journal. He strenuously denies the allegations. A McMahon spokesman told several media outlets that Grant’s lawsuit “is replete with lies, obscene made-up instances that never occurred, and a vindictive distortion of the truth.”

Trump meanwhile hasn’t so much as been asked about his friendship with McMahon in light of the allegations, or the fact that a building managed by the fraud-ridden and likely soon-to-be-dissolved Trump Organization plays such a central role in an alleged sex abuse and trafficking case. Such questions, Marchman notes, could include whether Trump ever met Grant, what he may have known about his resident manager’s matchmaking services, or “whether, in the course of his business dealings with McMahon, he was ever offered the sexual services of a woman.”

It is true that all of the allegations against McMahon remain legally unproven, and that none personally implicate the former-and-would-be-future president. But it’s hard to imagine those courtesies being extended by the press to any politician who’d find themselves in a similar position other than Trump. (See, e.g., the nonstop political coverage of equally unproven — and far less credible — allegations involving Hunter Biden’s business dealings and drug use, which, despite all efforts to the contrary, still haven’t managed to personally implicate the sitting president.)

So why isn’t this getting more traction? Marchman notes that WWE — despite still being one of the most popular and powerful forms of entertainment in the country — is still considered déclassé (ok, he said embarrassing) to mainstream sources, many of whom may genuinely not be aware of it. And the odds of it bubbling up, organically or otherwise, from the nether-web seem remote. The likes of Steve Bannon, Elon Musk, or Alex Jones aren’t likely to flog it into being since it won’t help their political projects. And your average poster (young, male, bored) isn’t stereotypically going to be keyed in on federal sexual abuse lawsuits, even if Roman Reigns is their current Roman Empire.

Or maybe there’s a feeling on the part of mainstream news editors that Trump’s base simply won’t care. And let’s be real: They probably won’t. Some of that goes to party loyalty, or what Umberto Eco described as the Ur-Fascist contempt for those perceived to be weak (including women and victims of sexual violence), and a desire to protect the Maximal Leader.

And the mechanism that makes that denial possible is, appropriately, kayfabe. What else but the tacit agreement between audience and performer to pretend the fake is real and the real fake can describe the sex-crime-obsessed MAGA movement’s willful denial of the fact that their leader, Trump, is a sexual predator (he was found by a New York civil jury to have raped E. Jean Carroll, and has famously admitted to further sexual assault). Or that now — on the heels of his well-documented association with Jeffrey Epstein — he again finds himself a longtime associate of a credibly accused sex trafficker, who did the alleged trafficking in one of Trump’s buildings, and whose wife remains an integral part of Trump’s political machine.

Political reporters could take a page from the pro wrestling playbook. Even if they aren’t interested in the McMahon allegations or Trump’s ties to them, they could pretend to be. The longstanding bonds between the two sex-and-power-crazed men would at least be good for an entertaining news cycle or two; and the plot points laid out above should at least spur a round of “just asking questions” coverage during the pivot to the general election. If, that is, reporters aren’t too busy churning out coverage of the most important question in politics today: Is an 81-year-old older than a 77-year-old, and by how much?

Recommended reading: Spencer Ackerman on how “The U.S. And Israel Actually Did Retaliate Against Iran.” A snippet:

When you inflict an attack like this, you smirkingly presume the other guy will understand that he's bested and back down. When you experience an attack like this, you intuitively understand it as a risible provocation that demands satisfaction. It's easy to imagine the Biden administration reconciling attacking the Behshad with its insistence it seeks no escalation. It's just as easy to imagine the Iranians fearing the U.S.' digital weaponry has penetrated Iran's naval infrastructure crucial not just for intelligence transmission but navigation and command-and-control. Neither combatant knows where the ledge is, but both are incentivized to get his toes closer to it, each hoping the other guy will be the one who falls. 

And congrats to the New York Times on the Polk Award for what the judges called its “unsurpassed coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas.” This overshadowed the much more apt award I’d offered the Gray Lady earlier in the day:

Do you have any other nominees for the Passive Voice Pulitzers? Reply to this email or share them in the comments below. I might share the winners in a future edition.

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