Art auctions have a long history dating back to Imperial Rome. And because they're conducted in public and sales are recorded, they're the most objective monetary appraisal of art work. So said Karl E. Meyers, in his 1979 book, "The Art Museum." But with Donald Trump in the picture, what you get at auctions is a charade.

Under oath

As Michael Cohen testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, at an auction in East Hampton in the summer of 2013, Trump staged a fake bid through a proxy for a portrait of himself painted by William Quigley.

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(More about that in a moment). I rush to say that staged offers at auctions aren't all that unheard of. To hear Meyers tell it, art dealers discovered long ago that auctions can be manipulated to jack up prices. The shocker in Trump's bid was that it was covered by money from his charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, now dissolved after a New York State lawsuit showed a violation of the tax exemptions allowed to legitimate charities.

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Criminal act

After orchestrating the 2013 sale, Trump tweeted, “Just found out that at a charity auction of celebrity portraits in E. Hampton, my portrait by artist William Quigley topped list at $60K.” Given the elaborate planning that he put into the sale, his words “just found out” add another level to his deceit. The planning began when he directed Cohen to tap Steve Rahr, reportedly a pharmaceutical billionaire, to bid the $60,000, pony up that amount, and then hand the picture over to Trump, who then reimbursed him with money from his charitable foundation.

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Donald Trump

Plaintive and pitiable

When (if) you get past outrage for Trump's larcenous ways, he comes across as a pitiable figure, particularly if you consider this week's news from the Hill that the portrait of Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald, and one of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, on view at the National Portrait Gallery, have quietly drawn more than one million visitors.

Bad press

Quigley is likewise pitiable because he's now associated with the bad press that comes with his portrait of Trump.

Cohen said the painting – a nine-foot likeness with an unsmiling face - hangs in one of his country clubs. The painter deserves better. Those who have posed for him include presidents Bush and Clinton. He hasn't commented on Trump's phony bid and misuse of alms-giving funds to pay for it. Most likely, though, having seen him do it before, he saw it coming when the portrait went on the auction block.

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