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JournalistI am Adam Davidson, a staff writer at The New Yorker. In my latest story for the magazine, I investigated the construction of a Trump hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan. Ask Me Anything!

Mar 9th 2017 by Adam_Davidson • 34 Questions • 1820 Points

My short bio: I work with Amazon as an independent contractor to deliver what you want when you want - as long as it's from 6:00AM to midnight - from the Amazon Prime Now app or the website, including orders that you or someone you know might make from the Amazon Fresh website. I am based in Northern Virginia and have done all the routes throughout Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and Washington D.C.

My Proof: Deleted One Proof

Some customers tweets telling us how amazing and fast our service is

These are the insulated bags that we use to keep your cold items cold for a longer period of time

If you have ordered Prime Now, then you've seen and probably have these bags hanging around in your house

BONUS PIC - The shared bathroom

AMA!

Edit: Thanks to all who asked, and to those who lurked: why didn't you ask a question? I'll see if I can make another AMA in a few months when more people start knowing more about the service.

Q:

What sources did you use and how did you access them?

A:

What happens if you accidentally damage the merchandise? You return for new stuff or notify the customer? You have to pay for damaged goods?


Q:

I had a lot of people who were sources: people who worked on the project, who worked at the Trump Org, who are expert on the law or on Azerbaijan. I also visited and saw the site.

I also used wikileaks and the Panama Papers extensively.

Much of the most damning information was freely available on the web. That was one of the surprises. Even if I had not had a single confidential source or the budget to fly to Baku and I only had access to google and the web, I could have done almost the whole story.

A:

It happens quite often actually, and we don't need to pay what was damaged. Sometimes the packers will put 20 pounds worth of items in a brown bag and it will just break. When this happens, I call the customer and let them know that the bag is broken but the items are sill in good conditions, if I notice that an item has been damaged I will tell the customer and return it to the warehouse, if it's just the box of the item that broke, most often the customer won't care, but if they do, we just issue a refund. I also tell them that if the item is damaged because the box is closed and I can't open it, to call support and tell them, but before they call support, I already told them so they know whats going on.


Q:

How would you respond to the FCPAProfessor's article which says that your NYorker article might be slightly biased to prove a point? http://fcpaprofessor.com/new-yorker-trump-organization-azerbaijan-story/

By the way, great work on the article. We need more pieces of good investigative journalism.

A:

I'm actually a TOC agent that you or the customer would talk to when something like this happens. I've noticed that drivers usually seem frustrated at having to call us and I was wondering why that is


Q:

I found that post quite frustrating. He misrepresents our conversation dramatically.

More importantly, he lays out the facts of the case and uses analogies that are totally irrelevant to the actual case, itself. For example, he likens this case to a coffee shop entering a building that, years before, was built using corrupt means. But that's not what happened here. The Trump Org was actively involved in getting the building built while corruption was happening.

He says I had no interest in what he was saying. But I found him to be incapable of hearing what I was saying. He kept interrupting me with irrelevant points.

I spoke to well over two dozen FCPA experts, all of whom (save him) agreed with my legal analysis and disagreed with his.

A:

Man, with all due respect, YOU GUYS ARE THE WORST! Literally, you guys are just a middle man that work from home and issue tickets to dispatch between with us delivery drivers and Amazon Dispatch. If Amazon would add a feature to our apps to contact dispatch and leave notes, it would make our lives WAAAYYY easier. I am not saying you exactly, but 99% of the time whatever we say or do even though it's only on-road support, it's out of your reach except trying to contact the customer, you guys do have a better way or more numbers to call from to reach the customer, but besides that the same exact answer is: I am doing the notes to send to the station.

And telling us if it's an attended delivery and we still have to do other deliveries to wait for the customer or re-attempt delivery is something that we don't have the time to do. The other day I contacted support, the agent told me to NOT mark the packages as undeliverable and to continue my route and re-attempt, I marked it undeliverable regardless. It counts towards me if I make that delivery late.


Q:

Thanks for the response. That is indeed quite interesting. After reading his response, I thought that he seemed to have a bias towards proving his own point. The very fact that they chose Azerbaijan to do business is in itself a huge red flag, no matter how they try to spin it.

Quick follow up question: Can you shed some light on how you went about researching your sources and connecting the pieces, and what gave you the idea? I'm very interested in this sort of journalism and would like to know the process you followed.

A:

How does one get into this?

Do you think this is more or less lucrative that Uber driving?


Q:

I want to be clear about something: I am not in a position to prosecute the Trump Organization for an FCPA violation. Journalists are not prosecutors, obviously. I feel confident that this story raises serious concerns and I do hope the real prosecutors are exploring them.

Even if it is, eventually, decided that the Trump Org did not technically violate the law, it is still extremely disturbing that they were so comfortable dealing with such sketchy, risky people and so incurious into their partner's dealings.

As for your second question:

I wanted to dig into one deal because I felt like I had read a ton of articles that showed, in broad, general terms, that he had sketchy partners. But I wanted to understand exactly how things worked, intimately, day-by-day, in the Trump Organization.

I wanted to pick one deal that would be interesting and revealing. I started with Indonesia but ultimately chose Azerbaijan because it seemed the most blatantly corrupt. Although, I could have had a field day with the Brazil deal, which is deeply enmeshed in corruption, or the Georgia or Turkey or Uruguay deals or many other deals.

Once I picked the deal, it's a full frontal assault on the topic. I read every article, go to every website, I start calling every person I can think of. What happens is that there are different avenues of investigation that open up and it's a tough decision which ones to pursue and which ones to abandon.

I'm still not sure I made all the right choices. I couldn't report out everything and, for all I know, the most damning, fascinating information is still out there.

A:

Comparing it to Uber, it depends. I average between $23-27 an hour, the good this that it's guaranteed pay, even if you don't get a route, you still get paid.


Q:

Has Trump, Ivanka, or anyone from the administration responded to this story?

A:

How much of that is going to gas, insurance, etc?


Q:

Nobody has. I wish they would.

A:

In my case, the car I drive, is not expensive, cheap to maintain and gives me between 25-29 mpg. I pay $330 every 6 months for insurance and separate around 20% of daily pay towards car maintenance, tires, etc.


Q:

Were you worried as to how the accused would respond? Not just Trump.

A:

At what point do you know if we did or did not tip you? What % are no tips?


Q:

We are always very concerned when reporting stories in which we suggest that somebody or several somebodies may have broken the law. Even more so, of course, when it involves the President.

We worked extremely hard to test every fact and hypothesis. We gave everybody involved ample opportunity to respond and correct the record. Many took us up on that and we did make changes when appropriate information was provided.

I like to practice what a mentor called no-surprises journalism. Nobody who is mentioned in an article should be surprised by what it says about them. They should be given every chance to rebut every single fact. Now, there's nothing we can do when subjects decline that offer. I made very clear to the White House and Ivanka Trump's personal staff that I would happily walk them through everything in the article and give them a chance to correct, amend, comment. They did not take me up on it. Neither did Ziya or Anar Mammadov. Though Elton Mammadov did meet with our translator in Azerbaijan and went through many questions and gave his responses.

Once we felt confident that our story is solid, we weren't worried about a legal attack on the piece. However, I will confess to being anxious that Trump might tweet about me. I have a family and I wondered if I was putting them at risk. This is a shocking thing to have to worry about. No journalist in American history, I think, has ever had to worry about the President putting his children's lives in jeopardy. And the President didn't put my family in jeopardy. He hasn't tweeted about it. But the very fact that he has done so about other journalists and could do it about me is terrifying.

A:

We can only see the total amount paid (hourly pay = tip). If the delivery was a one-hour delivery from our warehouse in Springfield, VA. to District Heights, MD. and you were the only stop in that delivery block, then we know who didn't tip. If it's a route with several stops, we don't know who left tips.

I'd say 65% out of 100% of customers do leave tips.


Q:

How do you feel about all the diaereses? I have to confess that while I love the NYer (and your work especially) I roll my eyes quite a bit whenever I run into a reëxamined or coöperated.

A:

Typically, things like making you wear a uniform would violate independent contractor status. Has there been anything like that that you are expected to do?


Q:

I feel a bit of both. It sometimes feels kind of stuffy and pretentious. And sometimes feels charming and part of what makes us unique.

A:

Amazon doesn't give us a dress code, actually they tell us that we can wear whatever we want. There's people that do it in suit and tie and woman who wear REALLY shirt skirts and flip flops in summer.


Q:

Toward the end of the piece, you say: "In dealing with the Mammadovs, the Trump Organization seems to have taken them entirely at their word."

Do you think the Trump Org is really so incompetent that they had no idea whom they were dealing with, or do you think they took them at their word because they didn't want the answer?

A:

Can you run side businesses or promotions as an independent contractor? (If you're wearing a suit/tie, for example, could you also advertise for a local tailor while performing deliveries?)


Q:

I have no idea, of course. But I have to assume it was the latter. Many Trump officials visited Azerbaijan. It is impossible to mention the name "Mammadov" in Azerbaijan and not have people snicker at their blatant corruption.

It would be fun to try an experiment: send someone to Baku, have them mention to people they are working with the Mammadovs and see how long it would take before someone told them they were nuts to work with the family.

A:

I guess you could, but if Amazon finds out, or a customer complains, it can get you in trouble. I'd rather just advice to do the route.


Q:

I didn't know those acronyms, so here they are :

Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917

And

International Emergency Economic Powers Act

A:

I'm not certain, but I think it would be Amazon that would be in trouble if they have any restrictions or penalties on freedoms allowed for independent contractors. They couldn't for example prevent you from putting a large wraparound advertisement on your own delivery vehicle (like say "BUY BOB'S TACOS") for a different service, right?


Q:

I just don't know enough. I'd be curious.

A:

I think it's more of ethical stuff.

I've been in Lyft rides where the drivers try to sell me whatever they have a side-gig and it gets a little uncomfortable.


Q:

Hi Adam. Thorough documentation, well-written and an interesting read, to say the least! I’ve realized I’m no longer surprised by his outright illegal behavior. What do you say to those that strongly oppose Trump but are no longer shocked by criminal allegations and offensive Twitter rants (among other things)? As we saw by the generally positive response to his first “very Presidential” address to join session of Congress, moments like that are more surprising than stories of illegal activity or backroom deals.

A:

that brings up the idea of using your delivery vehicle simultaneously for lyft and amazon. doable?


Q:

It is a very odd time. I have to assume that if I had written an article suggesting a one-degree separation from the President of the United States and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard about any other President, there would be enormous call for impeachment.

Imagine if we had discovered that Pres. Obama or either Bush or Clinton had possibly gotten paid millions by the IRGC. It's hard to imagine how extreme the response would be.

I expect it will take us decades to process this time and our overall numbness.

However, I have chosen not to let that dissuade me from doing my job. I need to keep plugging away, reporting, investigating, etc. What else can I do?

A:

There's a dude in our warehouse that does Amazon Restaurants deliveries in Northern Virginia while also doing Uber Eats at the same time. Multi-tasking at it's finest.


Q:

What was most surprising to you during your investigation?

A:

Do they explain why drivers can't see the delivery instructions? I live in a gated complex and about half of the drivers have to call, and others somehow figure out the gate code. Typical explanation is that they cant read delivery instructions until the delivery has been made. That makes no sense to me, but I'm sure they have a reason. Is it because they don't want drivers reading their phones while driving?


Q:

The Iran link was pretty shocking, as I learned more. That was bonkers. I almost still don't believe it.

But what I think the most surprising thing was how much had not been covered, how much information I was able to find--freely out there on the web--that had not previously been reported.

With all the millions of gallons of ink and hours of TV and radio spent on this guy, it was surprising just how much had not been covered.

A:

It happens, the app does have some glitches where sometimes we can't see the notes left until we are actually in the delivery place or at least a quarter mile away from the delivery stop. We have made several feedback notes on that issue and we keep getting the same canned answers over and over again, so I guess that they are actually fixing that issue.

You could, as a last resort, write on the delivery address of Prime Now Orders the gate code before the street address. That way you are guaranteed that we will see the code before the address.


Q:

Hi Adam,

Have you had any responses from authorities wanting to investigate the Trumps, after you story came out? Do you think it's going to lead to prosecution?

A:

Do you make enough if i only tip $1 or $2? I have struggling college student friend that wants to ask.


Q:

I have heard a hint that there are folks who are looking into it, from second-hand sources. But I haven't heard anything directly. Man, I do hope they do an investigation.

It is a very tricky case. To actually prosecute the Trump Org, as a corporation, or any individual, they would need to find a lot of supporting material. I acknowledge that my case is circumstantial (though I think we brought an awful lot of circumstantial evidence to the table) and a prosecution would need to be specific: what money came from what bad source and went to which bad actor, etc.

That will take a lot of work to uncover and it will require the compliance of the Azerbaijani government. I can't imagine why they would want to anger President Trump by participating.

So, I would not expect a prosecution any time soon.

A:

We make a minimum guaranteed. If the driver is using a 2007 Prius then he's making good money, but if the driver is using a BMW X5 to deliver packages, well maybe he might need the tip. Tip as much or as little as you feel like. The Amazon app will tell you the recommended amount depending on what you are ordering. If you are only ordering $20 worth of stuff I know it doesn't make sense to leave a $5.00 tip. So yeah you could leave $2. I also might add, we can't see who left tips or not.


Q:

What will be the final straw for Congress to act on this administration's corruption? Do you think your article provides enough proof of criminal wrongdoing, or is this just corporate business-as-usual?

A:

I know that your example was to highlight the fact that a Prius will be achieving better gas mileage than an X5, but you literally could not have chosen a more backwards example to portray someone who is struggling and "might need the tip."


Q:

This is NOT corporate business as usual. The Trump Org's behavior was extreme and atypical. Most companies that do business overseas, especially in highly corrupt nations, conduct thorough due diligence and risk management.

I do think that, even if he were not President, he should be investigated for this. I also have to believe that a significant number of Republican congresspeople would be deeply troubled by any company that so blatantly disregards the law and engages in business with partners of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

I have seen polls that suggest Americans believe that this behavior is more typical. And it seems possible that voters who like Trump have already "priced in" his propensity to flout law. Some seem to like it in him.

A:

A Hummer could beat the X5.

Edit: And believe it or not, people do deliver in Suburbans, Ridgelines, Dodge Durango R/T, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Charger Hemi, BMW 5 series and 3 series, Mercedes E350 and other high end/gas guzzler cars.


Q:

OP, people can still see personal information from your route sheet. Can you please delete that?

A:

Done. Thanks.


Q:

Since you're traveling a lot just wondering what you like to listen to? Music, podcasts?

A:

I have SiriusXM, I listen to mostly music and talk shows including news. (Hits1, Hip Hop Nation, Alt-Nation, 90's on 9, Pop2k, CNN News, Fox News and Comedy Channel)


Q:

Nice, who have you been listening to as of late?

A:

Honestly, I got the new song from Alessia Cara and Zedd - Stay on repeat in my head. It doesn't go away.


Q:

I work for Frito lay in Lorton just down the street and it's killing me. I'll PM you if I apply in case there is a referral bonus in it for you

A:

There's no referral bonus for us drivers, but thanks tho.


Q:

Do you set your schedule like uber or do you have a set weekly schedule??

A:

We have what is called offers. Amazon sends out offers throughout the day and if you are available to work the shift that they are asking you, you just pick it up. When no offers are available it looks like this

When there are offers available it will show up like this

And you can accept or deline the offer if you want to work it or not, like this

Disclaimer: Some markets pay more than others, some pay less than others.

Edit: Messed up imgur pics, fixed.


Q:

Are you worried about being replaced by drones?

A:

Not really, it will take Amazon quite a while to produce the amount of drones needed. Plus Washington D.C. is a HUGEE No-Fly zone.


Q:

Does it annoy you if I ask you to wait a minute and take the big green cooler bags with you? I hate having them sitting around my house since they are so big.

A:

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, I don't mind. There are Amazon trucks that have set routes every week to go pick up Fresh totes from the customers houses. If you just set the totes outside eventually someone will take it. It might take up to two weeks after your Fresh delivery to get the totes removed from your house.

You can also request the totes to be delivered attended - meaning that there needs to be someone present at the time of delivery and we take the totes back to the warehouse and just leave the stuff that you ordered in plastic bags.

You can also fold the totes by opening the tote and lifting the black pad down below that says Amazon, it i'll fold very slim. If you have totes with insulated bags, you can just fold the insulated bags and put them all inside one fresh tote. Like this

Edit: Imgur keeps putting all pictures into an album automatically.


Q:

How much do you have to lift to be an Amazon driver?

A:

Terms and Conditions claims up to 50 pounds, that said, we might have orders that weigh at total of 200 pounds or even more, so we need to do several trips from the car to the house or apartment.


Q:

Do they loan, or can you bring your own dolly to help with that?

A:

They let you use a cart from the warehouse to your car to put everything in the car. After that, you are on your own.

You can get little dollies from Costco for around $20 that fold and are small, but thats up to the driver.


Q:

Yeah, i have a question.

Where's my stuff?

A:

In the warehouse, as soon as you pay for it, we will deliver it!


Q:

Is there a minimum of required hours that you work each week? Or is it more like Uber where you choose when you want to work?

A:

Yes, you can work when and how long, as long as they have offers or shifts available for you to work. Just because you go to the warehouse doesn't mean that you have stuff to do.


Q:

Why did you post a picture of your bathroom?

A:

Why not post a picture of our bathroom?


Q:

what is the weirdest combination of things you have ever delivered?

what happens if you dont make it to a customer on time?

A:

On the app we can see what the customer ordered, but it takes a few steps to see them. You need to reach the destination first and then go to Return Packages and then Customer doesn't want a particular item to see the whole order of what the customer paid for. It takes some time and I usually don't do it. I do it only in 1-hour deliveries to see what they are paying the extra $8 on, and oh god, people just want sunscreen and mascara plus Apple juice and a box of Chewy Chips Ahoy really bad.

If we deliver late packages, we better have a REALLY good reason of why the order was late. If there was simply too much demand and not enough drivers to fill the demand then we are good, also with traffic, but Amazon can track us and see everything that we do, including the speed we are doing and if we brake hard. If we stopped for food in McDonalds and got late deliveries because of that, it's our fault and we are screwed.


Q:

As an independent contractor are you responsible for paying your own taxes or does amazon deduct before paying you?

A:

Amazon sends us a 1099. Up to us to pay our taxes.


Q:

Do you guys have to verify age for alcohol purchases? Because you guys kept the party going within one hour when all the liquor stores were closed. We are all 27 or older, but still... is that your responsibility? It seemed way too easy to just have bottles sent to us instantly http://imgur.com/xKXch1P

A:

In Virginia, we can't deliver alcohol; you need to get it from Uncle Sam's Liquor Store aka. VABC. Lucky you that can get it delivered.

We were trained tho, that if the order has alcohol, to check for ID.


Q:

Wierdest thing you've delivered?

A:

$200 worth of La Croix Lime 12 pack cases of flavored sparkling water. I know it's not weird weird, but it's weird like who would order $200 worth of sparkling water?


Q:

What are you doing answering questions? I need my stuff ASAP bru!!

A:

Pay the stuff bruh, it's already in the cart and waiting for your credit card info.


Q:

What's your route? What time of day do you start the route? Also, what time do you finish? What kind of vehicle do you drive? What color is it? Are you armed? How can I tell which boxes I should take when I'm robbing you? I mean checking out merch.....

A:

Our routes are not fixed, we move all around town. Send me a GPS and I'll put it in my car for you to track me.

You tell me at what time better suits you for me to start?

I drive a bright orange Pontiac Aztec very hard to miss with a huge Amazon sign on top if it.

You'll gotta find out what I'm packin'.

If the boxes are not heavy don't take it, take the heavy ones.


Q:

My husband works for Amazon prime now in our city. It seems like he's always searching for shifts and as soon as one pops up, it's gone. Do you have this issue where you are?

A:

Yes, it happens in all markets. Tell him to just keep searching or if he can, to do it mostly from Thursday to Saturday, since a lot of other drivers are already capped with the full hours and can't do more blocks. He probably has better chances of getting blocks on the weekend.


Q:

How many "offers" do you get in any given day?

A:

Few days ago there were 18 offers listed at the same time. 2-hour blocks, 3-hour blocks and 4-hour blocks.

Most were Washington D.C. Restaurants.

Most drivers in my market don't like doing Washington D.C. Restaurant deliveries, myself included.


Q:

from one of the pics you shared, it had "40-54 includes tips"... why the difference? and how often do you get paid?

A:

In that case $40 is the minimum guaranteed for the 2-hour block ($20 an hour) that you are going to get paid and it can go to $54 with the tips included, sometimes it goes even higher depending on how many stops you did and how much tip the customers left.


Q:

Does a good tip mean I bet my order faster? Or are your routes pre-determined for you?

A:

Amazon gives us a suggested route, but I am free to do the route how it best serves me. If it's my last block (shift) and it's an order that is heading to where I live, but the suggested route tells me to start where I live and finish closer to the warehouse, I can start closer to the warehouse and finish near where I live.

Because you leave a $20.00 tip doesn't mean that your package will be the first one to be delivered. If you want your order fast, I'd suggest using the 1-hour delivery option if it's available in your market.