After the Supreme Court’s chickenshit decision to duck Trump’s tax case, it looked like we might never see Trump’s financial information. Now, thanks to the New York Times, we’re one step closer to an honest biography of Donald Trump.
The Times published their review of two decades of tax returns from Trump and the Trump Org, and it is glorious. It is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Their story provides a 30,000 foot view of the business which casts serious doubt on Trump’s claims to wealth and exposes a long history of apparent tax fraud. It does not, however, include original records or direct lists of Trump’s shell companies, a critical element for prosecutors. They did mention though that they intend to publish further details over time.
A few highlights:
Trump bagged an incredible 7-figure payday from his trip to Russia in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, despite the fact that the pageant lost money, as usual. The cash came from Putin crony, Aras Agalarov who funded the event with $20m of his own money. Agalarov would later act as intermediary between Trump and Putin, and his son set up the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the now-indicted Kremlin lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Trump pays $0 taxes in most years. In the past few years he paid $750.
Tax returns don’t show net worth, but they do provide clues. Whatever assets Trump may own they aren’t producing nearly enough declared revenue to cover expenses. If he isn’t insolvent per se, he is perpetually at the edge of insolvency. Though he’s clearly using a number of dodges, like creative depreciation of assets, he doesn’t have a lot of revenue to work with. It is very likely that Joe Biden has a higher net worth than Donald Trump.
His ownership share in the Apprentice is the only consistently lucrative thing Trump’s done in his life, earning him about $30m a year while it lasted. Across the entire 14 years of the show he appears to have earned a total of about $600m in total income. Nice, but not a billion. And more than that was squandered on his worthless, cash-guzzling side businesses like his golf courses and hotels.
About $119m of Trump’s total $130m in alleged charitible contributions over the past twenty years consisted of fraudulent “conservation easements” used to fund the purchase of lavish family estates. Two of them form the basis of an indictment being drawn up by the New York AG, pending release of Trump’s tax returns.
If Donald Trump is a billionaire, that means he earned that stake somewhere between the close of his fourth bankruptcy in 1995, when he claimed $900m in losses, and the beginning of the Times’ tax returns, around 2000, a period when he was adrift and struggling to get loans. Since he was right back into bankruptcy again in 2004 and 2009, that seems pretty unlikely. Not only is Trump not a billionaire, he never has been.
Why does anyone underwright the Miss America Pageant? It appears to be a predictable money loser every year. Are they just paying for the right to hang out in the dressing room like Donald Trump did?
Trump appears to have illegally written off tens of millions of dollars of payments to his children as “consulting fees” to avoid gift tax liability, a trick his father used to perform for him.
Trump used a provision of the federal bailout after the ’08 crash to evade liability for at least $28m in “forgiven debt,” which in his case were debts he decided not to pay.
The Turkish government has explicitly used the booking and cancellation of large events at the Trump Hotel to manipulate White House policy.
Revenue from political events at Mar a Lago has been one of the only financial bright spots in the Trump businesses during his time in office.
Trump’s largest single source of income since taking office is $56.4m in debts he decided not to repay. Much of the tax debt resulting from those defaulted loans was eliminated by a $9.7m federal tax credit from his renovation of the old Post Office building, now the Trump Hotel DC.
A 2011 audit of Trump’s tax returns is still sitting in the hands of the Joint Committee on Taxation. Trump walked away from his Atlantic City Casino partnership in 2009 to dodge another bankruptcy, leaving the partners holding the bag. He subsequently claimed that his partnership interest was worthless, submitting a questionable loss of more than $700m, shielding him from almost $100m in current tax liability. The size of this potential refund required the approval of the JCT. A decade later that approval still has not been granted as the case keeps getting deferred. Meanwhile Trump ended up cashing in a 5% stake in the new business that emerged from the bankruptcy, an interest that invalidates his claim to that refund under the law. Trump owes the government $100m in taxes as soon as 1) Republicans lose the Senate, or 2) his hand-picked IRS Chairman is removed as head of the JCT.
Trump took a cash-out mortgage on Trump Tower in 2012 for $100m. He has made no principal payments. The whole amount is due in ’22. The business has barely $30m in cash on hand. His total debts coming due over the next four years are nearly half a billion. Doral is already seeking payment delays from their lender, Deutsche Bank.
What’s not in The Times’ report? We don’t get the names and ownership details of the hundreds of shell companies Trump uses to launder money. That’s important, because the identities and registered locations of these companies would reveal a lot about Trump’s operations. That’s the key reason his returns would be valuable for prosecutors. Backed by federal subpoenas, prosecutors could run down the details of cash flow in and out of those shadow entities, even overseas, but first they have to find them.
We don’t know exactly how reporters got their hands on these records. Whoever leaked them did their country a valuable service while committing a serious federal crime. You can bet that Barr will have goons on their trail, and the reporters themselves will be in hot water. Fortunately, the President and his minions will have their hands full in coming weeks, but if Trump wins this election all of the folks involved in breaking this story might want to consider a long trip to Toronto.
The reporters and the leaker are probably worried, as they should be, but is Trump? Does anyone think these revelations will make any difference either politically, or in terms of meaningful legal consequences? What we should have learned from this decades long story of brazen fraud, theft and swindling is that only ordinary people need to fear the law. Those with enough money and chutzpah can steal their way to the White House.