As you may recall, Trump has long claimed that he is all but self-made, that the only help he received was a $1 million loan from his father, Fred, which he repaid “with interest.” Actually, according to the Times, Trump’s father lent his son at least $140 million in today’s dollars. But it wasn’t just the loans; by age 3, the Times reports, Trump “was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. In his 40s and 50s, he was receiving more than $5 million a year.” In fact, the report documents 295 distinct revenue streams that Fred created and channeled to Donald.
The article makes clear that his father’s largesse created, sustained and rescued Donald Trump’s wealth over many years. In a remarkable scene, the Times examines an article from its 1976 archives in which the young Trump takes a reporter on a tour in his chauffeured limousine (license plate DJT) of “his” various construction projects. Every one of the them, we now know, was either owned by his father or made possible by gifts or loans from his father. “Even the Cadillac,” the Times notes dryly, “was leased to his father.”
In what came to be a pattern, Trump’s father was also always there to rescue his son from deals gone bad or when he found himself overextended and facing bankruptcy. Trump’s financial ups and downs seem vertiginous even by the volatile standards of commercial real estate. His father, for example, seems to have been content to make money steadily and conservatively in the outer boroughs, but the son, as is well known, was obsessed with the much more expensive and less forgiving jewel of Manhattan island. It was there and in Atlantic City that Donald followed a pattern: invest in “trophy properties,” overleverage, face a debt call he couldn’t cover and turn to his father for help. And his father was always there. A particularly vivid example of paternal rescue came when Fred dispatched a bookkeeper to Trump’s Castle, an Atlantic City casino, to purchase $3.35 million in chips that were never played, an infusion that helped prevent Trump from defaulting on his bonds.
Fred Trump’s death did not end his son’s need for new financial backstops, because it didn’t end Donald Trump’s pattern of overreach. As has been well documented and is now reportedly part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, Trump has received tens of millions of dollars in investments from Russians, some of whom have connections to Russian organized crime. (It is crucial to note that in Russia, mafia members have a deep and symbiotic relationship with President Vladimir Putin. He allows and encourages them to operate; they have made him one of the wealthiest people in the world.) Real estate has long been a convenient place for Russian gangsters to launder ill-gotten gains, and Trump’s projects were well known as places to park money with few questions asked.
Russian connections also played a direct role in rescuing Trump when he had exhausted all of his nine real estate lives and was running out of options. By the end of the 1990s, Trump’s bankruptcies had severely constrained his credit with traditional banks; his business and his brand were floundering. Enter, in 2002, a real estate development firm named the Bayrock Group. Conveniently located in Trump Tower, and headed by principals with deep Russian ties, they give Trump a new idea: to license his name on projects, take a management fee, and leave them the heavy lifting of getting the money and building the projects. Many of Trump’s major projects over the decade would be built under this new arrangement, fueled not only by Bayrock’s capital but by his new “Apprentice” fame and the resurrection of his brand.
Reading voluminous news reports of Trump’s ties to Russia raises deep suspicions about just how much he “owes” various unsavory characters loyal to the Russian state. Maybe Mueller’s investigation will sort it all out. As Stephen K. Bannon told Michael Wolff, the special counsel investigation “is all about money laundering.” But what is clear now is that Trump’s dependence on Russian money fits a long pattern in his business life where he has failed repeatedly, only to be bailed out by a benefactor. Just as we now know that his origin story is a lie, so his all-caps Twitter denial, “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA NO LOANS, NO DEALS, NO NOTHING,” is also not true. It’s one thing to lie about having to run to Daddy your whole life to pave your way and cushion your fall, but it’s another level of trouble if your potential sugar daddy is being sheltered by Putin.