A blockbuster report from the New York Times tells us that while Donald Trump “was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome,” he was a record-breaking financial loser. “The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings,” the report finds. “They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.”
So Trump is tops in a key category: “Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”
Trump’s history of haranguing outlets to increase his reported net worth and his determination to withhold his tax returns from the American people — and now, in contravention of the law, from the House Ways and Means Committee chairman — have generated questions over the years as to whether the self-described billionaire is all that rich. Because he refused to divest himself of his business holdings, the wealth he generates from foreign governments also raises the specter of ongoing conflicts of interest and possible violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
Trump had a peculiar and contradictory response to the New York Times report. He unsurprisingly claimed that the “very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!” On the other, hand he defended his ability to show losses on his tax returns:
....you would get it by building, or even buying. You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes....almost all real estate developers did - and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport. Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!
Despite that gobbledygook, serious questions remain about his finances. There are five takeaways from the report and Trump’s reaction.
First, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen testified that Trump would undervalue properties for tax purposes and overvalue them when seeking bank credit. Was he engaged in tax, insurance and/or bank fraud? New York state officials are investigating, but Congress has more reason than ever to review his tax returns in conjunction with Cohen and testimony from the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s refusal to produce the returns as required by law becomes more outrageous given the serious concerns raised about the president’s finances. Congress should use all means at its disposal to obtain the returns and should hold Mnuchin in contempt as a deterrent to future treasury secretaries.
Second, the report should cause Democrats to redouble legislative effort to force Trump and all future presidents to follow the practice of recent presidents regarding release of their tax returns. State ballot provisions requiring the president to disclose his taxes are of unclear constitutionality. Congressional legislation is necessary. The House could decide to attach a provision requiring disclosure to must-pass legislation including appropriations bills, thereby forcing Republicans to defend Trump’s financial coverup.
Third, the emoluments litigation brought by about 200 members of Congress may proceed to discovery soon, unless Trump’s attorneys are able to stay proceedings and get the D.C. Circuit to intervene. That should allow the plaintiffs to get a range of financial information, including tax returns. It seems likely that, one way or another, Trump will lose his ability to conceal his financial history.
Fourth, the extent of his tax losses revives the question about how Trump got out of his debt and where his money came from in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Post reports:
Until now, Trump’s early career in real estate was believed to have reached a peak in the late 1980s, when Trump wrote the “The Art of the Deal” — and then collapsed into loss and debt in 1990 and 1991.
The Times story shows, however, that Trump’s losses began earlier. In 1985, the future president reported $46.1 million in losses from his casinos, hotels and other businesses, according to the report.
Those losses got worse in 1990 and 1991, as Trump’s big bets on casinos, hotels and an airline all went bad.
Did foreign banks or investors help bail him out? This, too, should be a top concern for the House.
“The story not only explodes the myth of Donald Trump as a successful businessman. It also shows how skilled he is at perpetuating a lie,” Max Bergmann of the Moscow Project tells me. “For more than 30 years he convinced everybody — the press, banks, investors, the stock market and the American public — that Donald Trump was this great business success, when in fact he was losing money at a truly shocking rate.” He adds, “It shows he is an incredible con man able to live two lives. He is someone who can never be taken at his word, and this means examining his taxes and financial records is an urgent national security imperative.”
Finally, do not expect the revelations to dim the Trump cult’s reverence for its leader. If he isn’t really as rich as he said, they will commend him for pulling a fast one (even on voters). If the story is false, it’s one more bit of evidence for their media paranoia. Sadly, the Fox News and talk-radio crowd long ago jettisoned any concerns that they’ve invested their hopes in a con man, someone who has lied and finagled his way through life and into the White House. To admit that would be to recognize they were dupes, victims of another Trump scam. That, they will never do.