Donald Trump labored for years to create an image as the embodiment of success (which also just happens to be the name of his cologne; you can get a bottle on Amazon for $19.49). For a time, that image was undercut by his eagerness to slap his name on any second-rate product he could find, whether it was ties or steaks or water.

But when he ran for president and journalists began looking deeper into his financial life, it became clear that Trump was in all probability the most corrupt major business figure in America.

Did he leave a string of jilted associates behind? Of course. Did he stiff small businesses? Indeed. Did he create scams such as Trump University that stole people’s life savings? You betcha. Did he run a fake “foundation”? Sure. Did he employ undocumented workers? Naturally.

In many of those cases, however, Trump may have done corrupt and morally repugnant things without literally breaking the law. But ask yourself this: When it comes to his financial life, what do you think the chances are that Trump hasn’t committed crimes?

I ask because of this extraordinary investigation from ProPublica, which obtained documentation on just a couple of Trump projects that show how he does business:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.
For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street. [...]
A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

Not only is it not okay, if Trump was lying on both ends, to the bank and to tax authorities — and does anyone doubt he would? — it also could mean that he committed both bank fraud and tax fraud.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that this is a pattern with Trump. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” We have lots of evidence of Trump buying a property, then contesting his tax assessment by having his lawyers argue that, in fact, it is worth next to nothing.

It’s one thing if Trump just brags that some property is worth much more than it is, or even if he makes questionable claims to local governments when he contests his tax bill. But loan applications and tax filings are legal documents, and knowingly lying on them is against the law.

ProPublica found multiple instances in which Trump told banks and tax agencies radically different things about the same properties, the same income streams and the same expenses.

You might say this is just one more story showing how corrupt Trump is, which we knew already. But it’s an important illustration of something that could become important soon: Trump isn’t just occasionally corrupt; he’s promiscuously corrupt. Pick a Trump deal at random, and the likelihood that it’s all aboveboard seems vanishingly small.

With a series of contested subpoenas moving through the courts — with Trump losing at every step — the day when we see his tax returns could come very soon. Within those returns lie hundreds of Trump projects and deals, each of which will require some sleuthing by journalists to figure out who is involved and whether what’s in the documents is true.

That is what Trump is truly afraid of and why he has worked so hard to keep those returns hidden. The story that he doesn’t want people to know he’s not as rich as he says might be accurate. But much more important, he could be afraid that the returns reveal what is essentially an ongoing financial crime spree.

And we’ve seen only a small portion of it.

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