In advance of Tuesday night’s debate, his team had trouble settling on a slur against former vice president Joe Biden. Was he “sleepy”? Or was he getting performance-enhancing drugs? Maybe his earpiece could be converted into a two-way radio so someone could feed him answers. (If you have ever tried to talk while someone is chattering in your ear, you know this would be quite difficult.) Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe took his own turn for misdirection, releasing an entirely unverified accusation that Hillary Clinton had conspired to blame Trump for conspiring with the Russians, which the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee rejected as Russian disinformation. You could practically feel the panic emanating from the White House.
Every incumbent president wants to win reelection. It is an admission of failure if voters send you home after four years. A first-class narcissist such as Trump would understandably find this psychologically wounding and, therefore, refuse to accept the result. But Trump also has legitimate fear that bad things are going to happen to him once he leaves office.
First, the IRS audit looking into Trump’s $72.9 million tax refund, as revealed by the New York Times, will eventually come to an end. (Did he order it held in abeyance, or do all audits take four years?) Tax guru Daniel Shaviro explains in a post for Just Security that the refund stems from the ordinary loss of Trump’s casinos going bust, but he would only be able to claim that ordinary loss (as opposed to a more restricted capital loss) if he abandoned the asset as worthless. “[Trump] received back a 5 percent interest in the stock of the new entity,” Shaviro writes, suggesting he did not “abandon” the asset. The result is that “if the stated facts are accurate and relevantly complete [it] would cause him to owe the IRS about $100 million, given interest on the prior refund. This leaves aside the possibility of civil or criminal tax penalties for claiming an abandonment loss despite receiving consideration back.” That’s a lot of money for anyone, but especially for someone who has a personal debt of $421 million coming due.
Will banks bail out Trump once more? Maybe, but it’s unlikely if he faces federal or state prosecution for financial crimes. Even if Trump were to, say, leave office a day early and get a pardon from Mike Pence during his 24-hour presidency, a federal pardon is of no use in civil matters or in state criminal prosecution, which is precisely what Trump could face in New York.
Even before the Times unleashed its bombshell, New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s team said that “if misstatements about business properties were conveyed from the Trump Organization’s headquarters in New York to business partners, insurers, potential lenders or tax authorities, that could mean the breaking of state laws such as scheme to defraud, falsification of business records, insurance fraud and criminal tax fraud,” according to a CNBC report. Vance suggested the “temporal scope” of his filing is huge, meaning he is looking at schemes that could have gone back years.
Perhaps that is why Trump is becoming more frantic and unhinged by the day. He is staring not only at a possible landslide defeat, but potentially also economic ruin and criminal prosecution. (And his kids’ inheritance may be going down the drain as well.) Certainly Trump’s presidency has been a four-year nightmare for the country, but for Trump, it may turn out to be devastating and permanent.