Any rich person could pay off Donald Trump
- Donald Trump leads an expensive lifestyle and, at least on paper, his businesses aren't keeping up.
- The New York Times obtained Trump's tax returns, and they show that he has hundreds of millions in liabilities coming due that make him a liability to the United States of America.
- That's because when Trump leaves office — next year or after — he will leave with US secrets in his brain. His history suggests that for the right amount of money, anyone could dislodge them.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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On Sunday night the New York Times published its first findings from a dive into more than two decades of President Trump's tax returns. They found that in 2016 and 2017 he paid only $750 in federal income tax, and that for many years he paid no income taxes at all.
And they found, very clearly, that Trump is a threat to US national security. He has hundreds of millions in debt coming due in the next few years, and his businesses — at least on paper — rack up hundreds of millions in losses. These businesses run at the edge of a knife.
Every time Trump acquires a large sum of money, he bets it on himself. And when he bets on himself, he loses. This means he will always need cash, creative accounting, and willing lenders to maintain his lifestyle, and based on who he enjoys doing business with, the much-needed cash could come from places that put our country at risk.
A shaky financial situation
While the Times deep dive into Trump's finances only gives us part of the picture, it lets us in on enough to know that Trump's business empire is not on the most solid footing.
For instance, Dan Alexander of Forbes tallied Trump's liabilities they came to around $1.1 billion. Trump responded to the NYT story by saying his assets dwarf that amount, but his assets are illiquid — especially right now, in a pandemic when commercial real estate and hotel values have fallen like a stone.
Given the market, it's unclear just how much cash his real estate investments can generate or could generate from a sale of an asset like Trump Tower — an asset he took out a $100 million loan against. That loan comes due in 2022 and Trump hasn't paid down a dime of the principle. Trump also has an Internal Revenue Service decision pending that could cost him up to $100 million.
Trump could wriggle his way out of these problems — there's almost always some way for rich people to kick the can down the road on debt — but there are signs of financial stress.
He has been liquidating his stock holdings, selling $220.2 million since 2014 — as the market was in the middle of a post-financial crisis rally — leaving him with as little as $873,000 worth of stock, according to the NYT, certainly nowhere near what he would need to pay down his mortgages.
All of these problems can be made more manageable if the government is making policy that makes them more manageable, of course, which is why Trump will stop at nothing to stay in the White House.
If he stays in Washington he can continue to shape policy in his favor. Of course a man like Trump would cut taxes. Of course a man like Trump would cut the IRS budget. Of course a man like Trump would want to keep interest rates low.
These tax forms show that everything he does is for him and people like him. He does not care to pay taxes to fund the things that serve the people in his base — things like public schools and social security — because people like him do not need those things. And because he does not care at all about the people who do.
He does care about this debt, though. And that's where America's problem comes in.
Trump, the mark
We do not know if Trump or his children (including son-in-law Jared Kushner) have been offered anything from foreign governments or extremely rich private citizens over the last four years, but we know that when they when they leave the White House they face debt and (likely) legal issues. Republicans have been citing this as a reason Bill and Hillary Clinton have supposedly shady dealings for decades now.
With Trump those same concerns are magnified. During his time in office, Trump has shown an affinity for corrupt dictators — the way they make their money and the way they rule their countries. As retired Colonel Alexander Vindman — a witness to the Trump administration's corruption in Ukraine — told the Atlantic, dictators see Trump as a "useful idiot" and a "fellow traveler."
All of this makes him a threat to our country now and when he leaves the White House.
Favors to the Trumps do not have to be direct cash or the sort, they can be subtle. The New York Times story notes that Trump made $2.3 million from the Miss Universe pageant he hosted in Russia in 2013. What's weird is that everyone involved on the Russian side of the transaction, it seems, lost money. The billionaire oligarch Agalarov family — who invited Trump and invested $12 million in the project — lost $10 million on the deal.
Indeed Trump lost money on the pageants he held directly before and after this one.
This is a red flag for anyone who understands how the Kremlin works. The wealthy families of Russia owe their fortunes to President Vladimir Putin and are known to do his bidding around the world. That includes approaching people who could potentially be useful to Moscow and grooming them — making sure they have Russian contacts and a favorable opinion of the country.
I cannot think of a better way to leave Donald Trump with a good impression of a place and its people than presenting him with a room of beauty queens and, in essence, a check for $2.3 million. This is not a complicated psychological profile we're dealing with here. Trump is very easy to exploit.
And so it's quite likely that the Kremlin made sure Trump met who it wanted him to meet, and that he went where it wanted him to go. Putin's tricks are not new, this is a classic Russian recruitment tactic. A favour from Moscow was never going to be as explicit as a line item for "the Russian government" on Trump's 2013 tax return.
Going forward a Putin-like trick could be replicated by anyone on the planet with money. And when he leaves office Trump will leave with the secrets of the United States of America in his mind, ready to burst out of a mouth that has never known candor.
We ask presidents to divest of their financial interests before they enter office so we can be sure they do not have dealings with unsavory characters. Trump is already doing business in countries with openly corrupt, quasi-autocratic governments like The Philippines and Turkey. Now we know he has every reason to continue those relationships once he leaves office, at which point he'll be more useful to our adversaries than ever.
All of this makes Donald Trump's freedom to roam the planet an existential threat to US national security. This country cannot afford the risk of giving him and his perilously indebted family four more years of classified information. It's unclear if we can afford the last four. The eyes of the world are watching, and not all of them are friendly.
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