Trump Taxes
February 26, 2021

Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien, one of the few journalists who has seen former President Donald Trump's tax returns, told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Thursday night he will sleep better now that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance finally has eight years of Trump's financial documents, from 2011 to 2019. Trump "is very afraid of what's in these documents, I think," because they put him in serious criminal jeopardy, O'Brien said, but he isn't the only one implicated.

O'Brien went on to explain why he thinks it's likely Trump's chief accountant, Allen Weisselberg, will flip on Trump. "The thing to really focus in on here is that it's not just the tax records that Cy Vance has now," O'Brien said. "He probably has reams and reams of the accountant's work product. This is a criminal case, they're going to need to prove criminal intent on the part of Trump, his three eldest children, Allen Weisselberg, and anyone else in the Trump Organization who's fallen under the parameters of this investigation. And if there are email and notes and other records of communication about what they intended to do when they inflated the value of buildings so they could get loans against them and then turned around and deflated the value of the buildings so they could pay lower taxes on them, and there's a communication around that that predates any of these tax entries, that is gold for a prosecutor."

A few hours earlier, O'Brien told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace that the particular eight years of documents Vance's team has "is important, because it predates Trump's ascent into the White House, and I think helps build the narrative around the money trail and Trump's motivations for his destructive and obscene dance with people like Vladimir Putin. It's a shame they couldn't go back further — think this is one of the tragic misses of Robert Mueller's investigation, he could have gone back further, I think, than Cy Vance is able to into Trump's finances."

O'Brien also underscored that the investigation implicates at least Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, and "it also targets people inside the Trump Organization who might flip on Trump if they're exposed to criminal liability," but "the brass ring in all of this is that if Trump has a criminal conviction, he cannot run for president again, and that's looming over this entire thing as well." Peter Weber

February 23, 2021

The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for New York City prosecutors to obtain eight years of former President Donald Trump's tax filings and, equally importantly, the business records and communications between the Trump Organization and its accounting firm, Mazars USA, that should provide important context and fill in gaps.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office, which has been investigating potential financial crimes by Trump and his business for two years, is appropriately tight-lipped about the ongoing investigation. But we do know "Vance has assembled a large team of investigators, including from outside the district attorney's office, who are expected to begin picking apart the tax records immediately once they are obtained" from Mazars, presumably this week, The Washington Post reports.

Vance's team is investigating possible bank, insurance, and tax fraud, The Wall Street Journal reports, and they are specifically looking at several of Trump's high-profile Manhattan properties, including Trump Tower and 40 Wall St., plus his 213-acre Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, just north or New York City. Vance has already subpoenaed information from Trump's lenders, an insurer, and the New York City Tax Commission, the Journal adds. His office has interviewed employees of Deutsche Bank, one of Trump's largest lenders, The New York Times reports.

Investigators may be looking for "disparities that would show that on one hand, Trump was telling the [Internal Revenue Service] that he was completely broke and on the other hand, telling financial institutions he was extremely rich," former Manhattan prosecutor Duncan Levin tells the Journal. Obtaining loans based on purposefully false financial information can be a crime in New York State.

Once Vance's team gets Trump's financial records, they will certainly "discover a veritable how-to guide for getting rich while losing millions of dollars and paying little to no income taxes," the Times reports. "Whether they find evidence of crimes, however, will also depend on other information not found in the actual returns." The investigation will probably end with either a decision to bring charges against Trump or a finding that there's insufficient evidence, the Journal says, noting such an announcement "could be at least months away."

In the meantime, Trump also faces investigations by New York Attorney General Letitia James and prosecutors in Georgia, plus several civil lawsuits. Trump on Monday called Vance's investigation "a continuation of the greatest political witch hunt in the history of our country." Peter Weber

Opinion
September 29, 2020

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a sweeping investigation into many years of President Trump's tax returns, which they obtained from an anonymous source. It turns out Trump has paid no federal income tax for 10 of the last 15 years, and in 2016 and 2017 he paid just $750.

This bombshell reporting poses two serious political problems for Trump. First, he has (as usual) claimed that the reporting is "fake news." He could prove that by releasing his actual returns, but he has resisted doing so for years, probably because he doesn't want people to see them. So either he lets people pick over his returns publicly, or he validates the Times reporting (which has certainly been heavily fact-checked) by acting guilty. A literal billionaire paying less in federal income tax than a single childless adult making $18,000 is bound to be unpopular.

That leads into the second problem — with Trump's image. He has always portrayed himself as an ultra-successful businessman. In reality, for the last 20 years, Trump's main money-making ventures have been pretending to be a successful businessman on The Apprentice, together with branding and endorsement deals. At the same time, he zeroed out his tax liability by losing staggering sums on other businesses he owns. Just on golf courses alone he has lost over $315 million since 2000.

Trump's 2016 campaign relied very heavily on his supposed business acumen. "I'm going to be greedy for the United States," he said in a speech that year. Fewer people would have voted for him if they knew that his most remarkable characteristic was losing truly eye-popping amounts of money — more than any other taxpayer in several prior years. But now, it seems that is an undeniable fact. If Trump returns to private life, perhaps his next TV gig can have a different title. Ryan Cooper

September 29, 2020

Thanks to The Apprentice, President Trump was able to secure $230 million in licensing and endorsement deals, The New York Times reports, doing everything from shilling nearly obsolete video technology to co-writing a book called Think Big and Kick Ass: In Business and Life.

When The Apprentice premiered in January 2004, Trump boasted he was able to recover from financial setbacks because of his "brain" and "negotiating skills." Tax records obtained by the Times show that this confidence and ability to market himself attracted several companies. For example, Trump received $7.3 million for showing up to Learning Annex speaking engagements, the Times reports, and earned $1.4 million in royalties for his Think Big and Kick Ass book, co-written by the Learning Annex's founder.

The biggest deal Trump signed was with ACN, a multilevel marketing company that has been accused of using predatory tactics to lure in its workforce. Independent sales agents sign up to sell ACN's products, like satellite television and video phones, from their homes, but regulators found that a vast majority don't make any money — officials in Montana said that on average, participants in the state paid $750 in fees to ACN but received only $53 in return. ACN has settled with state regulators, without admitting wrongdoing.

ACN paid Trump $8.8 million, and he promoted ACN products in DVDs and on The Apprentice, the Times reports. ACN's website also featured a gushing testimonial from Trump, who said the company "has a reputation" for "success that's really synonymous with the Trump name and other successful names, and you can be part of it." A class action lawsuit is now pending against Trump, with one plaintiff saying she signed up to sell ACN products after she "watched clips of ACN appearing on Celebrity Apprentice."

ACN wasn't the only multilevel marketing company Trump worked closely with during the Great Recession's unemployment crisis. In 2009, he struck a $2.6 million deal with a vitamin company, Ideal Health, that changed the name of its product to Trump Network, the Times reports. Trump regularly gave speeches and appeared in videos encouraging people to sign themselves and loved ones up for starter kits costing nearly $500.

In one video, Trump said the Trump Network was there to "give millions of people renewed hope," and had "an exciting plan to opt out of the recession." Ideal Health was sold within a few years and then fell into bankruptcy. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

September 29, 2020

The Apprentice came along in the nick of time for President Trump, The New York Times reports — the reality show's popularity allowed him to monetize his fame, and this "$427 million lifeline" gave Trump a huge boost financially after years of major losses.

The Times obtained tax return data for Trump covering more than two decades, and on Sunday, reported that he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. The records also show that in 10 of the previous 15 years, Trump paid no income taxes because he reported losing more money than he made. On Monday, the Times published part two of its deep-dive into the records, this time focusing on Trump's Apprentice years.

Over 16 years, Trump earned about $197 million directly from The Apprentice, and $230 million from licensing and endorsement deals linked to the show, with his face selling everything from Double Stuf Oreos to Serta mattresses to All laundry detergent. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Trump reported tens of millions in annual net losses on his income tax returns, but he began declaring positive adjusted gross income when the money started coming in from The Apprentice, the Times reports.

Trump is an avid golfer, and when The Apprentice premiered in January 2004, he operated two golf courses and had two others that were undergoing renovations. From 2006 to 2016, Trump used his Apprentice money to buy 11 more golf courses, but they have been hemorrhaging money, the Times reports; tax records show from 2014 to 2017, Trump put $144.5 million into his Turnberry course in Scotland, despite the property reporting massive losses every year.

Trump had an arrangement with The Apprentice producer Mark Burnett, where they would split profits from product placements on the show, the Times reports. That helped Trump, but when ratings started to drop in 2011, Trump's Apprentice money also began drying up — he went from making $51 million that year to $21 million in 2014, and received less than $3 million in 2018. During the early 2010s, the Times says, Trump began selling millions in stocks and bonds and borrowed $100 million against his equity in Manhattan's Trump Tower. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

September 28, 2020

Andrew Weissman, a prosecutor who served as one of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's top lieutenants during the investigation into 2016 Russian election interference, on Monday connected revelations about President Trump's tax information to Moscow.

The tax information, obtained by The New York Times, has sparked speculation that Trump may owe hundreds of millions of dollars to an unknown funding source that kept his businesses alive over the years. Weissman suggested that Trump's son, Eric Trump, may have provided the geographic location of the money, if not the exact source, all the way back in 2014, before the elder Trump had announced his 2016 presidential campaign. "We have all the funding we need out of Russia," Eric Trump said in 2014.

Weissmann is just one of many wondering if there's a common thread between the tax information, the 2016 election, and the president's foreign policy strategy, but the Times notes its investigation was unable to reveal "any previously unreported connections to Russia," so the situation remains unclear. Tim O'Donnell

September 28, 2020

The New York Times' report on President Trump's tax info shed a significant amount of new light on his businesses and personal wealth, but there are still several questions left unanswered. Journalist Adam Davidson, who has reported on Trump's business dealings for The New Yorker, suggests people look to Trump's golf courses to find out more.

One of Davidson's big takeaways from the Times report is that Trump had a "new source of funds" beginning around 2011 after he had finished "blowing through" most of the money he received from his father, television producer Mark Burnett, and through loans. It's not clear who this alleged new source of money may be, but Davidson believes golf courses could be the key. In 2011, Davidson writes, Trump went into business with families from Azerbaijan, and was also "flirting" with Georgian and Kazakh businesses that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between 2011 and 2016, all of those groups were known to be laundering money through golf courses.

Trump, of course, has his own courses across the U.S., as well as in other countries, and those properties have cost him a lot of money. Davidson singled out his Scottish golf resorts, which have prompted investigation requests in the past, because that is where he, perhaps confoundingly, spent the post-2011 money.

But speculation is just that, and Davidson argues that little more can be known about who Trump "owes and what they know about him" until the alleged funding source is uncovered. Tim O'Donnell

September 28, 2020

President Trump paid no income tax in 11 of the 18 years from 2000 to 1018, The New York Times reported late Sunday, citing copies of tax records it had legally obtained from unidentified sources, but he did pay $750 in both 2016 and 2017.

But he did report paying taxes on a number of his overseas ventures, which brought in $73 million in revenue (not profit) in his first two years in the White House, the Times reports. But "in 2017, the president's $750 contribution to the operations of the U.S. government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India and the $156,824 in the Philippines."

A Trump organization lawyer pointed out to the Times that Trump did pay more in federal taxes — likely meaning Social Security and Medicare contributions and taxes for his household employees. And the Times notes that Trump "paid substantial federal income taxes for the first time in his life," $70.1 million, from 2005 to 2007, when the tax-reducing power of nearly a billion in 1995 losses dried up and he started earning serious money from The Apprentice and related licensing deals — but he recouped most of that money, plus interest, starting in 2010 by taking advantage of an obscure provision of a bill passed after the 2008 financial meltdown.

The $72.9 million tax refund Trump eventually secured has been under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service and the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation since 2011, and if the audit finds he cheated — the Times suggests that's at least possible — he could owe the U.S. government more than $100 million.

Trump's foreign business entanglements also pose a long list of potential conflicts of interest, both foreign and domestic, and Turkey has been particularly aggressive in wielding its leverage, the Times reports. The good news for Trump is that the records the Times obtained don't "reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia." Read more (in depth or in brief) at The New York Times. Peter Weber

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