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Sept. 29, 2020, 11:02 a.m. EDT

Report that Trump is $400 million in debt raises national-security concerns

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Revelations that President Donald Trump is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt are casting a shadow over his presidency that ethics experts say raises the national-security concern that he could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by individuals or entities he’s indebted to.

New scrutiny of Trump, who  claims great success as a private businessman , comes after  the New York Times reported  that tax records show he is personally carrying more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was blunt about the potential implications. “He may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else,” said Warren, a frequent Trump critic.

The Times said the tax records also show that Trump did not pay any federal income taxes in 11 years between 2000 and 2018, raising questions about the fairness of a president — who purports to be a billionaire —  paying less in taxes than most Americans.

The politically damaging revelations about Trump’s tax avoidance, however, are perhaps less concerning than word the president is holding hundreds of millions of dollars of soon-to-mature debt, ethics experts said.

“Americans should be concerned about the president’s debt because it’s a national-security risk for our country,” said Donald Sherman, deputy director of the nonprofit government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “This is information that the president has aggressively and repeatedly tried to keep away from the public.”

Trump, citing an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit, has refused to follow the post-Watergate precedent set by other presidents of releasing his tax returns, so the complexities of his financial interests and whom he does business with have remained opaque. He’s fighting ongoing court battles with New York’s attorney general, Manhattan’s district attorney and two House committees over the provision of tax records.

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics attorney in Republican George W. Bush’s White House, also noted that Trump-owned companies have declared bankruptcy six times, raising the question: Why have lenders been willing to keep risking loans of such enormous amounts?

Trump, according to his latest financial-disclosure statement, reported that he had 14 loans on 12 properties.

One lender, Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank /zigman2/quotes/203042512/composite DB +0.43% , continued to do business with Trump even after he defaulted in 2008 on a loan for his Chicago hotel and condominium tower. Trump filed suit against the bank and others whom he blamed for his inability to repay.

But Deutsche Bank’s private-banking division continued to lend to Trump, including $125 million to finance the purchase and renovation of his Doral golf resort in 2012, according to previous disclosures.

Trump on Monday suggested that his debt load is hardly unusual in comparison with his assets, claiming in a tweet that he’s in fact “extremely under leveraged.”

“I have very little debt compared to the value of assets,” he wrote, adding that he may release a financial statement that spells out all assets, properties and debts.

Trump during an appearance on Monday ignored a reporter’s question about when he might release such a statement, and the White House would not comment on when he might follow through. He said repeatedly before his election four years ago that he would release his actual taxes but never has.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, said that a separate financial statement from Trump would shed little light on his business dealings if he does not disclose who his business partners are in his various holdings.

The Trump Organization consists of hundreds of limited-liability, or LLCs, that “have been listed on his financial-disclosure forms,” Clark said. 

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