It seems that Donald Trump’s closing message for his reelection campaign during a time of pandemic and economic crisis is this: Hunter Biden. In recent days, he has jumped on a misleading New York Post story about the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son—an allegation promoted by Rudy Giuliani and linked to a Russian disinformation operation—and slammed the Bidens as a “corrupt family,” claiming “Joe Biden personifies the selfish and corrupt globalists.” At campaign rallies, he has led largely mask-free crowds in chants of “lock him up,” referring to Biden. And Trump has called on Biden to release “all” records related to his family’s business dealings, including any activity involving Russia and China.
Stone, meet glass house. For years, Trump and his family—including his three adult children, Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka—have been implicated in questionable endeavors that raise concerns regarding corruption and possible criminal conduct. Some of the sleazy antics are well known, such as Trump University (which prompted lawsuits alleging fraud that Trump settled for $25 million) and the Trump family foundation (which was shut down by New York State authorities after Trump was caught making illegal use of its charitable funds). But there are many significant mysteries about the Trump family’s financial shenanigans, and Trump has refused to provide answers. He has famously and steadfastly resisted releasing his tax returns, trampling on a long-established norm for presidents and presidential candidates. Moreover, Trump has not explained many of his clan’s business actions that seem sketchy, shady, or worse. After almost four years of his presidency and two presidential campaigns, huge question marks remain. So if Trump is going to insist that Joe Biden release information about his son’s business activity, then it’s only fair that Trump do the same about his and his family’s own wheeling-and-dealing. As a public service, here’s a list—only a partial list—of questionable activities that Trump and his business-partner kids have not addressed.
Taxes. The New York Times has produced several bombshell reports on Trump and his taxes. One noted that Trump and his family cooked up fraudulent plots and suspicious methods to avoid paying over $400 million in taxes during the 1990s. The more recent deep-dive showed that Trump paid no personal income taxes for many years and only $750 in income taxes in 2016 and 2017. These investigations prompted numerous questions about Trump’s scheming and about his business failures. He made puzzling consulting payments to Ivanka that created an iffy tax deduction. (He did the same with other consulting fees, but the recipients are unknown. Did this involve Donald Jr. or Eric?) Trump claimed a personal property as an investment property to snatch a $21 million deduction. He filed for a $72.9 million refund that might not have been warranted. A subsequent story reported that his tax records show that he engineered a puzzling transfer of $20 million in 2016 that might have been used to keep his presidential campaign that year afloat in its final weeks. (He has hundreds of LLCs through which he does his deals that have not disclosed any records.) There are so many questions about Trump’s taxes and personal finances. He has done nothing to answer them.
Foreign money and deals. Much is unknown about the Trump family’s business overseas—past and present. While serving in the White House, Ivanka obtained fast-track approval of trademarks in China for fashion gear, beauty services, and voting machines. (Yes, voting machines.) She also received quick okays for trademarks in Japan. What’s this all about? Trump has never fully explained his secret effort in 2015 and 2016, while he was running for president, to score a deal to develop a tower in Moscow that could earn him hundreds of millions of dollars. As part of this venture, his then-lawyer Michael Cohen requested assistance from Vladimir Putin’s office. Trump’s business connections with Russia alone could generate a lengthy list of queries. In 2008, Donald Jr. described Russia as a key source of revenue for the Trump Organization. That same year, his father sold a run-down Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, $50 million more than Trump had paid for it four years earlier. Trump, according to Cohen, “was convinced the real buyer…was Vladimir Putin.”
More foreign money and deals. During the 2016 campaign, Trump registered eight companies in Saudi Arabia apparently for a hotel project there. Who were his Saudi partners? He has never said. According to the New York Times, the tax records the paper unearthed reveal that Trump, in the first two years of his presidency, received millions of dollars from projects in foreign countries, including $1 million from Turkey, $3 million from the Philippines, and $2.3 million from India. Has Trump been involved with those projects as president? Let’s see all the emails. He and his family have never explained a rotten deal to develop a hotel in Azerbaijan that was connected to allegedly corrupt oligarchs and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Last year, Donald Jr. visited Indonesia to work with a Indonesian billionaire on a hotel project for the family business—and declared there was no connection between this deal and his dad’s foreign policy actions. (At one point, the project had Chinese financing.) Let’s see all the emails about this, too. By the way, remember the time in 2017 when a Chinese-American businesswoman who was selling access to powerful people—and who had ties to the Chinese ruling elite and to an organization considered a front group for Chinese military intelligence—purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by Trump? The White House wouldn’t answer questions about that.
The Scottish and Irish golf courses. Trump has many foreign entanglements with opaque finances. This includes his golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. He has dumped a lot of cash into the Scottish courses, which, according to U.K. records, have lost a ton of money. Some Scottish lawmakers have called for an investigation of these businesses based on an anti-money-laundering law usually used against oligarchs and organized crime figures. One question: where did the cash come from? Here’s a clue. According to journalist James Dodson, in 2014, he asked Eric Trump how the family business financed its golf courses, and Eric replied, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” So how about Trump make public all the records for the golf courses? Including information about the US Air Force using one of the Scottish courses, Trump Turnberry, for frequent overnight stays and the allegation that Trump pushed the US ambassador to Britain to lobby the British government so the Turnberry course could host the prestigious British Open tournament. (The lobbying failed.)
Loans. Big loans. As Mother Jones reported months ago, Trump has over $400 million in loans due in the next four years. In recent weeks—after the New York Times’ investigation of Trump’s taxes highlighted this situation—commentators, politicians, and folks on Twitter have demanded that Trump reveal to whom he owes all this money. But much of that is public information. His biggest creditor is Deutsche Bank, a controversial institution that has been involved with money laundering and that has long financed Trump’s projects. Another major creditor for Trump is Ladder Capital, a financial firm (with a lower profile than Deutsche Bank) that specializes in bundling commercial debt into mortgage-backed securities. How Trump will pay back these institutions is an important topic. He may own property that is highly valued, but he doesn’t appear to have the cash to cover these debts. That could put him in a compromising position. (How do you send a collection agency after the US president to get him to pay hundreds of millions?) Given the standard Trump wishes to apply to the Bidens, he ought to release all records related to his Deutsche Bank loans and his other debts. In fact, congressional investigators have sought out such information, and Trump has gone to court to block them.
The Chicago loan. For years, reporters who cover Trump’s finances have wondered about one item on the financial disclosure form he has to file each year: a $50 million debt he owes to a company he controls called Chicago Acquisition Unit, which is somehow tied to the hotel and tower Trump owns in the Windy City. Tax and financial experts say the loan, which Trump has never fully explained, could be a controversial tax avoidance scheme known as debt parking. Yet a Mother Jones investigation last year uncovered information that raised the possibility this debt was created as a ploy to evade income taxes—an act that could be tax fraud. It’s quite complicated. But perhaps if Trump released documents regarding this loan, a long-running Trump financial mystery could be resolved.
The Trump Hotel in Washington and emoluments. The Constitution prohibits US officials from receiving any “emolument”—that is, a gain or profit—from a foreign state. Yet overseas governments and officials have poured money directly into Trump’s own pocket by renting rooms and paying for services at his hotels, particularly the one in Washington, DC. For instance, after Trump was elected, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia booked over 500 rooms at Trump’s Washington hotel. Several foreign embassies have moved galas and events to the hotel. Who profits from all this? Trump does. (Ivanka, another government official, also benefits, as a co-owner of the hotel.) And in 2018, Trump’s flagship hotel in New York City, saw an increase in revenue—after two years of decline—in part because Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman booked a bunch of rooms there. Trump’s hotels and properties have become a way for overseas entities to hand money straight to Trump. Various GOP outfits also spend money at Trump’s hotels and clubs. As do domestic lobbyists and other favor-seekers. They hang out at Trump’s hotels. They dine and stay there. They hold events in conference rooms. It’s a way of channeling bucks to Trump to get his attention or grease the wheels. So who’s dropping cash on Trump and his family? The public doesn’t know the full roster. Let’s see the hotel records. (Last week, the Washington Post reported that the State Department has hundreds of pages of records showing US government spending at Trump’s properties but the agency will only release two of those pages before the election.)
Mar-a-Lago. Which brings us to Trump’s private club in Palm Beach. He collects a bundle of money from membership initiation fees—$6 million in 2016—and the club has drawn new members since he began his campaign for president. According to a recent New York Times story on Trump’s “swamp,” Trump keeps an eye on who ponies up to join and who holds events at the club. Here’s another avenue to literally buy influence with and access to Trump; the price of joining Mar-a-Lago doubled to $200,000 after Trump was elected. (And Mar-a-Lago appears to have been a free-for-all at times for influence-peddling, with even a former massage parlor owner selling Chinese executives access to Trump’s club.) The Times article noted that Brian Ballard, a Trump-connected lobbyist in Washington, was pressured to join the club—a characterization Ballard disputed. The Christian Broadcasting Network paid Mar-a-Lago about $170,000 for events it held there in 2018 and 2019. The club (along with his hotels) gives Trump the ability to shake-down lobbyists, organizations, businesses, and overseas governments who want to be on his good side. Who and what special interests are supplying him cash via Mar-a-Lago? There is no public list of members. That ought to be revealed as well.
Jared Kushner. Trump’s son-in-law and top White Houser adviser has been a walking conflict-of interest since he crossed the threshold at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He did not fully reveal his holdings and potential conflicts when he entered government service. His security clearance was denied because officials were concerned about his business interests and his vulnerability to foreign influence. (Trump ordered Kushner be granted a clearance.) As Kushner has served as a government officially advising his father-in-law, his family worked with a Chinese company tied to the Chinese government and then with the Qatari government to off-load a highly indebted New York City property it owned. (A Qatari company eventually rescued the Kushners.) He holds a large interest in Cadre, a real estate firm that has looked to exploit Trump tax policies and to profit off the pandemic. He oversaw a shadow coronavirus task force that recruited friends and personal contacts to forge deals and that raised numerous questions. There’s a lot to ask Kushner about. Probably far more than Hunter Biden.
And there’s far more than this modest summary suggests when it comes to unanswered questions about Trump and his financial dealings. Investigators in New York City and State are examining Trump and the Trump Organization on various fronts. Did they commit fraud involving the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who says she had an affair with Trump? Did they engage in fraud when assessing the value of property for bank loans and tax payments? Would Trump care to release all documents and records about these matters?
Trump entered the presidency with more serious and troubling questions about his finances than any president in decades—perhaps any US chief executive ever. Now as he asks to be reelected, the number of concerns has only multiplied. He and his family have not been transparent. They have not adhered to longstanding norms and rules. Time and again, they have behaved as if they have things to hide. Big things. Trump demanding the Bidens release more financial information is like a skunk demanding a sparrow take a bath. It is a deflection. But this sleight-of-hand is another mark of how Trump has succeeded wildly. He has managed to face American voters twice without being forced to reveal the truth of his financial skullduggery or to address the huge conflicts that enshroud and animate his murky and swampy world. In this way, Trump has scored big.