26 Feb 2016

Trump’s Tax Returns

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These days, candidates for the presidency are expected to release financial data, including their past tax returns. Jim Geraughty points out that, judging by past performance, releasing data revealing the actual amount of his wealth is likely to be something The Donald doesn’t want to do.

Trump has been been bragging for years about being a billionaire, and he’s has even sued people who said he isn’t one, but even in court he has declined to reveal the truth.

[A] few years ago, Trump refused to release un-redacted tax returns, even when it could help him win a $5 billion libel lawsuit against a New York Times reporter and author. If Trump was unwilling to release his returns in that circumstance, how likely is it that Trump will release them before Election Day?

    Just for your info, tax returns have 0 to do w/ someone’s net worth. I have already filed my financial statements w/ FEC. They are great! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2016

Trump’s wealth is a key part of his public image, his status in the eyes of his fans, and his self-image. On July 15, Trump issued a statement declaring, “As of this date, Mr. Trump’s net worth is in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.” (Capital letters in original.)

In October, Forbes magazine offered its own assessment of the mogul’s wealth, concluding, “After interviewing more than 80 sources and devoting unprecedented resources to valuing a single fortune, we’re going with a figure less than half that — $4.5 billion, albeit still the highest figure we’ve ever had for him.” They pointed out that in 2014, Trump’s organization provided documentation for cash and cash equivalents of $307 million. This year his team claimed to have $793 million in cash, but were unwilling to provide documentation.

Listing all the net-worth figures Trump has claimed over the years, Gawker compared them with the significantly smaller sums indicated by available financial information.

But the most glaring evidence… comes from Trump’s 2007 libel lawsuit against New York Times reporter Tim O’Brien. In his book TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, O’Brien wrote:

    Three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances, people who had worked closely with him for years, told me that they thought his net worth was somewhere between $150 million and $250 million. By anyone’s standards this still qualified Donald as comfortably wealthy, but none of these people thought he was remotely close to being a billionaire.

Trump contended that passage was a lie and damaged his reputation. Trump fought, lost in court, appealed, and lost again. If Trump’s fortune is multiple billions as he contends, one or two tax returns would have demonstrated the three sources were wildly off-base.

In a recent interview with National Review’s Ian Tuttle, O’Brien said, “The case dragged on for as long as it did because he wouldn’t comply with discovery requests. He wouldn’t turn over the tax returns, then the tax returns came in almost so completely redacted as to be useless.”

The New Jersey Superior Court in its decision offered a blistering rebuke to Trump, contending that there was no good reason to conclude that O’Brien’s sources were being dishonest:

    O’Brien has certified that he re-interviewed his three confidential sources prior to publishing their net worth estimates, and he has produced notes of his meetings with them both in 2004 and in 2005. The notes are significant, in that they provide remarkably similar estimates of Trump’s net worth, thereby suggesting the accuracy of the information conveyed. Further, the accounts of the sources contain significant amounts of additional information that O’Brien was able to verify independently.

Even worse, the court concluded that Trump was an untrustworthy source for estimates of his own net worth: “It is indisputable that Trump’s estimates of his own worth changed substantially over time and thus failed to provide a reliable measure against which the accuracy of the information offered by the three confidential sources could be gauged.”

The three-judge panel essentially called the mogul a liar: “The materials that Trump claims to have provided to O’Brien were incomplete and unaudited, and did not contain accurate indications of Trump’s ownership interests in properties, his liabilities, and his revenues, present or future.”


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