Donald Trump caused quite a stir when it was announced that he would be breaking with the modern tradition of presidential candidates and would not be releasing his tax returns. There has been a ton of speculation about what might be in them that he wants to hide. Is he not worth as much as he claims? Are his charitable contributions not what he says they are? Is he beholden to a foreign government?
The last question is the one that has been on the minds of many Trump-watchers. And the foreign government that is routinely tossed out as having a possible connection to Trump is Russia. But a report in The New York Times says that it may not be Russia that potentially holds sway over the GOP candidate due to his business dealings — in at least part, it’s China, and good old American financial giant Goldman Sachs. China is the country Trump continually insists is America’s economic rival, and Goldman Sachs is the company he claims is in control of Hillary Clinton.
Times reporters Susanne Craig, David W. Chen, and Susan C. Beachy looked into the complicated finances of Donald J. Trump, and they found an empire largely built not on a bedrock foundation, but on shifting sand. According to their investigation, properties connected to Trump have a debt burden of almost two-thirds of a billion dollars; somewhere around $650 million to be more precise. That is more than double what the candidate reported on the financial disclosure forms he filed with the Federal Election Commission.
But the fact that Trump dramatically underreported his debt on the disclosure forms isn’t the story. Trump actually can’t be faulted for that. As Craig observes,
That Mr. Trump seems to have so much less debt on his disclosure form than what The Times found is not his fault, but rather a function of what the form asks candidates to list and how.
The form, released by the Federal Election Commission, asks that candidates list assets and debts not in precise numbers, but in ranges that top out at $50 million — appropriate for most candidates, but not for Mr. Trump.
The story is who holds Trump’s debt. According to The Times’ report, Trump is part owner of an office building in Manhattan that is the subject of a $950 million loan. The two major lenders for that property are the Bank Of China and Goldman Sachs. Craig uses this property to describe to readers just how insanely complex Trump’s finances are.
In a typically complex deal, loan documents show that four lenders — German American Capital, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank; UBS Real Estate Securities; Goldman Sachs Mortgage Company; and Bank of China — agreed in November 2012 to lend $950 million to the three companies that own the building. Those companies, obscurely named HWA 1290 III LLC, HWA 1290 IV LLC and HWA 1290 V LLC, are owned by three other companies in which Mr. Trump has stakes.
Records show that when you sift through the layers of ownership, Trump owns about 30 percent of the building.
A similar story surrounds the former Bank Of America Center in San Francisco. In 2011 Pacific Life Insurance Company and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company loaned $600 million to a limited liability company in which Trump has a 30 percent ownership stake.
And those are just a couple of examples of Trump’s many investments. There are many more where his ownership and any associated debt burden are not so clear. Craig says that in some instances, Trump owns the land a building rests on, but not the building itself. In other cases, he owns a share of the building, but not the land. In some cases, Trump is a partner in an LLC (limited liability company). The other owners of those LLCs are not always easy to identify. That means that the U.S. could wind up with a president who has been doing business with foreign persons and entities, some of which may be hostile to the United States. While The Times didn’t uncover any ties to Russia or Vladimir Putin that have been speculated about, Trump’s business dealings are so opaque in many cases that it can’t be said for sure that those ties don’t exist.
One thing is abundantly clear from this report: Trump’s claim that nobody owns him is an out and out lie. While we don’t know the extent of Trump’s stake in some properties, public records reveal the value of loans on those properties to be almost $2 billion. And we know that the Chinese own a share of at least one property with Trump connections. What other foreign banks or governments also have their hooks in Donald J. Trump, the man who allegedly is owned by no one?
You can read the full report on Trump and his business dealings here.
Featured image via Jeff Swensen/Getty Images