Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He blustered on the New York Times' bombshell story about his "outright fraud" on his family's taxes, but didn't refute any of it.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a 14,000-word investigative report on a complicated tax scheme in which Donald Trump, his siblings and other relatives, and his father spent decades falsifying records, hiding assets, and lying about the source of Donald's wealth. A summary is available here.

The piece relied on more than 100,000 documents and took more than a year to report. It is notable for its strong language: it says that Donald Trump (and others) lied and committed state and federal crimes, and that Trump was guilty of "outright fraud." It also explodes Trump's insistence that he only ever took "a small loan of a million dollars" from his father: in fact, the NYT demonstrates, Donald Trump was gifted about $413,000,000 (in 2018 dollars) from Fred Trump, most of it through illegal untaxed back-channels.

The charges are so sharply worded that even Trump, as a public figure, could easily prevail in a libel suit if any of them were shown to be false. Indeed, Trump threatens libel suits at the drop of a hat, although rarely follows through, and has never prevailed in court. 

But Trump completely avoided comment on the report yesterday, and today could not refute any specific fact in the piece. He did complain that the piece talked about the basic concept in finance of "time value of money," saying that he'd "never seen [that] done before." (Trump frequently brags about his undergraduate economics degree, where he should have learned about time value of money in his first year.) 

Even here, though, it's not clear why Trump is bringing it up here. Time value of money certainly could have been part of a piece about an elaborate tax fraud, but the NYT piece simply adjusted figures for inflation to arrive at its conclusion that the amount of money Fred Trump illegally funneled to Donald Trump was worth about $413 million in 2018 dollars.

Trump's refusal to address any of the specific charges in the report means that he is leaving unchallenged claims that he and his family committed massive tax fraud, lied to regulators about rent increases related to that fraud, and that Donald Trump specifically tried to get an even larger share of his dying father's estate with a last-minute adjustment to Fred Trump's will.

Why should I care about this?

  • The person in charge of signing tax laws and enforcing them should not be someone who cheats on his taxes.
  • Basic economic literacy is a requirement for the presidency (and a B.A. in economics).