NYT exposé: “Self-made billionaire” Donald Trump built empire on father’s money, tax dodging & fraud


“Donald Trump stands with then-wife Ivana Trump and parents Mary and Fred Trump in 1987. Fred Trump arranged millions of dollars in loans and lines of credit during his son’s early career, according to a new report.” PHOTO/Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images/U.S. News & World Report

President Donald Trump built his personal brand and presidential candidacy on the claim that he was a self-made billionaire whose only head start was a “small loan of a million dollars” from his father. But a New York Times exposé has revealed that Trump inherited much of his family’s wealth through tax dodging and outright fraud, receiving at least $413 million in inflation-adjusted dollars from his father’s real estate empire. We speak with David Barstow, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the lead author on the new investigation, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches from His Father.” Barstow shares a byline with Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has opened an investigation of President Trump for fraud and tax evasion, following a major exposé by The New York Times. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also called for a city probe, and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has urged the IRS to investigate the president.

The Times revealed Trump inherited much of his family’s wealth through tax dodges and outright fraud, receiving at least $413 million—in inflation-adjusted dollars, that is—from his father’s real estate empire. The _Times_’ 13,000-word investigative report found the late Fred and Mary Trump transferred more than $1 billion in wealth to their children, and much of it to Donald Trump, paying less than 5 percent of the $550 million in taxes they should have under inheritance tax rates. As part of a scheme to reduce taxes, Donald Trump also helped his parents undervalue real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars in IRS tax returns.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times also reports Trump earned $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s companies beginning at the age of 3, with a salary that increased to $1 million a year after Trump graduated college and to $5 million a year when Trump was in his forties. Over the years, Trump has repeatedly portrayed himself as a self-made billionaire whose only head start was a “small loan of a million dollars,” he would say, from his father.

DONALD TRUMP: It has not been easy for me. It has not been easy for me. And, you know, I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan. And I had to pay him back, and I had to pay him back with interest. … He used to say, “Donald, don’t go into Manhattan. That’s the big leagues. We don’t know anything about that. Don’t do it.” I said, “Dad, I gotta go into Manhattan. I gotta build those big buildings.” … I built what I built myself, and I did it by working long hours and working hard and working smart. More importantly than anything else is by using my own brain. And there was a point where I was making so much so fast, and it was so easy, that I almost got bored. And it’s true. … I got a very, very small loan from my father many years ago. I built that into a massive empire. And I paid my father back that loan.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, President Trump attacked The New York Times. He tweeted, quote, “The Failing New York Times did something I have never seen done before. They used the concept of ‘time value of money’ in doing a very old, boring and often told hit piece on me. Added up, this means that 97% of their stories on me are bad. Never recovered from bad election call!” he tweeted.

AMY GOODMAN: The Times article was based on public records as well as tens of thousands of confidential documents, including bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices, canceled checks. The documents include more than 200 tax returns of the late Fred Trump, but do include the president’s personal—they don’t include the president’s personal tax returns, which he has refused to release. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the article during Wednesday’s press briefing.

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I’m not going to sit and go through every single line of a very boring 14,000-word story. The only thing—I will say one thing the article did get right was that it showed that the president’s father actually had a great deal of confidence in him. In fact, the president brought his father into a lot of deals, and they made a lot of money together, so much so that his father went on to say that everything he touched turned to gold. The president’s lawyer addressed some of the specific claims and walked through how the allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false and highly defamatory. There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. He went on much further, and I would encourage you to read every word of his statement, which completely undercuts the accusations made by The New York Times.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by David Barstow, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, lead author on this new investigation revealing the original source of President Trump’s wealth. David Barstow shares a byline with Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner on The New York Times exclusive, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches from His Father.”

Welcome to Democracy Now! So, you have been attacked by the White House for what you’ve done, the piece they call old and boring. Tell us first—I mean, this is a massive piece, which is being reissued on Sunday, is that right, by The New York Times?


AMY GOODMAN: Many-page piece headlined “Trump Took Part in Suspect Schemes to Evade Tax Bills.” Talk about how you found this information, and what were your key findings, David?

DAVID BARSTOW: Well, first, how we found it was kind of the old-fashioned way. It was going to courthouses, scouring public records, knocking on a lot of doors and, gradually, over many months, piecing together, building this trove of documents, over 100,000 pages, by the time we were ready to publish. And I think, most significantly, in terms of for people to be able to assess this story, it’s important to know that this includes literally tens of thousands of pages of never-before-seen documentation of the actual inner workings of Fred Trump’s real estate empire.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But those documents—if I could just interrupt briefly—those were confidential records.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: So you couldn’t have gotten those from the public records.

DAVID BARSTOW: Yeah, you only get those by knocking on a lot of doors.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What doors did you knock on?

DAVID BARSTOW: I’m not going to talk about that, but good try.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your major findings, particularly what you say is this illegal transfer of wealth.

DAVID BARSTOW: So, I think there’s two core findings. One is simply that the narrative that Donald Trump has sold to the public for many decades now, the thing that made him famous, that gave him political power and that, ultimately, I think, was the central focus of his presidential campaign, is this narrative that he is a self-made billionaire. And what this story really reveals is the extent to which that just simply doesn’t square with the facts that are uncovered and that we show in this story. So that’s sort of, I think, point number one.

Point number two is, not only did he receive $413 million from his father, not only did he receive another $140 million in today’s dollars in loans from his father, but that that amount, the amount of money, was significantly increased by a series of tax schemes that the tax experts that we consulted with in our reporting, laying this out to them, said these things go way beyond the normal tax avoidance strategies that wealthy, sophisticated people will employ in any event to lower their tax bill. This was a set of maneuvers that were actually intended to deceive the IRS about the value of things that were being given from Fred and Mary Trump to Donald Trump and his siblings.

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