Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer, testified to Congress in late February of this year. Under questioning from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Cohen testified that Trump would inflate the value of his assets when seeking bank loans but deflate the value of those same assets when contesting property tax assessments, which seemed to be an annual occurrence. The former would constitute bank fraud and the latter is tax fraud.
Sure enough, today ProPublica produced a report that analyzed the tax and loan records of four Trump properties in New York — 40 Wall Street, the Trump International Hotel and Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, and Trump Tower. The discrepancies between the tax and loan values on two of those properties, 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower, were notable. According to ProPublica, “Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street”. The apparently inflated occupancy rates were presented to Trump’s prospective lenders as an indication of future increased income in a bid to receive a lower interest rate. At the Trump International Hotel and Tower, Trump reported commercial rent income of over $1.6 million in loan documents but claimed less than half that amount in the tax appeal he filed with the city. As one financial expert who examined the documents noted, “It really feels like there’s two sets of books — it feels like a set of books for the tax guy and a set for the lender”. Two sets of books would certainly explain Trump’s enormous efforts to ensure his tax returns remain secret.
Neither of these tactics are new for Trump and the Trump Organization. The New York Times has documented how Trump engaged in outright tax fraud in the 1990s while vastly undervaluing his properties for real estate tax purposes. Don Jr, and Ivanka openly lied about sales figures at the Trump Soho, declaring that 60% of the units had been sold and marketing the remaining units with that information. In fact, two years after that claim was made, a sworn affidavit showed that only 15.8% of the units had actually been sold. That, too, was remarkable because the Trumps would have had to refund all buyers who wanted to back out if the percentage of units sold was under 15.
More remarkable perhaps than the apparently criminal efforts of the Trumps is the fact that the ProPublica analysis was based on already public data. The real estate tax records were obtained by a FOIA request and were available because the Trumps appealed the tax bills for nine consecutive years. The loan documents were made public when his lender tried to sell the debts on his properties. Why investigators for House Democrats could not uncover this information in the wake of Cohen’s testimony is unknown and unfathomable. Even worse, this information was publicly available in the beginning of 2016 which begs the question of why the national press somehow managed to miss this. This is not to minimize the work that ProPublica did to break this story. But the fact remains that the story is not based on previously hidden information provided by an insider or whistleblower. It was all public.
That, of course, leads to the larger question of how the Trumps can continually manage to commit crimes either out in the open or that get publicly exposed and still avoid prosecution and accountability. Despite all the stories about the Trumps’ numerous tax frauds, Trump still has managed to avoid any court cases and kept those taxes secret. Simple fraud cases like lying about sales rates at Trump SoHo somehow get mysteriously dropped. Trump can openly violate the Emoluments Clause and Mueller can document ten cases of obstruction of justice but Democrats refuse to pursue impeachment. By any standard, Trump truly is Teflon Don. It is mind-blowingly baffling why this is so.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on October 16, 2019.