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Is the White House Now Just Another Trump Inc. Subsidiary?

On January 11, Donald Trump held his first press conference since his
electoral win to address the subject of his business interests and
conflicts, which had become—along with the questions about Russian
involvement in the election—a primary controversy for Trump. The
briefing was held in the lobby of Manhattan’s Trump Tower. Royal-blue
drapes covered the marble wall behind the podium, the presidential hue
forming a striking backdrop for a row of gold-tasseled American flags.
Trump, wearing a navy wool suit, crisp white shirt, and red silk tie,
with an American flag pinned to his lapel, stood to one side of the
podium, flanked by his three oldest children, Donald junior, 39, Ivanka,
35, and Eric, 33. At the podium, Sheri Dillon, a tax attorney, explained
the changes that would be made to the Trump Organization. Next to her, a
table covered in black cloth was piled with stacks of manila
folders—hilariously spoofed that week on Saturday Night Live as a
portable pile of plastic prop folders. They were said to contain
thousands of documents involved in re-arranging Trump’s “business
empire,” which Dillon described as “massive.”

She likened Trump’s wealth and stature to those of Nelson Rockefeller, a
former vice president and scion of one of the nation’s wealthiest and
most prominent families. The comparison to Rockefeller was deft, but off
the mark. In response to the outcry over his wealth, Rockefeller in 1974
not only released his tax returns to Congress but also offered to put
his holdings in a blind trust—neither of which Trump, as it turned
out, has been willing to do. Trump’s plan, as Dillon explained, was to
put the Trump Organization into a trust to be managed by his sons and
one of his longtime executives. There would be no new foreign deals; an
ethics adviser would be appointed; and Trump himself would have no
involvement in the business. His company would continue to make domestic
deals. Trump was not going to sell his business or put it in a blind
trust. And he was definitely not going to release his tax returns. “You
know the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters,
O.K.?,” Trump said. This despite a recent ABC News poll indicating that
74 percent of Americans say he should release his tax records.

As Trump seemed to see it, he was being magnanimous in making any
changes at all. “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m
president,” he told the gathering. “I could actually run my business
and run government at the same time.”

The loud applause that punctuated Trump’s remarks to the press
notwithstanding—which, according to reporters, came from Trump
employees—the reaction to his comments was negative and swift. Within
hours, ethics experts and advisers to former presidents, including
George W. Bush, slammed Trump’s conflict-of-interest plan. Walter Shaub,
the top government ethics official, called it “meaningless.”

Among the wealthiest presidents—by his own measure—in the history of
the United States, Trump is possibly the most conflicted and indebted.
He is also the only president in modern times to resist separating
himself from his business interests—and the potential for corruption
and self-enrichment—in a way that meets the barest ethics standards.
Given the risks to the legitimacy of his presidency, why won’t he?

VIDEO: Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

When asked about his taxes, Trump has repeatedly told people seeking
information about his finances to look instead at the
financial-disclosure forms which he has been required to file with the
U.S. Office of Government Ethics. People who have done that, Trump has
said, “have learned a lot about my company, and now they realize my
company is much bigger, much more powerful, than they ever thought.”
And, on paper at least, that’s true. Trump’s latest disclosure form,
which was filed in May of 2016, lists 564 companies operating under the
umbrella of the Trump Organization. The list goes on for pages, entities
with names like DB Pace Acquisition, LLC; DT APP Warrant Holding; and
Scotland Acquisitions, LLC. Many are limited-liability companies that
may be simply legal envelopes for a bank account or for agreements to
license his name, although it is impossible to know for certain. These
entities, which also include family trusts set up by Trump’s father for
his children, are all private, and there is virtually no way to know
from the disclosure forms exactly what they are worth or what they do.

But nestled among the many business entities is Trump’s stake in some of
his best-known properties around the world. These include Trump Tower in
Manhattan; the Trump International Hotels in Las Vegas and Washington,
D.C.; the Towers in Chicago, Toronto, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Manila. And
there are his many golf courses—Mar-a-Lago and the Doral, in Florida;
the Trump National Golf Club, in Palos Verdes, California; and golf
clubs in Scotland, Ireland, and Dubai.

AFTER HIS FLAMEOUT IN THE 90S, VIRTUALLY NO MAJOR BANK OR WALL STREET
INVESTMENT BANK WOULD LEND TO HIM.

Trump owns most of his golf courses and a few office buildings, but he
does not own most of the sleek glass towers that bear his name. In most
cases his involvement is through licensing and management deals, renting
out the use of his name to developers, whose hotels and condominiums the
Trump Organization manages—for fees of up to $5 million a year for
licensing and promotion and $1 million for management. Trump sometimes
gets an equity stake in them, but these generally carry no risk for him.
The risk is taken by his partners, many of them foreign: Russian
financiers, developing-world plutocrats with close ties to their
governments, and a couple of banks, although most major banks won’t lend
to him.

As best one can tell from the disclosure forms, the Trump Organization
makes most of its money from his hotels and golf courses, but he also
has media, restaurant, and entertainment revenues, including royalties
from The Apprentice, where he remains an executive producer, and his
many books. He also has income from his winery, in Virginia, and from
stamping his name on an array of products, from mattresses, steaks, and
vodka to men’s ties, cuff links, and cologne.

So, what is Donald Trump worth? Without his tax returns it is hard to
divine. In June 2015, when Trump announced that he was running for
president, his campaign put his net worth at more than $8 billion. A
month later, on July 15, 2015, it revised that number: “As of this
date,” the statement read, “Mr. Trump’s net worth is in excess of TEN
BILLION DOLLARS.” Last year, Forbes estimated that he was worth about
$3.7 billion, while Bloomberg put the number at $3 billion.

For Trump, the perception of the size of his fortune is serious
business. In 2006 he sued Timothy O’Brien, the author of the 2005 book
TrumpNation, for $5 billion in damages. The offense: O’Brien cited
“three people with direct knowledge of Donald’s finances” who
estimated that Trump was worth “somewhere between $150 million and
$250 million.” As the book noted, Trump pegged his own net worth at
$6 billion, suggesting that lowball estimates of his worth came from
“guys who have four-hundred-pound wives” and who were jealous of him.
His company’s financial statement, according to court records, put his
net worth for year-end 2004 at substantially less than he did: $3.5
billion. That same year, a review of his finances by North Fork Bank put
his net worth at $1.2 billion, and an analysis of his statement of
financial condition by Deutsche Bank put his net worth at $788 million.
Real-estate appraisals can vary widely, but Trump’s financial creativity
went beyond property valuations. Trump eventually lost the case on
appeal in 2011, but his 2007 trial deposition—led by O’Brien’s
attorney Mary Jo White, who went on to become Obama’s S.E.C.
chairperson—offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of Donald
Trump.

Regarding his claim that he owned the Trump Hotel in Waikiki, Trump
seemed unfazed when O’Brien’s attorney pulled out the licensing
agreement between Trump and the actual owner of the hotel. “This is
such a strong licensing agreement,” Trump responded, “I consider it to
be a form of ownership.” He weaved and bobbed in his answers to
questions about his finances. As regards a 2005 speech he made at the
Learning Annex, for which he said on the Larry King show that he was
paid $1 million, the actual fee was $400,000. However, he said, all
the money the Learning Annex spent on advertising and promoting his
speech was actually a payment to him because it increased the value of
his brand.

Trump’s brand—it was, and is, at the core of what Donald Trump is
worth. As Trump explained in his deposition, the brand “is my
reputation.” And the value of that is hard to say. In 2005, according
to court records, Trump’s accountant wrote two drafts of a letter—one
version put the value of the brand at $2 billion, the other at $4
billion. More recently, Trump has said that a brand expert he hired
valued it at $3 billion.

How does Trump calculate his net worth? “My net worth fluctuates,” he
said in his deposition, “and it goes up and down with markets and with
attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings . . . . It can vary
actually from day to day.” An unflattering article or comment could
“psychologically hurt me,” he said, referring, in this case, to
O’Brien’s book. “I am a billionaire,” Trump said. “I am not
‘perceived’ [as a billionaire].”

But without Trump’s tax records there is no way of confirming that, says
David Cay Johnston, the tax expert and author of the 2016 book The
Making of Donald Trump
. As it is, says Johnston, “there is not now and
never has been any verifiable evidence that Donald Trump is or ever has
been a billionaire.”

VIDEO: The Evolution of Donald Trump’s Presidential Campaign

When Donald Trump was born, in June 1946, his father, Fred, was already
a multi-millionaire. He had made his fortune building solid middle-class
housing developments in Brooklyn and Queens, where Trump grew up. Trump
went to work for his father in 1968, right out of college, but his
ambition was to make a name for himself in Manhattan, and by the mid-80s
he had succeeded. With millions of dollars’ worth of loans from his
father, and support from Fred’s political allies, he had built the Grand
Hyatt, on 42nd Street, and Trump Tower.

Trump engendered a lot of bad feeling among the city’s establishment.
He’d sued his partner on the Hyatt, the much-respected real-estate
investor Jay Pritzker, and angered historic preservationists by
demolishing—after promising to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum
of Art—two 15-foot limestone Art Deco panels on the old Bonwit Teller
building, which was razed to make way for Trump Tower. He also became
involved in a prolonged legal battle over what came to be called “the
Polish Brigade,” undocumented laborers who worked on Trump Tower.
Recent immigrants from Poland, they slept at the construction site,
often worked at night to avoid attracting attention, and did not use
safety equipment. They were also frequently not paid. The workers sued
Trump and reached a settlement in 1999.

WITH ITS NOUVEAU RICHE APPEAL, THE TRUMP BRAND NATURALLY SEEMED TO
ATTRACT SOAKING-RICH RUSSIANS.

Trump was never a member of New York’s real-estate aristocracy. He was
brash, too flashy, his taste was too “garish,” and he was not
philanthropic. In wealthy New York social circles, that was the kiss of
death. “Philanthropy is giving and he’s all about taking,” says one
financier who has known Trump for three decades.

As The Washington Post’s David Farenthold would discover, Trump has
given very little to charity, a total of about $7.8 million since the
early 80s. It’s not that Trump didn’t want to be perceived as generous.
In one of the stranger stories unearthed by Farenthold, Trump was
“principal for the day” at a school in a destitute Bronx neighborhood,
where the chess team was trying to raise money for travel to a
tournament. They were $5,000 short. Trump had come prepared—with a
fake $1 million bill that he presented to the team. Later, as he got
into the backseat of his limousine, he gave the coach the actual
donation: $200 in cash.

By 1990, Trump had a small empire. He owned three casinos in Atlantic
City, the Plaza hotel in Manhattan, a small airline (the Trump Shuttle),
and Mar-a-Lago, which he’d bought in 1985 for the fire-sale price of $8
million. He owned a yacht, a helicopter, and an opulent penthouse in
Trump Tower. He had bought it all with borrowed money—hundreds of
millions of dollars’ worth of junk bonds and bank loans. He was like an
addict, undisciplined, unable to stop when the banks came peddling their
money. By 1990, Trump had $3 billion in debt, at a time when the
real-estate and casino markets were slumping. Even worse, Trump had put
his personal guarantee on $900 million of that debt.

Trump lost almost everything. On the verge of personal bankruptcy, he
eventually sold the Plaza, his yacht, and the Trump Shuttle. The banks,
led by his main lender, Citicorp, put him on an allowance, which, in
1992, was $300,000 a month, down from the $800,000 that he had been
spending. Debt re-structurings are not unusual, but the bankers involved
felt a special bitterness toward Trump. A rival once said of Trump that
he “won’t do a deal unless there’s something extra—a kind of moral
larceny—in it,” which left people feeling battered. One of Citi’s
executives, Robert McCormack, who died in 2003, used to regale other
bankers with the story, one recalls, of how he made Trump come into the
bank to get his monthly allowance and then kept him waiting to get his
payment approved.

Trump’s casino bondholders were also furious. According to The Vulture
Investors
, Hilary Rosenberg’s 1992 book, they felt he’d lied to them
about his spending, which had gone way over budget. They wanted to force
him into bankruptcy. But he would have two critical allies defending
him. One was Wilbur Ross, the vulture investor—and now Trump’s
secretary of commerce—who was then a re-structuring expert
representing the bondholders. The other was Carl Icahn, the infamous
corporate raider turned “activist investor,” who owned a chunk of
Trump’s casino bonds and now serves as his special adviser on
deregulation. Both men argued that Trump’s bonds should be re-structured
in a voluntary bankruptcy, which would leave Trump in control of his
casinos. His name, they argued, was still valuable. Without Trump at the
helm, the casinos—and thus the bonds—would plummet in value.

Ross apparently came to this conclusion after a trip to Trump’s Taj
Mahal casino. Accompanied by Trump and his executives, Ross flew to
Atlantic City on Trump’s helicopter. Although it was “a bright sunny
day in August,” as Ross told Rosenberg, and the casino was barely 150
yards away from the helipad, there, waiting for them, was “a stream of
limos.” What especially struck Ross, as they drove down the boardwalk,
was the crowd of people lining the road shouting, “Donny! Donny!” To
Ross, it was the kind of welcome befitting a Third World
dictator—which was when he realized that Trump had to remain in
control. It seems not to have occurred to Ross that the cheering crowd
might be made up of Trump employees, as was reportedly the case at his
January press conference and Trump’s meeting with C.I.A. staff the day
after his inauguration. There, the loud applause, as Trump described it,
also appeared to come from Trump staff, according to reporters and
others in attendance.

During the next 19 years, Trump’s casinos—and the various companies
that would be formed to house them—would go through four bankruptcies.
During this time, Trump would personally make about $82 million. His
casino stock- and bondholders would lose $1.5 billion. And many of the
contractors—along with carpenters, electricians, painters,
plumbers—who had worked for Trump would go unpaid, some of them forced
out of business.

It wouldn’t be the first—or last—time that the Trump Organization
shortchanged its workers. According to a recent USA Today investigation,
Trump has been involved in “a large number” of legal
actions—including “hundreds” of liens, judgments, and government
filings—involving contractors and other workers who alleged that Trump
or his companies refused to pay them.

This past December, three contractors who worked on Trump’s Washington,
D.C., hotel filed mechanic’s liens for bills that had allegedly not been
paid. Together, AES Electrical, a 45-person company, the family-owned
Joseph J. Magnolia plumbing, and A&D Construction, a Hispanic-owned
firm, were allegedly owed $5 million for their work on the hotel.
Trump’s excuse—which he tells people to their faces—has frequently
been that the work he’s refused to pay for was of inferior quality. But
AES noted in a $2 million suit filed against Trump in January that
withholding payment to force small businesses to accept less than the
contracted fee “is a repeated practice of the Trump organizations.”
Alan Garten, a Trump Organization attorney, says that allegations by AES
are “completely baseless” and that “a few miscellaneous liens” are
“not uncommon” in a project of “this scale and complexity.”

Small firms and individual workers do not usually have the ability to
stand up to Trump. But his more powerful antagonists do. After his
flameout in the 90s, virtually no major bank or Wall Street investment
bank would lend to him again. On Wall Street, it’s referred to as
“Donald Risk,” and since the mid-1990s, it has caused lenders to avoid
being “a counter-party with him,” says one prominent banker. “There’s
been a general view that, on many, many occasions, entering into a
relationship with Donald has resulted in a bad outcome. I think the view
about Donald is that he prioritizes only himself.”

There are only two major institutions that lend directly to Trump. One
is Ladder Capital, which has outstanding loans of about $282 million to
him. A $6 billion real-estate investment trust, it sells off most of
its loans, offering tougher terms than a regular bank. The other of
Trump’s lenders is Deutsche Bank, which recently reached a $7.2 billion
settlement with the Department of Justice for its role in the 2008
financial crisis and is still under a D.O.J. investigation for stock
trades with wealthy clients in Russia. The fact that Trump and his
businesses currently owe Deutsche about $360 million—and that, as
president, he would be able to influence the D.O.J. investigations—has
raised alarms among ethics experts. Those concerns are heightened by the
fact that Deutsche Bank holds the federal-government lease on the Trump
hotel in Washington, D.C., as the collateral on a $170 million loan.

“Donald will spin it to his advantage, but [his relationship with
banks] is the reason why his company morphed into a licensing,
branding company, where other people own the assets,” says a
real-estate financier. “It was because he couldn’t get any money
[from banks]. I think he had no choice, even though he will say,
‘Every major New York bank is begging me to let them lend me money,’
which is an absolute falsehood.”

It was Trump’s starring role on The Apprentice, beginning in 2004, that
really catapulted him onto the national stage. Its underlying
premise—as contestants competed on business projects, with Trump as
the final judge of their skills—was that Trump was a good judge of
people and talent. His executives are generally respected in the
industry. But when dealing with people outside his loyal inner circle,
where he is in complete control, Trump has stumbled. The most important
decisions he has had to make are his choice of the people who will build
and own the hotels that bear his name and that he manages. And here the
failures have piled up, as some of his partners have gone bankrupt, or
mismanaged projects, while others have been accused of tax fraud.
Shortly after the election, Trump’s company shut down several overseas
projects that had become controversial, including licensing deals for a
hotel and an office complex in Rio de Janeiro, which had come under
investigation by the Brazilian government for financial irregularities,
and another one for a Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, because of delays
caused by the developer, whose family was closely tied to the country’s
government.

But other problems have been closer to home. In 2010, the Bayrock Group,
Trump’s partner and the owner of the Trump International Hotel and Tower
in Fort Lauderdale, defaulted on a $139 million loan and lost control
of the hotel. In 2014, Trump SoHo, the $450 million, 46-story hotel and
condominium on Spring Street in Lower Manhattan, also developed by
Bayrock, was foreclosed on and bought out by a lender. And in 2015 the
owners of the Trump Toronto Hotel and Tower, the Russian-Canadian
billionaire Alex Shnaider and his partner Val Levitan, defaulted on a
$260 million loan. Trump still manages the Toronto hotel, which carries
his name, but that may not be for long. In January, the new owner of the
debt, JFC Capital, put it on the market for several million dollars less
than the $301 million that is still owed on the mortgage.

One of the most controversial of Trump’s properties is the Trump
International Hotel, in Washington, D.C. There were several bidders in
2011 for the General Services Administration lease on the
government-owned building, including Hilton. On the face of it, Trump
appeared to be the weakest candidate, considering his many business
bankruptcies. But he had strengthened his bid by promising to use the
architect Arthur Cotton Moore, who was favored by the G.S.A. for his
commitment to restoring the landmarked Old Post Office building. Trump
had also seemed to overcome concerns about his financial history by
committing to bringing in the respected $28 billion real-estate
investment firm Colony Capital as his partner. It was owned by Trump’s
friend Tom Barrack, who headed the Inauguration Committee. Trump’s bid
was also the most lucrative for the G.S.A., promising a monthly rent of
$250,000—$3 million a year—to the federal government. He also
proposed to spend $200 million refurbishing the building, about $60
million more than Hilton’s proposal.

Trump won the bid in February 2012. The decision was challenged by
Hilton in a scathing 118-page complaint to the G.S.A. that April.
Excoriating Trump as “an unreliable business partner,” Hilton said the
G.S.A.’s decision would lead to a “devastating failure for this
historical landmark, with a business partner whose history of repeated
failure demonstrates that it cannot be counted upon to deliver what it
promises.” The G.S.A. dismissed Hilton’s objections.

On some points, Hilton would be proved correct. Within months, Trump
announced that Moore, the architect, would no longer be able to work on
the project. And soon Colony Capital would be gone. To some it seemed
like a clever bait and switch. As early as the spring of 2013, Ivanka
and her father, in a meeting at The Washington Post, said that they were
considering doing the deal without Colony’s equity financing. That came
to pass in August 2014, when Trump took out a $170 million construction
loan from Deutsche Bank and put up the Old Post Office lease as
collateral. There was nothing the G.S.A. could do without a likely brawl
with Trump, who early on proved his willingness to fight by suing
Washington, D.C.’s tax commission to lower the tax assessment on the
building from $98 million to $28 million.

When the hotel opened in September 2016, bookings were sluggish, as
Hilton had predicted. The hotel lost $1.1 million in September and
October, according to figures the G.S.A. released to congressional
Democrats. Now that Trump is president, the hotel’s fortunes could
change
, but it remains ground zero in the battle over his conflicts of
interest. Federal elected officials are barred from holding the lease on
the building. Ethics experts and congressional Democrats maintain that
Trump’s position as both landlord and tenant is against the law. The
G.S.A., whose head is a presidential appointee, has so far not ruled on
the case.

‘I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA—NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
Trump tweeted in early January. He reiterated the point in his press
conference, along with rambling denials that his campaign had ties to
Russia. Since then, questions about Trump’s Russian connections have
only intensified with reports of multiple intelligence-agency
investigations and Trump’s relentless praise of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
As it is, Trump’s business interactions with Russia, and Russians, go
back years.

His first visit to Moscow was in 1987, when he was invited by the
government to explore business opportunities. From the beginning, the
Russians seemed to understand him, his susceptibility to flattery, and
“this big, black hole of need inside Donald Trump for praise,
attention, and affirmation,” as Timothy O’Brien puts it. According to
Trump, Russian fighter jets escorted his plane to Moscow’s airport. He
was fêted. Trump and his first wife, Ivana, stayed at the National
Hotel, near the Kremlin. Officials offered him land to build on, but he
turned them down, insisting that he wanted to own properties without
partners.

“RUSSIANS,” DONALD JUNIOR SAID, “MAKE UP A PRETTY DISPROPORTIONATE
CROSS-SECTION OF A LOT OF OUR ASSETS.”

Trump does not appear to have been involved in Russian-related deals
until about 2001. By then a tidal wave of Russian money had been sucked
out of the country by the kleptocracy that had looted Russia after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. This new class of rich Russians needed
places to park their money, investing it legally or otherwise, and real
estate was especially sought after. Around 2001, Trump linked up with
Bayrock, the real-estate development firm. It was run by Tevfik Arif, a
former Soviet official who was from Kazakhstan. His partner was Felix
Sater, a Moscow-born, Russian-American businessman who had served time
for stabbing a man in the face with the stem of a margarita glass in a
Manhattan bar. Sater had also been implicated in an investment fraud
involving alleged Russian and American mobsters but got reduced time
after serving as an F.B.I. informant. Sater had an office in Trump
Tower, and he and Arif pitched a series of projects to Trump, finally
getting him, in 2004, to sign a deal to explore building a Trump Tower
in Moscow. It never happened, but they looked at other deals, including
in Ukraine. In 2006, Donald junior and Ivanka went to Kiev and then on
to Moscow to scope out deals. During 2007 and 2008, Don junior would say
that he traveled to Russia six times.

By 2007, Trump had some $2 billion in Trump-branded deals in the works
with Bayrock. These included the Trump SoHo and the Trump Fort
Lauderdale, a proposed Trump Phoenix, and projects in Istanbul, Kiev,
Moscow, and Warsaw. Sometime early that year, according to a 2010
lawsuit filed in federal court by Jody Kriss, Bayrock’s director of finance, an
Icelandic fund, FL Group, which was said to be a favorite of wealthy
Russians close to Putin, invested $50 million to build Trump SoHo.
According to the suit, this was part of an elaborate tax-fraud scheme.

The lawsuit, which is ongoing, noted that Donald Trump was not involved
in or aware of any fraud or wrongdoing. Dismissed by Bayrock as
“baseless” and “unsubstantiated,” the suit also claimed that much of
the money that Bayrock invested in Trump projects had arrived
“magically” from Kazakhstan and Russia whenever funding was needed for
real-estate projects. Trump has claimed he barely knew Felix Sater, but
as late as 2010, Sater still had an office in Trump Tower and worked for
Trump as an adviser.

With its nouveau riche appeal, the Trump brand naturally seemed to
attract soaking-rich Russians. Trump Luxury Vodka “24K Super Premium”
debuted in 2007 at Moscow’s Millionaire Fair. In 2008, Trump sold a Palm
Beach mansion—which he bought for $41 million four years
earlier—for $95 million to Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian fertilizer
billionaire. Whether Trump did other business with Rybolovlev isn’t
clear, but in November, five days before the election, Trump’s Boeing
757 was photographed at a Charlotte, North Carolina, airport, near
Rybolovlev’s Airbus A319. Trump was there for two rallies. What
Rybolovlev’s jet, which had flown in from New York, was doing there set
off fevered speculation, although a Rybolovlev spokesman says the two
men have never met.

At a real-estate conference in 2008, Donald junior made a comment that
has been parsed and re-parsed since Trump’s Russia-ties questions
surfaced. “Russians,” the son said, “make up a pretty
disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets . . . . We see a
lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Was he referring to investments
in the Trump Organization, loans to the company, or the flood of Russian
money being spent to buy Trump condominiums? Exactly which is difficult
to know without Trump’s tax returns, but Russians there were. In April
2013, federal agents raided an apartment in Trump Tower as part of an
investigation into two gambling rings allegedly run by a Russian Mob
boss, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. He may not have known Trump, but,
according to Mother Jones, Tokhtakhounov, under indictment in the U.S.
for various charges, nevertheless made an appearance in November 2013 at
Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

“Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in
November in Moscow—if so, will he become my new best friend?,” Trump
tweeted a few months before the pageant. Putin did not show up for the
beauty contest, but he sent a gift—a Russian lacquered box. The event
was held in the Crocus City Mall, which was owned by Aras Agalarov, a
Russian oligarch said to be close to Putin. He and Trump discussed
building adjacent twin towers in Moscow, but nothing was built. “I know
Russia well,” Trump told Fox News in May 2016, when asked about his
foreign-policy experience. “I had a major event in Russia two or three
years ago, which was a big, big incredible event,” he said, of the
beauty pageant.

Since Trump’s inauguration, documents have been filed in Florida,
Delaware, and New York in which he resigned his executive positions,
turning the management over to Don junior and Eric. But the controversy
remains. His sons may nominally run the company, but their close
relationship with their father and their high-visibility presence in the
White House suggest that Trump is hardly cut off from decision-making at
the company. In February, he turned the wrath of the presidency on
Nordstrom, attacking the retailer on Twitter for dropping his daughter
Ivanka’s clothing line. Not to be out-conflicted by her boss, Trump
senior adviser Kellyanne Conway went on TV the next day urging people to
buy Ivanka’s clothing.

Only slightly more subtle was Trump’s New Year’s Eve gala, for which 800
guests bought tickets costing more than $500 apiece to dine and dance
with the president-elect at Mar-a-Lago—the next day, the initiation
fee for the “Winter White House” was doubled, from $100,000 to
$200,000.

Most ethics experts believe that Trump must sell his business in order
to avoid serious conflicts. But he has refused to do that. Although it
has canceled a hotel project in China, his company recently opened a
luxury hotel in Vancouver and a golf club in Dubai. And it announced
plans to expand in the United States, possibly opening luxury hotels in
Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Dallas. It is also starting a new
line of lower-budget hotels called Scion.

In early September 2016, The New York Times received an envelope with a
return address of “The Trump Organization.” In it were
three pages
from Trump’s 1995 tax returns
—the first page of his New York State
return, and the first pages of his nonresident New Jersey and
Connecticut returns. Who sent them is a mystery, although many people,
including David Cay Johnston, believe that the sender was Trump himself
in a replay of the years when, masquerading as his own P.R. man, Trump,
always the master illusionist, would call reporters, planting stories
about himself. The news that erupted with the New York Times tax-return
story focused on the $916 million loss that would have allowed
him—through use of real-estate tax credits—to pay no federal income
tax for nearly 20 years. In the political outcry that ensued, Trump’s
allies would spin this as a sign of Trump’s business “genius,” as
Rudolph Giuliani said on Meet the Press. “I understand the tax code
better than anybody that’s ever run for president,” Trump said shortly
before the election. The issue, however, wasn’t how he used the tax
code, which was legal; “the issue is that the $1 billion write-off
represented a massive failure,” O’Brien says. “It is emblematic of
what an abysmal businessman he was.” His complete returns would reveal
many things that are not known—his income, his net worth, his assets,
his debts, and indications of offshore income. “You give me Donald
Trump’s complete 1,200-page tax return and I’ll tell you all about
him,” says Johnston. They would reveal so much about the real Donald
Trump. Which is why he will never release them, voluntarily.

Editor’s Note: The title of the former Bayrock Group employee Jody Kriss has been revised from an earlier version.

Full ScreenPhotos:21 Inauguration Photos of the Great Trump Rally That Wasn’t

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photo: Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

Photograph by Martin Cartagena.

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