Trump’s Wealth Originated In Shady Financial Maneuvers And Possible Tax Fraud

Much of what Donald Trump has claimed about how he built his fortune is a lie, and at least part of it originated in his father's shady efforts to evade taxes.

Late yesterday, The New York Times dropped a report resulting from an extensive investigation of the roots of Donald Trump’s real estate empire , going back decades to the era just before Trump himself became the self-promoting real estate magnate that earned him his reputation starting back in the early 1980s and continuing for the next three decades. What it found was a reality that is sure to earn the ire of the President and could result in serious tax problems for The Trump Organization and its various entities in the United States and around the world:

The president has long sold himself as a self-made billionaire, but a Times investigation found that he received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s.

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.

These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show.

The president declined repeated requests over several weeks to comment for this article. But a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Charles J. Harder, provided a written statement on Monday, one day after The Times sent a detailed description of its findings. “The New York Times’s allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false, and highly defamatory,” Mr. Harder said. “There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. The facts upon which The Times bases its false allegations are extremely inaccurate.”

Mr. Harder sought to distance Mr. Trump from the tax strategies used by his family, saying the president had delegated those tasks to relatives and tax professionals. “President Trump had virtually no involvement whatsoever with these matters,” he said. “The affairs were handled by other Trump family members who were not experts themselves and therefore relied entirely upon the aforementioned licensed professionals to ensure full compliance with the law.”

The president’s brother, Robert Trump, issued a statement on behalf of the Trump family:

“Our dear father, Fred C. Trump, passed away in June 1999. Our beloved mother, Mary Anne Trump, passed away in August 2000. All appropriate gift and estate tax returns were filed, and the required taxes were paid. Our father’s estate was closed in 2001 by both the Internal Revenue Service and the New York State tax authorities, and our mother’s estate was closed in 2004. Our family has no other comment on these matters that happened some 20 years ago, and would appreciate your respecting the privacy of our deceased parents, may God rest their souls.”

The Times’s findings raise new questions about Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his income tax returns, breaking with decades of practice by past presidents. According to tax experts, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution for helping his parents evade taxes, because the acts happened too long ago and are past the statute of limitations. There is no time limit, however, on civil fines for tax fraud.

The findings are based on interviews with Fred Trump’s former employees and advisers and more than 100,000 pages of documents describing the inner workings and immense profitability of his empire. They include documents culled from public sources — mortgages and deeds, probate records, financial disclosure reports, regulatory records and civil court files.

The investigation also draws on tens of thousands of pages of confidential records — bank statements, financial audits, accounting ledgers, cash disbursement reports, invoices and canceled checks. Most notably, the documents include more than 200 tax returns from Fred Trump, his companies and various Trump partnerships and trusts. While the records do not include the president’s personal tax returns and reveal little about his recent business dealings at home and abroad, dozens of corporate, partnership and trust tax returns offer the first public accounting of the income he received for decades from various family enterprises.

What emerges from this body of evidence is a financial biography of the 45th president fundamentally at odds with the story Mr. Trump has sold in his books, his TV shows and his political life. In Mr. Trump’s version of how he got rich, he was the master dealmaker who broke free of his father’s “tiny” outer-borough operation and parlayed a single $1 million loan from his father (“I had to pay him back with interest!”) into a $10 billion empire that would slap the Trump name on hotels, high-rises, casinos, airlines and golf courses the world over. In Mr. Trump’s version, it was always his guts and gumption that overcame setbacks. Fred Trump was simply a cheerleader.

Contrary to that image, though, the evidence indicates that Trump’s wealth originated with money he received from his father in the form of “salary” and other distributions. Trump has also claimed that until his father and mother passed away nearly twenty years ago, the only money had received from his father was a “small loan” of $1,000,000 and that the remainder of his fortune came about because of his own investments, business skills, and business acumen. The reality, not surprisingly, is quite different:

By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.

Fred Trump’s real estate empire was not just scores of apartment buildings. It was also a mountain of cash, tens of millions of dollars in profits building up inside his businesses, banking records show. In one six-year span, from 1988 through 1993, Fred Trump reported $109.7 million in total income, now equivalent to $210.7 million. It was not unusual for tens of millions in Treasury bills and certificates of deposit to flow through his personal bank accounts each month.

Fred Trump was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel this wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.

Much of his giving was structured to sidestep gift and inheritance taxes using methods tax experts described to The Times as improper or possibly illegal. Although Fred Trump became wealthy with help from federal housing subsidies, he insisted that it was manifestly unfair for the government to tax his fortune as it passed to his children. When he was in his 80s and beginning to slide into dementia, evading gift and estate taxes became a family affair, with Donald Trump playing a crucial role, interviews and newly obtained documents show.

The line between legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion is often murky, and it is constantly being stretched by inventive tax lawyers. There is no shortage of clever tax avoidance tricks that have been blessed by either the courts or the I.R.S. itself. The richest Americans almost never pay anything close to full freight. But tax experts briefed on The Times’s findings said the Trumps appeared to have done more than exploit legal loopholes. They said the conduct described here represented a pattern of deception and obfuscation, particularly about the value of Fred Trump’s real estate, that repeatedly prevented the I.R.S. from taxing large transfers of wealth to his children.

“The theme I see here through all of this is valuations: They play around with valuations in extreme ways,” said Lee-Ford Tritt, a University of Florida law professor and a leading expert in gift and estate tax law. “There are dramatic fluctuations depending on their purpose.”

The report itself is lengthy and includes a number of interactive features going through the evidence that the Times investigation, which is likely the result of months of effort by a number of reporters, has uncovered as well as links to many of the supporting documents that it has obtained, including tax returns for Trump’s father, Fred Trump Sr., and a number of Trump family entities that were utilized in the past. This report is simply far too extensive to fairly excerpt so, I recommend that anyone interested in the details simply read the report for themselves. Be warned, though, that it is a long read that goes into extensive detail regarding the history not only of the origins Additionally, the Times has provided a summary article going through what it calls the biggest takeaways from the investigation.

By way of summary, what the Times has uncovered is a story that largely contradict the myth that Trump built up around himself dating back to the 1980s when he first came to the attention of the media first in New York City and then, rather quickly, nationally to the point where he was appearing on national television, meeting President Reagan, and becoming part of Americ’s “celebrity” culture as early as the early 1980s. According to this image, Trump was the classic example of the self-made American who took a small amount of money and built it up into a real estate empire that expanded across the island of Manhattan, into other American cities, and eventually around the world. It’s an image that he used not only to build his “brand,” but also in some sense to support his seemingly endless efforts to obtain financing for his projects and ultimately in his bid for the Presidency in 2016. Indeed, a significant part of Trump’s campaign platform was built on the claim that his business acumen meant that he could negotiate better deals for the American people than any of his predecessors, and it’s a message that his opponents, whether in the race for the Republican nomination or in the General Election and it’s an image he’s sought to perpetuate since becoming President.

What this report reveals in stunning detail is that the entire origin story that Trump told about himself, as well as the manner in which he built up his wealth, is false. Trump received tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars from his parents not only to help him start his “empire,” but also to bail him out of transactions that had gone bad and especially when the projects that he created based largely on leveraged debt began to collapse in the early 1990s. This doesn’t mean that Trump didn’t earn money on his own, of course, but the extent to which he relied on his father both to get him started in business and to bail him out when necessary. At one point, for example, the Times reports that Fred Trump went to one of his son’s casinos and purposely lost more than $3,000,000 as a way to surreptitiously provide Donald with funding needed to stave off one of the many financial crises that the casino businesses would face before finally being forced into bankruptcy in the early 1990s. The report also catalogs other financial dealings that the two Trumps engaged in that were clearly designed to exploit tax loopholes and stretch the meaning and intent of those laws. Finally, in one of the more shocking revelations in the report, the Times reporters have uncovered that, as his father was slipping into dementia in his final years, Donald sought to make changes to his father’s will that benefited him to the detriment of his brothers and sister, including his two brothers Fred Jr. and Robert and his sisters Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired Federal Judge, and Elizabeth Trump Grau, who apparently lives a quiet life in Florida and has escaped media attention over the years.

Legally speaking, it isn’t entirely clear what repercussions there could be for Trump personally or any of his business entities. The statute of limitations on any applicable criminal statutes at either the state or Federal level expired long ago and can’t be revived. At the same time, though, there apparently is no statute of limitations on civil tax fraud claims that could end up tying up Trump and his businesses in Federal and state court for years to come if charges are pursued. In that regard, it’s worth noting that New York state tax authorities are already saying they will consider opening an investigation based on the report. Potentially, this investigation could encompass not only the origins of Trump’s empire and the shady dealings of his father but also the strong possibility that Trump himself has done the same things with regard to his own children. The White House, meanwhile, is predictably downplaying the report:

The White House pushed back against an exhaustive investigation published by The New York Times on Tuesday that alleged Donald Trump perpetrated various tax schemes and fraud during the 1990s to bolster the inheritance he received from his parents, calling the report a “misleading attack” on the president’s family.

“Fred Trump has been gone for nearly twenty years and it’s sad to witness this misleading attack against the Trump family by the failing New York Times,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, referring to Trump’s late father — a powerful New York real estate developer and housing magnate.

“Many decades ago the IRS reviewed and signed off on these transactions,” Sanders said. “The New York Times’ and other media outlets’ credibility with the American people is at an all time low because they are consumed with attacking the president and his family 24/7 instead of reporting the news.”

The president’s spokeswoman went on to flaunt various economic accomplishments that she said Trump had realized in his administration, remarking that The Times “can rarely find anything positive about the President and his tremendous record of success to report.”

Sanders added: “Perhaps another apology from the New York Times, like the one they had to issue after they got the 2016 election so embarrassingly wrong, is in order.”


An attorney for the president, Charles J. Harder, said in a statement to The Times that its reporting was incorrect.

“The New York Times’s allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false, and highly defamatory,” Harder said. “There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. The facts upon which The Times bases its false allegations are extremely inaccurate.”

Politically speaking, it’s not clear that all of this will have much of an impact on Trump at all. While Trump himself has not yet responded to the report outside of the White House statement, it’s not hard to predict how he’s likely to react to this and the odds that he’ll remain silent are small. Most likely he will use this as yet another opportunity to attack the “failing” New York Times as he calls it, and the news media in general. Trump’s supporters, meanwhile, aren’t going to be persuaded by anything like this notwithstanding the mountains of proof that the Times report has amassed to support the conclusion the reports reach. Trump’s critics, meanwhile, never really believed his claims about this fortune. The only potential impact will come if Federal and state tax agencies decide to open investigations based on this report, at which point this could become yet another one of the President’s big legal headaches.

Update: The President has responded as expected on Twitter:


Photo via The New York Times

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Newt Gingrich was famously described as “a stupid person’s idea of a smart person”. In a similar vein, Trump is a stupid person’s idea of a self made billionaire. Since there is nothing in the water making stupid people smart they will continue to believe that Trump is some kind of genius instead of what he actually is: someone who ran his fathers business empire into the ground with numerous bankruptcies and would be living a desperate life of selling third rate crap out of a fourth rate store in Queens if he had not finally hit upon laundering money for corrupt Russians as his gravy train.

  2. Timothy Watson says:

    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.

    Someone who got a Bachelor’s degree in Economics has never heard of the time value of money?

    Just remember, 50 years ago, a teenager missed out on a Wharton education because Trump’s daddy stole a slot the teenage had earned so the stupidest man in the America could go instead.

  3. mattbernius says:

    In before @MBunge:

    Oh, ho, ho Doug, I see you cover these lies and slander but nothing about the Riccin-laced letters at the Whitehouse!!! Color me surprised… You are the yellowest of yellow bloggers.

    As far as this work, it apparently was three primary reporters (and I’m sure there were interns and others assisting) over a year of analysis to create the core story. This is (sadly) work that only a few newspapers can afford (and will fund) doing anymore.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Forbes says Trump has lost a billion dollars while in office. The value of his ‘brand’ is down 87%. If the Starbucks brand collapsed that hard the whole nation would be jonesing for coffee. If the Honda brand fell that hard there’d be executives jumping out of windows in Tokyo.

    Trump was never anything but a rich kid, spoon-fed money which he handled about as well as one of his own idiot sons. He lived off Daddy, and when he managed to go broke, he lived off Daddy Vladimir. He’s a bullshit artist. A grifter. A reality TV star.

    He is nothing but an ugly Kardashian.

  5. Argon says:

    Now that hits the narcissist right where he lives. There will be tweets!

  6. Kylopod says:


    Newt Gingrich was famously described as “a stupid person’s idea of a smart person”. In a similar vein, Trump is a stupid person’s idea of a self made billionaire.

    Some years ago, a comedian did a routine in which he described Trump as a hobo’s idea of a rich person. I think this is it:

  7. CSK says:

    It’s a great story, but not a surprise to those of us who’ve known about Trump our entire adult lives.

  8. Franklin says:

    While I’m glad there’s more solid documentation now, is anybody surprised? No. Will any Trump-worshipper change his tune? No.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He is nothing but an ugly Kardashian.

    The Kardashians seem less harmful.

  10. Kathy says:

    El Cheeto is a genius at chicanery, fraud, deception, and manipulation. That’s how come he’s been successful in politics, where phonies do tend to thrive.

    Unfortunately for him, it takes more than getting elected. One has to govern afterwards, and he’s completely unsuited for the latter task.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    trump’s true talent is in getting other people to pay for his screw ups, and his legions of slavish devotees will remain convinced to the end that somehow or other, they are different.

  12. @Gustopher:

    The Kardashians are basically harmless. Trump is President. You’re right.

  13. Hal_10000 says:

    Being elected President may turn out to be the biggest mistake Trump ever made. Suddenly, there is an intense focus on all the corrupt garbage he’s been doing for decades. No wonder he feels persecuted.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He is nothing but an ugly Kardashian.

    And the winner of the internet today is… MICHAEL REYNOLDS!!!

  15. @OzarkHillbilly:

    On this line, there was a guest on Morning Joe today who has written a book about Trump and the USFL. One anecdote he shared was how he (1) Overpaid for the NJ Generals to the tune of over $2,000,000 (2) Tried to get his fellow owners to reimburse him for the cost of the record-breaking contract he gave to Doug Flutie and (3) Tried to bribe Pete Rozelle into letting him buy an NFL Franchise,

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I wish I had the time to go back thru these archives and dig up all the times Bungie railed about Dennison’s amazing business acumen, and how we are just jealous because we’ve never accomplished what Dennison has.
    The fact; Dennison is only really good at losing money. (No wonder we are looking at the largest non-recession year deficit increase in modern history.)
    To be handed…handed by Daddy…the nest-egg he was and an established NYC real estate portfolio, only to come back from Atlantic City billions of dollars in debt? Pathetic. Add in all the fraud and cheating? If he sat on it he would be worth $10B, easy.
    The big take-away from this article is that Ritchie Rich is likely one of the worst businessmen in the world.
    Anyway…I can’t wait for Bunge to come and tell us that we are just jealous because we have never blown a fortune.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:


    No wonder he feels persecuted.

    Just wait until he feels prosecuted.

  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    The big take-away

    The other thing that I haven’t seen anyone pick up on…all that time Daddy was bailing Dennison out. Daddy died in 1999. Who started bailing him out then? Putin.
    This fraudulent behavior didn’t end…zebras don’t change their stripes…and now Mueller has the tax returns.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I recently read an article about the USFL’s suit against the NFL. The lead attorney for the NFL said trump was his star witness, that he couldn’t have asked for better.

  20. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Trump may be the only person in the history of the world who lost tens of millions of dollars peddling booze (Trump Vodka) and promoting gambling.

  21. James Pearce says:

    Hindsight is 20/20 but seems like this is something the Times should have been working on in the summer and fall of 2016.

  22. Jen says:

    Not surprising to me at all, but as others have noticed, this won’t matter one whit to his supporters. He really is an awful businessman.

    OT: another couple of lawyers have left Mueller’s team and have returned to their old jobs. Any chance this is winding down, or is this just work that has been alleviated by Manafort’s plea decision, hence avoiding the second trial?

  23. Kathy says:


    The lead attorney for the NFL said trump was his star witness, that he couldn’t have asked for better.

    Keep in mind the NFL lost that case, and was liable for the whooping amount of $3.00 USD. It doesn’t sound like much, but it would be worth about $7.00 USD today.

    So first you mock El Cheeto, but then he has to write off a pro football franchise, and then he gets to split your $7.00 adjusted for inflation dollars with the other owners.


  24. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:
    They, like many commenters here, were hyper-focused on a woman using her personal email at work.
    I wish I had time to search the archives for your view on that…I’m betting you were in that crowd.

  25. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    Do you have any evidence whatsoever that they weren’t?

    It strikes me that “landing a cache of thousands of tax forms from an business empire 20 years in the grave” isn’t something you can just order on Amazon, and have delivered two days later.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    For your viewing pleasure, Top Ten Trump Business Fails.

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I wish I had time to search the archives for your view on that…I’m betting you were in that crowd.

    You would be correct. That was when Pearce the concern troll really started to appear to remind us of how blind we were to focus on, as just one example from a multitude, Trump’s “Grab him by the Pussy” comment because that wasn’t going to resonate with anybody. Especially because the worst most evilest corrupt Hillary was the Dem candidate. Lather, Rinse and Repeat in thread after thread. Basically, his comments and conclusions focus on exactly those things harped on by the likes of Florack, MBunge, TM01, etc, with the only difference being his tone of faux resigned sadness rather than the screaming right wing nut job histrionics. Oh, and the once-a-month like clockwork post where he does a short paragraph about how awful Trump is, usually without any specifics.

  28. mattbernius says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    This type of reporting does take years (typically with a lot of false starts). They would have needed to begin the process the process around the time Trump first announced.

    Additionally, I think like many, the Times probably was convinced that (a) he wasn’t going to be the nominee and (b) he was going to release more financial records during the campaign.

    They did carry David K. Johnston’s coverage of his current finances. Which should have gotten more attention than they did at the time.

  29. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    This type of reporting does take years (typically with a lot of false starts).

    According to this it’s been in the works for 16-17 months.

  30. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    This type of reporting does take years (typically with a lot of false starts).

    According to this…16-17 months.

  31. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Thanks! I missed that in the story.

    So to have this information published before November 2016, using their own timeline (which seems reasonable) they would’ve had to start working on it at the very latest around July or June of 2016. Trump announced his candidacy on June 16th.

    So they would’ve had to start around the day he announced, or possibly just a bit before he announced his candidacy.

    Hindsight is, indeed, 20/20.

  32. James Pearce says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    They, like many commenters here, were hyper-focused on a woman using her personal email at work.

    And other trivial, rather superficial matters like the Access Hollywood tape.

    I’m betting you were in that crowd.

    I was often critical of Clinton’s e-mail practices, but I also didn’t think it was “disqualifying.” Some of us who voted for Clinton did so with our eyes open, knowing that she was a less-than-ideal candidate, the kind who would put a secret e-mail server in her basement or lie about having pneumonia, but was nonetheless, all things considered, the infinitely better alternative.

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Do you have any evidence whatsoever that they weren’t?

    Not really, but I don’t have this vaunted view of the Times that would make me believe that they’ve been working on this for years.

    From the expose:

    “I built what I built myself,” Mr. Trump has said, a narrative that was long amplified by often-credulous coverage from news organizations, including The Times.

  33. mattbernius says:

    @James Pearce:

    Not really, but I don’t have this vaunted view of the Times that would make me believe that they’ve been working on this for years.

    James, in terms of analyzing the effort that goes into reporting, I suggest you follow sage advice:

    “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”

    That idea that an article of this depth isn’t the product of a year or more of effort is really one of the most ignorant things I read today.


  34. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    Not really, but I don’t have this vaunted view of the Times that would make me believe that they’ve been working on this for years.

    Really? This particular story took a year and a half, but the idea that the Times would work on a story for 6 months longer is simply incredulous?


    Edit: Ah, I see Matt beat me to it.

  35. grumpy realist says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: As has been often commented, “How in the HELL does someone lose money running a casino?!”

  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    For your viewing pleasure, Top Ten Trump Business Fails.

    I got through most of that while I drank a cup of coffee. What is fascinating is that, like anyone who lived in the NYC area for any length of time, I have a mental list of a dozen or so incredibly stupid or obviously corrupt business deals in Trumps portfolio and thought this would be just a video version of that list. But it turns out there are a few I either didn’t know about or have mercifully forgotten.

    What’s always fascinating with Trump schemes is that:
    a) 100% of the time they involve convincing gullible suckers to pay ridiculous premiums for items of poor quality, sometimes astoundingly poor quality because… TRUMP!!!
    b) Of the ones that aren’t just outright confidence games (like “his” “luxury golf resort condos” business which seems to consist of getting suckers to fork over big deposits and then declare bankruptcy after the money has been eaten up through fees) most (admittedly, not all) are the type of goofy get rich quick schemes that, if properly executed, should entail no risk for Trump whatsoever. Despite this, he frequently manages to go deep in the hole due to the lawsuits and so forth that follow on. My favorite is Trump Wine. The business plan should be incredibly simple: buy a bunch of 2 Buck Chuck quality wine, slap a glitzy French looking label on it and sell it for $38.99 (“marked down” from $52.99. “See! We are drinking $50 wine!”). You could do the whole first run for a few thousand dollars and if you sold a dozen cases you would make a profit. But instead he lives and dies by the mantra of never investing a nickel of his own money so he got involved in some cockamamie scheme that somehow ended up with him owning (or seeming to own) a winery in, wait for it, West Virginia. I am not making this up. It was started as a labor of love by the ex-wife of a billionaire. It became a black hole that sucked in almost her entire divorce settlement and vomited back out extremely mediocre wine. They went bankrupt (of course) and Trump bought it at auction. It never occurred to him that if a hundred-millionaire who was willing to write off her entire investment on the business couldn’t make a go of West Virginia wine, Mr. “Never spend a dime of my own money” didn’t have a chance. And for engineers of a certain era like myself there is extra irony in that the original name of the winery was Kluge.

  37. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:

    And other trivial, rather superficial matters like the Access Hollywood tape.

    You mean the one where the POTUS admitted to serial sexual assault???
    You are a cornucopia of idiocy.

  38. MarkedMan says:


    Basically, his comments and conclusions focus on exactly those things harped on by the likes of Florack, MBunge, TM01, etc, with the only difference being his tone of faux resigned sadness rather than the screaming right wing nut job histrionics.

    Lest anyone think I exaggerate Pearce’s bad faith let me just point out that even as I was writing these words it appears he was composing a post that stated, with an air of sad resignation, that the NYT was probably lying about the amount of work they had invested in this article, and that the “Grab em by the Pussy” comments were trivial and superficial. Why do I get the feeling that even as I type these comments, our RWNJ Trumpers are composing posts that say the exact same thing, albeit with near psychotic hysteria?

  39. steve says:

    Dog bites man. No surprise here.


  40. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    As has been often commented, “How in the HELL does someone lose money running a casino?!”

    By not getting enough people to play, spending too much on construction and/or operations, spending too much on ancillary features like the hotel, restaurants, night clubs, spas, etc. attached to the casino, and I guess other things.

    And let’s not sell El Cheeto short. I’m sure he could find a way to lose money if he could print his own money.

  41. Jen says:

    I don’t have this vaunted view of the Times that would make me believe that they’ve been working on this for years.

    Good grief–of *course* this took 16-18 months to report. Legal review alone must have taken at least 4-5 months.

  42. MBunge says:

    So…we’ve gone from stuff Brett Kavanaugh supposedly did 30+ years ago to stuff Donald Trump’s father supposedly did 20+ years ago. Maybe you’ll finally catch up to what Trump actually does as President when Pence is sworn in for his second term in 2028.


  43. Kathy says:

    El Cheeto is increasingly looking more and more like Bill Cosby: A rich douche who managed to commit lots of crimes over decades, but who’s finally facing a reckoning.

  44. grumpy realist says:

    @MBunge: Well, we’ve already analyzed how Trump has been making micefeet of the U.S.’s relations with everyone except tyrannical strongmen, how many times he lies a day, the total fiasco Trump’s been making with all these tariffs, and how his entire administration is in chaos….

    This just is yet another “oopsie!” in the pipeline. But I’m sure you’ll have all these wonderful stories about how Excellent A Businessman Trump Is. (The fact that he’s a cheat and a liar who can’t ever stick to any promise he’s made is beyond you.)

  45. James Pearce says:

    @mattbernius: Whether they started working on this last month or last year, the applicable phrase is too little, too late.

    The NY Times isn’t going to take down Trump. The NY Times isn’t going to rally voters to take down Trump.

    This is what they NY Times is going to do: lull you into feeling like they “got this,” when they’re actually providing, by their own description, “often credulous coverage” of the rich and powerful.

    Seriously, guys, newspapers are not your allies. They are desperate (for profit) companies in a rapidly shrinking industry that are actually losing clout and yet they are so central to the political fortunes of Democrats? Why?

  46. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce: So James, let’s boil it down. The NYT is fake news. Got it.

  47. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    The NY Times isn’t going to take down Trump. The NY Times isn’t going to rally voters to take down Trump.

    Who, on here, is claiming such? Specifically on here–not Jimmy Kimmel, not someone you see on social media. Who, besides strawmen (which, again, you are simply excellent at destroying) is claiming such a thing?

    This is what they NY Times is going to do: lull you into feeling like they “got this,”

    Really? Who is being lulled in such a way?

    Seriously, guys, newspapers are not your allies

    Correct. They are media. Not to sound like a broken record, but who is claiming they are our “allies?”

    yet they are so central to the political fortunes of Democrats?

    I’m sure you can guess what my question is, but who (besides you) is claiming that the NYTimes is central to the political fortune of Democrats?

    I will point out that on threads that discussed the activated Democratic base (you know, people walking, making calls, trying to get people elected–the type of activity one might say is central to the political fortune of Democrats), you derided this activity as being silly. You never gave a reason why it was silly, but you sure did think engaging in grassroots politics and voter mobilization was a bad tactic because [answer not provided–it never is].

  48. mattbernius says:

    @James Pearce:
    None of that mishmash of text in any way defends how ignorant your point (“Not really, but I don’t have this vaunted view of the Times that would make me believe that they’ve been working on this for years.”) was.

    We made no claims about the effect of the report. All we simply state was that this type of in-depth reporting does take a long time, often years. I’m happy to step you through exactly why that’s the case (public records requests being a big part of that).

    However, confronted with your ignorance, you just throw up strawman flack and accuse us of positions we didn’t take instead of simply admitting that was a dumb comment. Please feel free to keep swinging, it will only further go to demonstrate the underlying issue.

    I just want to reiterate that this type of investigative journalism takes a lot of time to do. There is no reason to suspect that the Times is inflating how long this took. And there is no way that this sort of investigation could have happened in between the time it was clear that Trump would be the Republican candidate and the general election.

    Anyway, my hijack of this is over.

  49. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @MarkedMan: IIRC, Trump also made noises about buying American Airlines in the late 80’s (not a whit educated by his buddy Carl Icahn’s poor track record with TWA). He couldn’t get financing and wound up buying the Eastern shuttle, which he subsequently lost control of.

  50. Grewgills says:

    Neil Hudelson

    I will point out that on threads that discussed the activated Democratic base (you know, people walking, making calls, trying to get people elected–the type of activity one might say is central to the political fortune of Democrats), you derided this activity as being silly.

    Of course a few months before that when he was complaining about protesters he said that was what democrats should be doing. In pearce world whatever democrats are doing or talking about is the wrong thing. Typically the right thing is never mentioned. When it is and the democrats actually do that, it is also wrong.
    Concern troll is concerned.

  51. Michael Reynolds says:

    Everything Cult Leader has told you about himself is now clearly, unmistakably exposed as a lie.

    And yet, you worship.

    You know what I think? I think a certain percentage of the human race is born with a Will To Grovel. All your life you’ve waited for someone to serve, to obey, to excuse, to toady. If you and your ilk weren’t such deplorables I’d feel some pity for you. Not everyone is strong, some are weak, and the weak are inevitably exploited. Which at one level is sad.

    Fortunately for me you’re such a liar you short-cut my pity response, leaving me to enjoy my contempt with a clear conscience.

  52. An Interested Party says:

    …when Pence is sworn in for his second term in 2028.

    Wow, I had no idea that you huffed paint…

  53. Monala says:

    @James Pearce: Not sure why you were downvoted here. I absolutely agree. In 2015-16, the NYT spent a lot of ink on the Clinton Foundation, her emails, and various “clouds and shadows” surrounding Hilary Clinton. (The most ridiculous was an article about Huma Abedin divorcing Anthony Weiner, claiming it would create “clouds and shadows” around Clinton’s own marriage. The writer had the gall to ask the thrice-married, known adulterer Trump for a quote about what the Abedin/Weiner divorce said about Clinton’s judgment). Meanwhile, during the 2016 election cycle, they virtually ignored the financial and business issues surrounding Trump.

  54. Monala says:

    @Monala: Here’s the NYT article I referenced, including these quotes:

    Mr. Weiner’s extramarital behavior also threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades, including Mrs. Clinton’s much-debated decision to remain with then-President Bill Clinton after revelations of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Ms. Abedin’s choice to separate from her husband evokes the debates that erupted over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the Lewinsky affair, a scandal her campaign wants left in the past. …

    But Mr. Weiner’s behavior quickly became fodder for Donald J. Trump, Mrs. Clinton’s Republican opponent in the presidential race. “Huma is making a very wise decision,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “I know Anthony Weiner well, and she will be far better off without him.”

    He then went further, claiming that the marriage’s breakdown was a matter of national security…. “Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”

  55. MarkedMan says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: American Airlines? Sure, why not. During a time when almost the entire airline industry was operating in the red, it would be just like Donald Trump to pay a premium and load it up with debt if he could get away with it. Fortunately for passenger safety the FAA would no doubt have vetoed having a shyster like Trump running a major airline.

    The Eastern Shuttle to Trump Airlines debacle is absolutely typical Trump. Eastern was losing money and needed a cash infusion so they spun off the profitable Shuttle off into its own thing and sold it to Trump at a Premium. No one else would buy it at that price, although many were willing to buy it at a realistic valuation. So Trump paid too much and loaded it with debt immediately putting the airline into a net loss situation. He was going to use his genius business sense to eliminate the competition, allowing him to charge higher rates. First, he thought his name was enough that everyone would ditch the Delta Shuttle to fly on his airline because… TRUMP!!! When that didn’t work he decided that he could make it a luxury airline and charge twice as much as Delta and that would put it in the black. Think about that. You could book a flight on a regular airline from DC to NYC and pay regular rates and even fly first class if you wanted to. Or you could take the shuttle and save a few bucks. I took one of the shuttles a time or two in the pre-Trump era and it was basically a bus station. It flew every hour. The waiting room had anyone from a Wall Street Banker to a plumber carting a tool bag. If you were running late and the flight wasn’t full you could dash on in the last minute and pay for your ticket from your seat. I’m pretty sure I remember the flight attendant making change. You basically pushed away from the gate, took off, climbed for 15 mins or so and then descended for 15 mins or so. You never even got to cruising altitude.

    And his genius idea was that these customers would fall all over themselves to pay twice as much for the luxury of having marble bathrooms in the plane. And by the way, the marble weighed so much they would have had to remove seats to make up the weight. TRUMP!!!

    From being the only profitable part of Easter Airlines it went to bankruptcy and was sold off in a fire sale in three years. What a pathetic blowhard. Everything he touches turns to stinking runny sh*t and anyone in business with him when it happens comes away covered in it. The Republicans are morons for kissing this guys butt.

  56. Yank says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Honestly, I don’t think that is Mbunge’s problem. Deep down, he knows Trump is a fraud, but he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong since it takes quite a dumb person to be taking in by a sloppy con artist like Trump.

    I am sure there are many more Americans like Mbunge who choose to double down on Trump because that is a better option in their minds then admitting the liberals, academics, elites etc. were right about Trump from the start.

  57. MarkedMan says:


    Not sure why you were downvoted here.

    Not sure if you are being sarcastic here, so if I’m being dense forgive me. The reason Pearce is down voted is he is a “concern troll”, i.e. he attacks Democrats and defends Trump while pretending to do the opposite. Another example of a concern troll would be a beauty pageant contestant who taps one of her competition on the shoulder and says “I want us all to do our best so it is out of compassion for you that I will point out some flaws in your talent routine. I of course am not trying to throw you off but rather amnonly doing it so you have the opportunity to fix it in some vague and unspecified way. And by the way, I’m sure you’ll be able to lose those extra pounds before the swimsuit competition. Luv ya!”

  58. Monala says:

    @MarkedMan: I get that, and I agree about Pearce’s concern trolling. I just also agree that the NYT’s report is too late — if they indeed worked on this for 16-17 months, then they started working on it in early 2017, instead of 2015 like they should have, when they were so focused on Clinton scandals, real or imagined.

  59. MarkedMan says:

    @Monala:Your point is well taken. But I would point out that the NYT pushed out pieces of this background during the campaign. Honestly, it is only the breadth, specificity and documentation that are new in the NYT article, although I am by no means minimizing that. The fact that Trump was a lying, phony, corrupt confidence man has been very well documented since the 1980’s. Republican’s just don’t care.

  60. gVOR08 says:

    Ever since this came out, I’ve felt like it’s an old story, that I’d heard the figure $400 million from his father a year or more ago. But now that I think about it, that was a DIFFERENT 400M$, the value of the company when Donald took it over from his father. (I’ve also heard figures down to 40M for the company, and I don’t know what is right. The NYT story would imply maybe it was worth 400M, but they declared 40M.)

  61. gVOR08 says:


    This is (sadly) work that only a few newspapers can afford (and will fund) doing anymore.

    Yeah. It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with NYT. They did more than James Comey to elect Trump, then they come up with something like this. I guess I’ll keep my online subscription, write critical comments and letters occasionally, and continue to refer to them here as part of the supposedly liberal MSM.

  62. Michael Reynolds says:

    No doubt there’s a strong element of that. The Bung had a pre-existing servility or he’d never have been attracted to the ersatz Mussolini in the first place. And if he were strong he’d be willing to admit it.

    I voted for Nixon in 1972 and later attended impeachment demonstrations. You take your beating, you learn your lesson, you move on. I will never understand people who double down on wrong, it’s not only a pathetic spectacle, it’s a form of self-harm. It’s like lashing yourself to the railing of the Titanic rather than admit you were wrong about its unsinkability.

  63. James Pearce says:

    Who, on here, is claiming such?

    I couldn’t find the thread where ____ ____ proposed subscribing to the Times as a resistance strategy, but I remember it well. Does it really matter who?

    All we simply state was that this type of in-depth reporting does take a long time, often years.

    Granted, but this should have been in progress by the time Trump was nominated, not after he was elected. Didn’t we all suspect that by not releasing his tax returns he was hiding shit?

    The reason Pearce is down voted is he is a “concern troll”

    That is NOT why I’m down voted….

    Also, thank you, Monala, for seeing through my “persona” long enough to see my point. (Not a concern troll, by the way. Just a heretic.)

  64. grumpy realist says:

    @MarkedMan: It was the marble in the bathrooms that caused me to say “WTF?” Also the Russian bordello decoration (which Trump seems addicted to. It’s what’s considered “rich” by the sort of people who wear rhinestone-studded glasses and think they are the ultimate of fashion.)

  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Neil Hudelson: In an attempt to be fair to Mr. Pearce, I would like to note that he may well be recalling a time–probably when he was in middle school or just starting high school when guys like Chris Matthews were saying things like “the greatest thing the press ever did was taking Nixon down” and/or “the press was the key to ending public support for the Vietnam war” and concluding that those types of events constitute the “gold standard” of effects of a free press. If that is the case, I can see how he might be disillusioned about “the power of the press” and disappointed about how the press has been “lowered” (if you will) to being a medium that merely presents information rather than changing the world wholesale. Add that disappointment to his predisposition to believe that everyone at least should hold views similar to his own and you get the deep concern expressed in his posts, and we should be able to understand why some look at him as a troll while he sees himself as a lone voice of reason.

    I would urge everyone not particularly interested in troll baiting–entertaining as it might be–to simply stop paying any attention to what he writes at all. I occasionally read a post of his by mistake and almost always regret it; although sometimes I have to admit that what I read was so outlandish that I, too, find myself needing to comment. In the long run though, I find the threads much more readable, informative and entertaining when I skip over posts by MBunge, TM01, and James Pearce. Oh, I forgot Florak and JayJenosWarrenWhoeverheisnow.

  66. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: I’ve always thought of the Trump “style” as “Louis XIV bordello” because of the extreme, to me at least, Rococo elements. But I’ve never been to a Russian bordello, so I can’t compare the two descriptions.

  67. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: If you want to understand the mindset of someone like Bung, I can’t think of a better example than what he wrote in Dec. 2016, shortly after Trump’s Carrier deal:

    Trump saved those jobs. He helped create a better life for those thousand people, their spouses and their children. To put it another way, Trump just did more good for more human beings than probably everybody else on this blog combined has in their entire lives.

    Bung doesn’t talk about the Carrier deal anymore, and no wonder: it didn’t live up to the hype, to put it mildly.

    But never mind. What I want to focus on is Bung’s statement that Trump did more good than all of us combined. It’s a bizarre thing to say because it implies that Trump’s achievements must be measured against ours in order for our criticisms to have any merit–which is absurd. What seems to keep Bung going is his delusional belief that he’s taking us all down a peg. He claims not to have voted for Trump, and his basic point of view over the past few years isn’t so much Trumpism as anti-anti-Trumpism. When he defends Trump, it’s always in reference to Trump showing up all the knee-jerk doubters we supposedly are.

    In a way, it reminds me of the late journalist Michael Kelly–which may seem a strange comparison given that Kelly was a staunch defender of Bush and the Iraq War (and was one of the first journalists to die in Iraq), something Bung claims to loathe. But to Kelly, it was never about the substance of the issue, it was about his belief that he was busting all the hoity-toity liberals and their knee-jerk hatred of Bush. Kelly wasn’t a conservative by background, and neither is Bung as far as I can tell. What seemed to animate him was an obsessive hatred of the “smug liberal” character type, and his approach to issues always devolved into one big ad hominem in which he imagined everyone he disagreed with fell into that stereotype. Bung is very similar in this respect.

    Whether Bung is a typical Trump supporter or not, there’s a definite element of what I described in most Trump supporters. They just love that Trump drives his critics nuts. That’s why it’s almost pointless to talk about Trump’s failures, because “success” to them is always going to be defined in terms of our negative reactions. This tendency actually predates Trump by decades, but we’ve never had a president more attuned to people with this obsessive desire to make liberals angry.

  68. MarkedMan says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I agree with you on ignoring everyone on that list except for Pearce. I’ve long thought Pearce is a moderately clever Trump supporter who engages in what he thinks is tricksy reverse psychology. I feel that even if I am wrong (and it’s depressing after all these years that that can still be happening…) it doesn’t matter, since his recommendations are indistinguishable from a concern troll and therefore a casual reader who doesn’t know him might be swayed by what sounds like a reasonable person. In the many months I’ve been paying attention he has never once expressed an option materially different than that list of Trumpers you mentioned. Only his tone is different. Never his opinions.

  69. James Pearce says:

    In an attempt to be fair to Mr. Pearce

    Well, at least you could say this: it was an attempt…

    Oh, and for anyone curious. There are reports that the Times stumbled into this story by pulling a thread on a different story. They weren’t looking for it in 2016 because they never intended to launch some big expose on Trump’s fortune in the first place. Whatever adjective you apply to that fact is debatable.

  70. Jen says:

    For anyone interested in how the NYT uncovered the story, they actually wrote a separate piece about exactly that.

  71. Yank says:

    @Kylopod: This is very true. There are a large segment of Trump supporters who only support Trump because he trolls liberals. What makes this quite hilarious is that at the end of the day, those people are still the marks. They aren’t going to get anything substantial from a Trump presidency. But hey, you really stuck it to those elites (who still living well and got a nice tax cut from Trump).

  72. Jen says:

    @TM01: Except that some of these maneuvers were likely illegal. What Fred Trump did was go to extraordinary lengths to bury tax burdens under various dubious schemes that it was difficult to untangle.

    I leave it to the authorities to review, but it certainly seems dodgy to me to create a middleman company and mark up things only to have that money go straight into the pockets of his kids–and, in the meantime use the additional cost as a justification for raising rents. These people are a special kind of awful.

  73. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: IMNSHO, the real story in the NYT investigation–and the real story back in the 80s and 90s IIRC–is that Trump’s father had for decades engaged in what appears now to be genuine tax fraud and that the IRS, for reasons unfathomable in the lost annals of the times, did nothing to enforce the tax laws on the books then as porous as those laws were. During Reagan’s Presidency, Warren Buffet told Reagan a “joke”–Buffet paid less in taxes than Reagan’s secretary in any given year. The joke lead to the tax reform package passed during his term, the first restructuring since the Kennedy administration and one of a handful of items we can look at from the era as positive.

    Fast forward to the late 90s and beyond–Trump is still pulling the same type of crap and the IRS is mostly still diligently ignoring it, although to a lesser degree, possibly. What’s wrong with the picture? Trump and his fans say “nothing, that’s what makes me/him so qualified to be President.”

    And they wonder why their opposition are gobsmacked by it all.

  74. Garrett Watson says:

    Trump winery is actually in albemarle county Virginia, right outside of Charlottesville.