Benjamin Franklin reminded us that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Now, President Donald Trump’s financial records raise the possibility that the latter of the two inevitabilities might figuratively bring about the former.
This week’s detailed reporting by The New York Times may signal the demise of our president’s self-inflated facade of business acumen and success.
That’s because it’s possible this week’s detailed reporting by The New York Times on 20 years of Trump’s personal and business tax records may signal the demise of our president’s self-inflated facade of business acumen and success. Importantly, the Times' reporting also exposes a related, yet even greater truth — that Trump’s big lie about his deal-making prowess and the truth about his debt means that he may be one of American history’s most vulnerable presidents when it comes to leaving himself open to nefarious actors offering to come to his financial rescue.
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Trump’s tax records reveal a staggering amount of personal debt — as much as $420 million that he is on the hook for within the next four years. That’s four years that he might spend as our president. He’ll need a way out of his debt, and plenty of foreign intelligence services will be more than happy to provide that help to him — for a price.
Presidents are privy to all manner of the most sensitive secrets a nation possesses. A president would know precisely how long it would take our military to respond to an incoming missile attack. A president knows whether our CIA has recruited a high-ranking official who reports on a foreign prince or king. A president might be aware that an intelligence agency has successfully planted a microphone inside a dictator’s office. Without betraying top secret information, a president could attempt to gain favor with a foreign power by allowing them to do things that would otherwise be against American interests. In my former role as the FBI’s head of counterintelligence, our agents would have salivated over the potential presented by a recruitment target who was facing public humiliation and possible personal bankruptcy from crushing debt, criminal exposure and the collapse of his highly cultivated business mogul persona.
And now we know that this president has so much debt, so many conflicts of interest with foreign business ties, so many suspicious and potentially criminal manipulations of the U.S. tax code that he should be unable to get the security clearance required to work in the cafeteria at FBI headquarters. The most apparent tax violations include claiming as business expenses $70,000 for “hair styling,” and consulting fees paid by the Trump Organization to his daughter Ivanka while she was simultaneously an employee of the organization.
As the Times reported, the president earned tens of millions of dollars from his reality television show, “The Apprentice,” which he poured into buying now failing golf courses around the globe. This is a man who seems far better qualified to host “The Biggest Loser” than run a country. In fact, the financial losses claimed by Trump during some of the years reviewed by the Times ranked among the highest losses asserted by any U.S. citizen. And, the size of the refunds he claimed triggered the attention of a congressional panel on taxation. Further, an automatic IRS audit was required by the colossal $70 million tax refund requested and received by Trump in one year.
While some, even perhaps Trump himself, might claim that this crafty ability to dodge tax liability and milk the system makes him “smart,” counterintelligence professionals know that these realities make Trump incredibly vulnerable to foreign intelligence services eager to have him do their bidding in return for helping him dig out of his deepening financial hole.
If you assess Trump’s foreign policy decisions, or lack thereof, through the lens of someone seeking financial rescue you can see how his self-interest may have overridden our national interests.
If you assess Trump’s foreign policy decisions, or lack thereof, through the lens of someone seeking financial rescue — someone who must parlay his political power into personal profit — you can see how his self-interest may have overridden our national interests, with our without foreign coercion. The president’s favorable posture toward the Saudi crown prince, despite our intelligence community finding that Mohammed Bin Salman directed the murder of a Washington Post columnist, his siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over our intelligence agencies who pointed directly to Putin regarding 2016 election interference, his permitting Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to move troops into Syria and displace our Kurdish allies and his praise for the world’s dictators, including Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and others, make more sense when viewed as potential profiteering.
The revelations of the president’s tax records must become part of a larger and still unresolved investigation into Trump’s potential compromise by foreign powers. These concerns were apparently never fully addressed following the referral of the FBI’s Russia counterintelligence investigation to special counsel Robert Mueller. Until that seminal question is answered, our president will remain a national security threat. Such an investigation, perhaps FBI led and congressionally supported, should include the current status of IRS inquiries into Trump, and whether Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is playing a role in delaying such audits.
And the need for answers to these counterintelligence concerns won’t dissipate just because the president may not be re-elected — in fact, they may become even greater. Ask any corporate security director about the threat posed by retired, fired or disgruntled ex-employees. They’ll tell you that executives, engineers, finance managers, IT professionals and all manner of former employees take with them the company secrets committed to memory. Often, those former employees turn such proprietary information into personal gain by offering it to competitors or even to foreign powers.
A financially compromised former president facing possible indictment, financial ruin and even prison poses a continuing danger to our nation. That’s why the revelations about the president’s finances jeopardize not only his image and wealth — they imperil our security.