the national interest

Trump: I Can’t Be Corrupt Because I’m Losing Money. (He Can.)

President Trump says he’s too desperate for cash to be vulnerable to undue influence. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump refuses to disclose what foreign and domestic sources are paying him during his presidency. But nobody should care, he argues, because he is losing tons of money in the process:

The weirdest element of this defense is the obsessive swipe at Barack Obama, who is supposedly corrupt because he is producing documentaries that appear on Netflix. Republicans are already complaining about the ideological content of these films, but I have yet to see any of them develop even an accusation about why the role retroactively corrupts his presidency. It’s not clear whether Trump actually has an accusation in mind, or if he hopes the juxtaposition of the words Obama and Netflix will trigger automatic rage reflexes in his supporters.

The more superficially plausible element is Trump’s claim to be losing money. How can he be profiting off the presidency when he is hemorrhaging cash? But this reasoning, far from insulating Trump’s secretive practices, actually damns them.

The scandalous nature of Trump’s undisclosed finances has nothing to do with whether he expected to make money off the presidency. His critics generally assume that Trump never expected to win the presidency in the first place. Running for president gave him access to hundreds of millions of dollars in free publicity that, as a defeated candidate, he would have been well-positioned to monetize. Multiple reports have depicted Trump as utterly stunned on Election Night.

Trump’s presumably unexpected victory may well have harmed his bottom line, as his political unpopularity has poisoned his brand. There is certainly plenty of evidence of Trump-branded properties disassociating themselves from him — and since branding is the main value he adds to these properties, this is a punishing financial blow.

But if he is losing his traditional income streams, that only makes him more desperate to find new sources of income. And if Trump’s old customer base is disappearing, a new one has presented itself: people who have an interest in currying favor with the president of the United States. From Republican politicians to foreign lobbyists, the word is out that spending money in Trump’s Washington hotel is a way of signaling that you’re on his team.

Of course we have no idea what other payments Trump is getting. He refuses to disclose them, and the Republican Party has closed ranks behind his secrecy. If he is collecting enormous bribes from foreign and domestic sources, the public wouldn’t know. But even relatively modest sums like booking stays at his hotels make a difference. And the more money Trump is losing, the more he needs every dollar in graft he can get his hands on.

Trump: I Can’t Be Corrupt Because I’m Losing Money (He Can)