Donald Trump has famously refused to disclose his tax returns, and waged a series of implausible but dogged legal challenges to prevent those returns from being obtained by Congress and the New York attorney general, in spite of clear legal mandate to do so. In the absence of seeing the tax returns, journalists have pieced together elements of Trump’s financial practices by obtaining whatever documents he has had to submit in the course of his business dealings.
The portrait those efforts have painted is consistent. Trump engages in systematic financial fraud — not just aggressive use of tax sheltering, but straight up criminal fraud — and counts on lax-to-nonexistent enforcement to make his crimes pay.
Last month, ProPublica found huge discrepancies between the figures Trump has cited for the profitability of two Manhattan buildings given to lenders and what he reported to city tax authorities. As you might guess, Trump tells lenders he’s rich and tells the government he’s poor. An accounting professor called it “versions of fraud.”
ProPublica has another report today, showing that Trump has run the same scam for Trump Tower. In 2011 and 2012, Trump told a lender that his rooms were 98.7 percent and 99 percent occupied, but told the city it had just an 83 percent occupancy rate.
This isn’t being clever, finding a complicated tax shelter, or taking full advantage of what the law allows. It’s just, by all indications, straight up fraud. What these figures can’t settle is whether Trump is defrauding his lenders, cheating on his taxes, or both. Both of those forms of fraud are crimes. None of the experts contacted by ProPublica could formulate an innocent explanation. And as Congress decides whether it should deem Trump’s abuses of power to be high crimes, surprisingly little attention has been given to the fact that Trump’s entire career leading up to the presidency has consisted of habitual criminality.