Donald Trump is a security risk to this nation.
His massive personal debts, as revealed by the stunning New York Times exposé of his long-hidden tax records, make him vulnerable to manipulation by foreign governments or shysters. According to the Times, “he appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.”
If a debt-ridden Trump were facing confirmation for a senior government post, he would be denied a security clearance. “From a national security perspective, that’s just an outrageous vulnerability,” Larry Pfeiffer, a previous CIA chief of staff, told the Washington Post, adding that if he had faced a fraction of Trump’s financial burden, “there is no question my clearances would be pulled.”
But as president, Trump is not subject to security checks. Imagine the queue of autocrats, oligarchs, and crooks — from Russia to Turkey to Saudi Arabia and beyond — who are already salivating to secretly rescue Trump in a second term, in return for the favors he can dispense.
For the past four years, we have witnessed the president’s cavalier attitude toward conflicts between his personal business interests and the national interest. He refused to divest himself of his business interests while in the White House, and his organization is free to use them to promote his brand.
As the Times points out: “His properties [Mar-a-Lago, his hotels, and his money-losing golf clubs] have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists [and] foreign officials seeking face time, access or favor.” A flood of new members joined the Mar-a-Lago club at jacked up prices from 2015 on, and international delegations are encouraged to stay at his Washington International Hotel, which they no doubt hope will gain them brownie points with the president.
Trump even tried (and failed) in October 2019 to nudge the G-7 leaders of the most powerful industrial democracies to stay with their huge entourages at his failing Doral resort in Florida.
This is not a president for whom “ethics” is a meaningful word.
Nor is this a president who has been shy about mixing with murky money. Although the tax records reveal no previously unknown financial connection with Russia, Trump’s past history of dealing with shady Russian businessmen is extensively documented.
“Most of the businessmen who came to Trump [in the early 2000s] were connected to … KGB-linked money men,” writes Reuters investigative correspondent Catherine Belton in her exhaustively researched new book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West. Eric Trump reportedly told a journalist in 2014, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
So it is easy to imagine how ambitious businessmen with ties to Trump-friendly autocrats might try to help with his financial dilemma.
The Times tax reveal gives a telling example: Aras Agalarov, a billionaire who boasts of close ties to Vladimir Putin, underwrote the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, taking a multimillion-dollar financial loss, while Trump reported a profit of over $2 million. But the Trump-Agalarov connection surfaced again in 2016, when Agalarov’s son, Emin helped broker the infamous meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer who offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
What favors might Kremlin-connected businessmen offer a cash-strapped Trump in the coming years?
The Times stories are full of other disturbing examples, as Trump Organization hotels and clubs draw lobbyists from countries led by strongmen.
Turkish businessman Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, who helped negotiate a licensing deal in 2008 for two Trump Towers in Istanbul, now lobbies on behalf of Turkish interests in Washington. Turkish business groups schedule events in Trump’s Washington hotel and Turkish airlines host an event at the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia.
The Philippines’ strongman, Rodrigo Duterte, chose as his special trade envoy to Washington the businessman behind the Trump Tower in Manila.
Credit card receipts reported to the IRS “reflect the way certain of [Trump’s] resorts, golf courses and hotels became favored stomping grounds, if not venues for influence-trading, beginning in 2015,” writes the Times.
This sleaziness becomes even more disturbing given Trump’s staggering debts that would come due during a second Trump term.
A hefty chunk of his personal debt is held by Deutsche Bank, which developed a reputation as a laundromat for Russian dark money. The bank kept making loans to Trump when other banks wouldn’t touch him due to his history of defaults (even though he had defaulted on big loans to Deutsche Bank itself). Its personal banker to Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner is now under internal investigation.
If Trump stays in the White House, it may be more politically tricky for Deutsche Bank to call in the loans. On the other hand, the bank may feel the need to rescue its already battered reputation.
In either case, Trump may soon be in need of a behind-the-scenes bailout from foreign sources eager to swap favors. One more urgent reason why this country can’t afford a Trump second term.