Trump’s tax dodges look more serious than Whitewater

Conservatives who spent years investigating and criticizing the Clinton family business dealings known as “Whitewater” and Hillary Clinton’s cattle futures scam ought to be equally outraged by President Trump’s obviously sketchy tax dodges.

In terms of the money involved, Trump’s dealings, as outlined today by ProPublica, are much worse than the Clintons’ pre-presidential self-dealing. Yet soon, if recent past is prologue, we will surely hear either silence from the Clintons’ strongest critics, or worse, some fevered attempts to explain away the tax dodginess as business-as-usual.

The basic outline is simple. With regard to two of Trump’s major real-estate investments, the “art of the deal” involved filing financial reports with lenders and with tax authorities that were radically different from each other. The discrepancies regularly involved hundreds of thousands of dollars. On insurance alone on one building, for example, the publication reported that “costs in 2017 were listed as $744,521 in tax documents and $457,414 in loan records.”

To quote ProPublica:

“A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are ‘versions of fraud,’ said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. ‘This kind of stuff is not OK.’ … The punishments for lying to tax officials, or to lenders, can be significant, ranging from fines to criminal fraud charges. Two former Trump associates, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, are serving prison time for offenses that include falsifying tax and bank records, some of them related to real estate.”

To be absolutely clear, this does not look even remotely close to “ordinary” use of the tax code to a businessman’s own advantage. This involves sets of directly contradictory filings, not to take advantage of tax “loopholes” but for the effect of receiving either better loan terms or lower tax payments, or both.

For another example, “Trump’s company told New York City tax officials it made about $822,000 renting space to commercial tenants there in 2017, records show. The company told loan officials it took in $1.67 million that year — more than twice as much.”

These are not differences involving tiny percentages or explainable accounting errors. These are immense disparities. Moreover, each individual variance played in Trump’s favor. If they were random errors, surely some of the errors would disfavor the billionaire. But, no, not here. There is no reasonable way to assert there was no intentionality involved here, and deceitful intentionality, at that.

Unless there is a really, really convincing explanation for this, it is easily as investigatable as Whitewater was, and, unlike the convoluted Whitewater dealings in which the Clintons were secondary investors, there is almost no way that Trump can pawn off responsibility to others.

(Disclosure: I write this as a former Capitol Hill Republican staffer who was deeply involved in the investigations of some of the secondary aspects of the sprawling Whitewater affair. My anti-Clinton files were voluminous.)

If Whitewater were impeachable in theory, which it was (and would have been, in fact, if the Clintons’ fingerprints had been more direct), then Trump’s tax dodginess could be overwhelmingly impeachable. Congress should add this to its ongoing probe, while formally voting to do so.

Again, Trump merits an opportunity to defend what looks to be legally indefensible. He should be forced to do so, or, if he fails, to face severe consequences.

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