Revelations that President Donald Trump is personally responsible for a debt of more than $400 million cast a shadow over his presidency that, according to ethics experts, raises concerns that the representative could be manipulated by organizations and individuals to which he owes them to alter their policies.
The new scrutiny of Trump, who boasts of being a successful private businessman, comes after The New York Times reported that tax records revealed that the representative has a huge personal debt, which includes more than $300 million in loans he must cover over the next four years.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was blunt about the possible implications. “He could be left vulnerable to financial blackmail from hostile foreign powers and only God knows what else,” said Warren, a frequent critic of Trump.
The paper noted that tax records also show that Trump did not pay federal taxes in 11 years between 2000 and 2018, generating questions about how fair it is for a president—who is supposed to be a billionaire—to pay less tax than most Americans.
But revelations about Trump’s tax evasion, while leading to possible political aftermath, are less troubling than the news that the president has hundreds of millions of dollars in a debt he must cover soon, ethics experts said.
“Americans should be concerned about the president’s debt because it poses a national security risk to our country”
Said Donald Sherman, deputy director of government monitoring organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “This is information that the president has actively and repeatedly tried to hide from the public.”
Trump, claiming that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was conducting an audit on him, has refused to follow the precedent created following the Watergate scandal by other presidents who have disclosed their tax information, so the complexity of their financial interests and the identity of those doing business are fully unknown. He is currently fighting legal disputes with New York‘s secretary of justice, the Manhattan prosecutor’s office, and two House committees that want access to their records.
Richard Painter, who served as Chief Counsel on White House Ethical Issues during George W. Bush’s tenure, also noted that Trump-owned companies have filed for bankruptcy six times, prompting the question: Why are lenders still willing to risk credit for such large amounts?
“Why do banks take the risk of those loans?” asked Painter. “Or did anyone else take the risk of those credits for the bank to approve?”
Trump tweeted Monday that he has “very few debts compared to asset value,” adding that he could publish a financial statement detailing all the properties and debts.
During a presentation Monday, Trump ignored a reporter’s question about when he could publish such a financial statement, and the White House did not comment on when he could do so. The representative said repeatedly before his election that he would publish his royal taxes, but he never has.