JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressional Democrats are
expected to decide tomorrow whether they will
go to court to obtain President Trump’s recent
The president broke with modern tradition
by refusing to release his returns.
Democrats and other experts have questioned
whether there could be information about foreign
investors, about debts or other business arrangements
in those returns.
Today, the New York State Senate approved
a bill that would allow the president’s state
tax records to be turned over to Congress.
As William Brangham tells us, this line of
inquiry picked up new fuel overnight after
a New York Times investigation shed light
on the president’s past tax records and his
large business losses.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Judy, The Times’ investigation
found that at the very moment Donald Trump
was portraying himself as the most successful
dealmaker of the 1980s and ’90s, his actual
balance sheet told a very different story.
The Times’ analysis found Mr. Trump lost more
than $1 billion between 1985 and 1994.
The report says — quote — “Year after year,
Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money
than nearly any other individual American
Those combined losses, the article contends,
enabled him to avoid paying income taxes for
The president and his legal team have called
The Times’ report inaccurate.
I’m joined now by one of the reporters who
broke this story, Russ Buettner of The New
Russ, thank you very much for being here.
You have painted this really remarkable portrait
of this decade in Donald Trump’s financial
Help us understand, why was he losing so much
money during this time?
RUSS BUETTNER, The New York Times: Well, if
you look back at the records from that era,
he was buying things at extraordinarily high
prices, and then taking on even more debt
to build them out to his design.
And then the revenues that he brought in never
supported that debt load.
So, with each acquisition, he would go further
into the red ink, and the losses just mounted
as the years progressed.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what were these ventures,
for people who are not that familiar with
RUSS BUETTNER: He originally started building
He would make a condominium building.
That would sell through and he would keep
the retail space.
Then he branched out into a variety, a very
eclectic collection of things.
He bought an offshoot of the NFL.
He bought a football team.
He bought an airline.
He started opening casinos that were extraordinarily
He bought a landmark New York City hotel.
And all of that just mounted up to about $3
billion in debt he took on over just about
a five-year period.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And, as your report points
out, he did have some successful ventures,
but, in any given year, it seems, the losses
from other ventures swamped those returns.
RUSS BUETTNER: That’s exactly right.
He would — he’s constantly sort of changing
There was a period of time that lasted about
two years where he would buy, with borrowed
money, large holdings in a public corporation,
leak news that he had bought that, and that
he might take the company over, and as soon
as the stock went up, he would sell.
He made about $60 million over a couple of
years doing that.
And then the market figured out that he wasn’t
going to take over the companies, and it stopped
That sort of ended.
But it was — like that, there were these
ventures that he did make money on.
But the losses from his company, his companies,
his other enterprises, would wash away all
his tax liability for even those extraordinary
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The president, as you know,
has said, first off, that everybody was doing
this back in the ’80s and ’90s.
And then he also said that your reporting
Given that you don’t actually have a signed
copy of President Trump’s tax returns, how
did you compile this data?
And how do you know it is actually accurate?
RUSS BUETTNER: What we have is a printout
from President Trump’s tax transcript, which
is a printout from an official database the
IRS has kept since the 1960s of every tax
return that’s filed by every individual every
There are internal quality controls on that
It’s used for a variety of policy-setting
They use it to target audits.
And they bring printouts from it to audits.
And if you wanted to request yours, you could
file that request with the IRS, and they would
give it to you as an official record of the
return you filed.
It’s, in fact, a very reliable record.
It’s been used for very important things for
a long time.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, this is, of course,
coming amidst the fight of congressional Democrats
trying to get more recent tax returns from
What might those returns tell us that we don’t
RUSS BUETTNER: We’re guessing into a vacuum
a little bit, because we just really don’t
But we could certainly tell for the first
time maybe if his claims of wealth are really
We would be able to see how profitable his
He’s reported on his disclosure forms revenue
figures, not profitability.
And profitability has been a problem for Donald
Trump throughout his career.
We could tell what the sources of those incomes
We could tell whether he has any properties
that are in jeopardy.
We could tell if he’s got partners that he
We could tell if he’s got more debt than what
he’s allowed and who he’s borrowed money from.
And we could look for conflicts of interest
that might not be apparent now between his
public policy and all the countries around
the world where he has investments in money-earning
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Russ Buettner
of The New York Times, thank you very much.
RUSS BUETTNER: Thanks for having me.