When people talk about Donald Trump’s future, they almost always focus on whether or not he will run for president in 2024.
That’s the wrong question to ask. The right question is this: Just how much jeopardy – legally and financially – is Trump in over the next few years? And the answer is “a lot.”
I was reminded of that point Thursday while reading Joan Biskupic’s terrific piece about the ongoing delay at the Supreme Court over whether Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance can get access to Trump’s tax returns and financial records. Trump’s team of lawyers continue to fight the release of those record, with a brief expected to be filed next month asking the Court to hear oral arguments on the appeal.
Whether Trump prevails in this specific case or not, he still faces an absolute legion of legal problems. Among them:
1. The New York attorney general’s office is looking into how the Trump organization valued its assets.
2. Defamation lawsuits from E. Jean Carroll and Summer Zervos.
3. A fraud lawsuit filed by Trump niece Mary Trump.
4. A possible charge of incitement by the DC attorney general for Trump’s role in the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
5. Two investigations into Trump’s attempts to pressure Georgia elected officials to overturn the state’s election results.
(One piece of good legal news for Trump, lawsuits about his alleged violations of the emoluments clause while serving as president were dismissed by the Supreme Court last month because, well, Trump is no longer in office.)
All of those various legal entanglements – even if they all wind up going in Trump’s favor – will cost a whole lot of money. And, oddly for a billionaire, Trump is not in great financial shape at the moment – and there are more problems on that front looming on the horizon.
According to financial disclosure documents released in the hours after Trump left the White House last month, the ex-President’s eponymous company took a major revenue hit over the last year.
Overall, Trump’s businesses produced almost 40% less revenue in 2020 versus 2019. He made $30 million less at his Doral property in Miami than he did in 2019. Revenue at the Trump International Hotel in Washington and the former President’s Turnberry property in Scotland were down more than 60% year over year.
Those revenue setbacks came even before Trump’s actions (and lack thereof) during the January 6 riots – a moment that led to his second impeachment by the House of Representatives and brought condemnation down on him from across the political and business worlds.
And Trump’s money situation was already, um not good. Consider what we know about his financial status via The New York Times reporting on his tax returns. As the Times’ David Leonhardt noted before the 2020 election:
“[Trump] appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.
“Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.”
Trump didn’t win reelection. Which means that any protections – or concessions – that financial institutions might be willing to extend to a sitting President no longer exist. And out of the White House and with a brand badly damaged by his actions in the White House (culminating in his role in the January 6 riot) Trump’s earning power, particularly from new revenue streams, appears limited.
If past is prologue, Trump’s approach to this growing cloud of legal and financial troubles will be to sue and compromise his way out. This, from The New York Times about a Chicago skyscraper built by Trump that led to him to incur $287 million in unpaid debt by 2010, illustrates that point:
“When the project encountered problems, he tried to walk away from his huge debts. For most individuals or businesses, that would have been a recipe for ruin. But tax-return data, other records and interviews show that rather than warring with a notoriously litigious and headline-seeking client, lenders cut Mr. Trump slack — exactly what he seemed to have been counting on.”
Trump has regularly bragged about his prowess in this regard. “Does anyone know more about litigation than Trump?” Trump said of himself on the campaign trail in 2016. “I’m like a Ph.D. in litigation.” That same year, Trump told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell this: “I’m the king of debt. I’m great with debt. Nobody knows debt better than me. I’ve made a fortune by using debt, and if things don’t work out I renegotiate the debt. I mean, that’s a smart thing, not a stupid thing.”
The question for Trump going forward is how much leverage he retains over the people he owes money to. And how much he will be to muddy the waters with a slew of legal filings. Yes, those tactics worked in the past. But Trump’s situation – legally and financially – have gone downhill since he left the White House.
The real question then about Trump’s future is whether he can make it unscathed to 2024. And that is a very open question right now.