After multiple losses against E. Jean Carroll and New York Attorney General Letitia James, Donald Trump is facing judgements that could end up costing him upwards of $600 million. But these rulings are more than a financial headache for Trump, they are an unprecedented opportunity to buy influence with a leading presidential candidate and a sitting president should he be re-elected. 

Trump came into office in 2017 carrying huge amounts of debt and at least two years of eight-figure losses while overseeing a struggling international business empire. The tax returns he fought tooth and nail for six years to keep concealed eventually showed that the presidency turned his fortunes around, and would likely have continued to do so had the pandemic not dealt the hospitality industry a historic blow. All told, Trump left the presidency with at least $1.1 billion dollars in debt tied to the COVID-weakened commercial real estate market, the vast majority of which would come due in a hypothetical second term in office. These rulings would make that number 50% higher.

When first running for president, Trump described himself as “the king of debt” due to his history of taking out massive bank loans to pay for his real estate holdings. But the recent judgment in New York may change things–and may make it a whole lot harder to find a bank to loan him money. In order to appeal, which his lawyers say he plans to do, he must put the full amount of the verdict in escrow or secure a bond–which makes him a massive target for corruption. As Forbes explains:

“The New York judgment barred him from borrowing from any financial institution “chartered by or registered with” the state. But a friendly fellow billionaire, a bank that doesn’t do business in New York or even a foreign entity could all do the trick, especially if they’re hoping to curry favor with the former—and potentially future—president.”

In a court filing, Trump offered a $100 million bond, suggesting he may need to sell properties if the full number is required. The New York Attorney General’s Office, in opposing this move, wrote that Trump “all but concede[s]” he has “insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment.”

Even if Trump is able to secure a bond for the hundreds of millions he currently owes, that would still place an additional financial burden on him. Bloomberg reports that Trump’s lenders, “would hold collateral that could include cash, real estate and other assets, while charging the debtor a fee of about 2%” and then charge Trump an additional nearly $5 million a year while he appeals the verdict, a process that could take years and eat up even more of his dwindling cash on hand.

Giving the highest and most powerful office in the land to someone deeply in debt and looking for ways to make back hundreds of millions of dollars he lost in court is a recipe for the kinds of corruption that aren’t theoretical when it comes to Trump. There’s a reason that you can’t get a job in the military or the financial services industry, or even referee a major sporting event, if you have a massive amount of debt. And you certainly aren’t getting a security clearance because you become too big of a target for corruption. 

Trump’s corruption has always brought with it a threat to national security because he viewed the office of the president as one of self-service rather than public service. He routinely used his position to give paying customers access to the highest officials in the country. He even allowed three Mar-a-Lago members with no government or military experience to shape his administration’s veterans policies in secret. And his first impeachment revolved around Trump’s use of national security aid to Ukraine as leverage for dirt on his political opponent. Even after leaving office, Trump reportedly shared classified nuclear submarine information with an Australian billionaire who only became a Mar-a-Lago member to ingratiate himself with the American president, paying generously to attend galas Trump would attend, while in private saying Trump does business “like the mafia.” 

Despite his financial ups and downs in office, one thing remained remarkably consistent: Trump’s laser focus on using the presidency to line his pockets. Thumbing his nose at the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, he signaled to foreign governments that the way to ingratiate themselves to his administration was to funnel money to his businesses, and they responded in kind. Special interest groups that wanted favors also got the hint, spending millions at his properties. By the end of his presidency, Trump saw the Secret Service alone spend even more than he would have earned as president at his businesses. All the while, his tax returns show that he was bringing in tens of millions of dollars from foreign sources. 

With half a billion dollars in new debt and his traditional lenders closed off to him, Donald Trump will have to find someone new to give him a huge amount of money in a very short time–and that is a major national security risk.

Trump Tower image by Mark Kent under a Creative Commons license.

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