Here’s proof that Donald Trump’s claim about financial disclosures being superior to tax returns is false

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Trump made at least $434 million in 2018, which is — and this is a scientific term — a lot! But of course, we already knew that Trump was wealthy. While you can debate just how rich he is, most of those conversations start in the billions, and that means you have a huge amount of money.

What this financial disclosure doesn’t show us — in any sort of detail — is a) how much, specifically, Trump made (and from where) and b) how much his businesses owe — and to whom.

The range on the financial disclosure report makes that sort of specificity laughable. Trump is only required to report income in broad categories like $1 million to $5 million or over $5 million. That broadness makes any sort of attempted forensic analysis pointless.

Which brings me to Trump’s regular contention that financial disclosure forms are far more insightful into his financial standing than his tax returns would be. (Trump is the only post-Watergate president to refuse to release any of his past tax returns.) Here’s how Trump put it in a press conference he held the day after the 2018 midterm elections:

“People don’t understand tax returns. Now, I did do a (financial disclosure) filing of over a hundred pages, I believe, which is in the offices. And when people went and saw that filing and they saw the magnitude of it, they were very disappointed. And they saw the — you know, the detail. You get far more from that. And I guess we filed that, now, three times. But you get far more from that than you could ever get from a tax return.”

You don’t. Period. No tax professional or financial expert would say that. According to Forbes’ Chase Peterson-Withorn — citing federal ethics laws: “Trump must disclose the companies he owns, but not how much they’re truly worth or exactly how much money he’s making from these businesses. He doesn’t have to say who any of his business partners are or disclose any of the debts held by his businesses.”

With a normal president, that might not be all that big a deal. After all, most presidents prior to Trump have not had the sort of massive global company that he sat atop prior to being elected. Past presidents also revealed at least some of their past tax returns. And generally speaking, they put their businesses in a blind trust — meaning that their investments, gains and losses were managed by a neutral third party — with zero input of influence from the president.

Trump has done none of those things. While Trump said he was handing the Trump business entirely to his sons, Don Jr. and Eric, and that he was “completely isolating” himself from the business, subsequent reports have shown that is simply not the case. As CNN’s Jill Disis noted back in 2017:

“He has the right to take cash payments from the businesses anytime he wants. …The clause says Trump can receive ‘net income or principal’ from his trust when he requests it and when the trustees managing his account — his two oldest sons and a Trump Organization executive — deem it necessary.”

Which ain’t exactly in keeping with “completely isolating” himself from the company.

The reality that the release of his annual financial disclosure report drives home is that Trump is simultaneously a) the modern president with the most fingers in a variety of business pots and income streams and b) the least transparent modern president about his financial holdings and his relationship while in office to them.

Like him or hate him, those are facts. And they make clear that Trump’s claims of financial transparency are just words.



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