David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who wrote for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He’s the author of seven books, including The Making of Donald Trump, and most recently, It’s Even Worse Than You Think, What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. He’s also editor of dcreport.org. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: That special Sunday section of The New York Times had 14,000 words, 11 pages of text and documentation, reporting on what they called “suspect tax schemes” that helped preserve what they called “a vast inherited fortune”—real estate and cash that Donald Trump got from his father, Fred. What do you consider their most important findings?
David Cay Johnston: It’s the most extraordinary thing: The New York Times said that the sitting president of the United States engaged in “outright fraud.” From the documents, the 100,000-plus pages of mostly private Trump family documents, backed up by various public records, and interviews and other work they’ve done, two things can be said: Donald Trump in particular, and the Trump family as a whole, are criminal tax cheats. They won’t ever be indicted for the crimes the Times described, because the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution is only six years, and the Times covers a half-century from the 1950s to the turn of the century. They can be prosecuted for civil fraud for every single dollar, and Donald has already had two civil tax-fraud trials. He lost both of them.
Secondly, Donald Trump’s claim that he is a self-made man, and that he’s worth $10 billion—these claims are complete and utter nonsense. They’ve been demolished now by the Times. That second story, however, isn’t getting through. Forbes magazine just came out saying Donald Trump’s wealth has fallen from four billion dollars to three billion, and every day on TV and on the radio, I hear news people talking about “the billionaire president.” But there is not now, nor has there ever been, a scintilla of verifiable evidence that Trump has a billion-dollar net worth. During the campaign he told us all he was worth more than $10 billion. I kept saying, that’s nonsense, it’s not true.
JW: What’s the evidence here?
DCJ: Once he became president, Trump had to file his financial-disclosure form. As I report in It’s Even Worse Than You Think, his lawyers asked to file that statement without signing it under penalty of perjury. The Office of Government Ethics said “No. You have to sign that statement.” Everybody has to sign, under penalty of perjury. So he did. The statement shows a net worth not of $10 billion, but of $1.4 billion. What more do you need to know to understand that Trump just makes this stuff up? And even the $1.4 billion is not to be believed. For example, he says his two Scottish golf courses are each worth more than $50 million. But we just got their new financial reports. Yet again, for another year, they’ve lost millions of dollars. They’re not worth $50 million. They may be literally worthless, except for the real-estate value—if you get permission to redevelop them. His businesses are losing money all over the place. And the rules for the presidential disclosure do not require Trump to disclose all sorts of loans that he is obligated for. If we had a real net worth statement on Donald Trump, it would probably show he’s worth a few hundred million dollars. That’s all.