Is the Times Revelation Just the Tip of the Iceberg?

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I mentioned this on Twitter a short time ago. Now I’m seeing others who know much more about this saying similar things. Here’s my thought. After thinking over the Times revelation, I wonder whether there’s a much, much bigger story here that the Times didn’t put together or more likely did see but couldn’t prove.

In any case, here’s what I’m thinking.

We’ve known for years that the collapse of Trump’s debt ridden casino empire in Atlantic City almost destroyed him more than two decades ago. He was able to wriggle through by a number of angles and connivances. But one of the biggest was that he was able to convince his lenders that they’d be even worse off if he was cleaned out and removed from the picture entirely. Convincing them that he was in essence too big or too important to fail, they took major ‘haircuts’ (losses) that allowed him to survive. He got others to absorb the impact of the losses, repackaged other parts and put them through bankruptcy, etc.

The key question is how much of the Atlantic City losses did Trump absorb in real terms? How much of those losses were forgiven or written off formally? And perhaps most importantly, how much of those losses were squirreled away or ‘parked’ in places which effectively put them in a sort of limbo or suspended animation – neither truly absorbed nor forgiven?

Here’s where the Times revelation comes into play.

If you sustain real capital losses, you can apply those losses to cancel out future income/profits and reduce your tax liability. But if your losses are canceled out by debt forgiveness, the debt forgiveness is counted as income. That cancels out the losses that would provide you with the tax benefit. In other words, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

But there are many ways to be crafty and end up with both – some of those may simply be aggressive and sleazy and others may be clearly illegal. Bigly. The most obvious way would be to create some new business entity which you technically continued to owe vast sums of money to but which never actually tried to collect – in other words, you ‘park’ your debt somewhere it will never be heard from again. Any place on the spectrum would go a long, long way to explaining both Trump’s abject refusal to release his tax returns and almost perennial audits.

The question is: did Trump really lose almost $1 billion of his own capital in a single year? He definitely took a bath in Atlantic City. So maybe he did. But that number at least strains credulity, especially given how he was subsequently able to recover.

This may be just the first hint of something quite a bit bigger than a momentary political embarrassment.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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