President Donald Trump’s massive debt highlighted in a New York Times report Sunday exposing his astonishingly low federal income tax payments makes him vulnerable to foreign influence — and a threat to national security, his biographer warned Monday.
Trump is in a position to use the power of his office to erase some of his $421 million debt revealed by the Times by obtaining lucrative deals for his international companies from foreign interests looking to curry favor with the U.S. government.
Due to Trump’s “indebtedness, his reliance on income from overseas and his refusal to authentically distance himself from his hodgepodge of business, Trump represents a profound national security threat — a threat that will only escalate if he’s reelected,” Timothy L. O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation,” warned in a Bloomberg column.
“The trade-offs someone like him would be willing to make to save his face and his wallet taint every public policy decision he makes — including issues around national security,” he wrote. If Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, can hypothetically “backchannel a loan or a handout to the president, how hard is Trump going to be on Russia?” added O’Brien, a former HuffPost executive editor.
Other observers agreed with O’Brien’s risk assessment.
Trump entered office with the biggest debts of any president in modern times. Deutsche Bank is a key Trump lender, but not all the sources of his loans are publicly known.
“Fundamentally, there’s the concern that a president who is personally on the hook for significant loans that come due while he’s the president might take official actions, or appear to take official actions, that are meant to alleviate the personal financial pressure he faces,” University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck told Rolling Stone magazine.
“Indeed, there’s a reason why the federal government generally won’t give security clearances to those who have significant debt — it’s because they’re too much of a risk,” noted Vladeck, an expert in national security law. “So, too, apparently, is the president of the United States.”
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander told Newsweek: “Substantial personal debt is one of the most common reasons security clearances are denied, because it’s so easily exploited or leveraged by foreign intelligence services.”
Attorney Andrew Weissmann, a key member of the investigation into Kremlin interference in the 2016 election, raised the possibility in a tweet Monday that Russia may be a source of Trump’s loans. Weissmann has just published a book, “Where Law Ends,” criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller for not pressing harder to examine Trump’s personal and business finances and any possible links to foreign interests.
Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in both 2016 and 2017; in 10 of the previous 15 years, he didn’t pay a cent, according to a Times analysis of several years of his tax returns. Much of his $421 million debt — for which he is personally responsible — must be repaid in four years, the Times reported.
Forbes senior editor Dan Alexander believes Trump’s debt is more like $1.1 billion, based on his examination of Securities and Exchange Commission documents with loan information about Trump properties.
Trump’s businesses — and his overwhelming debt — also influence domestic issues that may benefit him, warned Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Trump, for example, has repeatedly demanded that the Federal Reserve lower interest rates, which instantly earns him millions of dollars in annual interest payments on his loans. Americans with money in their local bank, on the other hand, lose interest on their savings.