WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump has filed financial disclosure statements that appear to misstate the value and profitability of his Scotland golf courses by $165 million, possibly violating federal laws that are punishable by jail time.
Trump claimed in his 2018 U.S. filing that his Turnberry and Aberdeen resorts were each worth more than $50 million. For that same time period, he filed balance sheets with the United Kingdom government showing that their combined debt exceeded their assets by 47.9 million British pounds ― the equivalent of $64.8 million at the exchange rate on Dec. 31, 2017, the date of the last U.K. filing available.
His 2018 “public financial disclosure” filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics also claims those two resorts earned him “income” of $23.8 million. His filings with the U.K. Companies House office in Edinburgh for that period showed the resorts had actually lost 4.6 million pounds ― equal to $6.3 million.
His U.S. disclosure statement also fails to mention $199.5 million in loans Trump has made to those resorts: $54.9 million from him personally to Trump International, Scotland in Aberdeenshire; $144.6 million from his trust to Trump Turnberry in Ayrshire.
Knowingly providing false or incomplete information on that form is a violation of the Ethics in Government Act punishable by up to a year in jail. Signing the form attesting to the untrue information constitutes making a false statement, punishable by up to five years in prison.
“The numbers don’t appear to add up,” said Virginia Canter, an ethics law expert with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She added, though, that OGE regulations give filers a fair amount of latitude in determining asset value. “That said, it’s not at all clear after reviewing the U.K. balance sheet for Aberdeen how they came to $50 million. … I think it raises legitimate questions.”
The White House declined to comment on the discrepancies between the U.S. and U.K. filings. Neither Sheri Dillon, Trump’s outside lawyer who handles his financial disclosures, nor The Trump Organization, his family business that operates the courses, responded to queries from HuffPost.
A History Of Fake Wealth
In any case, the false and missing information on his 2018 filing has been false and missing on Trump’s forms repeatedly, since before he even took office.
On May 16, 2016, for example, then-candidate Trump also claimed on his financial disclosure forms that the two Scotland resorts were worth more than $100 million, even though he filed papers with Companies House on Dec. 31, 2015, acknowledging that the courses had a combined value of negative $32.1 million.
U.S. filings also included erroneous information regarding Trump’s Doonbeg resort in Ireland, which similarly requires annual disclosures from privately held companies. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Trump told the Irish government that the course had lost millions of dollars ― $7.2 million in all. In that same period, Trump claimed on his American financial disclosures that the course had provided him tens of millions of dollars in income, totaling $37.4 million.
Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland offer unique insights into the state of Trump’s businesses because they are required to submit detailed financial documents annually, even though they are privately held. In the United States, where the vast majority of Trump’s businesses are located, there is no such disclosure requirement ― meaning there is no straightforward way of determining whether Trump has similarly misstated the asset value and profitability of his U.S. properties.
Americans would have a clearer understanding of the actual financial health of Trump’s businesses had he kept his initial promise to release his tax returns if he ran for president. But Trump reneged on that pledge almost immediately after entering the race. At first he claimed he would release the returns after “routine audits” had been completed, before eventually arguing that Americans had voted for him anyway and that they were not interested in seeing his taxes. In doing so, he became the first major-party nominee since Watergate to fail to disclose his returns.
Trump’s supposed great wealth was a major selling point for him during his campaign in the Republican primaries. Weeks after entering the race in June 2015, Trump declared in a press release that his net worth was “in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS.” In a recent speech, he claimed the presidency was forcing him to lose billions: “It’s probably costing me from three to five billion,” he told workers at a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania last week. “I don’t care. I want to do the right job.”
Both of those assertions are almost certainly false.
In the 2005 book TrumpNation, business journalist Timothy L. O’Brien wrote that Trump was most likely worth no more than $250 million, not the many billions of dollars he was claiming at the time. Trump sued him for defamation, but lost ― and in the process lied dozens of times about his business dealings in a deposition taken by O’Brien’s lawyers.
In 2015, National Journal found that Trump had made so many poor business decisions over the years that had he simply taken the fortune his father placed him in charge of in 1974 and put it into a broad index fund, he would have been far wealthier than he wound up.
Voters Backed Trump Anyway
Despite those and a great deal of other published reports that detailed his multiple casino bankruptcies and poor track record in business, Republican voters chose to support him anyway.
Rick Tyler, who worked for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, said Republican voters were not paying attention to news coverage that picked apart Trump’s creation myth. “His ostentatious opulence and his willingness to flaunt it led many Republicans to believe that he possessed the business acumen needed to straighten out Washington,” Tyler said. “Republicans should now acknowledge that assumption was false.”
Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a Trump critic, said he doubts Trump’s loyal supporters will care whether Trump is really as rich as he says or, frankly, whether he broke the law by falsifying his financial disclosure statement.
“It matters to me. But does it matter to voters? I think we had an election on that three years ago,” Cullen said. “It was all out there before the last election. And enough voters were able to set it aside.”
If Trump is, indeed, knowingly providing false or incomplete information about his golf courses, it would not be the first time he has violated the plain language requirements of the financial disclosure form.
His very first filing as president, on June 14, 2017, did not mention the $130,000 he owed Michael Cohen for paying hush money to a porn star in the days before the 2016 election. Trump disclosed that loan in his 2018 filing in the form of a footnote.
Cohen, who was Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer,” is now in federal prison after pleading guilty to a variety of crimes, including the election law violation on behalf of Trump.