A Trump biographer who has seen the president's tax returns believes his debt is worse than the $421m reported in The New York Times, saying it makes him a mark to blackmail by someone like Russian president Vladimir Putin.
TrumpNation author Tim O'Brien, who Donald Trump sued for libel in 2006, wrote in a Bloomberg opinion column that his legal team obtained the president's tax returns and his "overall indebtedness is greater than the Times tally".
“If Trump is unable to meet his debt payments, he’s either going to have to sell assets or get bailed out by a friend with funds,” Mr O’Brien wrote.
“Trump has never liked to sell anything, even when it’s haemorrhaging money. So if he’s tempted to save himself by getting a handout, that makes him a mark.”
The New York Times’ tally of Mr Trump's liability is $421m, with most of it coming due within four years, according to two decades of the president's tax information obtained by the publication.
Mr O'Brien believes the total is closer to the $1.1bn estimated on Sunday night by Forbes senior editor Dan Alexander, who based his figure on a running tally he's been covering since 2016 for an upcoming book, White House Inc.
"Now that's more like it," Mr O'Brien wrote. "Trump has been bloviating about being worth $10 billion ever since he entered the 2016 presidential race, a figure that simply isn’t true."
Mr O'Brien said he won the libel case against Mr Trump in 2011, and while he couldn't disclose the specifics of what he saw in the tax returns, he believes the president is worth a fraction what he says, and the larger his indebtedness becomes, the more strain it puts on his assets.
The Covid-19 pandemic would have taken a particular toll on Mr Trump's real estate, travel and leisure assets, which Mr O’Brien said wouldn't be notable if he was just a "reality TV oddity".
Given he's in the White House, however, that makes Mr Trump a "profound national security threat".
"He’s president, and 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," Mr O'Brien wrote.
"If Vladimir Putin, for example, can backchannel a loan or a handout to the president, how hard is Trump going to be on Russia? Not that we should worry about Trump’s relationship with Putin. That’s just a hypothetical question."