‘I don’t owe Russia money,’ Trump says, while refusing to detail any foreign debts

Hunter Walker
·White House Correspondent
·5-min read

President Trump insisted during Thursday night’s town hall event on NBC that he does not “owe Russia money.” At the same time, however, he declined to release definitive information about his financial situation when asked about his leaked tax returns, which appear to show that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I don’t owe money to any of these sinister people. This has been going on for years now,” Trump said, adding, “It’s a whole hoax.”

“Today Show” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie questioned the president about a New York Times report published late last month that said Trump had, for years, paid very little or no money in federal income taxes and that he has hundreds of millions of dollars in loans coming due within the next four years.

“Who do you owe $421 million to?” Guthrie asked.

The president, who has described himself as a billionaire entrepreneur, and who ran a real estate company before taking office, initially responded by suggesting that it was “illegal” for anyone to provide a newspaper with his tax documents. According to the Times, the report was based on “tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization.” Trump also challenged the paper’s reporting.

“The numbers are all wrong with the numbers they released,” he said, while seeming to acknowledge that he does have debts, in describing himself as “very under-leveraged.”

“When you have a lot of real estate — I have real estate ... big stuff, great stuff — I’m very under-leveraged, fortunately,” he said, adding, “I have a very, very small percentage of debt. ... In fact, some of it I did as favors to institutions that wanted to loan me money.”

When Guthrie asked whether he was “confirming” the amount of debt that was reported by the Times, the president suggested that “$400 million compared to the assets that I have” was a negligible amount.

“It’s a tiny percentage of my net worth,” Trump added.

Trump is the first president in decades who has not divested from his business interests or released his tax returns. That lack of transparency, along with the recent reports and questions surrounding interference by the Kremlin in the 2016 election, has fueled speculation that Trump may potentially be in debt to Russian interests. He specifically denied this during Thursday’s town hall, implying his debts were “mortgages.”

“No, I don’t owe Russia money,” Trump said.

Guthrie responded by asking Trump if he owed money to “any foreign bank” or “foreign entity.” Without specifying when he would do so, the president then promised to detail his foreign debts.

“I will probably ... I will let you know who I owe whatever small amount of money,” he said.

Stressing that the amount is “very small,” Trump also suggested that the debts in question have all been disclosed on publicly available forms he was required to file when running for the presidency and when assuming the office.

“It’s very straight,” said Trump. “It’s very, very straight.”

Alan Garten, an executive vice president and chief legal officer at the president’s company, the Trump Organization, told Yahoo News that Trump’s financial disclosure forms detail all of his loans.

“All of his debts are fully disclosed,” Garten said, referring to the OGE 278-e form that Trump is required to file every year with the Office of Government Ethics.

These forms, which CNN has described as giving a “veiled view into the president’s finances,” do not require that Trump submit backup documentation.

President Donald Trump speaks during an NBC News Town Hall, at Perez Art Museum Miami, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Trump addresses an NBC News Town Hall at Pérez Art Museum Miami on Oct. 15, 2020, in Miami. (Evan Vucci/AP)

During the town hall, Guthrie told Trump he could “clear this up tonight” by releasing his tax returns. Trump has previously suggested he could not make his returns public because he is “under audit.” The Times also reported that Trump is currently under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, adding that no rule prevents a person under audit from sharing his or her tax returns.

Trump seemed to acknowledge Thursday that he could make his return public, but argued that it would be inadvisable for him to release the documents while he is being examined by the IRS. He further suggested that IRS personnel who served at the agency during the tenure of President Barack Obama are treating him “very badly,” for political reasons.

“No person in their right mind would release prior to working out the deal with the IRS,” Trump said, adding, “People in there from previous administrations … treat me very badly, but we’re under audit. It’s very routine in many ways.”

In describing Trump’s debts, the Times reported that for over a decade, Trump paid zero dollars in income taxes and just $750 both in 2016, the year he was elected president, and in 2017. Pressed on this by Guthrie, Trump dismissed $750 as “a statutory number.”

“I think it’s a filing number, you pay $750, it’s a ... filing fee,” he said.

He concluded by asserting that it would be “illegal” for anyone to provide his returns to reporters and by repeating his claim that “their numbers were wrong.” He also reiterated his insistence that he is willing to disclose his creditors, and described them as “normal banks” and “not a big deal.”

“I would not mind at all saying who it is,” Trump said of his creditors. “But it’s a very small ... when you look at vast properties like I have.”

The president went on to tout his real estate portfolio.

“They’re big, and they’re beautiful, and they’re well located,” he said. “When you look at that, the amount of money, $400 million, is a peanut.”

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