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President Trump is a great actor, ‘not a great businessman’

U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the White House residence for Marine One as White House interns cheer him on on the South Lawn of the White House on September 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Following the release of President Trump’s financial records in the New York Times, KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross spoke with David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, who has been close to this story since the beginning.

He says he has no idea who the source is that released the records.

“If I did, I would be there now instead of talking to you,” Fahrenthold told Dave. “… The New York Times, which published these great stories about the president’s tax returns, says that its sources had legal access to the documents, but they haven’t said any more than that.”

There is a congressional committee that can see these records, but Fahrenthold says what was released is more than what that committee would be allowed to view.

Fahrenthold said he was mostly surprised by two things. First, that Trump only paid $750 total in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. And second was the size of the losses at Trump’s hotels and golf courses.

“It seems like almost all of them were terrible investments, even before COVID, losing tens of millions of dollars a year, which adds up to sort of this pretty significant financial crunch for him in … the next couple of years as he faces loan payments coming due at properties that certainly cannot pay the loans for themselves,” he said.

As far as illegality, Fahrenthold says it’s hard to say for sure as it depends a lot on minutia.

“Just as an example, they say that he apparently asked the IRS for $73 million tax refund in 2010, … the IRS gave it to him and then asked questions later,” he said. “And so they’ve been fighting for 10 years about whether the losses that he claimed … [for] that refund were justified. So was that illegal? I don’t know — they’ve spent 10 years fighting over it.”

Dave also said it appears as if Trump did The Apprentice because he needed the money.

“This is something I think we’ve always known about Trump, but the Times really puts numbers on it, and you see it much more clearly, which is that Donald Trump’s not a great businessman,” Fahrenthold said. “He’s a great actor. He’s a great person playing a businessman, and he played it really well on The Apprentice. But then after The Apprentice, and he got a pile of money, $400 million plus for being that actor on The Apprentice, he then, in not a great move, tried to be the businessman that he’d always claimed to be.”

He started spending the money on golf courses, hotels, and those have been “generally terrible,” Fahrenthold said.

Ross: 1900s Clinton controversy gives Trump a useful template

Looking toward the first presidential candidate debate Tuesday between Trump and Joe Biden, Fahrenthold thinks the Times story has actually bolstered Trump’s argument that there’s no evidence of foreign influence.

“Trump could say, ‘look, you know, … the Times has looked at all this stuff and showed I don’t have that connection,'” Fahrenthold said. “… Trump could say that, what he actually is saying is, ‘the Times story is all fake, it’s all made up.’ So he may not cite that, but that certainly could be an argument he could take if he wants to admit the Times stories.”

“It’s a real change in the way he was in 2016 — 2016, if you remember, people kind of guessed at the time that he was paying very little income tax and he was like, ‘that makes me smart, I’m going to get in and I’m going to reform the system so that I can help the little guy and take down the big guy.’ Which, of course, he has not done,” Fahrenthold added. “But the argument now seems not to be that anymore — not that makes me smart and I’m going to fix the system, but it’s all fake, don’t believe it.”

Trump needs to show himself as a competent leader in the debate tonight, Fahrenthold said. For Biden, he says the bar is lower.

“For Biden, there are some significant stakes for him, too, because Trump and other people aligned with Trump have spent so much time pushing the argument that Biden is basically in mental decline, that he can’t finish a sentence, he doesn’t know where he is,” he said. “So … that’s lowered the bar for Biden. Biden needs to prove to people that he is sharp, he’s a good debater, that he’s able to sort of go back and forth with Trump.”

“Like any presidential debate, the stakes are high for both people,” he added. “Probably won’t change anybody’s mind, but if somebody screws up on a big scale, it could be a really election changing moment.”

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Fahrenthold joins KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross every Tuesday on Seattle’s Morning News. Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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