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NYT investigation unearths new details about Trump’s early millions

The New York Times has published a special investigation that digs deep into the Trump family finances. It paints a detailed picture of how the president used potentially illegal tax schemes to acquire millions from his father. The account contradicts President Trump's long-repeated narrative that he was a self-made man. Judy Woodruff talks with Susanne Craig, a Times investigative reporter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The New York Times has just published a special investigation that digs deep into the Trump family finances. It paints a detailed picture of how the president used potentially illegal tax schemes to acquire millions from his father.

    The account contradicts President Trump's long repeated narrative that he was a self-made man. The Times scoured court papers and a — quote — "vast trove" of confidential tax returns and financial records.

    Susanne Craig is an investigator reporter for The Times. She worked on the story. And she joins us now.

    Susanne Craig, welcome.

    We're told you spent 18 months working on this. The printout of the story by my count is 38 pages. So, I know it's hard for me to ask you to condense it, but, in essence, what are you saying the president and his family, especially his father, did?

  • Susanne Craig:

    Well, I think there's two main findings here.

    One is that the inheritance that Donald Trump got from his father is far greater than anybody has imagined. He has stated things like he got a simple $1 million dollar loan, he paid it back with interest. There's been stories that have said it was larger. We have been able to identify it to hundreds of millions of dollars, more than 400.

    But, even more important, he was able to get that vast inheritance because it was swelled through fraudulent tax schemes that we uncovered as we went through this incredible trove of financial documents that we found.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, we should say at the outset that the president's lawyer Charles Harder has issued a statement saying The New York Times' "allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false and highly defamatory."

    We also have a statement from President Trump's brother Robert Trump, who says, "All appropriate gift and estate tax returns were filed. The required taxes were paid."

    I want to get that out there on the record before I ask you, though, about what exactly was the tax method, the tax scheme, whatever term you use, that Trump's father, Fred Trump, used in order to pass this money along?

  • Susanne Craig:

    Well, it's interesting.

    There's several that are discussed in the stories, and they have varying levels of either tax fraud or tax avoidance, tax evasion. But the main one that we found is a — it was a company called All County.

    And the backstory to it is, Fred Trump, when he became in his 80s, he owned dozens of buildings around New York, and they — he was getting all of them — he had very little debt on the buildings, and he had mountains of cash in these buildings.

    And the children realize that, if he died at some point — he was getting to be in his 80s — that they would be stuck with paying a 55 percent inheritance tax on the money.

    So, what they did is, they created a company. It was called All County Building Supply. And they were shareholders of it. And what they did was, Fred Trump, as part of running the buildings, had to buy everything, from boilers, paint, plumbing supplies, all this stuff. And he would pay vendors for it.

    And one day, All County started buying it. They would pay the vendors and then they would send a separate check up to their dad, and it would be padded anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so…

  • Susanne Craig:

    And they would pocket the difference.

    And then the interesting thing about that is, they would then pocket the difference and then, separately, they used these padded receipts, and they sent them, and they used them to justify — the padded receipts to justify rent increases on their tenants that were living in rent-regulated buildings.

    We have the receipts where they did this. And we also have testimony from depositions we obtained where they say they did this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're — in other words, they went to quite elaborate steps. They took extraordinary steps to avoid paying additional millions and millions of dollars in taxes.

  • Susanne Craig:

    They took elaborate steps, but, in that case, it's a pretty straightforward scheme that's kind of gangster-esque. I mean, it's like one day you're paying him, now you're paying me, and it's 20 percent more.

    It's just happened to be their father. And they were able — through doing this, they were able to drain that cash that he was sitting on, his buildings were sitting on, tens and tens of millions, which we saw when we started looking at the financial documents they have.

    They were able to take it out to avoid the 55 percent estate, or death tax, as they call it. And that's kind of the main one that we found that was emblematic of some of the other things that were going on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Susanne Craig, among other things, you write that Fred Trump — Trump, the president's father, was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel his wealth to his children.

    What was President Trump's role in that?

  • Susanne Craig:

    Well, he was — he was, for many years of his life, a recipient. It's incredible, when we started digging into it. Not only were there trust funds, but Fred Trump over his life he made — he made his children his bankers.

    Instead of loaning — instead of borrowing money from a bank, he would borrow money from them. They had money in trusts. They would set up loans and he would pay them interest. He paid Donald Trump consulting fees. There was just these incredible streams of revenue that were coming from Fred Trump to his — to his kids in order to get money to them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And are you able to identify in the piece what is out and out potentially illegal and what was just on the edge of what might have been legal?

  • Susanne Craig:

    We do. The one that I mentioned is out and out — as far as we're concerned, out and out fraud.

    And not only was the All County, the one where they were pooling the money out of the buildings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Susanne Craig:

    They then passed — they passed some of that burden on to their — to their tenants. And that sort of goes into things, including wire fraud, according to the people that we have talked to.

    And then there was other things that they did with their father's estate that both border on tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax fraud. And in one instance, just a simple example, Donald Trump has been — his siblings, Robert Trump and Maryanne Barry Trump, they signed off on their father's estate.

    And in doing so, they had to verify the accuracy of all the gift returns that were submitted. Some of those had things, like they did — the gifts they knew that they had gotten from All County, they didn't disclose them. And so that becomes again another potential crime that they committed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as you say, this fights the narrative from the president that he made millions on his own, that he inherited very, very little.

  • Susanne Craig:

    Yes. And that's one of the incredible things is just the story of a father and a son and this relationship that they had through the years, and just how Donald Trump created this narrative in his — when he in 1976, when he wasn't far out of Wharton, that he basically appropriated his father's wealth as his own.

    In newspaper stories, he made a huge splash in Manhattan, "I'm worth hundreds of millions of dollars".

    Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was Fred Trump's money.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Susanne Craig, extraordinary reporting, 38 pages when you print it out at The New York Times. Thank you.

  • Susanne Craig:

    Thank you.

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