The Slatest

Trump’s Taxes Show the President Has an Awful Lot of China-Linked Financial Interests

Xi Jinping, Donald Trump
Photos by Dan Kitwood and Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s compulsion to accuse others of what he himself stands accused of continues unabated in the 2020 race, with Trump trying to tar Joe Biden as somehow in the pocket of China. Trump has painted Biden’s son Hunter, unironically, as an opportunist profiteer trying to get rich off his father’s position and stature. Hmm … sound familiar? Now, down in the polls and desperate, Trump has gone all-in on this approach, and his allies in the Senate have obliged by elaborating on Trump’s fabulist version of events, issuing a report saying Hunter Biden “opened a bank account” with a Chinese businessman as part of his web of connections to “foreign nationals and foreign governments across the globe.” Which candidate are we talking about again?

On Tuesday, we got a reminder from the latest New York Times deep dive into the president’s taxes that Trump’s accusations, as always, are lifted directly from his own life to an extent that borders on plagiarism. The Times reporting showed it was, in fact, Trump who has tried for a decade to make financial inroads into China; it was Trump who has a (previously unknown) corporate bank account in the country, one of only three foreign accounts the company maintains; and it is Trump who has absorbed millions of dollars from Chinese and Chinese American entities at his different properties since becoming president. The Times’ latest report doesn’t deliver a hammer blow to the president, but that’s only because standards of presidential conduct apparently no longer exist and it’s likely the tip of the iceberg, an opening salvo into Trump’s murky financial ties to China that will likely be investigated for years to come even after he leaves office.

“[Trump] spent a decade unsuccessfully pursuing projects in China, operating an office there during his first run for president and forging a partnership with a major government-controlled company,” the Times explains. “And it turns out that China is one of only three foreign nations—the others are Britain and Ireland—where Mr. Trump maintains a bank account, according to an analysis of the president’s tax records, which were obtained by The New York Times. The foreign accounts do not show up on Mr. Trump’s public financial disclosures, where he must list personal assets, because they are held under corporate names. The identities of the financial institutions are not clear.”

The implications and extent of Trump’s ties are hard to discern, intentionally obscured by opaque corporate accounting, but what is clear is that the ties are there. Are the dealings appropriate? Or not? Given everything we know so far, I’ll leave it to you to speculate on that. The Times notes, “Many Chinese government approvals came after he became president. (The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump also won Chinese trademark approvals for her personal business after she joined the White House staff.) … Until last year, China’s biggest state-controlled bank rented three floors in Trump Tower, a lucrative lease that drew accusations of a conflict of interest for the president.”

Here’s more from the Times on Trump’s sudden ability to gin up business with individuals connected to the Chinese state:

Outside of China, Mr. Trump has had more success attracting wealthy Chinese buyers for his properties in other countries. His hotels and towers in Las Vegas and Vancouver, British Columbia—locales known for attracting Chinese real estate investors—have found numerous Chinese purchasers, and in at least one instance drew the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

During the 2016 campaign, a shell company controlled by a Chinese couple from Vancouver bought 11 units, for $3.1 million, in the Las Vegas tower Mr. Trump co-owns with the casino magnate Phil Ruffin. The owner of a Las Vegas-based financial services firm told The Times he was later visited by two F.B.I. agents asking about the company behind the purchases, which he said had used his office address in incorporation papers without his knowledge. It is not known what became of the inquiry.

And not long after winning the 2016 election, Mr. Trump reported selling a penthouse in one of his Manhattan buildings for $15.8 million to a Chinese-American businesswoman named Xiao Yan Chen, who bought the unit, previously occupied by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in an off-market transaction. Ms. Chen runs an international consulting firm and reportedly has high-level connections to government and political elites in China.

In a normal world, you’d think a politician with these financial ties to China wouldn’t want to make the race about who is or is not in the pocket of Beijing. But here we are.