News Brief: Trump Wealth, Brett Kavanaugh's Nomination

Oct 3, 2018
Originally published on October 3, 2018 7:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There was a time when President Trump boasted that he might be the first person ever to make a profit off running for president.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But the value of the Trump brand appears to be in decline. Forbes has come out with a new estimate of the president's net worth. It's going down just as The New York Times reports that much of the Trump fortune was the result of elaborate schemes to avoid taxes.

INSKEEP: Forbes magazine reporter Dan Alexander has been reporting extensively on President Trump's finances, and he's on the line.

Good morning.

DAN ALEXANDER: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what is the source of the decline in the president's estimated net worth from - what - about $4.5 billion down to $3.1 billion?

ALEXANDER: That's right. And that's from the time that he came down the escalator and announced that he was running for president until today. Basically, the big categories here are, you know, he used to put his name on everything - so on buildings and on products. And the product end of things has just totally gone almost to zero. Nobody really wants to be associated with him from a, you know, product licensing standpoint. It's just a big risk. And developers aren't doing much with him now these days either.

And then if you look at the fact that he still owns a bunch of condos in places that generally don't like him very much - the value of those condos is going in the opposite direction of the overall real estate market. So for instance, in New York, you know, residential real estate continues to climb. Meanwhile, if you look at the sales in Trump buildings, they're going way down. So that means that the basket of condos that he still owns are worth less than they once were.

INSKEEP: Well, let me...

ALEXANDER: And then, on top of that - sorry. Go ahead.

INSKEEP: No, I was just going to say, let me ask about why he is not succeeding in making a little extra money because there have been plenty of stories about the president allegedly trying to monetize the presidency, promoting his own resorts by spending so much time there. He's got a hotel in the middle of Washington where a lot of Republicans stay. Why isn't that increasing his fortune?

ALEXANDER: Well, it's not that he's not trying. And those things are increasing those parts of his fortune. So the D.C. hotel is up. Mar-a-Lago, which you know, he's made this world-famous destination, is now more valuable than it was. But you have to look at all these things together. And if you balance them all - net, he's down an estimated $200 million since he got into politics strictly from the effect of politics.

INSKEEP: Two hundred million dollars strictly from the effect of politics - and the overall decline is even more, more than a billion dollars overall.

ALEXANDER: That's right.

INSKEEP: Wow.

Well, let me ask about the New York Times reporting here. It's a very, very long article. I believe they even had to extend the size of the print newspaper to get it all in.

ALEXANDER: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Lots of reporting - they say 100,000 pages of documents were the basis of this, along with a lot of interviews. And they say that President Trump made a lot of money off of his father. He'd previously said he hardly got any money from his dad. But apparently, his parents transferred money to him from the time that he was a toddler, largely as part of tax avoidance schemes, and he ended up making hundreds of millions of dollars. Does that fit your reporting on the president's finances?

ALEXANDER: It does. You know, he was on our first Forbes 400 list in 1982 with a fortune of $200 million. The next year, he and his dad called us up and said - oh, actually it's all Donald's. So and before, they had split it with his father and with Donald. So now Donald suddenly had $400 million. Now, if you look at that sort of rough number, that's a $200 million increase back in 1983. If you appreciate that for inflation, that's about $500 million.

INSKEEP: Wow.

ALEXANDER: So the fact that he inherited a lot of money was known, but the exact mechanisms of it was not. This is an unbelievable story.

INSKEEP: And the claim that he only ever got a million dollars from his dad and it was a loan and that was it - was always bogus, it sounds like. He himself said something different.

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I don't think anybody took that very seriously for very long.

INSKEEP: Dan Alexander of Forbes, thanks very much.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Now, when the president talks, he sometimes slurs his words. And his words about public policy are often disjointed.

MARTIN: But in a speech last night, President Trump found a theme he seemed more comfortable with - defending people he believes are falsely accused of sexual misconduct. He took the opportunity to mock a woman who says she was sexually assaulted. The president was speaking of Christine Blasey Ford, who says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attacked her during a party when they were both in high school. But Ford has not recalled every detail. Trump described her testimony this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had one beer. Right? I had one beer. Well, you think it was - nope, it was one beer. Oh, good. How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know. I don't know.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: The president himself had described Ford as credible just days ago. His outburst to a cheering crowd in Mississippi comes as the Senate prepares to vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation.

INSKEEP: And the fight over that vote has, in some ways, been changing the United States Senate, a development with long-term implications. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been watching it happen, and she's in our studios.

Good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's different about the Senate?

SNELL: Things are testy things. Things are - we're watching the senators fight with each other basically on the Senate floor, which is not something they typically do. They keep their fights to the hallways or, you know, to sniping in private. But this has become an intensely political fight. And it's not just about whether or not, you know, Blasey Ford's memory was exactly what she said it would be. It was also, in some ways, about the treatment and the conversation around sexual assault and the idea that it could be becoming a more political conversation. It's something that Senator Bob Corker mentioned to me when I caught up with him yesterday.

INSKEEP: Let's listen.

BOB CORKER: I know a lot about sexual assault. The thought that we don't care about that is ridiculous. But that's the way it's being portrayed. And you know, it's a shame.

SNELL: Now, Corker is retiring. And he's had his very public clashes with the president in the past. But it does bring up this idea that comments like Trump is making make it harder for Republicans to keep this out of the political realm and keep this focused on moving Kavanaugh forward as a conservative judge that they support for his judicial record.

INSKEEP: I guess the implication of someone like Corker is they'd really rather sexual assault not be something that we have to politically debate, something we could all agree is a bad thing...

SNELL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...And that should be prosecuted or should be dealt with in some very direct way. And instead, it's become this matter of intense political debate.

You said people are tense. I want to underline that for people who don't follow the Senate every day. I'm sure these guys have never really liked each other necessarily. But something's different now.

SNELL: Yeah. I mean, they get into arguments. But the Senate is kind of - its title is the world's greatest deliberative body. And part of that is that they like to get into debates. They talk to each other. They work out in the gym together. But I'm hearing stories about staff meetings that are becoming public griping sessions where people are just complaining about each other.

And it's also getting a little bit tense for senators who are worried about their safety. Now, I walk around the Capitol almost every day, and it's very rare to see somebody who isn't a top leader with a police escort. But Republican members the Senate Judiciary Committee are walking around public spaces with police officers at their sides. And people are being confronted in airports. It's become quite - it's a big change.

MARTIN: The fact of the matter, though, is that the president sees this as a political winner for him...

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: ...This message. He was asked by a reporter, Peter Alexander of NBC, yesterday - do you have a message for young men in this moment? The president responded, it's a very scary time for young men in America.

That's not something, I imagine, that senators ahead of a midterm want to double down on.

SNELL: No because Republicans, in particular, are fighting for the vote of women. And we've talked about that very often, but that is coming up yet again.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANK OCEAN SONG, "NIGHTS")

INSKEEP: All right. The embattled prime minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, is giving a speech this morning at the annual meeting of her Conservative Party.

MARTIN: This week, her rivals have attacked her plan for Brexit with what many also see as an eye to replacing her as prime minister. Meanwhile, there are just two weeks left before May is supposed to meet with the European Union and come up with yet another new plan that they might accept.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been at the party's meeting in - do they say Bir-mingham (ph) in...

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Bir-mingham, yes.

INSKEEP: ...Birmingham, England, this week. And he's now back in London. What do we expect from this speech, Frank?

LANGFITT: Well, I think the context is probably the most important thing in the sense that Brexit is the biggest challenge - we've talked about this before - that the U.K. has faced, probably since the end of World War II. There's tremendous uncertainty here, a question about the leadership and the direction of the country. And people are expecting her to strike an optimistic note. But they're going to be, I think, more focused on her presence - her confidence, her delivery. Can she convince people, at this very difficult time, that she can pull off a Brexit deal when the EU is against it - what she's pitched - as well as many members of her own party?

And last month, you know, when the EU rejected her Brexit plan, people here saw that as a public humiliation. She needs to come out and appear strong, especially, as you were pointing out, there are rivals who are clearly eyeing the waters here and may be looking for an opening. And of course, Steve, if you remember from last year, it's got to be a lot better than last year's speech because she got into a terrible coughing fit, and that was deemed a disaster. This should be better.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. So hopefully, she's got some water up there. But...

LANGFITT: Indeed.

INSKEEP: ...Boris Johnson, just to name one rival - not too happy with her at the moment.

LANGFITT: No, not at all. He actually came out yesterday - what's called a fringe event, away from the main venue - and he told the party to just ditch her plan, which her plan calls for a closer relationship with the EU. He called it a cheat, an outrage. These are very strong words at a party meeting and not what people voted for back in 2016. He wants a sharper break and a more independent of Britain. And here's some of what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BORIS JOHNSON: If we get it wrong now and we proceed with this undemocratic solution - if we remain half-in, half-out, we will protract this toxic, tedious business.

INSKEEP: Protract - we will protract the toxic, tedious...

LANGFITT: (Laughter) It was classic Boris. That's classic Boris.

INSKEEP: Although you know - I mean, it's just - it has been pretty toxic and pretty tedious. It's the same story over and over again. How is Theresa May responding to this?

LANGFITT: Well, she kind of put him down. She said, oh, you know, Boris always puts on a good show. But she said his plan doesn't do anything to avoid a hard border - a new border on the island of Ireland, which is a big issue and people are very concerned about. Johnson is known to be very ambitious. But many in the conference, actually, that I talked to at the meeting up in Birmingham don't think he's necessarily the right person for the job at this time. He's charismatic. He's entertaining, sometimes buffoonish. But he's not really a detail guy, and trade negotiations are all about detail. They're very delicate.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that I understand the bottom line here, Frank Langfitt.

LANGFITT: Sure.

INSKEEP: It sounds like Britain's Conservatives continue to argue among themselves among variations on a plan...

LANGFITT: Yep.

INSKEEP: ...All of which are totally unacceptable to the Europeans anyway.

LANGFITT: I mean, at this point, most of it - Boris' plan could be - but it creates other - potentially some very big economic problems for the United Kingdom, the fear of kind of walking away. So that's the big concern here is, can they get a plan that doesn't damage the economy and that the EU and Parliament will agree to?

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.