If Donald Trump is so rich, why does the presidency seem so cheap?

Yana Paskova/Getty ImagesMichael Cohen.
  • If Donald Trump is so rich, why does his personal lawyer seem so desperate for money?
  • If Donald Trump keeps showing us he’s not that rich, why do people keep calling him a billionaire? (Stop it!)
  • We don’t actually know how much someone is worth until we see it with our own eyes.

If Donald Trump is so rich, why is the presidency so cheap right now?

According to The New York Times, a bunch of people and corporations paid Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohn, for “insight” into the presidency. This included an investment firm connected to Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg, who was recently stopped and questioned by federal investigators, they paid Cohen a total of over $US1 million.

Those payments continued up to this January, long after special counsel Robert Mueller initiated his investigation into the Trump administration and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. This is a massive risk, and it shows us that people around the president are cheap and desperate.

It’s a lot to risk for just $US1 million – especially if you already work for a billionaire real estate magnate. But what if you don’t?

Then you might need to do some of the other work outlined in the Times story. Korea Aerospace Industries (which is partnering with Lockheed Martin on a huge project), Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, and AT&T also paid Cohen, though none of those payments broke $US400,000.

This isn’t a lot for any of those companies. AT&T alone spent just under $US16.8 million on lobbying last year.

Cohen also collected some money as payment for silencing another Playboy Bunny who allegedly had an affair with Republican National Committee finance chair and lobbyist Elliott Broidy (at least, if you really believe that Cohen was working for him – I’m not convinced).

That’s shady, but the Vekselberg stuff is beyond that – it’s dangerous. Taking that money during the Mueller investigation suggests Cohen needs money badly. Working for Trump clearly hasn’t been enough to save him from the decimation of his real source of wealth, taxi cabs. Ride-sharing apps like Uber have drastically reduced the value of the fleet of cabs he’s owned for decades. According to Bloomberg, he’s had to put his family’s estimated $US9 million home up as collateral for all his bank debts.

This does not sound like a trouble the consigliere of a billionaire real estate family should have.

Cohen is cheap because the president is not that rich

Last year when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow produced a couple of Trump’s tax return from 2005, we all kind of shrugged. It didn’t have a Russia smoking gun, and that’s what everyone seemed to be looking for.

My actual billionaire sources on Wall Street gave me a different take – I walked through it here. In sum, the documents show Trump made a mere $US16 million off of an alleged $US1.4 billion fortune in 2005. This before the financial crisis had any impact on real estate prices. You could get 4% just from 10-year Treasury bonds back then, meaning you’d be netting $US40 million just by parking $US1 billion in the safest investment on the planet.

By the way, you can fake being a billionaire more easily than you think in our ingenuous country. Our commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, did it for decades. All he had to do was give the people at Forbes magazine a ballpark estimate and they went with it. This happened up until last year.

It only stopped because financial documents he provided to the government during his confirmation didn’t stack up with information he gave to Forbes, and someone actually started asking questions. Ross was then forced to release a statement admitting that he’s been misleading people about his personal wealth for years.

“The estimate of my wealth reported in the press is not accurate,” he wrote in a letter. “The accurate information in my nominee public financial disclosure report…”

Trump and Ross have been friends for years, part of a Palm Beach set renowned for social climbing and incredibly ugly shirts.

Journalists, here’s how we can help make sense of all this. Stop referring to Trump as a billionaire until we have actual proof. As we learned with Ross, people can get away with lying about their wealth for a very long time (partly because we the media are complicit), so we don’t actually know how much someone is worth until we see it with our own eyes.

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