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Who does Trump owe hundreds of millions of dollars to?

He has personally guaranteed $421 million in debt. We know some information about it.

President Donald Trump sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office making a thumbs-up gesture.
President Donald Trump at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2019.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The New York Times’s blockbuster report on President Trump’s tax records has drawn new attention to the fact that Trump is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, with much of that debt coming due in the next four years.

This has led to much speculation about to whom the president might owe so much money, and why.

But in fact, the answer — or at least, part of the answer — has long been known. Trump owes hundreds of millions of dollars each to two financial institutions: Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital.

Trump revealed this in his financial disclosure forms when he first ran for president in 2016, and journalists like Russ Choma of Mother Jones have been writing about it since. Choma wrote another piece on this earlier this summer, making the case that Trump’s half a billion in loans coming due “may be his biggest conflict of interest yet.”

Trump’s loans from Deutsche and Ladder were all linked to particular properties — they were either mortgages on the properties themselves, or loans to fund the development of a property. Still, there have long been questions about why Deutsche and Ladder would loan Trump so much, given his history of stiffing his creditors.

But overall, these loans are less mysterious than another aspect of Trump’s financial history — that from 2006 to 2014, he spent more than $400 million in cash on buying or developing various properties. Some journalists have long questioned how Trump got the money for all this, wondering whether he has other sources of funds he hasn’t disclosed. And the Times’s first story on the new tax records doesn’t clear this up.

Much of Trump’s debt has been in plain view for a while

The finances of the Trump Organization and Trump’s web of private businesses have long been opaque. Dan Alexander, a reporter for Forbes, calculates the Trump empire has at least $1.1 billion of debt overall.

But the new Times story focused on the amount of that debt that is guaranteed by Trump personally (rather than just his business) — which totals $421 million, according to the tax records the Times reporters obtained. That’s important because, theoretically, the creditors for this debt could force Trump into personal bankruptcy if he is unwilling or unable to repay them.

The Times does not break down who holds all of that $421 million in debt Trump has personally guaranteed. But its report does make clear that most of it is from Deutsche, the German bank. Specifically:

  • $160 million is from a loan from Deutsche to Trump to develop his Washington, DC, hotel
  • $125 million is from Deutsche for mortgages on Trump’s Doral golf resort in Miami

Trump has a tangled history with Deutsche Bank dating back to 1998. The New York Times’s David Enrich has chronicled how Trump would obtain a large loan from one arm of Deutsche, run into trouble paying back that loan, and then go to another arm of Deutsche to try and get more money. At one point he even sued the bank to try to avoid repayment; the parties ended up settling. Trump then paid his settlement obligation with a loan from yet another division of Deutsche.

By the early 2010s, Trump had ended up at Deutsche’s “private banking unit,” which manages the finances of the ultrawealthy. The private banking unit provided the loans for the Trump hotel development and the Doral resort mortgages, as well as a loan on Trump’s Chicago hotel.

Trump’s second biggest creditor, according to his financial disclosures, is a firm named Ladder Capital. (ProPublica has reported that Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg’s son Jack works at Ladder as an executive director involved in loans.) Ladder granted Trump a $100 million mortgage loan on Trump Tower in New York City which is due in 2022, as well as a loan for another Trump property, 40 Wall Street, which is worth more than $50 million.

The Trump Organization has other sizable loans, but these are the biggest ones weighing on Trump since they are revealed in his personal financial disclosure forms.

There are questions about Trump properties for which he didn’t get loans

The more pertinent mystery about Trump’s money isn’t about these loans mentioned by the Times that are coming due. It’s about the properties he bought and developed without getting any financial assistance at all.

The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold has reported that, between 2006 and 2014, Trump made a major change in the way he did business: He started dropping large amounts of cash to buy and develop certain properties, rather than relying on loans. Most notably, Trump bought and renovated a golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, for over $200 million — for which he paid entirely in cash.

The Trumps have claimed they simply had the cash on hand for this. But the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson doesn’t buy it.

“The portfolio of assets that Trump owns does not suggest that he would have so much money that he can casually spend a few hundred million on a whim,” Davidson wrote in 2018.

“There simply isn’t enough money coming into Trump’s known business to cover the massive outlay he spent on Turnberry.” Davidson has gone on to suggest that Trump’s expensive purchases like this may truly have been “on behalf of others” — that he was laundering money for some shady wealthy foreigners.

We don’t know where the hundreds of millions in cash Trump used for Turnberry and these other properties came from, and there’s no hard evidence that it was connected to money laundering. But Trump hasn’t given a convincing explanation for this, so it remains an unresolved mystery.