5 questions about Trump’s finances that could be answered by seeing his records

New York prosecutors may soon have access to President Trump’s financial records under a Supreme Court ruling. Here’s what they might show.

5 questions about Trump’s finances that could be answered by seeing his records
[Photo: Andrea Hanks/The White House/Flickr]

In a pair of decisions released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state prosecutors in New York can demand access to President Trump’s financial records but sent the question of whether House committees can do so back to lower courts for further consideration.


Questions about the president’s finances and the finances of the numerous businesses his family is involved with have followed him at least since he entered the 2016 election. Here are some of them:

What is the president’s income and net worth?

Trump was the first major-party presidential candidate in decades not to release his tax returns to the public. He’s often referred to as a billionaire, and Forbes recently estimated his net worth at $2.1 billion, but his exact net worth and annual income remain a mystery.

Who has Trump done business with?

The Center for Responsive Politics reported an analysis of the sprawling network of Trump businesses and investments around the globe shows “a litany of apparent efforts by foreign business leaders and governments to gain influence with the leader of the free world.” And Trump has faced lawsuits and allegations that he’s violating the emoluments clause, a formerly esoteric section of the Constitution that bans receiving gifts from foreign leaders. But the exact extent of his business partnerships and affiliations remains locked up in corporate financial documents.

What has he actually given to charity?

Trump agreed to give $2 million to outside charities under a settlement with New York State regarding allegations that he used his Donald J. Trump Foundation to settle other debts and for political purposes. He also agreed to unwind the foundation. But the extent of his total charitable donations has been in question since his first presidential run, with some reports suggesting the president was not a major charitable donor, particularly given his wealth.

How much does he pay in taxes?

Reports have suggested that one of the reasons Trump has been reluctant to release his tax returns is that he may not pay much in income tax. That’s not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing, if he and his accountants use clever but legal techniques to minimize his tax bill, but it may not sit well with his populist image.


Has Trump committed financial crimes?

The Manhattan state prosecutor sought Trump financial records under an investigation into “business transactions involving multiple individuals whose conduct may have violated state law,” according to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision. The New York Times reported that the investigation involves payments allegedly made to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump and whether those payments violated campaign finance laws.

A 2018 investigative piece in the Times also alleged Trump used “suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father,” as the paper’s headline put it. And a story last year in Mother Jones suggested that a large debt Trump owes to a company he owns could have suspect tax purposes. The financial documents for Trump and his companies could reveal whether Trump used clever but legal techniques to minimize his taxes or whether he crossed over lines into criminal activity.

Why we may not learn the truth

Because Trump’s documents are, at present, sought by New York prosecutors for a grand jury investigation, and grand jury records are typically secret, it’s quite possible that none of the records will become public before the November election. That may change if the records lead to any criminal or civil cases being filed by New York authorities.

It also still remains possible that House investigators will, at some point, get access to Trump’s records. The court, in a 7-2 decision, didn’t outright deny the request but rather sent the matter back to a lower court. The court is to consider more aspects of how the request plays with constitutional separation of powers between the legislature and executive. The Supreme Court, which is often reluctant to get involved in political disputes, also pointedly made clear that such matters are often resolved by negotiations between Congress and the president, not by judicial rulings.

“Other considerations may be pertinent as well,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in sending the case back to the lower court. “One case every two centuries does not afford enough experience for an exhaustive list.”

About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.