Donald Trump is fighting to keep his tax records private. Now he is suffering a defeat in court - and the reasons for Trump's zeal could come to light.
For years, Donald Trump has been trying to prevent anyone from seeing his tax returns. Contrary to US practice, he persistently refused to publish the documents during election campaigns and during his time as US President. He stubbornly opposed their being made available to prosecutors or parliamentary committees.
The US Supreme Court has now ruled that Trump's tax documents must be made available to a congressional committee. It is still unclear whether members of parliament or even the public will actually be able to gain insight. Firstly, it is not known when the documents will arrive. Second, as the new year begins, Republicans are taking control of the House of Representatives -- and it's very likely that they'll do their best to torpedo the ongoing investigation, or better yet, end it, to avert damage to their party and the ex-president who is serving for the Republicans intends to move back into the White House in 2024.
The suspicion is that Trump has something to hide. But what?
A common assumption is that Trump is nowhere near as rich as he claims. During the 2016 election campaign, he sounded like he was worth $10 billion. This was doubted by many. The business magazine "Forbes" estimated his net worth at the time at about half the amount and currently at $ 3.2 billion.
That's a lot of money, but a lot less than Trump claims. Money plays a huge role for Trump. Or as he puts it, "Part of my attractiveness is that I'm very rich." From 2004 to 2015, he starred as a highly successful businessman on the popular reality show The Apprentice. Showing wealth is a cornerstone of his brand - and his ego.
As such, it would be unfortunate for Trump if tax records revealed that many of his past deals have fared much worse than is known. The "New York Times" reported on the basis of the tax documents it received, which go back to 2018, that Trump burned hundreds of millions of dollars with some of his projects.
Trump's business model looks like this: He uses his reputation to make money. In addition to his hotels and golf courses, Trump is banking on licensing his name. He makes it available for other projects and collects license fees for it. He uses most of the income he gets from it to inject fresh money into his poorly running projects. According to the newspaper, Trump pumped more money into many of his projects than he found out.
Sometimes things go horribly wrong. For example, when Trump's casino projects in Atlantic City went bankrupt. When one of the casinos went bankrupt alone, creditors lost more than a billion dollars and more than 1,000 people lost their jobs.
But Trump wouldn't be Trump if he didn't sell the bankruptcies as a smart restructuring. Other projects only survived because they were either sold or creditors came to Trump and canceled part of the debt because a bankruptcy would have cost them more money.
After all, the losses from failed investments meant that Trump hardly paid any income taxes for many years because they were offset against profits. According to The New York Times, Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Trump could also be concerned with something else: the documents could reveal business relationships between Trump's corporate network and foreign financiers, for example from Russia or the Arab world. It could be evidence of conflicts of interest during his time as US President.
But perhaps the most important thing for him is to at least partially preserve the image of the rich, successful, smart businessman. "I play with people's imaginations," says the bestseller The Art of Success, written by a ghostwriter for Trump. "People want to believe that something is the biggest, the greatest and the most spectacular. I see it as a truthful exaggeration, a harmless exaggeration - and a very effective form of advertising."