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Can Trump really use his $7.2 billion fortune?

An appeals court on Monday cut his bond by 68 per cent to $175 million in a New York fraud case led by James. On Tuesday, his social-media company debuted in trading, jumping 16 per cent and vaulting his net worth to $7.2 billion — on paper. Trump's financial strains, however, are far from over.
Last Updated 28 March 2024, 03:10 IST

By Erik Larson, Tom Maloney and Stephanie Lai

“KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF TRUMP TOWER!” blared the text message on Sunday to prospective donors from the former US president.

Donald Trump was, of course, referring to one of his most-prized real estate assets, and the risk of it being taken away from him. The message was an attempt to rally supporters to part with their money and ease the pressure that New York Attorney General Letitia James was applying on his finances.

This week brought Trump a reprieve from that pressure. An appeals court on Monday cut his bond by 68 per cent to $175 million in a New York fraud case led by James. On Tuesday, his social-media company debuted in trading, jumping 16 per cent and vaulting his net worth to $7.2 billion — on paper.

His financial strains, however, are far from over.

Trump’s holdings in his eponymous New York tower, the site of his famous 2015 escalator ride to announce his then long-shot bid for the American presidency, are still at risk of being seized if the $454 million verdict against him is upheld on appeal and he doesn’t pay up. So are the other properties that make up a substantial portion of his wealth.

The legal woes, which extend well beyond the New York fraud case, have left Trump in an unusual position: The presumptive Republican presidential nominee and veteran of numerous bankruptcies and failed business ventures has surged up the ranks of the world’s richest people, but also faces the biggest cash call of his career.

With Trump narrowly leading President Joe Biden in the polls for the November election, his financial ups and downs are far more consequential than any of his previous travails. While his die-hard voters have largely looked past his criminal indictments and financial pressures, he has dipped deeply into campaign funds to pay his bills. Trump’s main political action committees have spent $63.9 million on legal fees since January 2023, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

The prospect of a cash crunch is both a burden and a rallying cry for Trump’s campaign, which significantly trails Biden’s in fundraising. The former president’s political and legal teams from New York to Palm Beach have been focused on the payment of the bond, as well as on reorganizing the campaign and the Republican National Committee. Trump has been visible at his Mar-a-Lago resort in the past couple of weeks dining and meeting with people rather than out on the trail as his money-conscious campaign scrutinizes events.

Trump, 77, is mired in a web of legal troubles that could lead to a series of trials and appeals. On top of the New York fraud case, he's been hit with an $83.3 million damage award in a defamation suit and faces four criminal cases, including two alleging he conspired to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. A prosecution over his hush money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election is set for trial in Manhattan starting April 15.

The billionaire is characteristically boastful about his wealth. Last week, he said on his Truth Social platform that he had almost $500 million in cash, citing his “hard work, talent and luck.”

“I have a lot of cash and a great company,” he said Monday outside a court hearing for the hush-money case, while also touting his brand value. “I would also like to be able to use some of my cash to get elected.”

It’s unclear whether Trump actually has almost $500 million in cash — exaggerations about his wealth are what landed him in hot water with New York state to begin with. James proved at trial that he and the Trump Organization overvalued his properties, and the findings against him delivered a fresh hit not only to his bank account but to one of his biggest self-proclaimed strengths: financial prowess.

The trial “burst the bubble of this mythology he’s built around himself and his success and the incredible value of his assets,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor who has followed Trump’s legal troubles. “He's seemingly more angry about that than the criminal case.”

At the same time, the financial reach of Trump’s businesses stretches around the world. His politics can arguably help drive his business deals, with foreign developers and governments on notice that he’s running for the White House while simultaneously seeking huge investments that can turn big profits.

Trump's campaign declined to comment on his wealth, beyond pointing to the trading in his social-media company. Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman, said Biden is “the only man running for president who is currying favors with foreign countries.”

Stock Windfall

Trump is enjoying a record bump to his wealth thanks to Trump Media & Technology Group Corp., which began trading Tuesday under the ticker symbol DJT. With the stock gain, he joined the ranks of the world’s wealthiest 500 people on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index for the first time ever.

Trump Media and Tech group shares jumped after merger.

Trump Media and Tech group shares jumped after merger.

Credit: Bloomberg

Trump owns shares worth $4.6 billion as of the close of trading Tuesday. But they are subject to a lock-up agreement of roughly six months that prevents him from selling, transferring or using the shares as collateral for loans. That makes the timing of his appeal of James’s case key: Selling shares could provide a huge financial boost should the verdict be upheld and he’s past the lockup period.

Beyond the James verdict, he also faces the $83.3 million payout in a defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. The former president worked with Chubb Ltd.’s Federal Insurance Co. to post a $91.6 million bond earlier this month as he appeals.

Until now, Trump’s fortune has largely been dependent on his real estate holdings, worth an estimated $2.7 billion. They include Mar-a-Lago, his lavish Florida residence; the Trump Tower penthouse in Manhattan; and golf resorts such as the Trump National Doral northwest of Miami. In asking the appeals court to waive or significantly lower his bond for the $454 million verdict that was due Monday, Trump warned he’d be forced to sell properties in a “fire sale” to raise money if the court didn’t help him out.

Most of Trump's Assets can't be used to pay his legal bills.

Most of Trump's Assets can't be used to pay his legal bills.

Credit: Bloomberg

Trump now has until April 4 to make the $175 million bond payment, which he said he will do. If the verdict and the penalty survive his challenge, he’ll still be on the hook for the full $454 million judgment plus interest accruing at about $112,000 a day — that could add another $10 million in just three months.

Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, said the damage award remains a “very substantial” threat to Trump's finances even with his newfound wealth from Trump Media, given the shares are locked up for months and could easily fall in value if the former president is convicted of a crime or loses the November election.

“For people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, $450 million is not a lot of money — they can write a check and wash their hands of it,” Zeldin said. “Trump doesn't seem to be in that category of wealth, so it's a substantial hit against him.”

Business Deals

Trump’s options, of course, stretch beyond his current assets. He could accept financial aid from any number of wealthy individuals in his vast social circle, many of whom may see a benefit to helping a potential future president. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, isn’t valued by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index but manages about $3.1 billion at his Affinity Partners investment firm, largely backed by Saudi and Emirati sovereign funds.

Trump’s business benefited from foreign ties when he was president. The advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, said last year than an analysis of Trump’s tax records show his company made as much as $160 million from international business deals while he was in office. His hotels received at least $7.8 million from China, Saudi Arabia and more than 20 other foreign governments and their representatives in that time, according to a report by House Democrats.

The Middle East and Asia has been a particular area of focus for his company. In November 2022, Dar Al Arkan Global Co., a unit of Saudi real estate developer Dar Al Arkan, struck a deal with Trump’s company to develop residential villas, a hotel and a golf course in Oman. In 2017, his sons opened a Trump-branded luxury golf course in Dubai in partnership with Damac Properties Dubai Co. The business also continues to get licensing fees from a project in the United Arab Emirates and has new branding deals in India and Indonesia. It’s unclear if Trump will back away from new foreign deals if he wins in November, as he did the first time around in 2016.

Philippine property tycoon Jose E.B. Antonio said he’s interested in more deals with Trump after partnering with him on the Trump Tower at Century City in Manila’s financial district. He called the former president a “pro-business guy.”

A potential Trump election “should be good for us in the Philippines,” Antonio said in an interview. “We’re friends and very close to America.”

Campaign Money

Back in the US, Trump is increasingly leaning on supporters for his legal bills, with fundraising texts and emails touting what he calls a conspiracy against him. The money donated by his fans across the country has been a godsend for paying lawyers, but every dollar spent on legal matters is money he can’t spend reaching voters. And the money Trump can tap for legal fees is set to run out in the next few months, meaning he’ll need to lean on donors or start using his own money.

As it is, he’s far behind in the money race: Biden and the Democratic Party began March with $155 million, according to the president’s campaign. That’s more than three times the $50 million Trump and the Republican National Committee had on hand, according to their most recent Federal Election Commission filings. Adding Trump’s allied super PAC brings his total to $76 million.

The legal strains are unlikely to sway voters who have made up their mind either way on whether to support Trump, said Doug Heye, a GOP political strategist. But they add to his campaign challenges by diverting people’s attention and adding to financial strains that might also prevent Trump from hosting campaign rallies or running ads, he said.

“That ultimately should have been one of the arguments that everyone running against Donald Trump should have made and failed to,” Heye said. “Regardless of if you agree that Trump was a victim or not, you could make the case that the Republican nominee needs to be laser focused on Joe Biden, and that Donald Trump, with all of these other things going on, just cannot be.”

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(Published 28 March 2024, 03:10 IST)

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