In his now-infamous interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity last week, Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed that Trump did, in fact, reimburse his "fixer" Michael Cohen for the $130,000 "hush money" payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Giuliani's revelation directly contradicted Trump's April 5 denial that he knew anything about the payment.
But according to a report by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and author of two books on Trump, Giuliani's interview appears to have contained an even more damaging revelation. If Giuliani's account is accurate, Johnston reported over the weekend, Trump is likely broke.
Giuliani described how Trump paid off the $130,000 to Cohen in installments, requiring at least four months to get the full sum back to Cohen. But why would Trump need that length of time to pay back what, for an actual billionaire, would be a relatively small sum, Johnston asks.
"When I heard Cohen's retainer of $35,000 when he was doing no work for the president, I said that's how he's repaying — that's how he's repaying it with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael," Giuliani told Hannity. "The president reimbursed that over a period of several months."
But if Trump is actually a billionaire, or even a multi-millionaire, "Why didn't Trump pay with a single check?" Johnston asks.
Writing on the non-profit investigative news site DC Report, which he founded, Johnston said that Trump has a long history of exaggeration when it comes to his personal net worth. Forbes Magazine currently estimates Trump's net worth at $3.1 billion — and during the 2016 presidential election campaign, Trump himself claimed that he was worth a whopping $10 billion.
In a financial disclosure form he released in June 2017, Trump listed assets of $1.4 billion, nearly 90 percent lower than the $10 billion he claimed in his campaign boasts.
According to Johnston, however, those estimates are way off the mark — by billions.
"There is not now and never has been a shred of verifiable evidence that Trump is or ever was a billionaire," Johnston wrote. The reporter examined Trump's financial statements as far back as 1990 and found that not only was Trump's net worth nowhere near one billion dollars, it was actually negative — to the tune of $295 million in red ink.
The claim by Guiliani that Trump took four months to repay the $130,000 Cohen payoff to Daniels, Johnston says, is evidence that Trump may still have been struggling for cash — if he had any at all — in late 2016, just days before the presidential election, when Cohen made the payment to Daniels.
"The way that Trump 'funneled' hush money to a porn actress just 11 days before the election sure makes it look that way," Johnston wrote. "This would be consistent with four decades of Trump claiming vast wealth, but not being able to pay his bills as they come due."
Under Giuliani's account of the reimbursement, Johnston says, Cohen's payment to Daniels was actually a "loan" to Trump, even though "no such loan is disclosed in either Trump's ethics filings or campaign finance filings."
"Maybe (Giuliani's) comments will get political journalists to stop making a claim that Trump has himself taken back and to look hard at whether his fortune is really just massive cash flow, not wealth," Johnston wrote. "And much of that cash flow may be going to pay interests on debts that, because of loopholes in federal ethics and campaign finance laws, Trump has not been required to disclose."
During 2016, Johnston obtained two pages of Trump's unreleased tax returns, showing that Trump in 2005 reported an income of $152.7 million.
But two days after Johnston published his report on the leaked Trump tax returns — which he believes were leaked by Trump himself — Trump appeared on Fox News and claimed that his income in 2005 was approximately $250 million.
"Trump just makes this stuff up," Johnston wrote this weekend. "The simple truth is that there is not now, and never has been, a shred of verifiable evidence that Trump has ever been a billionaire. A decade of his tax returns would provide a roadmap to better estimate his net worth."
Johnston is the author of two books about Trump, The Making of Donald Trump published in 2016, and just this year, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.