With just about anything attached in any way to Donald Trump, you don’t even know where to start. But his Wednesday night interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News is in a class of exactly one. I looked for a transcript online, so I could quote from the interview, but there isn’t one. In fact, it’s hard to find the whole thing from beginning to end, because it’s such a target-rich environment. Nearly all the sources featuring the interview just run their favorite clips.
Where do you start? We’ve all heard about Trump’s out-of-the-blue speculation that the FBI searched Mar a Lago because they were looking for Hillary Clinton’s emails. We’ve heard his explanation of the process of declassification of secret documents just by “thinking about it.” But receiving far less coverage has been his rant against New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed a 222-page lawsuit on Wednesday against Trump, his three adult children, and the Trump Organization for fraud, lying on official documents, and a whole host of other charges.
So, let’s start right there. Trump complains that James has been out to get him for years. “Her whole campaign was based on this, and then she came after us,” Trump began, in response to yet another gelatinous question from lapdog Hannity. “We’ve been going over this for years, and I actually thought because our values are really high, the company is great, like places like this [turns to indicate the gold-leaf ornamentation on the wall behind him] so many other places that I have like this, frankly, I mean, just to do among the finest places in the world, I actually thought that they would never bring a case, and she brought it. And the reason I thought she didn’t have a case, I was of the impression she wanted to settle, but I had a problem because how do you pay something even it’s a small amount of money if you’re not guilty?”
It was on September 15 that Trump’s lawyers sat down with the Office of the New York Attorney General and tried to settle the case before it was filed. Exactly one week later, Trump acts all surprised that this terrible thing has happened to him.
As he sat there talking to Hannity amidst the splendor that is Mar a Lago, Trump was aware that his company is set to go to trial next month on criminal tax fraud in Manhattan, “a case that could expose the company to steep financial penalties if it is convicted,” the New York Times reported.
But let’s go back to the interview, as Hannity surprises us with a question that verges on a modicum of specificity even as it seeks to set Trump up to deny a primary aspect of the case against him, that he inflated the value of his properties in order to qualify for hundreds of millions in loans, $300 million from Deutsche Bank alone: “Did you ever in your life fill out a loan application while in the Trump organization?” Hannity pleads.
“Well, you know, we make loans, but I have very little debt,” Trump lies with an approximation of a straight face. And yet he persists. Hannity somehow manages to get out, “Here’s what I want to tell you,” before being interrupted by Trump with this: “They’ve demeaned me for years with this stuff, and now they find out I have very little debt.”
Hannity then proceeds to help Trump craft a defense: “I was told that in your financial statements, when you make a loan application, and you can confirm if you know this or do not know this, do you put in a caveat that actually says, these are all valuations because I don’t know a lending institution, a financial institution, that would lend money to anybody, and just go by the borrower’s estimation of valuation of a particular property. So if you’re buying a $100 million property and you’re putting X, Y, and Z up for leverage, you estimate its value at this, and they estimate it as this, don’t they have a fiduciary before they give you that amount of money, so that they determine what the value is?”
Trump relaxes. He’s in his element. He has an obsequious pretender at his feet who doesn’t know anything even close to what he knows about the world of big finance and billionaire-ness: “First of all, these are banks that have the best law firms in the world, the biggest and best and most powerful…they do their own work, they don’t rely on us. But what we do is, we have a disclaimer and we put this as my people put it together, I would look at it, and it looked fine, but it’s not overly important. What’s important is the property. I have the best property. We have a disclaimer, Sean, right on the front, and it basically says, you know, get your own people, you’re at your own risk, this was done by management, it wasn’t done by us, it was done by management, so don’t rely on the statement that you’re getting. And by the way, it goes on for like a page and a half, it’s a very big disclaimer, it’s a very powerful disclaimer.”
This is Trump acting out what he has told the “best law firms in the world, the biggest and best and most powerful,” basically telling them how to do their jobs, because, you know, I’m Trump and I know all about this stuff.
Hannity presses on, agreeing with Trump that the lenders have their own valuations, “they’ve got their own bosses and shareholders they have to answer to,” because it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of these biggest, bestest, most powerful people you’re dealing with.
Leaning forward, again indicating the gilded magnificence of the room at Mar a Lago, Trump confidently says, “So they would look at a property like this, I don’t even have a mortgage on this property, I don’t have a mortgage on most of my properties,” says the man who has signed away practically everything he owns to Deutsche Bank to get the money he’s living on.
“You know, I used to read where he’s overextended, he has so much money he borrowed, and I’m saying, what are they talking about? But actually, the one good thing is that people see what a great company I built. I built a great company. A powerful company. A company that’s very lowly-leveraged, with among the best assets anywhere in the world, and you look at this asset, and she has this down to $75 million dollars, I can tell you, it’s many times that number. She said, oohh, he evaluated it at 75 or whatever it is, and she valued it at 75, or whatever it is, this is Letitia James, no, but if I were going, I don’t even have a mortgage on this property, but if I was going to put a mortgage on this property, the institutions are going to be coming over, they’re going to be going through comparable properties all over Palm Beach or wherever it is, Miami, we have them all over, we have tremendous properties…”
Are you following this? This is Mar-a-Lago he’s talking about. Trump has been charged in the New York lawsuit with overvaluing his properties to use them as collateral for loans. Letitia James, who did her due diligence and looked up all the comparable properties in Palm Beach, determined that Mar-a-Lago was worth $75 million. The New York attorney general discovered in Trump’s financials that that he valued it at $739 million in order to qualify for loans.
What Trump does, in his roundabout, incoherent interview with Hannity, is take a shovel in hand and dig a big hole and jump into it wearing his blue suit and red tie and black lace-up shoes, when says Letitia James doesn’t have a case against him for overvaluing his properties on loan applications, but look at me! I’m right here on national television and I’m providing all the proof you need that I overstated the value of my properties, in this case, Mar-a-Lago, which isn’t worth what non-billionaire Letitia James said it was worth, but “many times that number.”
These public statements by Trump, made on the same day he was sued in New York State, are all admissible in James’ lawsuit against him. She says he overvalued his properties. Trump’s defense is, no I didn’t, and yet here he is admitting that’s exactly what he did, and he got away with it because the banks with all the best and biggest and most powerful law firms went along with it and loaned him money, so it’s all their fault, not his. And yet it’s Donald Trump’s name on those loan applications Hannity asked him if he filled out, and it’s his name on those valuations, and whether the banks went along with his numbers and loaned him money or not, he attested that what he was putting on those financial documents was true.
That, my friends, is called bank fraud, live on the Sean Hannity show on Fox News for everyone, including Letitia James, to see. And that’s why we need a new word for “unhinged.”
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter