A financial history of Donald Trump: From Daddy’s spoiled brat to Putin’s puppet

In 2016, the Financial Times ran a series of “deep reports” in which they detailed much of Donald Trump’s post-2000 financial activity, some of which was utilized for a previous Daily Kos article. In 2017, Vanity Fair ran several articles on Trump and his relationship with his father, while CNN reported on Trump’s failed Taj Mahal Casino. Most recently, the New York Times published the results of a massive forensic accounting investigation into the Trump family business. With the addition of court documents from the U.S. Treasury, a leaked partial return of Trump’s 1995 taxes, and the cooperating agreement of Paul Manafort, it may be possible for the first time to paint a true picture of Donald Trump’s financial history.

While this article uses dates, names, and numbers where possible, there is also a fair amount of speculation—not as much in Trump’s distant past, as in his recent past. As in just how did Donald Trump make money from 2001 to 2016? This article extrapolates from both the behaviors Trump learned under the tutelage of his father, from family attorney Roy Cohn, and from descriptions of actions by Manafort that appeared on charges from the special counsel’s office in describing how Trump has likely kept up the appearance of wealth over that period.

Trump before 2001: Daddy’s little failure

The best way to describe Donald Trump’s activities before 2001 is that he was a playboy. He liked to spend money, liked to be in the gossip columns, liked to be seen spending outlandish amounts, liked to be photographed in the company of beautiful women, like to brag about the deals he was making … and almost never came out on top. But he didn’t have to. Because all through his life, right into his 40s and 50s, Trump was actually living on a fat stream of money pouring in from his father. If he made extravagant deals that resulted in spectacular failures, most of them barely touched Trump. He went back to his flashy lifestyle, securely living on daddy’s cash.

In 1950, when Trump was only 3 years old, his father Fred Trump set up a scheme in which a he created the first in a series of shadow companies to secretly distribute large sums to his children without paying gift taxes. At the time Fred Trump set up the fraudulent scheme, Maryanne Trump was 13, Fred Trump Jr was 12, Elizabeth was 8, Donald was 3, and baby Robert was not quite 2. All of them became officers and employers of these fictional companies, from which they accumulated very real salaries. From the start, Donald Trump received at least $200,000 a year. Very soon he was earning more than $1 million—while still attending his private elementary school. Well before he was out of his fake military high school and developing a sudden case of bone spurs, Donald Trump already had his name on a skyscraper.

The shadow company scheme not only allowed Fred Trump to avoid paying fair taxes on the money he was stacking up in his children’s accounts. By making it appear that his construction firm was actually buying goods and services from these companies, Fred was able to increase his apparent costs. This allowed him to directly reduce the taxes he paid from his company. And that double-dip tax fraud wasn’t the end of it. By increasing apparent costs he reported to the government, Fred Trump was able raise the rents that he charged to the largely working- to middle-class tenants of his apartment buildings and housing complexes. In a very real way, New York’s working poor helped foot the bill for Donald Trump’s lavish lifestyle.

After his visit to Wharton, Trump became more involved in his father’s business, working closely with Fred Trump. But most of his activities were focused on simply spending his by then multi-million dollar a year allowance and partying. Trump lived in a studio apartment owned by his father, dated a number of notable New York socialites and celebrities, and—for a guy who doesn’t drink—spent a lot of time in ritzy bars. He had a Rolls-Royce, no real job, and a regular spot on Page Six of the morning paper.

But not everything was super cool. While Donald was living large on the outflow from Fred’s schemes, those schemes hadn’t exactly gone unnoticed. The extra expenses that Fred Trump was converting into charges at at his rent-controlled properties raised suspicions. Twice in a decade Trump’s father was taken to court over the scheme that was keeping Donald Trump in limos and the limelight. There was a very real threat that the whole thing could be spoiled. Not only could Fred Trump be forced to accurately report his expenses, shaving tens of millions a year off of what he could charge in rents, a too-detailed look at his reported expenses might uncover the whole scheme of money shuffled between companies. It threatened the income of Donald Trump and his siblings. It also threatened Fred Trump with the discovery of what was by then decades of multi-million dollar tax fraud.

By the time Trump was 27 in 1973, it was time to bring in some new legal assistance. That’s when the Trumps hired Roy Cohn. Cohn was originally brought on board for a specific reason—to fight a government charge that Fred Trump was excluding black applicants from his apartment buildings. But he stuck around to become a mentor to Donald and an integral component of the Trump family business.

The racial prejudice allegations weren’t the first such charge, or the last. Because they were true. Under instructions from Fred, building managers were regularly marking applications from would-be black tenants with a “C,” for colored. These applications were later filed in a circular file.

The evidence of this wasn’t just strong, it was overwhelming. But with Cohn at the helm and Donald by his side, the Trumps countersued the government. Together Cohn and Donald Trump worked the media. Where previous to this Donald Trump’s appearances in the paper had been about his ‘swinging’ lifestyle and who was decorating his arm, with Cohn’s help Donald developed a new tool: Outrage. Trump was outraged that his family was being sued for violating fair housing law. Outraged that they were being called racist. Outraged when any paper dared publish a negative article. It was all true, but Donald Trump was still outraged in the media, day in and day out. Donald and Roy Cohn even called a press conference to announce that they were suing the Justice Department for $100 million for defaming Fred Trump’s good name. The press dutifully attended and duly reported Trump’s outrage, even after the lawsuit was thrown out.

Donald Trump learned another lesson from this time with Cohn. Eventually the Trumps settled their suit with the government. But they did it quietly, with no public admission of guilt. In public, Trump and Cohn still displayed nothing but scowls and umbrage … before hinting that the government had buckled and they had won. And in the sense that Fred Trump and his family could have faced both massive fines and the possible uncovering of his whole fraudulent scheme, Donald and Roy were right—they did win. They got off with a slap on the wrist and a promise to be good boys in the future.

The Donald and Roy show was far from over. For years after this first team-up, Cohn was there to help the Trump family every time any official or reporter uncovered illegal or unsavory activity by the Trump companies. And every time, the response orchestrated by Cohn was the same—attack people in public, sue them for huge amounts, repeat until they went away. When the working-class tenants of one of Fred Trump’s buildings sued him as a group, Donald and Roy responded by suing them … as individuals. And lost. But they just appealed the decision until the case became too expensive to pursue.

From Cohn, Trump learned the value of always being on the attack. With enough outrage and the dollars to keep someone in court for years, he could defy anyone—even the government. As Vanity Fair has noted, Trump’s time with Cohn so shaped him that not just his approaches to conflict, but the way he talks, is indelibly stamped with Cohn’s phrasing. From “that I can tell you” to “to be absolutely frank,” that’s all pure Cohn, and always embellishes pure lies.

By the end of the 1970s, Trump’s relentless appearances in the press had earned him a reputation as a “brash” or “bold” would-be developer ready to step out on his own. Trump garnered massive coverage for the reopening of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. It was his father’s company and his father’s money. But as often happened, Donald was the name in the papers. And not by accident: this was the period in which “John Barron” was making calls, ready to spread the gospel of Donald to anyone who would listen. It helped that Trump was by then freshly married to glamourous Austrian model Ivana Zelníčková, and the pair were a regular item at the biggest openings and grandest events.

Cohn was there, too, negotiating tax abatements, inking deals with both mob-controlled companies and local political bosses and in general making sure that the Hyatt project essentially paid for itself. Fred Trump already had an extensive network of connections with both crime families and bribable politicians. Cohn professionalized those connections and bullied anyone who wasn’t ready to go along.

With the Hyatt providing a star turn, Donald was ready to take the media attention from the project and apply it to something else—and that something else turned out to be casinos. In 1976, New Jersey voters passed the first of several referendums that allowed casino gambling in Atlantic City. Multiple investors saw this as a possible way to snag billions that would otherwise flow from East Coast gamblers to Las Vegas. Trump was one of them.

Quite literally banking on the reputation and attention from the Hyatt job, Trump began gathering investors and made a connection with existing gambling firms. In 1982, he obtained a relatively tiny lot in Atlantic City, made a deal with the Holiday Inn company, and began construction of what was at first Harrah’s Boardwalk, then Harrah’s at Trump Plaza, then just the Trump Plaza casino. It opened in 1984, with 614 rooms, a 60,000-square foot casino, and one big problem: Trump had badly overspent in outfitting the casino, and had focused on appealing to high rollers—the kind of customer the Holiday Inn-owned Harrah’s did not attract. The casino barely broke even through its first year of operation, and in 1986 Trump and his investors bought them out to indulge Trump’s idea of refocusing the property on East Coast “whales.”

Trump began using his facilities for some high-profile—if not high-class—events. That included a series of “wrestlemania” tournaments in which Trump himself was a featured player, and where now head of the Small Business Administration Linda McMahon was the primary investor.

Across town, Trump made another purchase. Hilton hotels had been turned down on a casino license for their nearly complete waterfront complex. Trump scrambled together $325 million from sources that are still unclear, and opened the property first as Trump’s Castle, then the Trump Marina. Now there were two, but it wasn’t enough.

When the nearby Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino went belly-up during construction, Trump pounced. Again backed by money that came mostly from investors, he picked it up with the intention of expanding the Plaza. Immediately on the heels of that deal, Trump picked up the already bankrupt Atlantis Casino for a bargain basement $63 million and renamed it the Trump Regency. Trump now had three operating casinos and two properties that bookended the Atlantic City Convention Center. They weren’t exactly pulling down huge bills, especially since every one of the properties was in competition with the others, but they were at least breaking even. For his investors, it wasn’t the smashing success Trump had promised, but it wasn’t yet a disaster.

Disaster was coming.

In the middle of his casino years, in 1988, Trump took out a $245 million loan to buy Eastern Air Shuttle. With some gold paint, he dubbed it Trump Airlines. Two years later, it was Trump Shuttle. Neither name made a difference as the airline could never meet operating expenses, defaulted on the loan, and vanished. That default played a major role in making banks, which until then had been pretty generous with Fred’s boy, take a second look at extending any credit to Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, though his casinos were ideally situated and staying afloat in a market that had turned out to be less lucrative than many early investors believed, Donald was unsatisfied with his Atlantic City properties. One was too small, and the others not fancy enough for his tastes. Improbably, through Trump was already in a three-way competition with himself, he began looking for property No. 4.

Two doors down from one of those properties, the mighty Taj Mahal had been under construction in one form or another since 1983. In 1986, the principal owner of the project died and the property became the subject of competing bids. Trump went back to his investors, partnered with Resorts International, and beat off all competitors with an offer of just $79 million. Thrilled with the purchase, Resorts International made Trump chairman of the board. Trump promised to have the massive casino up and operating within a year with an additional cost of about $180 million. He didn’t.

By 1990, Trump was already more a legend than a real person. The ghost-written Art of the Deal appeared in 1987, presenting Trump as the consummate deal-making, ball-busting, real estate hot shot, rebuilding New York in his own image after “just a small loan” from his father. In 1989, Trump the Game appeared, making the 43-year-old an Uncle Moneybags for a new generation. In truth, Donald Trump’s personal finances were still coming from the $5 million a year provided in his under-the-table allowance from his parents and the construction going on in New York City was under the gimlet eye of Fred, not Donald, Trump. But Donald made better cover in every sense of the word.

Up the road in Atlantic City, where Donald really was in charge, the Taj Mahal was building up ever-more lavish features, ever-greater costs, and ever-longer delays. What had originally been estimated as an already over-thetop $250 million project ballooned to $550 million. Then $900 million. Resorts International had to essentially put everything they owned on the line, and go begging for more loans. And the Taj Mahal still didn’t open. Just a year after Trump became chairman, Resorts International was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Amazingly, Donald Trump then attempted to buy out the company he had just destroyed for a fraction of its worth. He lost that bid, but in the ensuing struggle, he did land the Taj Mahal for a price that was just one-third of what had already been invested.

If there was one great deal that Donald Trump pulled off in his life, it was this: He sank the company he chaired and ran off with its most valuable property while leaving the people who had trusted him to complete the project holding the bill.

Trump ended up with the still-incomplete Taj Mahal for $273 million. But Trump’s allowance didn’t stretch to cover that cost or the money he needed to complete the still-unfinished project. To get that money Trump had to rope in a whole new set of investors. And since it was by then 1990, he did it the 1990s way—by selling $675 million in junk bonds. Beefed up by that fresh infusion, Trump finally got the casino open the same year, with what he claimed to be the largest casino floor in the world and a near endless line of high-roller suites.

Even as Trump opened the business, he was planning for the next step: Close it, declare bankruptcy, and repurchase it again, shedding most of his debt and sticking it to those suckers who bought his bonds. Trump did exactly that 1 months after the Taj Mahal opened when he executed a prepackaged bankruptcy plan that dropped both the agreed on interest rate of the bonds and stretched their payoff dates far in the future. In 1996, before those bonds had even approached that payoff, Trump was back again to purchase the bankrupt casino with his new Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts business.

And as very, very many had predicted, the Taj Mahal not only could not sustain itself, it killed Trump’s other casinos. Trump had converted one of his earlier purchases into a hotel when he bought the Taj Mahal, as the law limited someone to operating three casinos. In 1992, both the remaining casinos also went into bankruptcy, carrying away dollars that in large part did not come from Trump. But stiffing his investors for hundreds of millions was not the most critical financial deal that Trump managed during the brief initial life of the Trump Taj Mahal. That came through those high roller suites.

In the 18 months after it opened in April 1990, Trump’s casino became the gambling spot for a New York-based group of Russian mobsters. In just those few months, the casino was caught breaking banking laws 106 times.  Trump settled with the IRS over these violations in 1998, but he didn’t stop. Money-laundering for Russian mobsters at the Taj Mahal continued, especially in the period before post 9/11 laws called for tighter accounting. In 2015, the Treasury Department assessed a record $10 million fine for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act.”

Those incidents of money-laundering at the casino may not have kept the money-bleeding Taj Mahal afloat, but they were much, much more important than the millions they poured into Trump’s casino. Those same people—the same collection of Russian mobsters—would keep Donald Trump afloat. Would, in fact, drag him back from the gutter to the White House, in a very few years.

Overall, Donald Trump’s record was one of … being Donald Trump. From his father he learned to never pay a fair price. From Roy Cohn he learned the power of outrage and constant attack. Trump did then what Trump does: he stiffed contractors, bankrupted investors, and generally stabbed in the back anyone who trusted him—all while driving up his own profile. What he didn’t do was achieve any meaningful success.

The ultimate model

On a personal front, 1992 was a banner year for Donald Trump. The Taj Mahal was bankrupt. His other Atlantic City properties were bankrupt. The one project he conducted in New York City during his casino days, the Plaza Hotel, was … bankrupt. Despite his father feeding millions in interest-free loans to his casinos by buying chips, despite the money-laundering by Russian mobsters, there simply wasn’t enough cash available to sustain the illusion that Trump was a success.

It was time to change models. So, after a none-too-subtle affair, Trump traded then 45-year-old Ivana for 29-year-old actress and model Marla Maples. This was also likely the year in which Donald raped Ivana … but that’s another story.

The more important model for Trump that year was the one set by his father. In 1992, Fred Trump was 86, but he remained the chairman of the Trump Organization and he was still refining his system for off-the-books funding of his children. Trump’s companies may have been bankrupt, but Donald Trump was still getting his $5 million a year and then some allowance from his “job” at companies that didn’t exist.

In 1992, those efforts reached their final form as a fake company called All County Building Supply & Maintenance. ACB became the go-to means of laundering funds from Fred to the little Trumps. Practically any expense could be passed through the nonexistent gates of All County Building to generate a bill 15 or 20 percent higher than the real costs. Not only could that extra reported money go to Donald and his siblings, it still served its twin functions of allowing the Trump Organization to report higher expenses to lower its taxes, and allowing those expenses to be used to justify anything from raising rents to increasing condo fees.

It was a successful scheme that ran for a decade, channelled hundreds of millions of dollars, and showed Donald that it was possible to win, win, and win—if you cheated.

Which was going to come in really handy soon. Because in 1999, Fred Trump died. Over a two-year period, his assets were broken up among Donald and his siblings. To do so, they simply knocked a couple of zeros off the worth of the properties, vastly underreporting the value of the various Trump buildings—and made use of the inflated expense numbers again to assist in “proving” the low worth of what their father had left them. When all was said and done, the family Trump had distributed more than $1 billion among the children of Fred Trump, while paying taxes on only a small fraction of that amount. Overall, the Trumps likely shorted the federal government by around $550 million, and the State of New York for almost half that amount.

But while Trump now had his hands directly on much of his father’s property, he also had his own knack for spending, for believing his own press, and for driving investments into the ground.

Trump after 2001: Russia’s favorite American

In a 2003 interview, Ivanka Trump told a story of walking down Fifth Avenue and coming across a homeless man on the sidewalk outside of Trump Tower. According to Ivanka, Donald Trump said “You know, that guy has 8 billion dollars more than me,” because Trump was “in such extreme debt at that point.” Ivanka tells the story as a point of pride … Her father was down big, but came back. But that story, which according to Ivanka happened in 1991 or 1992, doesn’t align at all with the truth. Trump’s casino companies were crumbling at the time of that story, but the debt was never $8 billion and the burden of it didn’t fall on Donald Trump. Donald was still getting his steady payments from the family business, still living in a home paid for by his father, and the wealth of the Trump Organization was largely untouched by his Atlantic City follies. It never seemed to occur to Ivanka that they stepped over this homeless man and into a gold-plated building with her family name over the door on this day when her father was so “poor.” And then, of course, her father raped and discarded her mother. So … sweet childhood memories.

As seemed to happen with uncanny timing during these big events in Trump’s life, Donald Trump and Marla Maples divorced in 1999 just two weeks before the death of Fred Trump, and some months after Trump had begun an affair with 28-year-old model Melanija Knavs. The soon-to-be Melania would not actually become Melania Trump for another six years … and those years appear to have been interesting ones for Donald Trump.

Following the prolonged break up of Fred Trump’s assets that ended in 2001, Donald Trump was really operating on his own for the first time. He only had … about $413 million worth of family assets in the bank to keep him from having to take a spot on the sidewalk. Trump’s danger of ever having to take up an outdoor residence remained less-than-remote as he romanced Melania around Moomba and other 1990s New York hot spots. But even though the vast buffer of wealth thrown up by his recently departed father left Trump blanketed against most personal disasters, Trump set out right away to test its limits.

Trump’s new overarching gambling business, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, had stumbled out of the 1990s managing to hit every branch on the ugly business tree. With it, Trump finally had primary control of two of his bankrupt-but-still-operating Atlantic City casinos, and opened another casio on the spot he had originally set aside to expand the Trump Plaza. But that new casino barely lasted three years as the losses at the other properties mounted. Trump tried to get a license to open a casino in Detroit and failed, because one look at Trump’s books sent local officials running. Then Trump violated federal law on a trip to investigate opening a casino in Cuba—during which he also practiced another technique learned from his father and applied widely over the following years: He pretended the whole thing was a charitable expense. Finally, Trump tried to buy a newly opened casino in Kansas City, but again state regulators looked at Trump’s finances and saw nothing but red ink. His casino license was denied.

By 2004, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts was forced to file bankruptcy. And this time, it really was Donald Trump’s money and Donald Trump’s assets on the line. Trump couldn’t get a loan. He couldn’t get a casino license. His days as a would-be casino mogul were over. Just as Donald Trump was being selected to be a pretend billionaire on The Apprentice, his real life failures were catching up with him. This was also the period of Trump trying to make money off of just being Trump. Trump water, Trump steaks, and Trump magazine were just a few of the ‘T’ brands that appeared, and swiftly disappeared, in the mid-aughts.

The threat that Trump would ever be ousted from the eponymous tower built under his father’s reign was always remote. At his low point, Trump still controlled a plethora of properties that did produce an income in the millions and he really was able to sell his name, though never for the kind of numbers he’s asserted. But Trump’s net worth was a fraction of what he claimed, and his ability to make a deal for more than a used car was far more constrained than his eight-figure income would suggest.

Fortunately for Trump, he did have a way out of his doldrums. He went back to Atlantic City—not to his investors, but the friends he made laundering money for Russian mobsters.

In the period between 2004 and 2008, Donald Trump—the Donald Trump who had just bankrupted the biggest company in the Trump Organization, the Donald Trump who couldn’t get a loan or a casino license—began buying properties again. With cash.

Where the cash came from is a bit of a mystery. And this part of the story calls for the most speculation, but some things are clear. In 2007, Belarusian-American Sergei Millian, head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC), arranged a trip to take Donald Trump to Moscow. The offices for the RACC don’t actually exist at their registered address. Neither do most of the people in the organization’s list of members. The board is composed of what the Financial Times called “obscure entities.” Multiple sources, including former intelligence officers, have tagged the RACC as a front for Russian government operations in the U.S.

Following several trips together, Millian let it be known that he was the “exclusive broker” for wealthy Russians and oligarchs in former Soviet territories looking to buy property from Donald Trump. And they did buy. According to Millian “In 2007-2008, dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US” for hundreds of millions of dollars.

That statement was backed up by Donald Trump Jr, who told a real-estate conference in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” So much money, in fact, that it buoyed up Trump and allowed him to begin buying more properties, including a string of golf courses around the world.

But there’s more to Trump’s “disproportionate” Russia money than just a good broker and happy homeowners.

The Trump Shuffle

Real estate is special. It’s not gold or oil or diamonds. Those things have an objective, tradable value that’s more or less the same around the world. They are fungible. Real estate is not fungible. It’s un-fungible. Anti-fungible.

Every single home, condo, apartment, and office building is its own precious little snowflake. No two are alike. And what they’re worth is—whatever someone will pay. Compared to real estate, the markets in Renaissance paintings and first-edition comic books are utterly predictable. There is no Warman’s Guide to pin a price on a tenth floor apartment at Trump Tower.

Real estate is also home to more loopholes and tax breaks than any other industry. From homes to factories, nothing gets a tax break like real estate. Donald Trump is super-duper aware of this, since after tax reform in the 1980s closed some of those loopholes, Trump testified before the House Budget Committee in 1991 demanding that his favorite holes be re-looped. Trump called on Congress to provide “special exemptions” that would “incentivize” investment in real estate. He said it was necessary to attract wealth investors. Despite the fact that Trump was in the middle of bankrupting a whole string of casinos and throwing a billion of investors’ money down the drain, Congress gave him the exceptions he wanted. They are still there today.

Following 9/11, many of the more traditional routes for sliding money into the country from overseas became more difficult. That includes picking up a few million in chips at a friendly casino. Real estate stayed wide open.

Not coincidentally, the period after 2002 when the laws on other forms of money-laundering tightened up, are exactly when Trump began having  “success” in selling properties to Russian oligarchs. The 2007 trip with Millian may have launched this practice to a new phase, but it certainly wasn’t the beginning. Based on Trump’s family history and how such schemes were operated by Paul Manafort, it seems highly likely that this is how Donald Trump managed his 2004-2015 bounce.

Step 1: Trump has a property. This can be an existing unit in one of his buildings, as it seems to have been in 2007-2008, or a new property purchased for this purpose—like the Palm Beach house he bought in 2004 for $41 million.

Step 2: Trump lists the property at far above previous market value. An apartment that went for $10 million a year earlier, might be listed at $20 million. In the case of that $41 million house, it went right back on the market at $125 million.

Step 3: Trump sells the house to a former Soviet oligarch. For those Trump Tower apartments, this often happened at prices even above Trump’s inflated listings. For that house in Palm Beach, it was “fertilizer king” Dmitry Rybolovlev who bought it for a paltry $100 million.

Now the Russians have property in the United States and Trump makes a fat profit. Go Trump! Except those are just the steps that are visible. Here are the ones that likely happened, but were far from above board.

Step 4: Trump sets up a LLC. We can’t say it was Michael Cohen handling this work. Except it probably was. Into this LLC Trump inserts some of the money he just collected on his overpriced real estate sale. In the case of a $100 million sale like that of Rybolovlev, call it $10 million—Walking around money. It’s immediate cash on hand for the participating oligarch looking to spend some quality time in the U.S.

Step 5: Rybolovlev takes out a mortgage on his home. Not a $41 million mortgage. That’s now how much his house is worth. After all, he just bought it for $100 million! That makes it a $100 million house. He takes out a $100 million mortgage.

Now Trump still has a hefty profit from his sale. The Russian has more money available in the U.S. than his initial investment, plus a house. If Trump learned anything from his father, whatever money went into that LLC was likely reported as expenses. And don’t be surprised if Donald Trump Jr. or Eric or Ivanka are officers of that nonexistent company.

All that’s good. Good for Trump. Good for the Russians. But there’s probably one more step.

Step 6: What does Rybolovlev do with that money? We don’t know. But one thing he could do is … stake Donald Trump to buy more houses, condos, apartments, office buildings, and whatever. It’s a damn safe investment, since Rybolovlev knows there’s a whole line of oligarchs sitting over there with money they really, really want to get outside the borders of the Republic of This-Could-Still-Come-Down-Around-Our-Ears-istan. So long as Trump has more capital ready to pour in from Eastern Europe, his purchases never fail, even when the market is crashing.

Eventually, those Russian funds in the U.S. started building up their own companies, like Bayrock, that put a little fictional insulation between them and Trump. But over the course of a decade, Trump brought in hundreds of millions—and quite likely over a billion—from oligarchs in the former Soviet states.

In a sense, Trump finally put it all to work. The lessons he learned from his father, the instructions of Roy Cohn, and the connections he made at the casino. All of that went into making a Donald Trump who just blatantly inflates the price of real estate and takes his money from international crooks. Sure, it’s Russian peasants and Ukrainian villagers who are paying the cost of Trump’s lifestyle now, not the working-class New Yorkers who paid his tab as a toddler. Still, Trump can rest on the idea that his market manipulations have likely raised property values—and rents—for locations up and down the East Coast.

Fred would be proud.