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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Rampell: Bill an just opening offer

Donald Trump can’t find anyone to spot him $464 million

By Catherine Rampell
Published: March 23, 2024, 6:01am

Of course no one will lend Donald Trump the half-billion dollars he needs to put up while appealing his fraud case. Would you?

In recent months, the former president has racked up a series of costly legal judgments for his many misdeeds. And when I say “costly,” I mean slightly pricier than the Trump-brand gold sneakers. After summing up the judgments across all of Trump’s cases so far, he already owes more than the entire gross domestic product of several island nations — put together.

In the most expensive case, Trump was found liable for lying about the value of his real estate assets so he could get better terms on loans and insurance. In that judgment, he owes $464 million, after interest. He’s appealing the case, which was brought by the New York attorney general. In the meantime, a judge has said Trump must put up cash or bond to prove he’s good for the money and isn’t appealing merely to delay payment.

Despite boasting about his deep pockets — and even saying in a deposition last year that he had “substantially in excess of $400 million in cash” — Trump has struggled to come up with the dough. So, he tried to get out of it. First, his lawyers asked to instead post a $100 million bond. After all, Trump treats every bill he receives as merely an opening offer — even when it’s a court ruling.

The judge said no.

Then, on Monday, his lawyers came back and complained that no one would agree to post a bond on his behalf. The company hired to help secure a bond package said it had reached out to “virtually every major surety in the market” and spent “countless hours negotiating with one of the largest insurance companies in the world.” The lawyers said a key challenge was that Trump wanted to use his real estate as collateral for the bond, and none of the major surety companies would accept it.

Got that? Trump owes this money because he fraudulently misrepresented the value of his assets, and now apparently no one will accept those assets as collateral. Oops.

Imagine you sold someone a glass engagement ring that you claimed was a real diamond. Then, when a judge found you liable for fraud, you tried to use the “diamond ring” as collateral for an appeal bond. That’s the level of chutzpah we’re working with here.

There are other reasons companies might not want to accept Trump’s real estate as collateral, including that the properties might be heavily encumbered by debt already, which would mean that the bond issuer would be second, third or fourth in line in the case of a foreclosure. (On a separate note, it would have been useful to know who he owed money to when he was president — and if not then, now, when he’s running for the office again.)

Also, to be clear, the problem isn’t merely that no single surety will put up the full half-billion dollars. Trump could ask different insurers to lend a fraction of that and each take on a portion of the risk. According to a sworn statement the lawyers submitted, sureties won’t do that, either.

Even if there were no problem whatsoever with Trump’s collateral, skittishness about lending to Trump is more than reasonable. Trump has an extensive history of not paying his bills, whether to cabinet-builders hired by his casinos or big banks financing his skyscrapers. In fact, he often brags about not paying his bills.

Again: He treats every bill, every signed contract, as merely an opening offer.

Additionally, imagine you lend Trump a few million dollars, and then he gets elected president again. It would become virtually impossible to collect. If you did try to collect, Trump would likely have few qualms about siccing the Justice or Treasury department on you.

How do we know? Because he did exactly this the last time he was president. He weaponized the powers of state for much smaller infractions. For example, his administration opened a bogus antitrust investigation into auto companies that didn’t support his fuel-efficiency standards. His former chief of staff John F. Kelly said in a sworn statement that Trump tried to order the Internal Revenue Service to investigate his perceived enemies. More recently, Trump himself stated (on TV!) his intentions to deploy law enforcement against his opponents if granted another term.

That’s the funny thing about rule of law: When you make clear you won’t uphold it, those who might need its protection are a little less willing to do business with you.