The Current

'Terrible, terrible problems' if Trump runs U.S. like his business: David Cay Johnston

As Donald Trump campaigns for the U.S. presidency, everything from his taxes, to his net worth, to the deals he made, is a blur of contradictory numbers. David Cay Johnston shares his insights after following the numbers to understand the making of Trump.

Trump vows to run America like his businesses. What would that look like?

6 years ago
Duration 1:01
Trump vows to run America like his businesses. What would that look like?

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Donald Trump has vowed to run America the way he runs his companies. But what, exactly, would that look like?

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has a few decades' worth of insights about how Trump — the businessman — operates.

Johnston is an expert in U.S. economics and tax law and his new book, The Making of Donald Trump, looks into whether Trump's touted "golden touch" could prove his Achilles' heel in this race for the White House.

Pulitzer prize winning-journalist David Cay Johnston has been closely following Trump's billionaire career for decades. (Courtesy of Melville House Books)
"I met Donald Trump in June in 1988 when I went to Atlantic City to write about what I expected to be the spread of casino gambling all across America and recognized right off what an important cultural figure he was as an American," Johnston tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Over the years, Johnston has collected "tens of thousands of pages of Trump documents" and says as far as taxes, the sparse public record shows Trump hasn't been paying them — or very little — since 1977.

"There's strong evidence he committed… income tax fraud in 1984 and we know that he engaged in sales tax fraud," says Johnston, who says this is the reason his tax returns will never come to light.

Journalist David Cay Johnston says Trump's grandfather ran bordellos in the Yukon. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Johnston tells Tremonti that if Trump ran the U.S. economy like he does his business, the U.S. would have "terrible, terrible problems."

"He's not a good manager. Fortune magazine examined 496 companies some years ago and Donald Trump's came in either dead last or almost last by every metric that they measured."

"He has over 4,000 lawsuits against him from workers who say they weren't paid including illegal immigrants from vendors who say they weren't paid."

And as for the Trump Foundation, Johnston says an annual tax report shows false statements that tried to hide campaign contributions to Florida's Republican attorney general Pam Bondi — among some gifts that were made.

"In the most recent year, 40 per cent of the $600,000 given through the Trump Foundation — none of it Donald Trump's money — went to benefit Donald Trump in various ways including $50,000 to the prep school where he sends his youngest son."

Author of The Making of Trump says revenge is a key motivating principle for the U.S. Republican presidential candidate. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Johnston says a fundamental principle through Trump's life is to get revenge — "get even."

"Donald has written at length about how much pleasure he gets from destroying the lives of people who don't have absolute fealty and loyalty to him."

"[Trump] also says 'Never trust your employees most especially your high-level employees because they're all out to cheat you.'"

Along with his revenge philosophy, Johnston says Trump is obsessed with always retaliating after being insulted. He believes you never turn the other cheek — or else you're a fool and an idiot.

"Instead you want to do damage. And do all the damage you can to anybody who doesn't recognize the greatness of Donald Trump."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

The Current did contact the Trump campaign to see if they wanted to comment on David Cay Johnston's reporting. They did not get back to us.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.