President Donald Trump has sought to smear his Democratic challenger as "Beijing Biden" on the campaign trail. But the latest in a series of bombshell articles drawn from the president's tax returns from the New York Times may have undermined his line of argument. On Tuesday, the paper revealed that Trump owns a bank account in China, where he has chased development deals for years — a pursuit which appears to have followed him into the White House.
The report was part of the newspaper's broader investigative series on Trump's finances, a picture of which remain incomplete to the American public. A Trump Organization attorney told The Times that the president had opened the account "to pay the local taxes." "No deals, transactions or other business activities ever materialized and, since 2015, the office has remained inactive," the lawyer added.
"So I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away, and I have no loans with Russia," Trump said at a January 2017 press conference.
"I have very little debt," the president continued. "I have very low debt, but I have no loans with Russia at all."
Trump, at the time president-elect, went on to emphasize that he has "no deals," "no loans" and "no dealings" with Moscow.
"We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to. I just don't want to, because I think that would be a conflict," he said. "So I have no loans, no dealings and no current pending deals."
(This claim was was later revealed to be untrue after BuzzFeed News reported that Trump had pursued a Trump Tower Moscow project as a presidential candidate. The project failed, but the reasons remain unclear.)
Trump had called that press conference to dispel an explosive report about a dossier of opposition research, which alleged extensive financial and business ties to Russia, as well as election coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele, the dossier also indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have compromising blackmail on Trump, in the form of a salacious video that quickly became known as the "pee tape."
The Steele Dossier, which South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham had advised colleague John McCain to give to the FBI, proved politically divisive. Most of its specific allegations have been impossible to prove or disprove, though its general arc of Russian election influence has endured.
It also included short passages about Trump's relationship with China, which did not receive as much attention. In the dossier, Steele wrote that the Trump campaign was "relatively relaxed" about the alleged ties between Trump and Russia, because they "deflected media and the Democrats' attention away from Trump's business dealings in China and other emerging markets. Unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign."
A source "close to Trump and [his former campaign manager Paul] Manafort" told Steele that "Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries," according to the dossier.
The Times article contains several potentially damaging reports.
The Trump company that controls the Chinese bank account spiked in 2017, the president's first year in office, to around $17.5 million — more than the previous five years' combined, according to The Times. The president withdrew $15.1 million from the company's account that year, reporting it in his financial disclosure as "management fees and other contract payments."
Trump had sought trademarks in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2006, not always successfully; his daughter, Ivanka, scored a number of Chinese trademarks for her personal brand after she joined the administration in 2017.
Weeks before the 2016 Republican National Convention, a Chinese couple from Vancouver bought 11 condos in Trump's Las Vegas tower totaling $3.1 million through a shell company. FBI agents later inquired about the shell company with the owner of a Vegas-based financial firm, whose address had been wrongfully used in the deal, per The Times.
Further, Ivanka and her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, had previously lived in a Trump penthouse in Manhattan which Trump sold to a Chinese-American businesswoman for $15.8 million. The Times reported that the president's taxes show a capital gain of at least $5.6 million from that sale, in his first year as president. The woman reportedly has ties to Chinese officials.
Still, Trump has sought to associate Biden with China in a negative light, calling Biden "China's puppet" and promoting baseless claims about his son Hunter's business dealings with the country, which have found foothold among a number of campaign surrogates. But Biden's financial disclosures and tax returns, which the former vice president released voluntarily, show no financial or business relationships with China.
"I'll bet you Hunter is a middle-man. He's like a vacuum cleaner. He follows his father around collecting money," Trump said at a recent event. "What a disgrace. It's a crime family."