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Politico Corrects Report That Said Trump Owes Millions to China’s State-Owned Bank (UPDATE)

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Update, April 28: Days after Politico published a story on Trump’s history with the Bank of China, the publication issued a correction that undermined its core reporting—namely, that the president currently owes tens of millions to said state-owned bank and that the bill was due soon.

Note that the headline on their story now uses the past tense: “Trump owed tens of millions to Bank of China.”

Here’s what Politico had to say about its error:

The article cited a nearly $1 billion refinancing deal from several banks, including the Bank of China, struck in 2012 with a New York City real estate venture in which the Trump Organization has a substantial minority interest. We reported that President Trump, through the Trump Organization, owes the Chinese state-owned bank tens of millions of dollars on a loan that comes due in 2022.

This assertion, which was referenced in the headline as well as the story, was based on public documents related to the deal as well as property records. We sought comment from the Vornado Realty Trust, the primary investor, which didn’t respond to our request before publication. The White House and the Trump Organization declined to comment on the record after being told what we intended to report.

On Friday evening, POLITICO received a statement from a representative for Bank of China USA, which had not been contacted beforehand, that the bank had sold off, or securitized, its debt shortly after the 2012 deal. A spokeswoman said the bank has no current financial interest in any Trump Organization properties. We updated the body of the article to take account of the bank’s statement. The original headline was changed to “Trump owed tens of millions to the Bank of China.”

There remained an unresolved discrepancy. A 2017 document filed by the loan servicer, Wells Fargo, with the New York Department of Finance listed Bank of China as having a financial interest in the building, 1290 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. That record, known as a UCC3, indicated that Bank of China had a “secured” interest in the building’s fixtures in case of default on the loan. The 2017 document is valid until 2022, when the loan comes due.

POLITICO attempted to reach other parties to the refinancing throughout the weekend and Monday. Wells Fargo on Monday confirmed the Bank of China’s statement that it had been listed as a creditor on the building in error. Bank of China said Wells Fargo is taking steps to correct the record with an updated filing.

The assertions as they appeared in the original Politico report have been preserved below.

President Donald Trump and his business partners are on the hook to the Chinese government to the tune of $211 million. Now, critics are starting to wonder whether that substantial financial leverage might be used for political leverage against the White House as well.

Politico dredged up the relationship between Trump, Vornado Realty Trust and their lenders in a Friday article contrasting the president’s occasionally tough-on-China rhetoric with his own monetary ties to the People’s Republic via the state-owned Bank of China.

As a multi-million dollar Manhattan realty deal, the financial situation is perforce complex. The New York Times offered a thorough breakdown of the situation in an August 2016 article titled “Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties.” The Times explains:

One of these investments involves an office tower at 1290 Avenue of Americas, near Rockefeller Center. In a typically complex deal, loan documents show that four lenders — German American Capital, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank; UBS Real Estate Securities; Goldman Sachs Mortgage Company; and Bank of China — agreed in November 2012 to lend $950 million to the three companies that own the building. Those companies, obscurely named HWA 1290 III LLC, HWA 1290 IV LLC and HWA 1290 V LLC, are owned by three other companies in which Mr. Trump has stakes.

Ultimately, through his investments, Mr. Trump is a 30 percent owner of the building, records show. Vornado Realty Trust owns the other 70 percent and is the controlling partner.

A financial disclosure document filed by Vornado Realty on New Year’s Eve last year with the Securities and Exchange Commission notes that the loan is set to mature in 2022.

“Trump’s ownership of the building received a smattering of attention before and after his 2016 campaign,” Politico notes. “But the arrangement with the Bank of China — and its impending due date in 2022 — has gone largely unnoticed. The revelation complicates one of Trump’s emerging campaign attacks against [Joe] Biden: that the former vice president would be a gift to the Communist country.”

Biden recently ran an attack ad which was criticized by Asian-Americans and progressives as racist for its repeat references to “the Chinese.” The ad also criticized the efficacy of the travel ban Trump authorized in early February in an effort to stem the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Trump has recently ramped up the sinophobic rhetoric as well.

“If sleepy Joe Biden wins, China will own the United States,” Trump said during a Saturday press briefing last week during which he catered to the conspiracy theory that China was “knowingly” responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president has also repeatedly claimed to have taken swift action against China in terms of travel restrictions—saying that his administration acted swifter than most.

FactCheck.org recently offered the cold water of clarity about each side’s dueling anti-Chinese bluster, however, noting: “Both President Donald Trump and leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are spinning the facts on the administration’s coronavirus travel restrictions for those who had been in China.”

In any event, the 45th president’s critics quickly seized on the Friday article–seizing momentum from the contextualized reminder about Trump’s complicated financial relationships amid Democratic Party and Republican Party finger-pointing on American foreign policy viz. China.

“Q: Why has @realDonaldTrump been so soft on China?” asked and answered former Democratic governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm on Twitter. “A: Trump owes tens of millions to the Bank of China — and the loan is due soon.”

Former White House ethics attorney and Trump critic Walter Shaub quote-tweeted Granholm and added a more general observation about the potential for corruption.

“The foreign government loans to his businesses are probably the biggest and most dangerous conflicts of interest he has,” Shaub noted. “He is literally depended on the communist Chinese government for his financial health.”

Trump 2020 spokesperson Tim Murtaugh shot back to the various criticism in a comment to the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner–using the opportunity to mention the occasionally controversial business interests of the former vice-president’s son.

“There is an obvious difference between Donald Trump working as a successful businessman as a private citizen and Hunter Biden using his name to cash in with a $1.5 billion investment from a state-controlled Chinese bank while his father was vice president,” he said.

Editor’s note: this story was updated on April 28 to reflect the correction Politico issued near midnight on April 27 about its Trump-Bank of China story.

[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images]

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