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Watchdog: Trump’s ‘Secret $30 Million Loan in 2016’ Violated Federal Law

President Donald Trump likely violated federal campaign finance laws when he secretly loaned himself $30 million in 2016, according to a nonprofit government watchdog organization.

“Voters had a right to know where Trump was getting the money for his 2016 campaign,” Campaign Legal Center (CLC) said in an email excoriating the 45th president for an alleged accounting trick that may have been used to skirt campaign contribution limits.

On Friday morning, the New York Times reported that in September 2016, with his electoral chances surging and fading by the day–and his campaign unable to convince GOP megadonors to hand over huge chunks of cash–Trump surreptitiously took out a $30 million bank loan in the name of a limited liability company (LLC) that he jointly owns with billionaire “casino mogul” Phil Ruffin. CLC dubbed this a “secret $30 million loan.”

The transaction used Trump Tower Las Vegas as collateral.

Six weeks later, Trump gave $10 million to his cash-poor presidential campaign–without acknowledging the apparent source of the funds. Federal campaign finance law contains special reporting rules for bank loans to candidates as well as special and specific reporting rules for personal loans from a candidate to themselves. In each case, such reporting standards are mandatory.

Per the Times:

The new findings, part of The Times’s continuing investigation, cast light on Mr. Trump’s financial maneuverings in that time of fiscal turmoil and unlikely political victory. Indeed, they may offer a hint to one of the enduring mysteries of his campaign: In its waning days, as his own giving had slowed to a trickle, Mr. Trump contributed $10 million, leaving many people wondering where the burst of cash had come from.

The order of events set off alarm bells among legal experts steeped in the country’s campaign-finance laws.

“If Trump secretly financed his 2016 campaign using an undisclosed bank loan backed by a billionaire developer, then voters have been illegally deprived of important information about the true sources of Trump’s financial support,” said CLC President Trevor Potter, in a statement. “If Trump took out a bank loan in the LLC’s name for the purpose of financing his election, then the Trump campaign violated its legal reporting requirements by failing to disclose the loan, and failing to disclose that Trump’s Vegas property was used as collateral.”

The Times also reported that the LLC in question–Trump Las Vegas Sales and Marketing–claimed a deduction on the payment made to Trump in 2016. If the $30 million loan was, in fact, used to finance the president’s then-money-starved campaign, the potential criminality would be amplified.

“Additionally, if the LLC took a tax deduction for the payments to Trump, it would mean that Trump secretly relied on taxpayers to help subsidize his 2016 campaign,” Potter added. “Disclosure to voters in 2016 would have been important, since Trump’s claim that he was self-financing his campaign was central to his campaign message, and created a veneer of credibility for him to accuse rivals of being beholden to wealthy special interests.”

CLC’s press release also added one further would-be legal wrinkle for Trump’s loan co-signer:

The Times also reports that Ruffin guaranteed the loan. Under campaign finance law, such a guarantee is treated as a contribution to the candidate, subject to legal limits and reporting requirements. If the loan was used in connection with Trump’s campaign, then Ruffin would have made an illegal contribution to the Trump campaign, potentially valued as high as $30 million. Trump would have violated the law by accepting an excess contribution from Ruffin in the form of a loan guarantee and failing to report it.

[image via Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]

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