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Can Trump afford his mounting legal penalties?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

More than half a billion dollars and counting - that is the bill that former President Trump is facing now in recent legal penalties. It includes $450 million that Trump has been ordered to pay to the state of New York in his civil fraud trial, plus another $83 million that he owes the writer E. Jean Carroll from a defamation trial. Now, Trump is worth much more than half a billion dollars if you add up all his real estate holdings, golf clubs, resorts and personal assets. But these legal judgments will strip away a huge chunk from his fortune and could eat up most or all of his available cash.

Here to talk more about all of this is Dan Alexander at Forbes. He's tracked Donald Trump's wealth over the years and joins us now. Welcome.

DAN ALEXANDER: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So how much cash - or about how much cash does Trump have on hand now to pay these judgments before he would have to start selling off any properties, you think?

ALEXANDER: So right now, Trump has roughly $400 million in cash. When you say cash, I mean, understand this is liquid assets...

CHANG: Right.

ALEXANDER: ...So stocks, bonds, things that he could easily sell off. He obviously has significant assets outside of that, but the liquid assets would be the first thing that you dispose of. And it doesn't take a strong mathematician to understand that that's not enough to pay the penalties he's facing.

CHANG: Exactly. OK. So in terms of timing, you know, Trump is appealing both of these decisions that we've mentioned. So how much money is actually due right now?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. So he basically has to put up or secure the cash for all of it in short order. However, he can secure a bond, which is basically a financial institution would say, hey, you know, you put up a little bit now, and we will guarantee the ability to pay all of this. And then once you sort out whatever you're going to do with your assets, we expect to be made whole with interest. That's a pricey option.

There are other sorts of loans that he could take. For instance, Donald Trump knows a lot of rich people, and he could call up somebody tomorrow and say, hey, would you like to put a $50 million mortgage on Mar-A-Lago, which doesn't have a mortgage right now? And you could imagine a lot of people who might be interested, for financial or political reasons, in gaining leverage over somebody who could become president of the United States again in a year.

CHANG: Well, on the bond part, how likely do you think Trump will be able to secure a bond given some of his past troubles with lenders?

ALEXANDER: Well, so there are many lenders who would not consider this at all, just as there are many lenders who would never consider a more traditional loan against any one of his properties because of his reputation and his past practices. However, remember, people who lend money are eager to make money. So I do think that he would be able to find someone who would be willing to take the other side of this bet.

CHANG: And just to step back for a moment, what are the consequences if Trump simply does not pay these judgments?

ALEXANDER: So my understanding is that they're different in different jurisdictions. And in New York state, I believe that they can actually just start seizing assets. Of course, New York state is the court in which the largest judgment, the fraud judgment, is due. And New York authorities are accustomed to seizing assets. I don't think that that's a likely thing. I think that we're going to see him put up the cash or secure a bond or other type of loan to do that.

CHANG: How much do you think these pretty weighty financial penalties will ultimately affect his ability to run a presidential campaign and win back the White House?

ALEXANDER: I don't think that they will affect his ability to run a presidential campaign. Donald Trump, after 2016, has put exactly $0 of his own money into his campaigns despite being worth, you know, more than almost anybody else running for office, including many people who are putting in a couple million there or a couple million there.

Now, the question is, when you get into a general election, will people say, wait a second, this is a guy who owes half of a billion dollars in legal penalties. Maybe he's not the right guy to run the country. But I don't know how significantly it's going to hurt him. Nothing has been a knockout punch for Donald Trump so far. I don't think this will be either.

CHANG: Dan Alexander is a senior editor at Forbes. Thank you so much for joining us.

ALEXANDER: Yeah, of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Elena Burnett
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.