ProPublica, Meet the Shadowy Accountants Who Do Trump’s Taxes and Help Him Seem Richer Than He Is:
On May 12, after a six-week delay caused by the pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the epic battle by congressional committees and New York prosecutors to pry loose eight years of President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Much about the case is without precedent. Oral arguments will be publicly broadcast on live audio. The nine justices and opposing lawyers will debate the issues remotely, from their offices and homes. And the central question is extraordinary: Is the president of the United States immune from congressional — and even criminal — investigation?
Next week’s arguments concern whether Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, must hand over his tax returns and other records to a House committee and the Manhattan district attorney, which have separately subpoenaed them. (There will also be arguments on congressional subpoenas to two of Trump’s banks.) Trump, who promised while running for president to make his tax returns public, has sued to block the documents’ release. The questions apply beyond this case. Trump has repeatedly resisted congressional scrutiny, most recently by vowing to ignore oversight requirements included in the trillion-dollar pandemic-bailout legislation. “I’ll be the oversight,” he declared.
The president’s accounting firm has found itself at the center of this high-stakes fight. The American arm of a global firm, Mazars has portrayed itself as an innocent bystander in the war between Trump and his pursuers, dragged into the conflict merely for possessing the trove of subpoenaed records. It’s the firm’s first burst into the media glare apart from an unfortunate moment of tabloid coverage in 2016 after one of its New York partners stabbed his wife to death in the shower of their suburban home. (He pleaded guilty to manslaughter.) Mazars has said it will abide by whatever decision the court makes in the Trump matter.
But Trump’s accountants are far from bystanders in the matters under scrutiny — or in the rise of Trump. Over a span of decades, they have played two critical, but discordant, roles for Trump. One is common for an accounting firm: to help him pay the smallest amount of taxes possible. The second is not common at all: to help him appear to the world to be rich beyond imagining. That sometimes requires creating precisely the opposite impression of what’s in his tax filings.
Time and again, from press interviews in the 1980s to the launch of his 2016 campaign, Trump has trotted out evermore outsized claims of his wealth, frequently brandishing papers prepared by members of his accounting team, who have sometimes been called on to appear in person when they were presented, offering a sort of mute testimony in support of the findings. The accountants’ written disclaimers — that the calculations rely on Trump’s own numbers, rendering them essentially meaningless — are rarely mentioned.
Trump’s accountants have been crucial enablers in his remarkable rise. And like their marquee client, they have a surprisingly colorful and tangled story of their own. It’s dramatically at odds with the image Trump has presented of his accountants as “one of the most highly respected” big firms, solemnly confirming his numbers after months of careful scrutiny. For starters, it’s only technically true to say Trump’s accounting work is handled by a large firm.
In fact, Trump entrusts his taxes and planning to a tiny, secretive team of CPAs who have operated at various times from humble quarters in Queens and two Long Island office parks. That team, which has had two leaders with back-to-back multidecade terms, has been working for the Trumps since Fred Trump began using the firm back in the 1950s. It was eventually subsumed into Mazars USA, the American arm of a large international firm, through a series of mergers over decades.
One theme has been consistent: partners and sometimes the firm itself have faced accusations of fraud, misconduct and malpractice on multiple occasions, an investigation by ProPublica and WNYC has found.