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Democrats Say Trump's Reported Debts Create National Security Risks

Sep 29, 2020
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So part of The New York Times report found that President Trump is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Democrats say that debt can actually create national security risks. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking on MSNBC.

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NANCY PELOSI: This president appears to have over $400 million in debt. To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have? So for me, this is a national security question.

MARTIN: To talk about this, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we know national security officials who work for the U.S. government, before they get that job, they have to go through a rigorous process to get a security clearance, right? That includes asking about debts that they have that might compromise that official. But this doesn't happen for a president, right?

MYRE: Right. The president is a unique case. He gets this security clearance by winning the election. He's the commander in chief. The national security system is built to serve him. It's not a system that's set up to guard against a president. Anyone else would have had much more rigorous vetting of their finances, and these questions raised by The New York Times story would be setting off alarm bells. He would have had to disclose more financial information. But since he's the president, this didn't happen. Now, as we know, Trump is disputing the report, but he isn't releasing any information on taxes or debts, which he could do.

MARTIN: So let's talk about exactly how big a threat the president's debt is. I mean, what have you been learning?

MYRE: So I called Larry Pfeiffer. He's a former CIA chief of staff. And he thinks that, yes, this is a real cause for concern. He says debts are really the first thing you look at when you're assessing someone who should be dealing with national security matters. And he says if someone does have large debts...

LARRY PFEIFFER: They're going to become susceptible to bribery, to bribes, to, you know, somebody willing to help them offset those debts. Many of the major spy cases here in the United States - in many cases, these were individuals who had crushing debt.

MARTIN: So where could this risk come from? Who holds President Trump's debt?

MYRE: Well, that's the big question. We don't know. The New York Times report says the president has more than $400 million in debt coming due in the next few years. Does he owe this to domestic banks or foreign banks? It's not clear. We do know that many U.S. banks soured on Trump because he had crushing debt in the 1990s, so that he's gone abroad. Germany's Deutsche Bank has been a major lender, but Trump has never really provided details on this. Then there's been these years of speculation that he's looked to Russia for loans, but that's never been confirmed that he's received them. And The New York Times did specifically say it did not find any financial links to Russia that weren't previously known.

MARTIN: So we are just five weeks away from the election. In your conversations with national security professionals, I mean, what are you learning about how this could shape the election?

MYRE: Well, Larry Pfeiffer, the retired CIA official who's now at George Mason University, he says this could be a long-running story regardless of whether Trump serves a few more months or four more years.

PFEIFFER: He's going to leave office with a head full of national security secrets. When you have an individual with that kind of knowledge who is also under that kind of financial burden, that is very dangerous and very concerning.

MYRE: So in the meantime, President Trump's national security decisions, his foreign policy moves and his foreign earnings will be receiving even greater scrutiny than in the past.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.