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Longtime Trump accountant says a decade of financial statements are unreliable

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The longtime accounting firm of former President Donald Trump says it no longer stands by statements of financial condition prepared for Trump, and it is advising him to let his lenders and business partners know the numbers are not to be trusted. And that is according to a letter sent by the accountant, Mazars USA, to the Trump Organization. The firm also informed Trump it is ending its client relationship with him, and that is a move that could have big consequences both for the former president's financial future and for the legal reckonings he is now facing. NPR's Ilya Marritz is here with more. Hi there.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Give us more details about this letter sent by Trump's accountants to Trump. Do we know when it was sent, what it says, how it came to light?

MARRITZ: Yes. It was sent last week, just last week, February 9. And it says in plain English - and I'm paraphrasing here - all of these statements of financial condition that we prepared for you between 2011 and 2020, so a long period of time, we now think they may be unreliable. And you need to go tell the banks and business partners who received those statements that they are not to be trusted. What's more, the accounting firm, Mazars USA, says it has a non-waivable conflict of interest with the Trump Organization and therefore is ending its relationship with them. And it's important because this document came to light in a filing by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who's been investigating Trump Organization business practices for several years and who now appears to be close to a decision on whether to file civil charges in that probe.

KELLY: OK. Now, this term we've both just used, statements of financial condition, that is a technical term. What are they? Why do they matter?

MARRITZ: Well, you know, it's a technical term, and it's also not. Some of these things appear almost a little bit like a brochure. If you think back to when Michael Cohen testified before Congress about Trump business practices back in 2019, he brought some exhibits with him. And he said that in order to get deals, Trump routinely inflated his income and provided financial statements to banks and other backers that were not truthful. He said that under oath, and he did provide documents. And that actually became the basis for New York Attorney General Tish James' probe of the Trump Organization.

The remarkable thing about this letter sent to Trump last week is that for the first time, we now have Trump's accountants saying, in essence, Michael Cohen may be correct. They were careful to say they haven't found material discrepancies, but they're no longer confident in the numbers, and they think lenders need to be told. And just to give you some idea, in that same time period, 2011 to 2020, Donald Trump bought a big golf course outside Miami. He got a lease for the Trump Hotel in D.C. He pursued business deals around the world, and, of course, he also got elected president of the United States. But a lot of those deals came with financing from banks.

KELLY: Well, and so what does this mean? The severing of the relationship by the accountant - what does it mean for all those deals?

MARRITZ: Well, he'll certainly have to find a new accountant. And for the banks on the other side of this, I think they're going to have questions. Trump also has hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due in the next few years, and probably this will complicate his efforts to refinance that debt.

KELLY: And we just have 30 seconds or so left, but has there been reaction yet from the Trump Organization?

MARRITZ: Yes. We received a statement from them just a few minutes ago. And they said they are disappointed that Mazars has chosen to part ways. The Trump Organization has also consistently said that Tish James' probe of their business practices is politically motivated. And I think if they were pressed to account for these statements of financial condition in court, they would probably say they're more like a brochure. They - and a bank like Deutsche Bank or any of the other lenders are sophisticated financial institutions that wouldn't rely on those statements alone.

KELLY: NPR's Ilya Marritz. Thanks, Ilya.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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