For four years, Donald Trump’s tax returns have been the white whale of political journalists and the most sought-after material of any presidency this side of Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. Naturally, when The New York Times obtained and published the trove, it was an epochal moment for the media and a major headache for Trump himself. The material the president said he couldn’t and wouldn’t release was suddenly out in the world, and it was immediately clear why he’d endeavored to conceal the goods: This self-described billionaire paid a total of $750 in federal income taxes the year he entered the White House—and none at all in 10 of the 15 years beforehand. The documents revealed that Trump was facing a possible $100 million tax penalty, on top of personal liability to the tune of $400 million in loans and debts.
But buried in the details, tucked between the revelations of foreign financing and piling losses, stood another reason Trump worried about the returns leaking into the public arena. The tax returns pointed to a curious, and potentially criminal, bit of accounting sleight of hand that roped in what matters most to Trump: Ivanka.
Per the Times, Trump’s filings showed that some of the millions of dollars in consulting fees listed just happened to line up with filings attached to his daughter’s own financial disclosures. Ivanka, who remains a special adviser to her father, “had been an executive officer of the Trump companies that received profits from and paid the consulting fees for both projects—meaning she appears to have been treated as a consultant on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father’s business.” With the filings and funds bouncing between the Trump Organization and a Delaware LLC and straight into Ivanka’s pockets, Trump appears to have “reduced his taxable income by treating a family member as a consultant, and then deducting the fee as a cost of doing business.”
Or put another way: Trump appears to have spun Ivanka, a lieutenant in his paper empire, as a mere consultant as a means of gutting his taxable income. Suffice it to say, the maneuver is not simply highly unethical but likely illegal. In years past, the IRS has pursued civil penalties against others for devising just such schemes. Nor would Trump likely be the only party liable. After all, tax fraud schemes like this always require witting partners on both ends of the payment. And what better partner in a scam to defraud the IRS—and, by extension, the American taxpayer—than a daughter who appears eager to follow in her crooked father’s footsteps?
If you peer past the gilded, airbrushed image Ivanka has spent years cultivating, it’s not difficult to discern just how much of her father’s essence oozes through her own business practices. Rather than the manicured professional and golden American princess she professes to be, Ivanka has a track record that illustrates just how willingly she’s imbibed her father’s fetish for fraud.
Look at the most substantial projects Ivanka oversaw prior to Trump’s presidency, for instance. Trump’s earliest efforts to groom Ivanka, along with her brothers Eric and Donald Jr., to inherit his empire came through most clearly in a pair of projects more drenched in foreign corruption and money laundering than anything Trump has ever pursued.
First, there was Trump’s effort to enter the Panamanian market earlier this decade. The Trump Ocean Club project, formerly located in Panama City, was the family’s “largest project in, actually, all of the Americas,” as Ivanka once claimed. It was also destined to be, according to Trump, Ivanka’s “baby.”
From its early days, Ivanka was reportedly involved intimately in the creation and associated sales of the sail-shaped building. An exhaustive 2017 investigation from Reuters confirmed as much. The building’s primary broker, Alexandre Henrique Ventura Nogueira, claimed he met with Ivanka at least 10 times to discuss the Panamanian project, adding that Ivanka was the primary figure responsible for all aspects of the Trump Ocean Club deal. As the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness wrote, the building came with Ivanka’s “personal touch.” (Said a laughing Ivanka in a promotional video, “Some people say it resembles a giant D.”)
One problem, though: The signs of money laundering affiliated with the building were as bright and blinding as anything in the entire Western Hemisphere. Not only were many units purchased in cash or via anonymous shell companies—including buyers linked to Russian organized crime—but many were likewise purchased in bulk, another traditional sign of money laundering. Some sales were even conducted via so-called bearer shares, tools so notoriously affiliated with money-laundering operations that they’ve been banned across multiple jurisdictions. As one of the Global Witness investigators who uncovered the dirty money schemes said, “We found that there were some pretty consistent signs of money laundering.” Or take it from Ventura Nogueira, the man who liaised with Ivanka time and again; as he later confessed, “When I was in Panama, I was regularly laundering money for more than a dozen companies.” Ivanka’s Panamanian “baby” was the locus for all this graft.
And then there’s Azerbaijan. In that country—already steered by one of the most kleptocratic, oleaginous regimes in the entire world—Trump’s efforts at creating a Trump Tower Baku ended up so poorly managed that it became, as The New Yorker dubbed it, “Trump’s worst deal.” It’s not hard to see why. Not only did the Trumps work closely with the family of Azeri oligarch Ziya Mammadov—a man dubbed by American diplomats as “notoriously corrupt, even for Azerbaijan”—but, as reporter Adam Davidson found, the building’s construction may well have been used to launder funds for members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, violating America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act along the way. “The entire Baku deal is a giant red flag,” an assistant dean at George Washington University Law School told Davidson. “Corruption warning signs are rarely more obvious.”
And the woman who oversaw the building’s construction? None other than Ivanka. According to Ivanka, the Trump project in Azerbaijan would “make for an exciting addition to the Trump Organization’s expanding portfolio.” As one Azeri lawyer involved in the project said, Ivanka “personally approved everything.” Ivanka even posted updates from the building directly to her own Instagram, where she described it as “my project.” But when word began getting around of all the corruption Ivanka had apparently overlooked—and when the project itself began falling apart, both physically and figuratively—Ivanka tried to scrub her website of any evidence of her involvement.
Ivanka doesn’t talk much about either of her “projects” these days. The Azeri building stands as a burnt-out husk, bogged down in money-laundering allegations and stripped of the Trump name. Workers at the Panamanian resort-cum-money laundromat memorably chiseled off Trump’s name in 2018, amid scuffles and physical altercations between new management and Trump Hotel staff. Both of the buildings most closely associated with Ivanka’s efforts have effectively imploded, leaving little but the imprints of corruption and kleptocracy in their wake.
But there’s also another project Ivanka doesn’t much discuss, a bit closer to home. Earlier this decade, Ivanka helped lead development and sales at the Trump SoHo project in New York City. If you’ve heard of the project, it’s likely either because of its close association with crooked post-Soviet oligarchs or because, like those in Azerbaijan and Panama, it is yet another failed Trump project that no longer bears the Trump name.
But one other aspect of the building has escaped broader notice, buried under all the other detritus of Trump’s cascading corruption. In 2017, ProPublica revealed that Ivanka, alongside Donald Trump Jr., had helped hawk Trump SoHo unit sales to prospective buyers in the building’s early days. At one of the launch events, Ivanka claimed that sales of a remarkable 60 percent of the units had already been finalized. “We’re in a very fortunate position where we have enough sales, and now we are strategically targeting certain buyers,” she claimed.
That, naturally, was a lie: Even two years after her claims, only 16 percent of the units had been sold, with the building well on its way toward its eventual failure. But in a move almost as imbecilic as her father’s trying to hide his taxes for years on end, Ivanka reportedly traded emails admitting how aware she was that she was peddling faulty numbers in order to lure new buyers. “In one email, according to four people who have seen it, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers,” ProPublica wrote. There was “no doubt” Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. “approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales,” per one person familiar with the emails. “They knew it was wrong.”
Not that that stopped them. Shortly thereafter, Manhattan District Attorney prosecutors began building out a criminal case against the two Trump children for lying to prospective buyers. The email chain all but begged for charges. “You couldn’t have had a better email trail,” one person familiar with the investigation told ProPublica. Discussions began about impaneling a special grand jury. “An indictment seemed like a real possibility,” ProPublica noted.
And then: nothing. Despite the emails, despite Ivanka’s ludicrous public lies in order to sucker new buyers, then–District Attorney Cyrus Vance axed the investigation—a move that just happened to coincide with a substantial donation to his office from none other than Donald Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Ivanka skated and swiftly moved on to greener pastures: the creation of dirty money laundromats in Azerbaijan and Panama, and, as has recently come to light, the abetting of her father’s tax schemes.
Still, all great scams must come to end. The recent release of Trump’s tax returns is almost certainly just the first in a line of bombshells about to drop: about Trump’s business practices, about his presidential proclivities, about his views on everything from the American military to American evangelicals. His children will likely be as intimately involved in what’s to come as they were in the notorious projects at home and abroad that led us to this point.
While guaranteeing what the future holds in the Trump era is a sucker’s game, it’s growing much less certain that Trump will continue in the White House. He instead appears more likely to spend his future days in the same spots so many of his compatriots have found themselves: the courtroom and jail. And if that future does come to pass—whether it’s due to tax fraud or any number of similar charges—don’t be surprised if Ivanka continues to be his constant companion, by his side and on the docket.