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President Trump has sometimes referred to himself as the king of debt. Over the decades, as he built his real estate empire, his relationships with lenders went from good to bad. These days, few firms are willing to lend to him. That is revealed in financial documents that Trump released late Friday. They show his company owes hundreds of millions of dollars. Here's NPR's Jim Zarroli with more.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When Trump came to Manhattan in the '70s eager to make a splash in real estate, he had a big advantage over his competitors. His father, Fred, a well-connected developer, could help finance his projects.
GWENDA BLAIR: He was the gravitas, the guarantor, the force behind Donald when Donald was still untested enough to need that kind of backing.
ZARROLI: Trump biographer Gwenda Blair says by the '80s, Trump was famous enough that banks came to him. And he went on a spending spree, buying airlines, sports teams and casinos.
BLAIR: The banks were lined up to loan him money, did not really do due diligence. A lot of this was unsecured loans to Donald directly. And the banks were extremely reckless.
ZARROLI: It all came crashing down a few years later with the first of Trump's bankruptcies. There were bitter debates with his creditors. He gave up signature properties like the Plaza Hotel. His bondholders took a hit as well, but by then, Trump had them over a barrel.
BLAIR: Were they going to foreclose on these buildings and knock his name off - no. They wanted his name on the buildings because he still had this kind of allure. He was too big to foreclose on.
ZARROLI: During a debate last summer, Trump dismissed his creditors this way.
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DONALD TRUMP: These lenders aren't babies. These are total killers. These are not the nice, sweet, little people that you think, OK?
ZARROLI: Since the bankruptcies, big banks by all accounts have pretty much wanted nothing to do with Trump. NYU's Sam Chandan, an economist who studies commercial real estate, says lenders look askance at borrowers who walk away from debts too quickly.
SAM CHANDAN: The behavior of the borrower in the market's certainly going to impact or influence the underwriting.
ZARROLI: Chandan says lenders also shy away from borrowers whose exploits get too much press.
CHANDAN: When underwriting some of these very large loans with very visible borrowers, there is an element or there's the possibility of headline risk.
ZARROLI: Trump has said that he has enough cash that he doesn't need to borrow. But the updated campaign disclosure forms released Friday say he still owes hundreds of millions of dollars. That includes mortgages of at least $50 million held by Deutsche Bank for the Trump National Doral Miami. He also owes at least as much for two other mortgages held by the small firm Ladder Capital on Trump Tower and another New York office building. Ladder has more flexibility about whom it lends to in part because it cuts loans into securities and sells them to investors, so Trump's debts are spread out among many other investors and financial institutions. Former White House ethics adviser Norm Eisen says any debt represents a conflict of interest for a president.
NORM EISEN: It's so profound that actually when I was working for President Obama, we wouldn't even let him refinance his modest home in Chicago because of the appearance of conflict.
ZARROLI: Eisen says Trump's debts are troubling because he's personally guaranteed part of them and is on the hook if things go wrong. Trump came to office with an especially complicated history with many banks, the same banks that his administration will now regulate. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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