“The Apprentice” didn’t just give President Donald Trump a platform. It threw him a financial “lifeline,” according to the New York Times.
In a new report Monday, the newspaper laid out how Trump’s career was transformed by the hit reality show on NBC, which turned him into a household name, helped him earn hundreds of millions of dollars, and opened the doors to major licensing deals.
The report is the latest installment in a series from the Times based on the deepest dive yet into the US president’s finances. The newspaper has cited detailed tax records that reveal how Trump paid little or no federal income taxes for years, as well as significant losses at some of his businesses.
A White House spokesperson told the Times that the latest article was “fake news” and “yet another politically motivated hit piece full of inaccurate smears,” without disputing specific claims.
Trump on Sunday denied the New York Times story and claimed that he pays “a lot” in federal income taxes. A lawyer for the Trump Organization, which manages the president’s family businesses, told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate.”
Here’s what the latest investigation shows:
Trump was apparently near bankruptcy in 2002. Then ‘The Apprentice’ happened
Before being approached to host “The Apprentice” nearly 20 years ago, Trump was not in an enviable position, according to the Times.
“Divorced for the second time, and coming off the failure of his Atlantic City casinos, Mr. Trump faced escalating money problems and the prospect of another trip to bankruptcy court,” the paper reported.
“On his income tax returns, he reported annual net losses throughout the 1990s, some of it carried forward year to year, a tide that would swell to $352.8 million at the end of 2002.”
Then reality television came calling.
After being asked to join “The Apprentice,” Trump was awarded a 50% share of the show’s profits, according to the Times. Those earnings turned out to be substantial: In 2005 alone, he earned $47.8 million from the TV program, the newspaper reported, citing tax records.
Overall, his net income from the show is estimated to have reached as much as $197.3 million.
He became tied to controversial network marketing schemes
Trump’s celebrity from the show paved the way for licensing deals that would later become mired in controversy.
“In what would be his most lucrative side deal,” Trump partnered with multilevel marketing company ACN, which earned him almost $8.8 million over 10 years, according to the Times. (Multilevel marketing refers to a network of sales representatives who sell products directly to people in their communities in exchange for a commission.)
Trump has taken heat directly over the matter. In May, a US judge allowed a federal fraud lawsuit against Trump, his three eldest children and his company to proceed, which accused them of “making knowingly false and misleading statements” about ACN. A lawyer for the Trumps said at the time that they planned to take the ruling to an appeals court.
One plaintiff who has pursued action against Trump in court was cited as having “signed up after she ‘watched clips of ACN appearing on ‘Celebrity Apprentice,'” the Times reported.
In a separate partnership in 2009, Trump reportedly agreed “to promote the multilevel marketing of vitamins by a company that was rebranded the Trump Network.”
A few years later, the company behind that initiative was sold, and its owners went bankrupt, according to the Times. Trump, however, reportedly made $2.6 million.
Trump once made more than $15 million from a mattress deal
Trump is known as an unabashed pitchman. The Times has called his personal branding strategy “the most successful part of the Trump business,” earning $427.4 million in aggregate between 2004 and 2018.
Some of the deals have famously stood out. There are Trump-branded steaks and water bottles, for example.
On Monday, the Times also revealed some of the price tags behind the deals.
“He signed a licensing deal with the Serta mattress company that eventually netted him more than $15 million,” the newspaper reported. “Another $15 million would pour in from Trump neckties, shirts and underwear by clothiers like Phillips-Van Heusen.”
Product placement was also an important part of “The Apprentice.” Occasionally, more than 100 goods would be shown on the show per month, according to the Times.
“There was $500,000 to pitch Double Stuf Oreos, another half-million to sell Domino’s Pizza and $850,000 to push laundry detergent.”
As the popularity of the show declined, so too did his earnings
The venture proved so lucrative that Trump’s intake from the show, combined with the flurry of licensing deals that stemmed from it, would ultimately become his “main source of income,” the Times reported.
But that “went into a steep decline starting in 2011, falling, along with the show’s ratings,” the newspaper reported. “From $51 million that year to $21 million by 2014, and eventually to less than $3 million in 2018.”