Why everybody’s talking about Donald Trump’s ‘bombshell’ tax returns

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Newly published records show that US president paid no federal income tax in ten of last 15 years

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Newly published records show that US president paid no federal income tax in ten of last 15 years


In Depth

Gabriel Power

Monday, September 28, 2020 – 1:59pm

Donald Trump is facing fresh controversy just weeks before US voters go to the polls, amid reports that the self-proclaimed billionaire paid less than $1,000 in federal income tax in the year when he won his first presidential election.

According to records obtained by The New York Times (NYT), the US leader has paid no income taxes in ten of the past 15 years, and handed over just $750 (£580) in 2016.

Trump’s tax payments have been the source of speculation for years, with the Art of the Deal author portraying himself as a shrewd moneymaker. But the newly published tax documents reveal a “pitifully inept businessman and a serial tax avoider crushed by massive debts that could expose him to conflicts of interest”, says CNN

What do the documents show?

Trump has “faced legal challenges for refusing to share documents concerning his fortune and business” since winning the White House, and made headlines following his inauguration for being the “first president since the 1970s not to make his tax returns public”, the BBC reports. 

Now, the NYT may have discovered the reason for that secrecy as Trump fights to secure a second term in office

The newspaper has dug up records on companies owned by The Trump Organization dating back to the 1990s that show he paid federal income taxes in just five of the last 15 years. The president was able do so largely because he “declared substantial losses on his businesses which he said outweighed his income”, says The Telegraph

Trump’s finances improved in 2016, but he still only paid $750 in federal income tax that year and then again in 2017, his first in the White House.

As CNN notes, he has shelled out “far less than many Americans who are working hard amid a deep recession to stay afloat”.

The NYT report also reveals that “most” of Trump’s businesses, including his golf courses and hotels, “report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year”. 

“That equation is a key element of the alchemy of Mr Trump’s finances: using the proceeds of his celebrity to purchase and prop up risky businesses, then wielding their losses to avoid taxes,” the paper says.

Trump is also alleged to be personally responsible for more than $300m (£233m) in personal loans that are due for payment within the next four years.

Against that backdrop, the records go much further toward revealing the actual and potential conflicts of interest created by Mr. Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his business interests while in the White House,” the NYT continues. 

“His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favour; the records for the first time put precise dollar figures on those transactions.” 

What has Trump said?

At a White House press briefing on Sunday, the president called the NYT report “totally fake news”, adding: “Actually, I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns – it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time.”

Trumped added that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “does not treat me well. They treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS – they treat me very badly.”

Meanwhile, the NYT is out to “create a little bit of a story”, he insisted, adding: “They’re doing anything they can. That’s the least of it. The stories that I read are so fake, they’re so phony.”

Alan Garten, a lawyer for The Trump Organization, said that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”, claiming: “Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”

Could the claims affect the election outcome?

Many of Trump’s supporters will probably be “unmoved” by the reports, says CNN, which points to the president’s “strong emotional and tribal connection to his followers, his success in constructing alternative political realities while discrediting journalists, and the propaganda from conservative media”.

“Stories about Trump’s refusal to pay his creditors, casino bankruptcies and morally questionable business practices have been circulating for years and did not stop him from winning in 2016 or tarnish his self-created mystique as the hard-driving real estate shark,” the broadcaster adds.

The Guardian agrees that “these supporters seem to embrace the idea of the blue-collar billionaire as one version of the American dream”.

“There are also large chunks of Trump’s cult who pay little attention to the New York Times or Twitter as it is,” the paper adds.

But tax lawyer and policy analyst Steve Rosenthal – who helped the NYT look into the Republican leader’s finances – argues that the story “goes to the heart of Trump’s image as a successful businessman”.

Rosenthal told the BBC that voters should also question “whether Trump can continue to operate the country in our interest or whether he looks out for himself more and more”.

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