PHOTO CREDITS: ANNA MONEYMAKER/NEW YORK TIMES
According to the New York Times, Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, paid only $750 in federal income taxes in the year he was elected US president.
“Trump taxes show chronic losses and years of tax avoidance,” was the banner headline on the paper’s website on Sunday. The president “paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency”, the paper reported, adding that “in his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. “He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years – largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” In all, the paper said, Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years its reporters examined. Many of his businesses, including his golf courses, report significant financial losses – which Trump claimed helped him to lower his taxes.
The Times also said the documents it had obtained “comprise information that Mr Trump has disclosed to the IRS, not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Donald Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.”
Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”. He said: “Over the past decade, President 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.” The New York Times declined to provide Garten with the tax filings in order to protect its sources, but claimed its sources had legal access to the records. It is illegal for the IRS to leak the personal tax returns of any individual.
The Times also said the President has used “questionable measures” to reduce his tax bill. He faced a possible hit of “more than $100m” if he lost “a decade-long audit battle with the IRS over the legitimacy of a $72.9m tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses”. The New York Times promised more stories in the coming weeks, adding: “The tax returns that Mr Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public” (The Guardian).
The president’s financial disclosures indicated he earned at least $434.9 million in 2018, but the tax filings reported a $47.4 million loss. The tax filings also illustrate how a reputed billionaire could pay little to nothing in taxes, while someone in the middle class could pay substantially more than him. Roughly half of Americans pay no income taxes, primarily because of how low their incomes are. But IRS figures indicate that the average tax filer paid roughly $12,200 in 2017, about 16 times more than what the president paid. The disclosure, which the Times said comes from tax return data it obtained extending over two decades, comes at a pivotal moment ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday and weeks before a divisive election against Democrat Joe Biden.
The Times story, if based on authentic documents, appears to debunk several claims regarding Trump’s tax returns. The tax returns do not have “any previously unreported connections to Russia,” the Times reports. Moreover, the Times story appears to confirm Trump’s claim — long treated as an excuse by Democrats — that he is under audit by the IRS. And the Times could not find “any itemized payments to Mr. Cohen,” ostensibly the subject of the New York investigation.
Past exposures of Trump’s tax returns have confirmed that he has paid millions of dollars in personal income taxes. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was widely mocked in 2017 for revealing a 2005 tax return that showed Trump had paid $38 million in federal income taxes that year.
President Trump’s tax returns, if real, and if summarized correctly by the Times, do not paint a flattering financial picture for the President. Yet, they also debunk many claims — and they may confirm what Trump supporters have said since 2016: that he has sacrificed his personal fortune to serve.
The Times found no evidence of any links to Russia that were previously unreported. The tax returns, it says, do not “reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.” All they show is that the 2011 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow “was the most profitable Miss Universe during Mr. Trump’s time as co-owner, and that it generated a personal payday of $2.3 million.” Concerning Michael Cohen (now a convicted felon): The Times noted: “The materials obtained by The Times did not include any itemized payments to Mr. Cohen.” It added: “The amount, however, could have been improperly included in legal fees written off as a business expense.”
Democrats and journalists have mocked Trump’s long-standing claim that he could not release his tax returns because he faced an Internal Revenue Service audit. However, the Times confirmed the audit: “Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million” (Breitbart News).
Trump dismissed the Times report as “totally fake news.” He said: “We went through the same stories, you could have asked me the same questions four years ago, I had to litigate this and talk about it.” “Totally fake news, no. 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. The [Internal Revenue Service] does not treat me well… they treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS – they treat me very badly.” The president added: “The New York Times tried it, the same thing, they want to create a little bit of a story. They’re doing anything they can. That’s the least of it. The stories that I read are so fake, they’re so phony.” Pressed on why a billionaire only paid a few hundred dollars in the year he won the presidency, Trump insisted: “First of all I paid a lot, and I paid a lot of state income taxes too. The New York state charges a lot and I paid a lot of money in state. It’ll all be revealed. It’s going to come out but after the audit.”
Democrats have sought to obtain Trump’s tax returns for a long time. In July, the Supreme Court ruled that House Democrats could not force Trump to hand over his tax returns. However, it also ruled that local New York prosecutors could obtain his tax returns for a local criminal investigation. Those battles are still before the courts.
Ryan Thomas, a spokesperson for the progressive advocacy organisation Stand Up America, said: “Four years ago, Donald Trump broke decades of precedent when he refused to release his tax returns to the public. At each turn since, he’s attempted to shield his financial records from the public – even as congressional and criminal investigators look into how he’s profited off the presidency and his decades of fraudulent tax schemes. We’ve demanded Trump’s tax returns for years because the American people deserve to know what he’s paying – and the answer appears to be very little. A man who uses dubious tax schemes to avoid paying taxes or lies to the public about his finances has no place in the Oval Office. This is just one more reason why we must vote to evict him.”
Richard Neal, D-Mass., the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee who has tried unsuccessfully to obtain Trump’s tax records, said the Times report makes it even more essential for his committee to get the documents. “It appears that the President has gamed the tax code to his advantage and used legal fights to delay or avoid paying what he owes,” Neal wrote in a statement. “Now, Donald Trump is the boss of the agency he considers an adversary. It is essential that the IRS’s presidential audit program remain free of interference.” During his first general election debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton said that perhaps Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he had paid nothing in federal taxes. Trump interrupted her to say, “That makes me smart” (Yahoo News).
ARTICLE: CARSON CHOATE, DOMESTIC AFFAIRS EDITOR
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