The stunning and exhaustive investigation by the New York Times into President Donald Trump’s tax records deserves not to be lost in the unending onslaught of news on this president and administration.
Based on thousands of individual and business tax records spanning more than 20 years, along with hundreds of interviews, the stories revealed some essential features that voters should consider with care. The picture that emerges is distinctly at odds with Trump’s self-portrait of a fabulously successful businessman with unerring instincts. Instead, they show a long record of massive losses, resulting in an astonishingly minuscule federal tax bill. In 2016 and 2017, Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes each year. Most single, low-income wage earners pay more.
Of course, the average single, low-income wage earner is not in a position to write off haircuts, personal expenses, exorbitant consulting fees paid to family employees and business losses that carry forward for years to absolve them of future tax obligations. Such is the world Trump has moved in all his life.
Do the records definitively prove he went so far as to cheat on his taxes? That’s not known. What financial picture does he present to banks to get as many loans as he has, given his string of business bankruptcies, losses and unpaid vendors and creditors? Some answers may come with New York state’s investigation of his taxes.
Trump has several hundred million dollars in loans due soon, raising national security concerns because he is financially compromised and much of the debt is to foreign entities.
But there is another consideration here: How are Trump’s decisions as president driven by financial need? He has made little secret of steering government business to his hotels and golf courses, many of which have been his biggest money losers. He has never fully walled himself off from his international business interests, so it is impossible to assess whether he and his family have benefited from his actions.
As Trump seeks a second turn, Americans should demand that he clear away the doubt and mystery by releasing his tax returns without further delay, as the Star Tribune Editorial Board has called for throughout his presidency and as every other nominee of both parties has done for decades. Voters deserve an explanation of how, according to the Times, even as he was paying little or nothing in income taxes to the federal government he now leads, he did pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to other countries.
Trump has long used his ongoing dispute with the IRS over an audit as an excuse for shielding his returns. But his own IRS commissioner has said there is no reason that an audit would prohibit the release of tax information. That decadelong audit, interestingly, was triggered by a $72 million refund Trump received. Refunds greater than $2 million must be approved by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, where his audit has sat since spring of 2016, when Trump was closing in on the nomination.
The Times’ story includes a telling quote from “Trump: The Art of the Deal”: “I play to people’s fantasies,” he wrote. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. … It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
It’s time voters were given the information to discern for themselves how much of what they’ve heard is truth or fantasy.