Trump avoided paying income taxes for years, largely because businesses reported losing money, report says
Washington — President Donald Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and the same amount in 2017, and paid no taxes at all in several previous years, largely because his business empire has reported losing more money than it made, according to a new report in The New York Times.
In a story posted Sunday afternoon, The Times said it had obtained tax-return data for Trump and his businesses covering much of the last two decades. Trump has refused to release his tax returns — making him the only president in recent history to do so — and he went to the Supreme Court earlier this year to stop Congress and the Manhattan District Attorney from accessing them.
The Times story shows what Trump would not: that the business empire he brags about has struggled, with keystone properties such as the president's Doral resort and his District of Columbia hotel steadily losing money. And that, in the next few years, Trump will be required to pay about $421 million in loans and other debts.
The Times story said Trump is fighting the IRS over a $72.9 million tax refund that he was granted in 2010. The IRS is trying to determine whether that refund, granted after Trump claimed extensive business losses, was legitimate. If Trump loses that fight, the newspaper said, he could have to pay more than $100 million.
In a news briefing at the White House on Sunday, Trump called the Times story "fake news," but he did not take issue with any specific details.
"I've paid a lot, and I paid a lot in state income taxes, too," Trump replied. "New York state charges a lot. And I've paid a lot of money in state." Trump also promised to release his tax returns after his IRS audit is completed — a promise he has made since he ran for the presidency in 2015, without ever releasing any information.
Trump still owns his business, though he says he has given day-to-day control to his eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr.
Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that "The New York Times' story is riddled with gross inaccuracies," but he named only one specific issue: the amount of taxes Trump has paid to the federal government. "Over the past decade the President has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government," Garten said. He gave a similar statement to The Times, which said it believed Garten was conflating federal income taxes with other kinds of taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes.
After the Times story was published, several Democrats in Congress said that it confirmed that Congress — and the public — should have a complete view of Trump's business entanglements.
"As the leader of Congress's fight to obtain Donald Trump tax returns, this blockbuster report confirms some of our worst fears," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. "Trump's titanic financial losses confirm that while he campaigned as a so-called brilliant financial wizard, Trump is a cheat, a fraud, and perhaps the worst businessman in the world."
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the head of the tax-writing Ways and Means committee, said in a statement that he worried that Trump would try to influence the IRS' handling of his audit. "Now, Donald Trump is the boss of the agency he considers an adversary," Neal said.
The revelations come less than six weeks before the Nov. 3 election and two days before Trump's first scheduled debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden, with The Times indicating that it planned to publish more stories based on the documents it obtained. Early voting is underway in many states.
Trump made his business acumen and background a central selling point in the 2016 election. The tax returns could push that issue back to the forefront of the presidential campaign at a time when voters have been more focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.
The Times story said some of the few bright spots in Trump's business empire have been businesses where people seeking public-policy help from the White House can also be private customers of Trump's business.
At the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, which Trump visits frequently in the winter, The Times reported that revenue from people buying new memberships increased Trump's income by $5 million per year.
At Doral — Trump's golf resort in Miami — The Times said a roofing manufacturer spent $1.5 million during a time when the roofing industry was asking to relax federal regulations involving the business. And Trump's hotel in D.C. played host to a conference by a Turkish-American business group, which postponed the event when U.S.-Turkish relations briefly cooled.
But even those transactions were not enough to keep either Doral or Trump's Washington hotel in the black, The Times said. The Washington Post has previously reported that both hotels have struggled to bring in traditional customers with no political affiliation or agenda. "There is some negative connotation that is associated with the brand," a consultant hired by Trump Doral told a Miami-Dade County tax official in 2018, seeking to use the resort's struggles to lower its property taxes, The Washington Post previously reported.
The documents do not show Trump's total net worth, the paper said, and did not show any previously unknown business connections to Russia.
But they do chart the arc of Trump's business over the past 15 years, and show that the future president seems to have squandered a windfall from his TV show "The Apprentice." That show brought Trump $427 million in cash, The Times said, but Trump spent it on a string of cash-only purchases of golf courses and resorts — most of which have bled money steadily.
As Trump's businesses struggled in recent years, they gained one new major customer: the U.S. government. Trump's properties have received at least $1.1 million in payments from U.S. taxpayers since he took office, according to documents obtained by The Post.
Those documents show that Trump's own actions caused much of this spending: The president has visited his properties more than 270 times, bringing along Secret Service agents and aides whose rooms were paid for by the government. The Trump Organization charged taxpayers rates as high as $650 per night for their rooms.
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