September 29, 2020
The late hotelier Leona Helmsley famously said “Only the little people pay taxes”—a quote that is being recalled by many Americans after learning from an exclusive report by The New York Times that President Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017—and absolutely nothing for ten of the preceding 15 years.
And while most Americans will be shocked, the $750 figure may well stick in the minds of blue-collar voters who earn far less than a president, and who pay far more in federal taxes.
Indeed, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Sunday, September 27, that she had paid thousands of dollars in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017— when she was still working as a New York bartender. “He contributed less to funding our communities than waitresses & undocumented immigrants,” she wrote.
The Biden campaign on Sunday night used the report to press its case that Trump is out of touch with the working Americans he says he is fighting for. The campaign quickly put out a video showing the typical income taxes paid by an elementary school teacher, a firefighter and a nurse. Each paid thousands of dollars in taxes per year.
At a Sunday evening news conference, Trump dismissed the reporting as “totally fake news” and claimed he was never contacted about the report, despite the fact that a lawyer for the Trump Organization was quoted in the article.
The Times did not disclose just how its reporters had gotten their hands on tax return data that covers more than two decades. The president has long refused to release this information, making him the first POTUS in decades to hide basic details about his finances. His refusal has made his tax returns among the most sought-after documents in recent memory.
- Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.
- He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
- Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money—losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.
- The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.
- Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft, and $70,000 in hairstyling for television. Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.
- As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known. The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.
It is important to remember that the returns are not an unvarnished look at Trump’s business activity. They are instead his own portrayal of his companies, compiled for the I.R.S. But they do offer the most detailed picture yet available.
But it’s inevitably a story he will face questions about in the first presidential debate on Tuesday night. And with five weeks left in the race, every day that Trump is on defense is one when he isn’t able to shift the dynamics of a race that public polls show he is currently losing.
The Times also notes, “Revelations like the fact that Trump deducted $70,000 for hairstyling expenses during “The Apprentice” also risk contributing to a sense that the president views his supporters — those who serve in the military, or pay their tax bills, or attend his rallies in the middle of a pandemic — as fools.”
To wit: The tax revelations followed a report in The Atlantic this month that said the president had privately referred to American troops killed in combat as “losers” and “suckers.”
And a former official on the coronavirus task force, Olivia Troye, has gone on the record in recent weeks to recall that the president, during a meeting she attended, said there was an upside to the virus: He would no longer have to shake hands with “disgusting” people, referring to his own supporters.
Research contact: @nytimes