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Trump built his fortune with tax cheating, New York Times report says

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Southaven, Miss., on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Rogelio V. Solis

A Trump sham-ily history

Just over two years ago, in his first debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump was not the least bit defensive, let alone embarrassed, by old tax returns submitted to New Jersey casino authorities that showed he had not paid any federal income taxes. "That makes me smart," Trump said.

It looks like he was smarter, if that's the word for it, than anyone understood, according to a blockbuster New York Times investigative report.

Trump participated in dubious tax-avoidance schemes, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune that he and his siblings received from his parents, Fred and Mary Trump, the Times said. Among the tactics that met little resistance from the IRS: They set up a "sham corporation" in 1992 with an address from the Manhasset home of a nephew of Fred Trump's to disguise gifts to his children as expenses of his real estate business, the story said.

Donald Trump's autobiographical narrative of becoming a self-made billionaire by parlaying a $1 million loan from his dad is a myth, according to the Times — it really was at least $60.7 million, and over time the president got at least $413 million from the real estate empire founded by his father, who repeatedly bailed him out because of business ventures that went sour.

The Times said its story was based on more than 100,000 pages of documents, including confidential records and tax returns from Fred Trump and his companies, as well as interviews with Fred Trump’s former employees and advisers.

A lawyer for Donald Trump, Charles Harder, threatened the newspaper with a defamation suit for "false allegations." Harder also said “President Trump had virtually no involvement whatsoever with these matters” — they "were handled by other Trump family members" who relied on "tax professionals." The White House dismissed the report as a "misleading attack against the Trump family by the failing New York Times." 

Tax experts cited in the report said the events described occurred so long ago that criminal investigation is unlikely, though there is no time limit on civil fines for tax fraud. The New York State Tax Department said Tuesday it is investigating, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy.

Trump sees a shrink

Trump has tried to get richer as president, plugging his brand and brushing off conflict-of-interest complaints, but it isn't working, according to Forbes magazine, which calculates his net worth has shrunk to $3.1 billion from an estimated $4.5 billion in 2015. That drops him to 248th place on the Forbes 400 list for 2017, a slide of 138 rungs.

The president's polarizing politics have been a net negative for his brand, Forbes said. Other factors: declining revenue from retail property tenants losing sales to e-commerce businesses, and new reporting that indicates Trump exaggerated the value of some assets.

Janison: Didn't see that coming

It is not yet clear whether Kavanaugh's demeanor and truthfulness at last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will undergo the kind of scrutiny that the FBI is now giving to allegations of sexual misconduct. But it wouldn't be first time a politically driven investigation took on a life of its own, heading down paths not initially foreseen, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The Republican-led Benghazi probes didn't establish any wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the response to the deadly 2012 attack on a diplomatic outpost in Syria, but they did spawn the damaging FBI probe of her private email server. Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether there was collusion between Russia and Trump's campaign has headed down alleys involving his private business activities. Its Manhattan spinoff, which snared Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payoff, is still ongoing. 

Trump trashes Professor Ford 

Remember when Trump spoke respectfully of Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford, observing she was a "very credible witness" at last week's hearing? Time's up.

Trump mocked her at a Mississippi rally Tuesday night, making fun of her inability to remember some details of that day 36 years ago when she says she was almost raped. “I had one beer!” he said, impersonating Ford. “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How did you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know!” (Click here for video.)

It was an abrupt shift in tone from the morning, when he told reporters at the White House that it “would not be acceptable” if Kavanaugh were found to have lied to Congress and "a lot is going to depend what comes back from the FBI,” Newsday's Candice Ferrette reported. Amid reports the FBI may be finished as soon as Wednesday, Senate Democrats demanded a briefing from the bureau and a public release of the agency's investigation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pushing to begin votes before the end of the week, said "only senators will be allowed to look at it." For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune.

Tears for fears?

The Kavanaugh fight has exacerbated the divides by party and gender on the broader subject of sexual assault allegations, and Trump came down on the side of #HeToo on Tuesday.

"It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of," Trump told reporters at the White House. "This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time. What's happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice."

He added: "My whole life I've heard you're innocent until proven guilty, but now you're guilty until proven innocent. That is a very, very difficult standard."  (Click here for video.)

Just before boarding his helicopter for an out-of-town trip, the president was asked if he had a message for young women. "Women are doing great," Trump replied.

Stormy winter

Trump personally directed an effort in February to stop Stormy Daniels from publicly describing her alleged sexual encounter with him, The Wall Street Journal reported, enlisting both lawyer Michael Cohen and his son Eric Trump in the effort, which ultimately failed.

He asked them to seek a restraining order and enlist another lawyer who had represented  him and the Trump Organization in other matters, the Journal said. The new account contradicts public statements made at the time by the Trump Organization, the White House and Cohen.

What else is happening:

  • About 225 million electronic devices across the United States will wail and buzz starting at 2:18 p.m. EDT Wednesday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducts an emergency "presidential alert" test. Trump isn't sending it personally.
  • Bucking a scientific consensus, the Trump administration is quietly moving to weaken U.S. radiation regulations, turning to outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you and not a significant cancer risk, The Associated Press reports.
  • Trump indulged in another one-liner about his lifelong aversion to alcohol. "I remember my college days; everybody was drinking. It was, like, normal. I was abnormal," he said.
  • Melania Trump opened her first big solo international trip as U.S. first lady in the West African nation of Ghana Tuesday with a wave, a smile and a baby in her arms during a hospital visit, The Associated Press reported. When her plane left Washington, she ignored her husband's no-CNN rule for the in-flight TVs.
  • Mexican and Canadian sources credit Jared Kushner with keeping the recently concluded trade talks on track when they were veering off the rails, Reuters reported.
  • Kanye West, who has become a mutual admirer of Trump, says he is trying to broker a meeting between the president and Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who became the face of national anthem protests.

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