President Donald Trump often refers to himself as a "counterpuncher," and it’s a quality his followers love to trumpet. He usually responds to attacks, whether real, feared, or imaginary, with tremendous aggression.
Now, The New York Times has put his reputation as a successful businessman on the ropes.
The Times’ detailed reporting reveals that Trump paid no personal federal income tax in 11 of 18 years and engaged in highly questionable practices to avoid taxation including: how he compensates his children; uses business losses to reduced his personal income tax; does business with foreign entities who need the favor of the federal government; and assesses the value of properties used as loan collateral or as charitable donations for tax write-offs.
The story describes a sly bumbler, lucky enough to make enough money off his self-promoted reputation as an entrepreneur to cover losses from his mostly unsuccessful golf resorts and hotels.
Trump immediately called the account fake news. But he has the opportunity to fight back with hard evidence. If the Times is in error, the president must prove it by releasing his returns. At the very least, Trump can simply release the bottom line of each years’ returns, the page showing what he earned, lost, and paid.
If Trump does not do that, after years of promising he would, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Times stories about his taxes are accurate.
The Times says Trump paid just $750 in personal federal income taxes for 2016, the year he was elected, and the same amount the following year. The story also asserts Trump has been able to avoid paying taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings from years of "The Apprentice" and licensing his name and image domestically and internationally by balancing those earnings against huge losses in his golf and real estate businesses. All this was done through more than 400 companies the president personally owns, known as the Trump Organization. The story describes Trump paying his daughter Ivanka "consulting fees," despite her being a company executive. That could be an illegal attempt to evade hefty gift taxes. It says a $72.9 million tax refund he received during a Great Recession bailout program which allowed him to apply losses to previous earnings has been under audit for 11 years because it appears he got some value in return — 5% of his Atlantic City casinos. If that is correct, he could owe the Treasury $100 million.
And the story suggests that with crippling debt repayments coming due soon, Trump may not be wealthy at all.
Trump, for his part, tweeted that the story was done with "illegally obtained information & only bad intent," and added, "I have long said that I may release financial statements ... showing all properties, assets and debts ... it is a very IMPRESSIVE Statement."
The American people deserve to see that "impressive statement," and those tax returns, too.
— The editorial board