Donald Trump has attempted to justify minimising his tax payments as the Democrats argued reports he contributed nothing in federal income taxes for a decade showed he was out of step with ordinary Americans.
The US president said in a tweet he was “entitled” to leverage business losses and tax credits to limit his tax payments “like everyone else” as he tried to contain the fallout from the New York Times investigation.
Mr Trump continued to deny the reporting was accurate, claimed the information was illegally obtained and said he had paid “millions of dollars” in taxes. He also hinted he could release financial statements showing his wealth, though gave no timeline.
The comments suggested a two-pronged strategy: To both delegitimise the reporting, which said he paid no federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years the paper scrutinised, and argue that limiting tax payments showed business savviness.
The campaign of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, released an attack advert going after Mr Trump’s reported payment of just $750 dollars in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the election, and again in 2017, his first year in office.
The 30-second video compared the average annual amount certain workers had paid in income tax, such as $7,239 for an elementary school teacher and $5,283 for a firefighter, with Mr Trump’s $750 figure.
The advert, combined with comments from Biden campaign figures, showed the Democrats are using the revelations to build up their narrative comparing Mr Trump’s rich upbringing with Mr Biden’s working class roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Some political strategists wondered if reports of Mr Trump’s business losses would erode his perceived competency on the economy, while others argued few voters would fundamentally change their minds on the president over the information.
Tonight Mr Trump and Mr Biden square off for the first time on the debate stage in one of the most hotly anticipated moments of the remaining campaign, with the November 3 election now just five weeks away.
The 90-minute clash will see Mr Trump and Mr Biden debate each other in Cleveland, Ohio - traditionally a swing state, though one the president won comfortably in 2016 - with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace moderating.
Based on the nationwide opinion polls, it is Mr Trump who will be seeking a game-changer. He has trailed Mr Biden between five and 10 percentage points throughout the last six months and is around seven points clear currently, according to a tracker from the website Real Clear Politics.
The president’s preparation for the debate was upended on Sunday night when The New York Times published its lengthy investigation, saying it had obtained “tax-return data” about Mr Trump stretching over a period of more than two decades.
Teachers paid $7,239
Firefighters paid $5,283
Nurses paid $10,216
Donald Trump paid $750 pic.twitter.com/5YE1cbYsBN
— Team Joe (Text JOE to 30330) (@TeamJoe) September 28, 2020
The president’s tax returns have been some of the most sought after financial documents in American politics in recent years, with Mr Trump breaking precedent by refusing to release them, citing an on-going audit.
The paper said all of the information had been provided by sources with legal access to it and that more revelations were to come. It did not publish any raw financial documents.
The account spelled out in detail how Mr Trump had allegedly used losses in parts of his business empire, which reportedly is made up of more than 500 entities, to minimise his federal tax bills.
Mr Trump’s reported federal income tax payment of just $750 in his first year in office paled in comparison to his recent predecessors, Barack Obama and George W Bush, who each regularly paid $100,000 a year in such taxes when president.
The report, which was described as the “most detailed look yet” at Mr Trump’s finances, also included a string of other claims.
Mr Trump was said to be facing an audit from the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] over a tax refund of around $73 million. Should he lose the case he could owe more than $100 million when interest is taken into account.
Mr Trump had vast financial success with The Apprentice and the sponsorship deals that followed, reportedly earning him almost $430 million. But, the paper reported, he has $300 million of loans for which he is personally liable coming due in the next four year.
Many of Mr Trump’s businesses have run at a substantial loss, according to the paper, including his three European golf courses - two in Scotland and one in Ireland - which have reported a combined $63.6 million in losses.
Mr Trump tweeted on Monday: “The Fake News Media, just like Election time 2016, is bringing up my Taxes & all sorts of other nonsense with illegally obtained information & only bad intent. I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits.
“Also, if you look at the extraordinary assets owned by me, which the Fake News hasn’t, I am extremely under leveraged - I have very little debt compared to the value of assets.”
Mr Trump added that he had long said he “may release financial statements”, saying they would be “very impressive”, and noted he gives away his $400,000 a year salary as president to the federal government.
Alan Garten, Mr Trump’s lawyer, questioned the paper’s findings in a statement, saying: “Most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”.