Donald Trump paid just $750 (£587) in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the US presidency, according to a bombshell investigation by The New York Times.
The US president paid the same amount again in 2017, his first year in the White House, according to the paper, which obtained details of his tax return data.
The paper also claimed that Mr Trump paid zero federal income taxes in 11 of the 18 years it was able to scrutinise, partly because of losses made in his businesses.
The report comes after years of Mr Trump defying recent political precedent by refusing to publish his tax returns, citing an on-going audit to justify keeping them secret.
The tiny alleged federal income tax payments were the most politically explosive aspect of The New York Times’s lengthy investigation, which it published on Sunday evening online.
According to the reporting, Mr Trump was able to minimise his tax bill because of the losses being seen in some of his businesses, including his much-touted golf courses.
Trump says 'fake news'
A string of other claims were made in what the paper called the “most detailed look yet inside the president’s business empire”, which it said was made up of 500 different entities.
Democratic politicians jumped on the report that Mr Trump had paid little in federal income taxes in recent years - a stark contrast to other contemporary presidents.
Mr Trump’s two most recent predecessors, Barack Obama and George W Bush, each regularly paid more than $100,000 a year in federal income taxes while in office.
During a press briefing on Sunday night, Mr Trump dismissed the claim he paid just a few hundreds dollars in federal income taxes, saying: “It’s totally fake news. Made up. Fake.”
The president said he had “paid a lot in state income taxes”. He declined to name how much federal income tax he paid or to release his tax returns, again citing the on-going audit.
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”.
He added: “Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”
Two decades of tax data
The New York Times noted that “personal taxes” was a wider term than federal income taxes and said it could theoretically include things like Social Security, Medicare and taxes for his household employees.
Mr Trump’s tax returns have been some of the most sought-after documents in American politics. Mr Trump said back in 2014 he would “love” to release them if he ran for president but six years on they remain unpublished.
The New York Times said it obtained “tax-return data” stretching over a period of more than two decades, though not including Mr Trump’s personal returns for 2018 or 2019.
It said all of the information had been provided by sources with legal access to it and that more revelations were to come. The paper did not publish any raw financial documents.
While Mr Trump sought to portray himself as a stellar businessman, the information he provided to the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] tells a different tale, according to the paper.
It says that Mr Trump’s finances are in trouble, with some of his businesses losing millions of dollars. There are also substantial debts which he has personally guaranteed.
The paper also alleges that Mr Trump is still embroiled in an auditing dispute with the IRS dating back a decade over a $72.9 million tax refund he received.
Should that battle be lost, it claims, Mr Trump could face a further $100 million tax bill.
$70,000 'on hair styling'
According to The New York Times, Mr Trump’s career as a TV celebrity was lucrative with the show The Apprentice and sponsorship deals earning him almost $430 million.
However many of Mr Trump’s businesses including his golf courses and hotels - which have been handed over to his family during his presidency - have run at a substantial loss.
Mr Trump’s three European golf courses - two in Scotland and one in Ireland - have reported a combined $63.6 million in losses, according to the paper.
Other parts of the New York Times investigation describe how Mr Trump allegedly wrote off some eye-catching business expenses on his taxes.
They included more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during The Apprentice and $95,000 paid to a hair and makeup artist favoured by Ivanka Trump, his daughter, according to the paper.
The paper also says that between 2010 and 2018 Mr Trump wrote off some $26 million in unexplained “consulting fees” as a business expense across his projects.
The New York Times describes its reporting as a “road map of revelations”. It was immediately picked up by other US media outlets as well as US politicians and pundits.
It was published less than 48 hours before Mr Trump meets Mr Biden in a 90-minute debate in Cleveland, Ohio, dubbed the most critical day in the election campaign remaining.
With the November 3 election less than six weeks away, there was much discussion about how voters would react to the claim Mr Trump paid so little in federal income taxes for a decade.
The race is being run before a backdrop of huge economic turmoil, with more than 50 million Americans having filed for unemployment this year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Trump is more trusted to rebuild the economy than Mr Biden, according to polls, meaning anything that undermines his business credentials could be politically damaging.
However pollsters have long noted the stability in the presidential race, with many voters having made up their minds and the polls moving little despite the turbulent events of the last six months, meaning it remains unclear how the report will impact the campaign.
Richard Neal, the Democratic congressman who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said: “It appears that the president has gamed the tax code to his advantage and used legal fights to delay or avoid paying what he owes.”
Mr Biden did not immediately comment. The Biden campaign released an attack advert comparing Mr Trump's alleged payments in federal income taxes to those paid on average by sections of the US workforce.
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