Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, paid only $750 in federal income taxes in the year he was elected US president, according to a stunning New York Times investigation that could shake up the presidential election.
“Trump taxes show chronic losses and years of tax avoidance,” was the banner headline on the paper’s website on Sunday. The president’s tax returns have long been the holy grail of American political reporting.
The president “paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency”, the paper reported, adding that “in his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.
“He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years – largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.”
In all, the paper said, Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years its reporters examined. Many of his businesses, including his golf courses, report significant financial losses – which have helped him to lower his taxes.
The Times also said the documents it had obtained “comprise information that Mr Trump has disclosed to the IRS, not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Mr Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.”
The paper said it would not publish the documents, in order to protect its source.
At a White House press briefing on Sunday, Trump made wild allegations about plots against him and about Biden, who he will debate for the first time on Tuesday. Eventually, he dismissed the Times report as “totally fake news”.
He said: “We went through the same stories, you could have asked me the same questions four years ago, I had to litigate this and talk about it.
“Totally fake news, no. Actually I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns – it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time. The [Internal Revenue Service] does not treat me well … they treat me very badly. You have people in the IRS – they treat me very badly.”
The president added: “The New York Times tried it, the same thing, they want to create a little bit of a story. They’re doing anything they can. That’s the least of it. The stories that I read are so fake, they’re so phony.”
Pressed on why a billionaire only paid a few hundred dollars in the year he won the presidency, Trump insisted: “First of all I paid a lot, and I paid a lot of state income taxes too. The New York state charges a lot and I paid a lot of money in state. It’ll all be revealed. It’s going to come out but after the audit.”
The revelations threaten to damage Trump’s repeated claim to be a successful businessman and therefore a capable steward of the US economy.
The Times also said he has used “questionable measures” to reduce his tax bill. He faced a possible hit of “more than $100m” if he lost “a decade-long audit battle with the IRS over the legitimacy of a $72.9m tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses”.
It promised more stories in the coming weeks, adding: “The tax returns that Mr Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public.”
Trump will face Joe Biden at the polls on 3 November. He has long resisted demands by political opponents and the media to release decades of tax information. He is the first president since the 1970s to keep his tax returns concealed.
The Times reported on Trump family tax affairs in late 2018, winning a Pulitzer Prize.
“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,” the Times reported on Sunday.
“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.”
The paper added: “Over the past two decades, Mr Trump has paid about $400m less in combined federal income taxes than a very wealthy person who paid the average for that group each year.”
Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”.
He said: “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.”
The newspaper pointed out that “personal taxes” appeared to cover other federal taxes, including social security and Medicare.
The report prompted instant criticism. Ryan Thomas, a spokesperson for the progressive advocacy organisation Stand Up America, said: “Four years ago, Donald Trump broke decades of precedent when he refused to release his tax returns to the public. At each turn since, he’s attempted to shield his financial records from the public – even as congressional and criminal investigators look into how he’s profited off the presidency and his decades of fraudulent tax schemes.
“We’ve demanded Trump’s tax returns for years because the American people deserve to know what he’s paying – and the answer appears to be very little. A man who uses dubious tax schemes to avoid paying taxes or lies to the public about his finances has no place in the Oval Office.
“This is just one more reason why we must vote to evict him.”
• The headline on this article was amended on 28 September 2020 to remove a suggestion that the New York Times had published the actual tax returns.