The New York Times published Tuesday night a 3,600-word exposé on "previously unrevealed figures" from Donald Trump's federal income tax documents from 1985 to 1994 — a report President Trump dismissed Wednesday morning as a "highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!"
"Decade in the red: Trump tax figures show over $1 billion in business losses," the Times announces in the title to its report that contains various loaded subtitles, including "The Art of Losing Money" and "A Vulture's Appetite." The Times' Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig signal in the beginning the goal of the report: to tear down Trump's "self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome."
"By the time his master-of-the-universe memoir 'Trump: The Art of the Deal' hit bookstores in 1987, Donald Trump was already in deep financial distress, losing tens of millions of dollars on troubled business deals, according to previously unrevealed figures from his federal income tax returns," the Times reports. "Trump was propelled to the presidency, in part, by a self-spun narrative of business success and of setbacks triumphantly overcome. He has attributed his first run of reversals and bankruptcies to the recession that took hold in 1990. But 10 years of tax information obtained by The New York Times paints a different, and far bleaker, picture of his deal-making abilities and financial condition."
The new information — which was taken from Trump’s official IRS transcripts and figures from his federal tax forms (the 1040) — "represents the fullest and most detailed look to date at the president’s taxes, information he has kept from public view," claim Buettner and Craig.
"The numbers show that in 1985, Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade," the Times reports. "In fact, year after year, Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the IRS compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the IRS information for those years."
He lost enough money during that period that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years, Buettner and Craig underscore.
They note that the paper has been trying to uncover Trump's tax records for years and that while the Times "did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it."
"The Times was then able to find matching results in the IRS information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed," Buettner and Craig explain. "It also confirmed significant findings using other public documents, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial records from the newspaper’s 2018 investigation into the origin of the president’s wealth."
Trump responded to the report by saying that "massive write-offs" are what happens all the time with major real estate developers, particularly in that period. The Times' big report, he said, is a "highly inaccurate Fake News hit job" based on "very old information."
"Real estate developers in the 1980’s & 1990’s, more than 30 years ago, were entitled to massive write offs and depreciation which would, if one was actively building, show losses and tax losses in almost all cases," he wrote in a pair of tweets Wednesday morning. "Much was non monetary. Sometimes considered 'tax shelter,' you would get it by building, or even buying. You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes....almost all real estate developers did — and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport. Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!"
The White House has also responded to the Times' report in multiple statements, which Buettner and Craig characterize as having "shifted over time."
"The president got massive depreciation and tax shelter because of large-scale construction and subsidized developments," a spokesperson told the Times several weeks ago. "That is why the president has always scoffed at the tax system and said you need to change the tax laws. You can make a large income and not have to pay large amount of taxes."
Trump's lawyer Charles J. Harder told the Times Saturday that the information they were using was "demonstrably false" and the Times' claims "about the president’s tax returns and business from 30 years ago are highly inaccurate." While he did not give any specifics on what was "inaccurate," Harder followed up with another statement Tuesday saying, "IRS transcripts, particularly before the days of electronic filing, are notoriously inaccurate" and "would not be able to provide a reasonable picture of any taxpayer’s return," the Times reports.