On Saturday, The New York Times revealed Donald Trump’s 1995 tax records. The records showed that Trump took at $916 million loss on his tax returns, and that the deduction could have create an effective income tax exemption for Trump for 18 years. According to the Times:
The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.
So, here’s what we know.
1. The New York Times Didn’t Get The Records From Trump. It’s hard to imagine that the records were received legally. The Times reports that the person who sent them used Trump Tower as a return address, but that means nothing – it’s easy to label a return address falsely. Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, told the Times that Trump would pursue “Prompt initiation of appropriate legal action.” There’s a solid possibility Trump could win such an action, given the judgment against Gawker Media for publishing Hulk Hogan’s sex tape.
2. Trump Didn’t Do Anything Illegal. As even the Times acknowledges, Trump didn’t do anything wrong legally. These tax deductions were available, and Trump may have taken them in future years, although we have no tax returns from those years available to check. At the moment, Trump isn’t denying the allegations he paid no income tax for years. And at the debate with Clinton, he said it made him smart not to do so.
3. Not Paying Any Taxes Doesn’t Look Great. That doesn’t mean that Trump looks good if he was able to escape income tax for the last two decades. Trump has volunteered during this campaign that the rich ought to pay more, and said he’d be willing to pay more; he has a history of tweeting stuff like this:
Clinton’s campaign released a statement: “He apparently got to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades – while tens of millions of working families paid theirs. He calls that ‘smart.’ Now that the gig is up, why doesn’t he go ahead and release his returns to show us all how ‘smart’ he really is?”
4. Trump’s Business Record Has Some Pretty Significant Holes. The image of master businessman takes a pretty large hit when you lose a billion dollars on your tax returns. And Trump had a rough go of it in the early 1990s. Without seeing the rest of his tax returns, it’s impossible to determine his actual level of wealth, even though he claims to be worth $10 billion.
All of this will put added pressure on Trump to reveal his tax returns. If he doesn’t, Americans will assume, rightly or wrongly, that he has even more to hide.