Taxing Times For Trump

Someone gave the New York Times “more than two decades” of Trump’s “tax return data,” and they published it. Had Trump revealed his returns, as has become the norm for presidential candidates since 1974, this would be old news. But since Trump refused to do so, and since it’s Trump, the billionaire stable genius super businessman dealmaker, it’s . . . something.

What does the tax data mean? He didn’t pay any taxes for 10 of 15 years, and paid $750 in the year he was elected. Does that make him a tax genius or a lying business failure? Beats me. I’m no tax expert, and tax returns bore me to tears. It wouldn’t be surprising that he was able to use the tax regs to his advantage by milking every deduction and passive loss carryforward and using them to his advantage. It also wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was drowning in debt. I’ve known quite a few people who lived the life of the wealthy until some intervening good fortune saved them from the scheme crashing down on them. Or the scheme crashed down on them.

What all this means will end up the domain of people far more knowledgeable about such matters than I. And more trustworthy than the New York Times, which has sadly proven itself unable to resist presuming whatever “truth” best serves its perspective.

To the extent that this is an issue now, with the election looming, Trump has no one to blame but himself. Had he released his tax returns before his first election, this wouldn’t matter. By refusing to comply with the norm, he made it the nefarious forbidden fruit concealing secrets so awful they had to be concealed. I’ve long suspected that the only “secret” buried in his tax returns was that he wasn’t all that rich, and wasn’t a very good business person. There wasn’t anything particularly nefarious going on, but just something that Trump would find personally humiliating. That’s the worst thing a narcissist can endure, to be outed as a fraud.

But was it wrong for some thief in the night to reveal this personal data to the Times? Was it wrong, albeit not illegal, for the Times to publish it? Dean Basquet, the Executive Editor, explains.

We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances. Every president since the mid-1970s has made his tax information public. The tradition ensures that an official with the power to shake markets and change policy does not seek to benefit financially from his actions.

As a general statement, this is fine. As a specific statement, this falls short. The Times hasn’t disclosed the documents in its possession, because, as Basquet explains:

We are not making the records themselves public because we do not want to jeopardize our sources, who have taken enormous personal risks to help inform the public.

Totally understandable from the snitch’s perspective, but that means we’re constrained to accept the Times’ characterization of what the docs say, and what it means. You can protect your source or you can reveal the documents. Can you do both? Maybe. If you are so trustworthy that no one would doubt either your word or your “truth” about what it means. Too bad the Times gave that away. The 1619 Project comes to mind as a recent example.

But then, bear in mind that it wasn’t the Times, but Trump, who made this such a huge mystery.

Mr. Trump, one of the wealthiest presidents in the nation’s history, has broken with that practice. As a candidate and as president, Mr. Trump has said he wanted to make his tax returns public, but he has never done so. In fact, he has fought relentlessly to hide them from public view and has falsely asserted that he could not release them because he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. More recently, Mr. Trump and the Justice Department have fought subpoenas from congressional and New York State investigators seeking his taxes and other financial records.

The harder one fights to conceal, the greater the interest in revelation. Granted, no one with any familiarity with someone like Trump expected him to use a 1040-EZ. They were certainly rife with complexities, and no small amount of envelope pushing on the soft numbers of depreciation, exemptions, deductions and, well, all those cool tax words that accountants lose sleep over. But of course Trump was going to game the system as hard as he could. Avoiding the payment of taxes is as American as apple pie, although most of us can’t come close to zero taxes due, much as we want to.

So what does it tell us about how Trump has, and could, and will, use his office for his gain? It’s no mystery that Trump has two, and only two, motivations, self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Of course he was going to get what he could out of being president as possible. For his supporters, this isn’t the question, as they were happy to turn a blind eye to Trump’s enriching himself in the usual course of “honest graft,” as long as they got what they wanted out of him as well. Unless, perhaps, Trump went too far. Who would tell us if this was so?

The reporters who examined these records have been covering the president’s finances and taxes for almost four years. Their work on this and other projects was guided by Paul Fishleder, a senior investigative editor, and Matthew Purdy, a deputy managing editor who oversees investigations and special projects at The Times.

Does this mean anything? Are these tax experts? Are they experts in real estate or hotel financing? Are they experts in anything? They’re reporters and editors for the New York Times, which has demonstrated its dislike of Trump more than once. Now there’s one more thing to hate about Trump. Will this change everything or anything?

35 thoughts on “Taxing Times For Trump

  1. Turk

    The thing most will be able to appreciate, despite our miserably complex tax code, is deducting personal items as business deductions. #LeonaHelmsley

    1. SHG Post author

      There are no doubt some highly dubious deductions in there, particularly including the consultant payments to Ivanka. Whether he’s get the Leona treatment remains to be seen, but she had no fan club.

      1. Turk

        For me the part that jumped out was declaring one of his homes — Seven Springs — as an investment t property.

        Of course, I’ve been a lousy predictor of what will stick. For tomorrow brings yet another scandal as today’s heads to the back page.

        But the sheer volume of info should will keep the NY AG’s office busy for years to come (as he pardons everyone, including himself, on the federal side).

          1. Turk

            Well, it gives the AG compelling arguments to oppose Trump attempts to quash subpoenas.

            Much easier now to argue this isn’t a fishing expedition.

          2. John Barleycorn

            Do you mean “they” that news paper you read everyday, or “they” the “editorial staff” down at the DA’s office?

      2. SamS

        Your comment shows a misunderstanding of the tax code and how deductions work. If Trump deducted the payments to Ivanka, then she had to report them as income. If as claimed, Trump only paid $750 in income tax, then he had to be in a low tax bracket. Deductions are worth in tax the deduction times the tax rate: for instance, $200,000 deduction times a marginal tax rate of 25 percent is worth $40,000 in tax; the same deduction times a 15 percent marginal tax is equal to $30,000. Since the article implies Trump was in a low marginal bracket, then the deduction was not worth much in tax. If Ivanka was in a higher tax bracket than Trump, she might have paid more in tax than he saved and the Treasury would have benefited from the transaction.
        FYI, I’ve been a CPA doing tax work for over 35 years.

  2. Antonio Maceo

    Im not an attorney and happened to come across your Twitter account as a non-Twitter user. Your comments are refreshing as an attorney who uses facts, the law and philosophical inquiry in manners rarely seen today in the public forum. At we home we did not vote for Trump. As an immigrant I believed that Trump’s chances of winning the GOP nomination would happen when hell froze over. Welcome to 2020 when hell at times looks more appealing than witnessing the hypocrisy of Democrats calling Trump divisive and demeaning of people, while they ignore Hillary’s 1990s screed of “vast right wing conspiracy” and the Clinton machinery, enabled by the MSM, to hang, draw, and quarter women who were victims of Bill and Hillary raping women. Thank you for your level headed commentary. Your humor is appreciated as well. Saludos!

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t usually post tummy rubs, but I’m posting yours just to pendejo watch doesn’t call me a maricon again. I take what I can get. And thanks.

  3. B. McLeod

    Given what journalism has become, there is no reason to believe the information published by the NYT is authentic.

  4. Erik H

    Well, the NYT would be a lot more credible if they also addressed the *negatives* in the returns, and explained which predictions they / others had gotten wrong.

      1. Onlymom

        You said a mouthful. But look at the bright side. The New York District Attorney Vance now has a new place to hit for those records.
        if they are correct he’s either a fraud who’s broke. Or the biggest tax fraud in American history! Not to mention the biggest case of Conspiracy to commit tax fraud in history via every reduction to business taxes he’s passed while in office.

  5. Scarlet Pimpernel

    I can’t but help feel that the whole point in publishing this was so a NYT writer could win a Twitter debate from 4 years ago.

  6. Hunting Guy

    So. I thought those records were supposed to be confidential.

    What will happen to the person that released them? A promotion?

  7. John Echols

    The relevant question is not, “Is Trump a tax-cheat or merely an aggressive tax avoider?”

    It’s, “To whom does Trump owe the $100s of millions in loans due within a coupe of years?”

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s all stated on page 35 of his annual required disclosure. Nothing out of the ordinary, like “Putin, V. $273,000,000 [unsecured].”

      1. Charles

        The sticky note said “Putin V.” but the accountant thought it said “Put in V.”, so he put it in Section 5. Mystery solved.

  8. David

    It may change things. His base does not care so he likely won’t see an erosion here but there are a few non polarized people and this will not help him there. As you point out this was a trap of his own making. Whether the material they have is accurate does not matter because the only way to challenge it is to release his own version.

    If they have the goods then this does not bolster image. If they don’t and the material is incorrect then it is ironic that he is getting caught in the same garbage he likes to spin. You know a lot of people are talking about how he is a tax cheat. And I heard today that he is beholden to Putin.

    Basically he played this one poorly, this was always a vulnerability and he bet that since he skated for so long, no-one would bring it back up. It may turn out to either be a very bad bet. He should have buried this early in his term but he didn’t.

  9. Jake

    To your ultimate question: I certainly don’t think it’s going to mean anything to Trump’s base. Even if one Trump voter possessed the mental sophistication required to understand any of the revelations in the NYTimes reporting, they have all proven, beyond doubt, his behavior is not disqualifying for the role under any circumstances.

    1. LocoYokel

      they have all proven, beyond doubt, his behavior is not disqualifying for the role under any circumstances.

      Unfortunately, this comment applies to all the candidates for the past few elections. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone” comes to mind, or something, something, glass houses something.

      Give me a better choice.

  10. Federico Wibmer

    I would say this is a play by the NYT to get Trump to release his tax returns, but I’m sure they don’t think that will happen. Most people probably assumed Trump wasn’t a real business man but only played one on TV before this anyway.

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