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Nate Jackson / Sep. 28, 2020

The NYT's Misfire on Trump's Taxes

Just 37 days before the election, a Times report fails to hit its intended target.

If you were thinking about voting for Donald Trump this November, you might want to think again. At least that’s the intent of the New York Times’s latest dud of a blockbuster: “Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance.”

The Times’s intrepid journalists claim to have “obtained” from unnamed sources “Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades.” They say they found “struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.” The story begins:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. 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 10,000 words, that’s just about the best the Times could do, although the reporters promise — just 37 days prior to the election, mind you — that “additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.”

Then again, there were a couple of interesting tidbits. For example, his records don’t “reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.” You could almost hear these journalists cursing as they typed those words.

Another revelation is downright humorous. Trump evidently “relied on some deft accounting footwork and an unwitting gift from an unlikely source — Mr. Obama.” That’s right. Donald Trump claimed a $73 million tax refund because of Barack Obama’s “stimulus” tax rules. The Times reports that, in a change made in November 2009, “business owners could request full refunds of taxes paid in the prior four years, and 50 percent of those from the year before that.” The result? “Mr. Trump had paid no income taxes in 2008. But the change meant that when he filed his taxes for 2009, he could seek a refund of not just the $13.3 million he had paid in 2007, but also the combined $56.9 million paid in 2005 and 2006, when ‘The Apprentice’ created what was likely the biggest income tax bite of his life.” That refund is the subject of a dispute, however, so it may not stand.

No Russian collusion, no illegal actions (Trump’s deductions were perfectly legal), and Obama wrote him a $73 million check. In the understatement of the year, the Times reports, “The filings will leave many questions unanswered, many questioners unfulfilled.”

If the Times report is true — the president called it “fake news” — we suppose there are a couple of takeaways. First, perhaps Trump was not quite the savvy businessman he claimed to be, as our Mark Alexander argued in early 2016. Trump often claims he’s being audited and therefore can’t release his returns. After the Times report, he insisted, “The IRS does not treat me well. They treat me like the Tea Party.” That’s totally believable, but Trump has been extremely guarded with any of his financial information, even filing a lawsuit over a report about his net worth. Doth he protest too much?

On the other hand, as commentator Matt Walsh put it, “If you were aware of a legal tax loophole that could lessen your tax liability, would you forgo the savings out of principle and willingly pay more to the IRS than is required? If no, you can’t judge Trump. If yes, you’re a … lunatic and a sucker of the highest order.” In other words, Trump is doing what every business and individual tax filer in this nation does — reduce the tax bill as much as legally possible. If Democrats don’t like that, they could always simplify the tax code instead of demanding the restoration of big deductions for wealthy blue-state residents like Trump.

Finally, if anyone wondered if the Times was colluding with Joe Biden (again), his campaign released an ad about the report just hours after it came out Sunday.

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