Calling it a "hit job" based on "very old information," President Donald Trump fired back Wednesday at a bombshell report published by The New York Times an evening prior revealing his businesses lost nearly $1.2 billion between 1985 and 1994.
"You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes....almost all real estate developers did - and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport," Trump claimed on Twitter. "Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!"
The Times, which obtained 10 years of Trump's tax information between 1984 and 1994, revealed the former real estate mogul appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual U.S. taxpayer year after year over the decade after comparing his information with other top earners.
Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years, according to the newspaper. The only two years in the 10-year period when he paid income taxes were 1987 and 1988. In both of those years he paid the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to keep wealthy taxpayers from using loopholes and deductions to avoid paying taxes. It is unclear if the IRS required Trump to make changes after audits.
The Times did not obtain the president's actual tax returns, but someone who had legal access to the returns gave the newspaper information about their contents. The newspaper then matched the information to figures in the IRS's public database on top earners, where identifying details are removed. It then used other public documents to confirm significant findings, along with confidential Trump family tax and financial documents the newspaper had previously acquired.
Several weeks ago, a senior White House official told the Times, "The president got massive depreciation and tax shelter because of large-scale construction and subsidized developments. 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."
Charles Harder, a lawyer for the president, told the Times on Saturday that the tax information the newspaper obtained was "demonstrably false," and its statements "about the president's tax returns and business from 30 years ago are highly inaccurate." Harder did not cite any specific errors, according to the newspaper.
Harder claimed to the Times on Tuesday that "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." However, a former IRS director of research, analysis and statistics called into question that characterization.
The newspaper's report is striking given Trump ran for president as a self-made billionaire and real estate tycoon of unfathomable success, claiming, "I built what I built myself, and I did it by working long hours and working hard and working smart."
While Trump has been steadfast in touting his financial success, he has also been reluctant to release his tax returns to the public, despite mounting pressure from Congress.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday formally denied a request from the House Ways and Means Committee to provide six years of Trump's tax returns — a period not covered by the documents reported Tuesday by the Times. Democrats are expected to counter by issuing a subpoena for the documents, and if necessary, sue in federal court to enforce the subpoena.
Democrats have been on a quest to obtain Trump's tax returns, since he bucked decades of tradition when he refused to release them during the 2016 election cycle. Although not required by law, every major party presidential nominee since the 1970s has chosen to publicly release his or her tax returns except for Gerald Ford, who only released a summary. Financial disclosures can help paint a fuller picture of a candidate's business positions and interests by providing information about financial dealings, such as investments, donations, business relationships, assets and possible conflicts of interests.
Trump has made clear he does not want to turn over his tax returns, claiming he cannot disclose them since he is being audited by the IRS — even though an audit does not prevent a taxpayer from releasing his or her own tax documents. The administration has indicated it plans to continue to fight congressional requests for information about the president's finances.
Democrats have requested Trump's returns as part of their wide-ranging investigations into potential conflicts of interests posed by his business dealings. Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the request as merely a pretext for a political attack.