President Trump waiting to board Air Force One this month.Doug Mills/The New York Times
Even though taxes on wealthy Americans have fallen sharply in recent decades, most still pay a lot to the federal government. A typical billionaire pays tens of millions of dollars in federal income taxes each year.
President Trump, however, is different.
Yesterday, The Times published an investigation of his finances, based on thousands of pages of documents that had not previously been public. They showed that Trump paid no taxes in 11 of the 18 years between 2000 and 2017. In both 2016 and 2017, he paid only $750.
He was able to do so both because many of his businesses report losing large amounts of money — which reduces his taxable income — and because he has engaged in questionable tax practices. Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.
The investigation also found that:
As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known.
Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.
Trump is facing a series of large looming bills in the next few years, and it is not obvious how he will cover them.
You can read the full story, by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, here. I’ve compiled a list of major takeaways here. We’ve also put together a timeline of his finances.
Below is a sample of outside reactions to the story:
Susan Hennessey, Lawfare: “Now we know for sure why Trump was refusing to release his tax returns.”
Lily Batchelder, New York University: “Trump’s tax returns suggest he has only ever been successful as a showman, not at running actual businesses.”
Seth Hanlon, Democratic policy adviser: “In 2017, a single worker without children who made $18,000 would have paid $760 in federal income tax. Donald Trump paid $750.”
Avi Asher-Schapiro, of Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Perhaps the most instructive thing re: Trump taxes is the $75K deduction for haircuts. It really illustrates how easy it is for rich people to manipulate their tax burden, & pay less than us. Trump’s haircuts are a business expense […] but not my entire rent when I work from home.”
Robert George of The New York Daily News noted that Trump telegraphed his tax avoidance during a 2016 presidential debate by saying, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation.” George added: “It’s not like he wasn’t up front about this.”
Some Trump supporters, like Mike Cernovich, emphasized that the documents contained no new revelations about Trump’s ties to Russia.
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight: “No particular instinct for how much the Trump tax news will resonate with rank-and-file voters. May depend on how much the Biden campaign chooses to emphasize it. There is a damaging headline for Trump (that he paid only $750) which is sometimes lacking in these sorts of stories.”
The New York Times