Every year from 1985 through 1994, according to leaked tax returns obtained by The New York Times, Donald J. Trump reported a negative adjusted gross income on his tax returns. That number grew as new losses were combined with those from prior years. The New York Times previously found that Mr. Trump declared an adjusted gross income in 1995 of negative $915.7 million.
The figures, according to the Times, show that the losses contradict the image that Trump promoted of himself as an adept and successful New York real estate developer.
Or do they show an adept real estate developer following the tax law's depreciation guidelines to minimize his tax liabilities like every good shepherd of capital should?
“I love depreciation,” Mr. Trump said during a presidential debate in 2016.
As NYT openly admits:
Some fraction of that ocean of red ink represented depreciation on Mr. Trump’s real estate. One of the most valuable special benefits in the tax code, depreciation lets owners of commercial real estate write down the cost of their buildings.
The Times still gloats:
Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.
The newly-leaked documents, reportedly confirm the details that were leaked in October 2018, where the NYT accused President Trump of participating in "questionable" and "dubious" tax strategies "including instances of outright fraud" that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents and allowed him to accrue millions of dollars in additional wealth from his father's real estate empire "much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s."
As one of the authors, NYT reporter Susanne Craig explained at the time, she and Russ Buettner, David Barstow "got our hands on a massive trove of confidential docs - including 200 tax returns - from Fred Trump’s empire. We found Donald Trump received hundreds of millions from his dad, some of it via fraudulent tax schemes."
But, as NYT reports, several weeks ago, a senior official issued a statement saying:
“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.”
On Saturday, after further inquiries from The Times, a lawyer for the president, Charles J. Harder, wrote that the tax information was “demonstrably false,” and that the paper’s statements “about the president’s tax returns and business from 30 years ago are highly inaccurate.”
He cited no specific errors, but on Tuesday added that “I.R.S. 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.”
The Times then dangles this open-ended accusatory paragraph:
The new tax information does not answer questions raised by House Democrats in their pursuit of the last six years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns — about his recent business dealings and possible foreign sources of financing and influence. Nor does it offer a fundamentally new narrative of his picaresque career.
And the biggest question, of course is simple - was it illegal?
As the NYT itself admitted after receiving Trump's 1995 tax return form's front-page in October 2016, there was nothing illegal about using such a manoeuvre:
The world's rich take advantage of NOL tax planning all the time, and in fact acquiring corporations for their NOL benefit has long been a strategy in corporate America designed to minimize Federal and State tax outflows.
The tax experts consulted by The Times said nothing in the 1995 documents suggested any wrongdoing by Mr. Trump, even if the extraordinary size of the loss he declared would have probably attracted extra scrutiny from I.R.S. examiners.
“The I.R.S., when they see a negative $916 million, that has to pop out,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.
So why is it a big deal? To make him seem like he avoids taxes? Well, if any other American could do so legally, wouldn't they?
Finally, even the NYTimes admits the ten years of tax returns cover a period of dramatic recession, stock market crash, and real estate collapse, so, as one Twitter wit suggested (@pharaohfire):
"Trump only lost 1 Billion in the worst Real Estate recession in US history outside the Great Depression. To me that’s #winning"
At his nadir, in the post-recession autumn of 1991, Mr. Trump testified before a congressional task force, calling for changes in the tax code to benefit his industry.
“The real estate business — we’re in an absolute depression,” Mr. Trump told the lawmakers, adding:
“I see no sign of any kind of upturn at all. There is no incentive to invest. Everyone is doing badly, everyone.”
“90% of all millionaires become so through owning real estate. More money has been made in real estate than in all industrial investments combined. The wise young man or wage earner of today invests his money in real estate.” -Andrew Carnegie
And one last point for your consideration:
AMZN market cap: $945BN
Taxes paid in 2018: negative $129MM
While The Times did not obtain the president’s actual tax returns, it received the information contained in the returns from someone who had legal access to it.