NY Times: Donald Trump lost a lot of money and paid little in taxes decades ago


The NY Times published a big story today on Trump’s taxes from 1985 to 1994. The upshot is that Trump claimed over a billion dollars in losses during that time and, as a result, paid almost no tax on his income.

The numbers show that in 1985, Mr. Trump reported losses of $46.1 million from his core businesses — largely casinos, hotels and retail space in apartment buildings. They continued to lose money every year, totaling $1.17 billion in losses for the decade.

In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

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 first question I had when reading the story was how the Times came by this information. Here’s the explanation:

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. The Times was then able to find matching results in the I.R.S. information on top earners — a publicly available database that each year comprises a one-third sampling of those taxpayers, with identifying details removed.

Who had legal access to the information in Trump’s returns? Is that the CPA or attorney doing his taxes during those years? Even assuming this person had legal access to the information, how is it legal to leak that information to the media? This Bloomberg primer on tax confidentiality suggests there are very few circumstances where a tax professional can reveal information without the express permission of the person involved. I’m assuming whoever leaked this information didn’t have Trump’s consent.

In any case, I’m not sure how much impact this is going to have. It’s not as if the fact that his casino empire was a money loser was a secret until now. Here’s a fact-check on Trump’s bankruptcy filing from 2016:

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Trump’s Taj Mahal opened in April 1990 in Atlantic City, but six months later, “defaulted on interest payments to bondholders as his finances went into a tailspin,” The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow found. In July 1991, Trump’s Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy. He could not keep up with debts on two other Atlantic City casinos, and those two properties declared bankruptcy in 1992. A fourth property, the Plaza Hotel in New York, declared bankruptcy in 1992 after amassing debt.

PolitiFact uncovered two more bankruptcies filed after 1992, totaling six. Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts filed for bankruptcy again in 2004, after accruing about $1.8 billion in debt. Trump Entertainment Resorts also declared bankruptcy in 2009, after being hit hard during the 2008 recession.

We also heard plenty about his failed airline, his failed line of steaks, bottled water, Vodka, etc. The Times’ story adds more detail to the losses but it doesn’t dramatically change the overall picture that was already part of the record before the last election. Most voters are more interested in what shows up on their own tax returns than what Trump’s returns looked like more than 20 years ago.

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