“The New York Times obtained records from 1995 showing that Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss. The figure is so substantial that it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying federal income tax for 18 years,” exclaimed the New York Times in today’s big “scoop.”
1. The New York Times should not be publishing anyone’s tax returns who has not publicly released them. It’s unethical. They Times has the right to print just about anything, or course, but like all newspapers, it is obligated to exercise that right responsibly and fairly. This is neither. Tax returns are private. These tax returns reveal no crime, and nothing unethical on Trump’s part.
2. Nor does the public have a “right to know” Trump’s taxes. It has a right to trust Trump less than otherwise because he refuses to release his taxes, and has a right to think less of Trump for not following the recent accepted practice of candidates to release their tax returns. The public has no more right to see his tax returns without his consent, however, than it has a right to see mine.
3. What Trump’s taxes “could” have allowed him to do isn’t news. Nor is it responsible speculation.
4. This tax expert argues persuasively that it is highly unlikely that the returns mean what the Times says they do. Either way, it is all innuendo and speculation.
5. Federal law makes it illegal to publish an unauthorized tax return:
It shall be unlawful for any person to whom any return or return information (as defined in section 6103(b)) is disclosed in a manner unauthorized by this title thereafter willfully to print or publish in any manner not provided by law any such return or return information. Any violation of this paragraph shall be a felony punishable by a fine in any amount not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.
The Times editor, who admitted that he was searching for someone who would leak the Times the returns, has said that that if the Times’ lawyers advised him not to publish Trump tax returns, he would argue that such information is vital to the public interest because the real estate mogul’s “whole campaign is built on his success as a businessman and his wealth.” What a transparent and dishonest rationalization! At this point, Trump’s business exploits are entirely irrelevant. He’s rich, he’s a celebrity, he has his name on hotels and resorts, and he lives the lifestyle of the wealthy and famous. That’s true whatever his tax returns show. I would be surprised if more than a handful of voter inclined to vote for Trump would be dissuaded by a 20 year old return showing that he had a bad year.
6. This is another example of journalists abusing their special status under the First Amendment to launder illegally stolen information.
7. And if he used his losses to reduce his taxes in subsequent years, so what? That’s legal, responsible, competent and the system our government has, in its wisdom, allowed to be in place. What kind of Bernie Sanders, Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalist bias is the Times appealing to with this breathless revelation? There is nothing illegal, unethical, unpatriotic or worthy of criticism in a citizen paying as few taxes as the law allows. Paying more taxes might be evidence of generosity or stupidity, but that isn’t what the Times is trying to show.
8. The Washington Post points out that Trump’s speculative tax machinations show the flaws in the tax system. Agreed. That still doesn’t implicate Trump in wrongdoing, and the Times didn’t publish the stolen returns to argue for tax reform.
9. This is hypocrisy for the Times, which didn’t hesitate to pay no taxes in 2014.
10. For what seems like the thousandth time, let me again point out that the news media could properly and ethically make the case against voting for Donald Trump by simply reporting facts and being fair and objective. Instead, it is allowing this election to create a deplorable precedent that may have ended trustworthy journalism in the U.S for the foreseeable future.
49 thoughts on “Trump’s Taxes”
If I was Trump, I would sue all four authors of this article, the Times editor, and everybody responsible for this hit piece. Of course he hardly needs my advise: I’m sure he’s having a discussion with all his lawyers right now.
Streisand effect. Even if he won it would make him look bad. Afraid of people knowing what he’s up to, using the legal system to silence critics, vengeful punching down.
That’s not a commentary on whether he’d win, just an observation of the fallout. A normal candidate would do damage control and try to move on fast as they could not keep it in the news, which a lawsuit would do.
You may be right. It might not be the best strategy to sue the bastards at least immediately. If he loses the election, which is a strong possibility, he’ll probably do it anyway and win. As Jack pointed out, the Times has violated a Federal Law.
The federal law only applies to federal tax returns, not state tax returns. There’s also this point:
But just imagine for a moment that these states did criminalize the publication of unlawfully obtained tax returns. There is absolutely no way under the Constitution that the government could punish the Times for breaking these theoretical laws. The First Amendment vigorously protects speech on a matter of public concern; indeed, First Amendment protections are never more robust than when they pertain to speech about a candidate for elective office. Yes, the Times likely printed returns that were illegally obtained. But under the First Amendment, that doesn’t matter: The Constitution also protects the disclosure of illegally intercepted speech on a matter of public concern. If the government attempted to prosecute the Times for its Trump story, any judge with cursory knowledge of the First Amendment would laugh prosecutors out of court.
The points you mention from Slate are weak and misdirected and don’t support the Slate author’s ultimate conclusion (” any judge with cursory knowledge of the First Amendment would laugh prosecutors out of court”).
First, there’s “The First Amendment vigorously protects speech on a matter of public concern”.
– – The problem with this rationalization is that it assumes as fact the question Marshall has already raised – is this 1995 tax return “a matter of public concern” merely because it is the tax return of a candidate? I don’t know how a judge would rule on that, but Marshall’s reasoning above certainly brings that conclusion into question.
Next, there’s “First Amendment protections are never more robust than when they pertain to speech about a candidate for elective office”.
– – Again, this presupposes that Trump’s 1995 tax return is itself “speech” made BY the NYTimes merely because the NYTimes obtained it (“likely illegally”) and published it. Is it? Is a tax return “speech” by anyone (more on that below)? And does my tax return become the “speech” of a newspaper if they publish it? I don’t think so.
Then, a nice big fat red herring: “under the First Amendment, that doesn’t matter: The Constitution also protects the disclosure of illegally intercepted speech on a matter of public concern”
– – Whoa there. Beside blithely again presupposing that a current candidate’s 20 year old tax return is of itself a matter of public concern, this sentence equates a tax document in and of itself with “illegally intercepted speech”. What court, anywhere, has ever held that a tax return is constitutionally protected speech?
To me, these are the sort of arguments that don’t survive MSJ. (As an aside, nothing ever actually gets “laughed out of court”.)
I would agree that the First amendment can’t be cut that slim. Its wrong for the Times to print the returns, but can’t be made illegal.
Clarence Darrow: “In order for us to have enough freedom, it is necessary that we have too much.”
I think Trump, himself, deliberately “leaked” the tax return to see if Hilary would bite……and she did. I do believe the fact that the document is 20 yrs old shows that it was around one of the times he stiffed paying the people who were working for him. Still, not illegal if it was during a bankruptcy, but if he is so wealthy, why would he refuse to pay the honest people who believed in him? It is another reminder that Trump is all about himself. Also, these are the kinds of tax loopholes that he complains about during rallies to pretend he can relate to the common man, yet takes great advantage of.
That’s one conspiracy theory too many for me. I’ve heard this , and its just part f the cynicism that Trump’s very existence engenders.
I also think that Trump “leaked the taxes” to give himself both leverage and deniability. However, for him to sue for the publishing of the taxes, wouldnt he first have to claim them as being his?
If these are authentic returns then it just simply confirms what many know and have accepted: He pay no taxes and plan to continue not paying any.
If those of the common man (of which I am clearly one) believe that this “Trumped Up..Trickle down Economics” will eventually benefit them, then best wishes. I however believe as Jeb Bush said, “The common man will be disappointed and conned.”
I do not believe that the publishing of these items will rise to the level of “Illegal or Criminal”. They didnt try to blackmail Trump. They published what was received through legitimate sources, the United States Postal Service. They were the recipient of the items and tried to locate the donor.Then they published it.
Is it news worthy? That is determined by the reader and public. I personally dont think it was anything new. It was surprising the amount of the lost, but no information about what trigger it . The forms shed some new light on the candidate’s murky financial history, but offer few clues about his current tax status.
I do agree with the Clinton Campaign Spokesperson: “This bombshell report reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures and just how long he may have avoided paying any federal income taxes whatsoever,” Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, said in a statement. “In one year, Donald Trump lost nearly a billion dollars. A billion. He stiffed small businesses, laid off workers, and walked away from hardworking communities. And how did it work out for him? He apparently got to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades.”
This is an ethics blog. Publishing the returns is unethical. They are private.
Saying that the public decides if its newsworthy is a copout. The news media is a profession that is pledged to know what is newsworthy. Otherwise, the Times would be no different from Gawker and TMZ.
Mook’s comment is, as usual, dishonest. It doesn’t show what he did in subsequent years at all. That’s speculation. Not do “past business failures” reflect on a business’s success. Many great entrepreneurs have been wiped out and come back. That can reflect well on a businessman. Trump’s not bankrupt now.
In 8 years, the US President who Clinton claims to support has gone over a trillion dollars more in debt. Talk about hypocrisy.
The theory that Trump leaked the returns is ridiculous, and colored how I read the rest of the comment. It makes no sense at all. Trump is stupid, but he’s not THAT stupid.
I agree with you..
I meant that I disagree with you regarding the publishing of these items were unethical on the part the Times. The Society of Professional Journalism state Seek Truth and Report It. Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. They did that.
If it is unethical for them to report the information because it is private, then certainly DNC information & Colin Powell emails should not have been reported on. We shouldnt cherry pick these items.
They shouldn’t have been reported either.
Newspaper writers and editors (and most politicians) are salaried workers. They almost all probably file short form returns. They are envious of business owners and entrepreneurs who make lots of money and have complicated returns. They are secure in knowing no one would ever want to see their returns because they are simple and involve modest numbers. Any business person who presumes to get into politics will always be attacked for making money and having complicated returns. These writers, editors and politicians are worthy of contempt.
I also think this is another reason the Clintons went the tried and true “Foundation” route. They get to funnel (and effectively launder) huge amounts through their foundation and then just declare a salary from the foundation on their personal returns. An incredible double standard.
You are confusing the Clinton Foundation with the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Neither Bill nor Hillary take a salary from the Foundation. They do donate to it consistently through the years. DT stop donating around 1996, probably to substantiate that he had no taxable income. It is so sad that you are projecting Trump behaviour on the Clintons’. Trump called for the investigation of Clinton Foundation but yet New York’s AG demanded they cease from funding raising in NY.
This article stated: “the news media could properly and ethically make the case against voting for Donald Trump by simply reporting facts and being fair and objective.” I believe citizens/voters should be held to the same standard.
Clinton’s Foundation is corrupt, does not meet official foundation ethics criteria, and pays outrageous salaries to Clinton cronies while financing the family’s travel and perks. It launders contributions that are really bribes, , and is used for influence peddling. No, it’s not as bad as Trump’s Foundation, but it’s bad enough.
Jack, that’s uncharacteristically cynical for you. “Launders contributions that are bribes?” “Financing the family’s travel and perks?”
Here’s what a 25-year fund-raiser from Falls Church has to say:
“Go to Charity Navigator (a totally independence source) and read what it says about the Bill, Hillary, Chelsea Clinton Foundation. In 2015, 87% of funds went to charitable programs. Only 13% went to administration and fundraising. That’s one of the reasons Charity Navigator gave it Four Stars — their top rating. This foundation is respected around the world. It does life-saving work. It has positively affected the lives of tens of millions of people. Now, there is a foundation that IS a slush fund, and it is the Trump Foundation. Trump has used it illegally to make contributions to a political campaign (in essence a bribe) and pay off personal debts. If you are really concerned about the legitimacy of foundations, you need to turn your attention to the Trump Foundation.”
There is truly just no comparison here. This foundation business should be Exhibit A in the False Equivalency debate.
I stand by my research. Other services refuse to rate the CF because it’s so opaque.
Charity Navigator originally refused to rate the Clinton Foundation because its “atypical business model . . . doesn’t meet our criteria.” Charity Navigator put the foundation on its “watch list,” which warns potential donors about investing in problematic charities. The 23 charities on the list include the Rev. Al Sharpton’s troubled National Action Network, which is cited for failing to pay payroll taxes for several years.
Then, it suddenly, on Sept. 1, decided the Foundation was just wonderful, after some of the worst revelations about it soliciting donations from nations doing business with the State Department, and corporations wanting to have access to Hillary. Funny coincidence, if you ask me. At this point, I don’t trust Charity Navigator’s flip-flop.
“It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. It looks like that to me, too. I see conflicting statistics…like this report:
So what’s the truth? I don’t know, but the contributions game is well documented, and the fact is that legitimate non-profits don’t have these controversies, and I’ve been workin with and in foundationss for 30 years. This is a suspicious model. This story is pretty illuminating…https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/08/the-clinton-foundations-problems-are-deeper-than
Very rich reply; much appreciated. I’ll read those links, thank you.
The idea of “having” to release tax returns is just plain foolish. This is just political stupidity that has somehow become a requirement. What the Times did is deplorable and I hope Trump sues, wins and takes them for a fiscal ride. I despise Trump, but he has my sympathy on this one.
It was a joint return. Maybe Marla released them?
Is your snapshot of part of the return not also a violation? Is every person who shares it on Facebook in violation, since the NYT’s publication of it was not authorized?
Nope. Once it’s published, it’s public information, just like leaks of grand jury testimony. Can’t unring the bell.
it’s amazing that anyone running against him is not leading in the poles by 90% or more. and so sad the times did this. how are we supposed to ever trust the press with this BS?
“amazing that anyone running against him is not leading in the poles by 90% or more”
Meh, this is easily explained by the fact that the Clintons have never done very well with Eastern European immigrant communities.
I agree with your post . They had no right to release his taxes and if they can do it to him they can do it to anyone.
I also think that while everyone is running around screaming “He didn’t pay taxes!” , the more important question is how do you lose almost a billion dollars during a economic boom and have the gall to call yourself a great businessman??
When this first came up in Facebook posts, I asked,”What does this say about the Obama administration, who did not even go so far as to file a tax lien?”
Okay, now it is Obama Fault? Wow.. Help me to understand, what his filing a tax lien have to do with this? He wasnt even in office during that time.
If Trump owed back taxes, why has the administration failed to file a tax lien?
If we’re still talking about his 1995 tax return, he doesn’t. The tax return is legal, and, probably, ethical unless he lied. Speculation about subsequent tax returns is just that…speculation. Failure to file a tax lien may be evidence that subsequent returns were just as legal, but is not proof, either way.
I largely agree with you about the Times’ holier-than-thou and devil-may-care attitude about publishing.
But there’s a larger piece here that I don’t see anyone pointing out (except Morning Joe, and Allan Sloan in WaPo).
It is this: Trump is completely, legally within his rights to pay no taxes. He may even be a “genius,” as Giuliani insists.
But Trump has made three cynical, contradictory claims:
–First, that he and only he can reform the rigged insiders’ game because he knows it first-hand – a claim that by itself has got some validity.
–Second, his actual tax plan proposes CUTS for people like him, and closure of loopholes for hedge funds — but not for Big Real Estate. Which totally contradicts his first claim that he’s going to fix the rigged game.
–Third, he did not refer to either of those contradictory points in claiming he shouldn’t have to release his taxes – instead, he claimed he was prevented from doing so by the IRS (false), then by his lawyer (either false or incompetent), and (via his son), it’s “too complicated for people to understand.” The opposite of transparent.
That amounts to a shitstorm of lies and equivocations on a critical issue facing the nation – rising inequality, and the role of the tax system in perpetuating it by corrupt influence at the top.
Say what you like, the concrete evidence of zero tax paid, combined with his cynical “I’ll cut taxes – I mean, I’ll cut MY taxes” position, has forced his contradictory positions into very public view.
Does that excuse the Times? No, it doesn’t, but it also wouldn’t be the first time a major newspaper has skirted the law to publish important information.
This is not just partisan picayune stuff – this is the GOP’s candidate for president pushing cynicism to heretofore-untold levels, and on some level his exposure for being the liar that he is provides a considerable public service.
Been actually wondering if this would ever come up. Wife and I were discussing it a couple of days ago…as far as I know, there is no legal, moral, ethical or political reason for Trump or anybody else to release there tax returns. I don’t even remember the circumstances that this “tradition” began under. At it’s simplest, this should occur:
Press: When are you going to release your tax returns?
Candidate: I’m not. How much I made or didn’t make, HOW I made it or when I made is are none of your business. Next question
I think the best counter-argument to “none of your business” is probably, “Oh yes it IS our business. If you propose to be the one to reform the tax code, because you and only you know it so well, it’s in the nation’s interest to know where and when you might be double-dealing. If $500M in deductions, for example, come from a provision solely available to large property developers, then the nation’s electorate has a vital interest in knowing how you propose to deal with that portion of the tax code.”
Particularly because his plans so far look like doubling down on tax-exemptions for developers, while claiming to be generally “cutting taxes.”
To put it in familiar terms, “the nation deserves to know if its President [to-be] is a crook [to-be].”
“What difference does it make.” The nation already knows about the crooks previous and they don’t care as evidenced by re-electing same. Period. The nation may “deserve” to know, but they already have their minds made up, irrelevant of any facts disproving honesty and trustworthiness.
It is not correct that the Times broke the law in publishing this information.
Borchers alleges that the Times violated a federal statute that forbids the publication of “any [tax] return or return information” in “a manner unauthorized” by law. What Borchers does not understand is that this statute applies only to documents submitted to the federal government. (By its own terms, the statute pertains to “any return or return information (as defined in section 6103(b))”; that section defines “return” as tax information “filed with the Secretary [of the Treasury]”—i.e., federal tax data.)* The Times published portions of tax returns from state filings in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Federal law simply doesn’t punish the disclosure of state tax documents. For that matter, neither does relevant state law: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut do not have any parallel statutes governing unauthorized publication of tax returns. The Times disclosures, in other words, were perfectly legal.
I’ve said it from the beginning, tax returns don’t report wealth, only current income. And your post is excellent. Thanks for writing it Jack.
They also reflect hypocrisy.
$1Billion apparently represented 2% of the entire nation’s loss-carry-forward that year. No way he lost $1Bn in operating losses, either. It’s pure special-interest loopholing, and the magnitude of it serves to magnify his hypocrisy in claiming that he’ll fix the rigged system because only he knows how rigged it is. His actual proposals appear to fix hedge fund loopholes, but not those by which he “made” his own money.
This would not have been nearly as clear a case had the Times not printed his tax return.
I’d say it speaks volumes.
Yes. Everything on his return speaks volumes and it’s legal. Where’s the hypocrisy? The fact that he’s been there, done that? That isn’t illegal. Focus on what’s really important like what Hillary has done, not what Trump has said. The average taxpayer isn’t completely stupid and releasing the tax return will ultimately end up being in Trump’s favor.
The hypocrisy lies in him utilizing major loopholes, arguing that he will close them, and yet in his tax proposals doubling down on them rather than arguing they be closed.
Gee…a flawed messenger. Elizabeth Warren has been rather outspoken on the financial industry, but an examination of her returns shows she has no problem investing in same. But both Warren and Trump are correct, so do we discount the message?
I don’t see the parallel.
Both invest in “the industry,” true. And both could be in the position of affecting said industry.
But quite clearly Warren is proposing to do something about industry abuses, and does so every day; if she loses money on stock in Wells Fargo because of haranguing their CEO, I have no doubt she’d willingly lose it.
Trump on the other hand claims to be a reformer. But in the actual details of his proposals he refuses to include as “loopholes” the very loopholes he disparages in other industries.
Trump is still putting the message out and must be held accountable for detials. Warren has been beating the drum (pun intended) for four years. Trump for four hours.
Gee…a flawed messenger. Elizabeth Warren has been rather outspoken on the financial industry, but an examination of her returns shows she has no problem investing in same. But both Warren and Trump are correct, so do we discount the message?
I feel like the comment is indicative of a trend in politics right now. We’re basically in a post-policy election, where everything is about character. So critiques about Trump’s issues with his wealth are often met with assertions that Clinton is just as bad because she takes money from Wall Street. The extent to which that actually influences each candidate’s policies doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
Warren is just a hypocrite who appropriated a false past for her own professional and political advancement. But she is fairly accurate on her assessment.
Trump belongs down the rabbit hole with the Queen of Hearts.
I care for them as messengers about as much as Clinton (Bill & Hillary) on womens rights
I disagree to this extent: there is nothing wrong with a citizen taking advantage of a law that he believes is bad policy, and vowing to eliminate it. I hear this argument a lot, and it makes no sense. I think gas prices should be increased with gas taxes, but I don’t have to pay more than I’m required to at the pump to show mu sincerity. I think that mortgage interest deduction is too big, but I bought my home depending on it, and there’s nothing wrong with me reaping the benefits until its repealed.
Of course, agreed. But that’s not the case here.
Trump claims he’ll cut taxes and eliminate loopholes. But his actual proposals only cut taxes on the rich, and keep mainly the loopholes only available to highly wealthy real estate developers.
The real issue is not the taxes Trump paid or did not, but the convoluted tax code that exists. Try selling investment property – I would rather spend my time solving Beal’s Conjecture. I have posted this before when we migrated into taxes and it is charitable contributions. In 2015 I declared none – yet 10% of my income went to charity. I just personally believe you give with your heart and not your head. There will be no $1 for donating underwear on my return.
Trump took enormous losses on his returns since he was entitled to it and it was perfectly legal. I happen to be one that feels losses should not be written off – even in the cases such as World Com or Enron that were both infected with corruption – and, yes, I lost money on both. I am not expecting Jack or anyone on this board to bail out my stupidity or bail out Trump or anyone else.
I could go deeper on taxes, but the bottom line is I am one that thinks flat tax – even with some of its flaws. Put in a nice personal exemption and go from there. Just cut to the core on taxes and watch unemployment skyrocket as CPA’s, auditors, IRS drones and tax departments are minimized.