Democrats in Congress on Friday released thousands of pages of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, providing the most detailed picture yet of his finances over a six-year period, including his time in the White House when he struggled to keep the information a breach with decades of precedent.
The documents include individual returns from Trump and his wife, Melania, and Trump’s business units from 2015 to 2020. They show how Trump used tax legislation to reduce his tax liability and reveal details about overseas accounts, charitable donations, and the performance of some of his high-profile business ventures that had remained largely shielded from public scrutiny.
The disclosure marks the culmination of a year-long legal battle that has raged everywhere from the presidential campaign to Congress and the Supreme Court, as Trump has persistently rebuffed efforts to disclose details about his financial history – contrary to the practice of transparency followed by all his predecessors became the post-Watergate era. The release of the records comes just days before Republicans regain control of the House and weeks after Trump launched another campaign for the White House.
The records show how Trump limited his tax liability by offsetting his income against corporate losses, as well as millions of dollars in business expenses, asset write-offs and other deductions.
While Trump paid $641,931 in federal income taxes in 2015, the year he began his presidential campaign, he paid just $750 in 2016 and 2017, according to a report released last week by Congress’ bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation . He paid almost $1 million in 2018 but only $133,445 in 2019 and nothing in 2020, the year he unsuccessfully sought re-election.
The records also describe Trump’s foreign holdings.
Trump reportedly had bank accounts in China, Ireland and the United Kingdom from 2015 to 2017, despite being commander in chief. However, as of 2018, he only reported one UK account. The statements also show that Trump has claimed foreign tax credits for taxes he has paid on various business ventures around the world, including licensing agreements for the use of his name on development projects and his golf courses in Scotland and Ireland. In 2018, Trump paid more foreign taxes than net federal income taxes, according to figures from the Joint Committee on Taxation.
The documents show that Trump’s charitable donations have fluctuated throughout his presidency, but accounted for only a fraction of his income in his final years. In 2020, the year the coronavirus ravaged the economy, Trump reported no charitable donations at all. In 2019 and 2018, he reported writing checks for approximately $500,000 in donations. In previous years, the numbers were higher – $1.8 million in 2017 and $1.1 million in 2016.
It’s unclear if the reported totals included Trump’s $400,000 annual salary from the president, which he waived and claimed donated to various federal departments.
The release marks the latest setback for Trump, who has been mired in investigations, including state and federal probes, into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The Justice Department has also investigated countless classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago club and made possible efforts to obstruct the investigation.
In a statement Friday, Trump slammed Democrats and the Supreme Court for the release.
“It’s going to lead to terrible things for so many people,” he said. “The radical left Democrats have armed everything, but remember, this is a dangerous one-way street!”
He said the returns showed “how proud I was to be successful and how I was able to use depreciation and various other tax deductions” to build his business.
Rep. Don Beyer, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, said Friday at a routine pro forma session of the House of Representatives that great care had been taken to ensure returns were treated with sensitivity and redacted personally identifiable information and other identifying information.
“We tried to be very careful to make sure we didn’t ‘weaponize’ the IRS earnings,” said Beyer, D-Va. He is also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which held a party-line vote last week to release the tax returns.
The statements detail how Trump has used tax laws to minimize his liability, including carrying forward massive losses from prior years as tax laws allow. Trump said during his 2016 campaign that “some years paying little or no income tax makes me smart.”
His tax returns show he did this by structuring his company as a massive sole proprietorship, with nearly every dollar, pound, euro, and yuan that flows through his golf courses, hotels, and other assets affecting his own bottom line – and in many cases helps.
For example, in 2020, more than 150 of Trump’s companies had negative qualifying business income, which the IRS defines as “the net amount of qualifying items of income, gains, deductions, and losses from qualifying transactions or transactions.” Overall, Trump’s qualifying losses for this tax year, combined with nearly $9 million in loss carryforwards from prior years, totaled more than $58 million in the final year of his tenure.
Another of Trump’s money losers: the ice rink that his company operated in New York’s Central Park until last year. Trump reported a total of $2.6 million in losses at Wollman Rink in the publicized six years. The rink, an early Trump Organization gem operated through a contract with the New York City government, reported a $1.3 million loss in 2015 despite reporting $9.3 million in revenue, according to its tax returns scored The rink made $298,000 in profits in 2016, but was able to melt cash again over the next four years.
Aspects of Trump’s finances have been shrouded in mystery since his days as an up-and-coming Manhattan real estate developer in the 1980s.
Trump, known for building skyscrapers and hosting a reality TV show before winning the White House, provided limited details about his holdings and earnings on mandatory disclosure forms and financial statements that he gave to banks to secure loans and financial magazines to justify its place in rankings of the world’s billionaires.
Trump’s longtime accounting firm has since denied the statements, and New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit accusing Trump and his Trump organization of fraudulently inflating the assets of the statements. Trump and his company have denied wrongdoing.
In October 2018, The New York Times ran a Pulitzer Prize-winning series based on leaked tax records that contradicted the image Trump was trying to sell of himself as a self-made businessman. It showed Trump received at least $413 million today’s equivalent of his father’s real estate holdings, with much of that money coming from what The Times called “tax evasion” in the 1990s.
A second series in 2020 showed that Trump paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years because he generally lost more money than he made.
In its report last week, the Ways and Means Committee indicated that the Trump administration may have disregarded a requirement mandating the auditing of a president’s tax returns.
The IRS only began reviewing Trump’s 2016 tax returns on April 3, 2019 — more than two years into his presidency — when Ways and Means chairman Rep Richard Neal asked D-Mass for information on the returns asked
Since Richard Nixon, every major party president and candidate has voluntarily released at least summaries of their tax information to the public. Trump has bucked this trend as both candidate and president, repeatedly claiming that his taxes are “under review” and cannot be released.
Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman and Farnoush Amiri in Washington, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.
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