In 1984, Donald Trump constantly bragged to the press about how much cash he was raking in. That same year, as David Cay Johnston exclusively reported in The Daily Beast, he told the IRS he had made nothing at all.
Trump deducted $626,264 as expenses on his 1984 federal income tax return, and $619,227 on his New York City return. On both forms, he claimed no income.
It was a pivotal year for the 37-year-old magnate on the make, one in which he was celebrating the opening of his seminal Trump Tower, closing a casino-hotel deal in then-booming Atlantic City and angling to topple the NFL with his ill-fated purchase of the United States Football League’s New Jersey Generals. He’d made himself a near-daily figure in New York news and gossip pages, often depicted as an egomaniacal wild man who shot from the hip and raked in the bucks as he shoved and nudged his way to the top of the real-estate world.
Young Trump wasn’t shy about talking up his income, either.
In a GQ profile that May, written by Graydon Carter, Trump plugged a hotel deal in which he partnered with Hyatt to build a new Manhattan hotel on land Trump just leased—with the help of Equitable Life Assurance Society.
“He and Equitable had split their first round of profits before any of the tenants had even moved in,” Carter wrote.
“So we have about a $277 million sellout,” says Trump, “just for the upper half of the building. And then we own the lower half for nothing.” The partnership, unencumbered by mortgages, now collects the rents from thirteen floors of office space at $50 a square foot and the six levels of retail space at $150 to $450 a square foot. “It’s a crazy deal,” says Trump. “It’s better than working.”
On top of the hotel and the football team and the constant press clips, Trump also completed an A.C. casino-hotel deal with Harrah’s that was reportedly going to bring him millions in annual income.
“Just as the name Donald Trump is well-known to most New Yorkers, the name is now becoming recognized throughout the country,” William Geist wrote in a 1984 New York Times profile. “He is fast becoming one of the nation’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, able to buy practically anything he wants. He controls a company with assets estimated—some say conservatively estimated—$1 billion, and casino-industry analysts say his half interest in Harrah’s may provide him with $40 million to $50 million more in annual income.”
Harrah’s eventually agreed to give Trump $220 million to build the project and offer him half the profits it made.
One more, remarkable source of income for Trump that year: New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor.
The linebacker had struck a secret deal with Trump, banking a million-dollar interest-free loan in exchange for agreeing to join the Generals when his contract with the Giants expired. But after the Giants extended and upgraded Taylor’s deal, he had to repay the million, the interest he’d collected on it and $750,000 more on top to the mogul to get Trump to agree to return Taylor’s option to the Giants.
Wrote the Times: “Trump, meanwhile, was described by an associate as “delighted” to have been able to keep his team’s name in the public eye while also getting a substantial profit.”
Again, this in a year where Trump appears to have claimed no income.
Trump, of course, could answer all such questions by releasing his full tax returns. Instead, he’s broken with a tradition kept to by every major party presidential candidate in modern American history and prevented the public from judging his financial circumstance for itself until an alleged audit of his taxes since 2012 is completed. Even if such an audit is in fact underway, there is no law, rule, or even tradition that would preclude him from releasing the documents.
And there’s nothing at all to stop Trump from releasing his taxes from 1980 through 2011—and clearing up the question of how he can brag about so much income while, apparently, reporting none at all.