Confronted on the debate stage over an explosive report detailing his chronic avoidance of federal taxes, President Donald Trump denied the findings, repeatedly insisting that he paid “millions of dollars” in taxes to the federal government.
After denying the allegations in a lengthy New York Times story published on Sunday—which drew on two decades of unreported Trump tax records which the paper obtained—Trump sought to repurpose his intricate tax strategy as an indictment of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s long record on economic policy.
“Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people, like every other private person, unless they're stupid, they go through the laws and that's what it is,” said Trump, echoing his past comments about how “smart” businessmen take advantage of the U.S. tax code.
“He passed the tax bill that gave us all these privileges for depreciation, and for a tax credit, we built a building, we get tax credits, like the hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The Times report found that in 2016 and 2017, Trump paid $750 in federal income tax—far less than most working-class Americans, much less billionaires—and has a history of leveraging his businesses’ massive losses to offset and delay his tax burden. The documents also found that Trump is locked in a protracted battle with the Internal Revenue Service, which is investigating a massive $73 million refund Trump claimed after writing off his Atlantic City casinos as a total loss, though the Times found that he profited from those casinos after walking away in 2010.
Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s attorney, said to the Times that "most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate,” but did not dispute many of the specific claims the paper presented to them.
Faced with questions over the report, Trump’s surrogates have largely responded not by disputing the facts of the Times report but by claiming that Trump has contributed more than his fair share to the federal government through his businesses’ payroll taxes and Social Security taxes.
Those points were made before the debate by Donald Trump, Jr., who was pressed on the topic by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “If you have a problem, talk to the people who’ve been creating the American tax code...and that’s Joe Biden,” the president’s son said.
Trump himself, of course, proudly touts that he passed the most sweeping overhaul of the tax code in 30 years, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, from which he personally stood to benefit.