Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and rival candidate Donald Trump argue at the same time at the debate in Detroit, Mich., March 3, 2016.
Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

As Trump faces fraud allegations, his allies craft creative defenses

This week’s reporting from the New York Times on Donald Trump’s finances is so devastating, in normal political times, the revelations would effectively end his career. As we discussed yesterday, the newspaper’s exhaustive research uncovered evidence of “dubious tax schemes” and “outright fraud” that Trump exploited to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from his father.

The findings paint a picture in which the president, far from the self-made man he pretends to be, relied heavily on illegal handouts. At the heart of the story is the prospect of criminal fraud, criminal tax evasion, and money laundering, which the American president exploited to fuel his rise to power.

Trump’s response to the reporting was strikingly weak. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who failed to point to any inaccuracies in the article, described the revelations as “boring.” But perhaps the most amazing response to the New York Times’ reporting came from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was quoted this way by a CNN reporter yesterday.

“It’s obviously – I think it’s a testament to how crazy and complicated the tax code is in general.”

The funny thing is, this should be the point at which Rubio takes a victory lap. It was the Florida Republican who repeatedly warned the public a few years ago that Donald Trump is, as Rubio put it, a dangerous “con man” and a “con artist.” The New York Times, in granular and undisputed detail, just proved the senator right.

And yet, to hear Rubio tell it, Trump’s outright fraud isn’t really his fault – we should blame the complexities of the federal tax code for the president’s flagrant and deliberate misdeeds.

Maybe, the argument goes, we should conclude that Trump and his family set up a fraudulent shell company, among other things, by accident.

Also yesterday, we heard from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whom the president recently nominated as the next director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. The outgoing California congressman defended Trump by telling Fox News the Trump family “didn’t maximize the amount of tax they could have paid in inheritance tax.”

Which sounds like a rather generous way of saying Trump violated tax law.

I can appreciate the fact that Trump’s allies are in a bit of bind. Given the seriousness of the New York Times’ revelations, and the degree to which they make the president look like a criminal, it’s not easy to come up with a coherent defense in response to the reporting.

But, c’mon, they have some options. Republican members of Congress could’ve said, “I haven’t yet read the article, so I’m not in a position to address the allegations.” Or maybe, “I’ll leave it to the president and his lawyers to respond to the specifics.”

They didn’t have to go with the lines Rubio and Issa came up with.

Darrell Issa, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio

As Trump faces fraud allegations, his allies craft creative defenses