Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump take the stage and begin the second presidential debate without shaking hands, Oct. 9, 2016. 
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

Trump fesses up to tax scheme, blames Clinton

When the New York Times first broke the news about Donald Trump’s $916 million annual loss in 1995, the article raised a possibility that hadn’t been definitely proven: Trump’s deduction was so substantial, the Times reported, “it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”

“Could have,” of course, left a fair amount of ambiguity in the controversy, and the only way to know for sure was to get the information from Trump himself. With that in mind, in last night’s debate, co-moderator Anderson Cooper sought some clarity on the subject.
COOPER: You’ve said you pay state taxes, employee taxes, real estate taxes, property taxes. You have not answered, though, a simple question. Did you use that $916 million loss to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years?

TRUMP: Of course I do. Of course I do.
There’s a bit of a present-tense/past-tense problem with the exchange – Cooper asked about events from the recent past and Trump answered to suggest he’s still exploiting loopholes to avoid a federal tax bill – but it was nevertheless the first time the Republican nominee publicly acknowledged the accuracy of the original report.

Soon after, the CNN anchor added, “Can you say how many years you have avoided paying personal federal income taxes?” Trump replied, “No, but I pay tax, and I pay federal tax, too.”

Again, there’s a syntax problem – “I pay tax” sounds about as clumsy as Brick Tamland’s “I love lamp” – that makes it difficult to say with confidence what exactly Trump is trying to say. But in context, it seemed relatively clear that the Republican nominee was saying he used a massive loss in 1995 to avoid paying at least some of his tax bill over the course of some period of time.

For more clarity, Trump would have to release his tax returns – which Hillary Clinton has already done, and which Trump had previously promised to do.

But the real punch-line to all of this was Trump blaming Clinton for his tax avoidance.

“You know, she’s given it to us,” Trump said, referring to the tax loopholes he exploited. “Hey, if she had a problem – for 30 years she’s been doing this… Why didn’t she do something about it? She talks about taxes. Why didn’t she do something about it?”

Let’s note for the record that Clinton did vote to reform many of these same tax laws, but in our system of government, one senator doesn’t have the power to overhaul the federal tax system singlehandedly, especially while serving under a Republican president.

But even putting that aside, there’s something truly odd about Trump blaming his opponent for not putting a stop to his own shady tax practices. It’s like listening to a criminal blame the police for not catching him sooner.

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Tax Policy

Trump fesses up to tax scheme, blames Clinton