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President Trump Returns To White House After Weekend Campaigning
President Donald Trump returns to the White House after multiple campaign stops over the weekend on October 19, 2020 in Washington, D.C.Samuel Corum / Getty Images, file

Newly released tax returns clearly don’t do Trump any favors

Donald Trump said his newly released tax returns "show how proudly successful" he's been. Reality tells a very different story.


Donald Trump spent several years fighting tooth and nail to hide his tax returns from the public, but late last week, the former president simply lacked the ability to prevent their disclosure. The House Ways and Means Committee, having prevailed in the courts, obtained the materials, redacted private information, and released the documents.

Soon after, the Republican used his social media platform to suggest some kind of vindication that only he could see. “The ‘Trump’ tax returns once again show how proudly successful I have been,” the former president wrote, putting his name in quotes for reasons unknown.

It was a curious boast. For one thing, if the documents pointed to Trump’s successes, he wouldn’t have invested so much time, energy, and financial resources into keeping them secret. For another, as The New York Times reported, the tax returns actually point in the opposite direction.

[T]he returns, which cover the tax years 2015 through 2020, do not show much success for Mr. Trump in his recent business dealings. They show Mr. Trump often reported heavy losses from his own ventures, even as he continued to cash in on assets he inherited.

Much of the Republican’s public reputation is based on the idea that, whatever one might think of Trump as a person or politician, at least he’s proven himself as a successful businessman. Those assumptions are plainly wrong.

It was about four years ago when the Times first published a devastating report, exposing evidence of “dubious tax schemes” and “outright fraud” that Trump used to get ahead. The findings painted a picture in which the then-president, far from a self-made man, relied heavily on legally dubious family handouts and shady schemes. It was the first of three brutal reports on Trump’s financial history, leaving little doubt that he’s spent much of his adult life meandering between failures and fraudulent endeavors. Americans who voted for him because they saw him as a private-sector genius embraced a baseless myth.

The release of the tax returns advances this same story, adding new details to, as the Times’ report put it, the former president’s “history of inheriting wealth and then losing it.”

But that’s not all we learned as a result of Friday morning’s document release.

Trump paid little in taxes: As NBC News reported, “A House committee on Friday made public six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which showed he paid relatively little in federal taxes in the years before and during his presidency.”

Trump lied about this tax bill: During a presidential debate in 2020, Chris Wallace asked Trump how much he paid in taxes in 2017. “Millions of dollars,” the Republican responded. When the moderator sought clarification, asking whether he actually paid $750, the sitting president was adamant, adding, “Millions of dollars. And you’ll get to see it. And you’ll get to see it.”

Now that we’ve seen his returns, we know that he did, in fact, pay $750.

Trump apparently didn’t keep his promise about donating his salary: In his first year in the White House, the then-president boasted about donating all of his salary to charity. But as a Washington Post report noted, “Trump’s failure to take any charitable deduction in 2020 suggests that he didn’t donate his presidential salary that year.”

Trump benefited from foreign income: NBC News’ report added, in reference to Friday’s disclosure, “The returns show that in the 2020 tax year, Donald and Melania Trump reported $78 million in gross income from 16 foreign countries — including the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and St. Martin, where Trump has properties. The gross income also included a reported $1.2 million from ‘other countries’ — abbreviated as ‘OC’ — that were not specified. In 2017, Trump’s first year in office, he also made $6.5 million from China, the returns show. The source of the China payments is not clear from the returns.”

I’m trying to imagine what GOP voices would be saying right now if President Joe Biden was found to have made $6.5 million from China while serving in the White House.

An Associated Press report added, “In several years, Trump appears to have paid more in foreign taxes than he did in net U.S. federal income taxes, with income reported in countries including Azerbaijan, China, India, Indonesia, Panama, the Philippines, St. Martin, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.”

These are preliminary findings: The Republican’s returns span thousands of pages, and while the preliminary assessments paint an unflattering picture, no one should be surprised if the materials continue to be relevant in the coming months as Trump faces scrutiny as part of a variety of scandals.

Daniel Shaviro, a taxation professor at New York University, spoke to the AP and pointed to Trump’s businesses suffering large financial losses despite healthy sales. “There’s fishy looking stuff here,” Shaviro said.

In other words, Friday was the day in which the tax returns finally saw the light of day, but it didn’t mark the end of the controversy.