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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes – Trump Tax Revelations Edition

Thanks to The New York Times, Trump’s tax dodge has finally been outed. The Times bombshell came under a pretty timid headline. But CNN provided a better one from a messaging standpoint, “New York Times: Trump paid no income taxes in 10 out of 15 years beginning in 2000.” But credit the Times with a Pulitzer-worthy investigative report. Here’s an excerpt: “The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due…Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750…He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.” CNN reports that, at a White House briefing, “The President repeatedly refused to answer how much he has paid in federal taxes in the briefing and walked out to shouted questions from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond on the topic.” Of course, Trump and his minions denounce the report. But don’t hold your breath waiting for evidence that the revelations are inaccurate. Here’s a fun question media can ask Republican senators, “Senator, how does your effective tax rate over the last 15 years compare with that of the president/leader of your party?”

There is no polling data on attitudes towards the Times revelations yet. But The Guardian headline went with the big question, “Will the New York Times taxes report sink Donald Trump?,”and David Smith responded: “Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from Texas, told MSNBC the Times report “reveals what many people have suspected, which is the larger point that Donald Trump is a fraud, that he’s not what he claims to be…He claims to be a successful, deal-making businessman who built himself up from the ground and his tax records reveal that he’s actually the opposite. He’s basically a deadbeat who doesn’t pay much in taxes.” Smith continues, “Indeed, Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years the Times examined. In 2016 and 2017, his tax bill was just $750 – far less than almost every US citizen…It is tempting to see this as terminal for Trump in the November election against Joe Biden. But we have been here many times before. The same was said after the release of an Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, where Trump was heard bragging about sexual assault…There are also large chunks of Trump’s cult who pay little attention to the New York Times or Twitter as it is….Does Trump’s substantial income from abroad conflict with his responsibilities as president? Did he put his personal interest ahead of the American people? Did he break the law?…The Times has promised more stories to come. They won’t shake the Trump faithful, but they might chip away at enough voters to make an important difference.”

Brian Stelter of CNN Business shared a couple of slaient observations, including: “This is an “emperor has no clothes” moment for the president and the beginning of a long, drawn-out news cycle about his finances…As CNN’s John Harwood said during Sunday evening’s breaking news coverage, the story is “a devastating picture of a president who is bleeding financially and is depending on his presidency to prop him up financially.”…Oliver Darcy said in a text message to me, “Trump’s supporters who are locked in the Fox bubble where this will be handled with kid gloves. And they have been conditioned to believe that NYT is an arm of the Democratic machine.”…Perhaps he’s right. Most minds are made up and some votes are already being cast. But the dollar figures in the story are still astonishing. I think the tax avoidance story is singularly important because it fills in a big part of Trump’s portrait. Voters and reporters and historians should have the fullest possible portrait of both Trump and Joe Biden. So the NYT has performed a real public service…CNN anchor Ana Cabrera pointed out that Trump resorted to right-wing questioners and said that he “could solve all this by releasing his tax returns, by making them public..”

Stelter also shares some nugget insights from various sources, including: “One of the reasons why it matters: “The tax allegations go to the very heart of Trump’s appeal,” Jill Colvin noted… (AP)…Another reason why it matters: If Trump “loses the election,” former prosecutor Michael Bromwich wrote, “he faces federal and state prosecution for bank fraud, tax fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud, as does his entire family…” (Twitter)…The NYT story says Trump has “more than $300 million in loans” coming due in the next four years. One of Monday’s biggest unanswered questions is, as Jim Sciutto put it, “to whom exactly does the Commander in Chief owe this money to?” (Twitter)…Former NYTer Michael Luo, now at The New Yorker, tweeted: “Arguably, no other news org in the world could invest as much time/resources into Trump tax investigations as NYT has. Maybe Washington Post and ProPublica too? Three reporters; unlimited time. Support investigative journalism as a bulwark of democracy.”…WaPo media reporter Paul Farhi: “The subtext of the NYT report is the crucial importance of ‘The Apprentice’ to Trump’s finances and ultimately his political career. No ‘Apprentice,’ no cash flow to prop up many loss-making businesses. No ‘Apprentice,’ no myth of Trump as a financial whiz to run on.” (Twitter)…Michael Cohen is taking a victory lap… (Twitter)…The Biden campaign is selling “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump” stickers… (Twitter)…Public opinion researcher Gary Langer, summarizing his latest poll for ABC/WaPo, found a “net total of 5% of likely voters who can be considered movable — a thin slice, albeit potentially enough to matter in some states…” (ABC)”

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Shock of shocks! Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire, received a $72.9 million tax refund from the IRS while not paying a nickel in federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years. Yep. Trump l-o-v-e-s corporate socialism for himself, rugged capitalism for everyone else.” Sen. Chris Murphy put it this way: “Seven hundred fifty dollars. SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS. That’s why he hid his tax returns. Because the whole time, he wasn’t paying taxes. But you were. Plumbers and teachers and fast food workers and accountants were (and still are) paying for his lifestyle. $750.” Actor Patricia Arquette had this succinct take: “If you paid more than $750.00 in Federal taxes (which supports the military and vets by the way) then you paid more than Trump paid.” Former NBA Hall-of-Famer Kevin McHale boiled his comment down even further, “$750.” Actor Steven Pzsquale adds, “I paid more income taxes bussing fucking tables at TGIF’s in Harrisburg PA than the president of the United States who claims to be a billionaire.” Author-activist Meena Harris adds, “Before I saw the news someone texted me “750 is wild,” and I definitely assumed it was $750K NOT SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLARS OH MY GOD.” Actor George Takei notes, “Fun fact: In 2016, Trump paid Stormy Daniels more than 173x what he paid the federal government in income taxes.”

In another round-up of short takes, author Amy Siskind tweets, “My son paid more in taxes for his summer internship than mister so-called billionaire stable genius paid in 2017.” Business analyst and commentator Juliette Kayem notes, “Excessive debt is viewed as a national security vulnerability and generally means no security clearance allowed. Why? Not only because a debt ridden person is desperate, but because the entity loaning has undue influence over the person.” And remember that Trump, himself, once tweeted “@Barack Obama, who wants to raise all our taxes, only pays 20.5% taxes on $790K salary. 1.usa.gov/HFZJKH Do as I say not as I do.”

Andrew Prokop notes in “We now know what Trump was trying to hide by holding back his tax returns” at Vox: “For years, the political world has speculated on just what Trump was trying to hide by holding back his returns, and by falsely claiming that he can’t release them until the IRS finishes an extended audit. Was it that he paid no income taxes at all in some years? Was it that he was far less successful of a businessman than he let on? Was he claiming legally dubious deductions?…The answer, it turns out, is all of the above….”That’s just what ended up happening here. Just to name one example, Buettner, Craig, and McIntire sussed out that mysterious write-offs for consulting fees on certain Trump projects matched the amounts of payments to Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump. And there’s far more in the Times’ excellent piece…Initially, he had promised that he would release them. But he kept making excuses, his main one being the false claim he could not yet release the returns because he is under audit…So Trump’s tax returns became the white whale of his critics, with everyone from reporters to House Democrats to New York state prosecutors trying to get ahold of them…”

In “Bombshell NYT report: Trump writes off money he gives to Ivanka by calling her a “contractor””Nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump,” Sarah K. Burris reports at salon.com: “Gift taxes are when a living person gives over $15,000 to a person, and Trump has given Ivanka much more than that. But to get around it, he calls his money to her “contractor fees,” which she declares as “income.” She’s also had nearly $100,000 in fees for her hair and makeup paid by the president for years….”Mr. Trump has written off as business expenses costs — including fuel and meals — associated with his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his various homes and properties,” said the Times. “Likewise, the cost of haircuts, including the more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during ‘The Apprentice.’ Together, nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.”…In her public filings, Ivanka Trump said she was paid through TTT Consulting, LLC, which she indicated previously was giving “consulting, licensing, and management services for real estate projects.” It’s one of many companies connected to the Trump family under the tame TTT or TTTT.”

In “Most of Trump’s charitable tax write-offs are reportedly for not developing property he owns,” Catherine Garcia writes at The Week: “In 2014, Trump classified Seven Springs as an investment property rather than a personal residence, and since then he has written off $2.2 million in property taxes as a business expense, the Times reports. That same year, Eric Trump told Forbes Seven Springs is “really our compound,” and served as “home base for us for a long, long time.” The Trump Organization’s website also says the property is currently “used as a retreat for the Trump family.”…Trump also placed a conservation easement on the land in 2015, meaning he signed a deal with a land conservancy, agreeing to leave most of the property untouched. In exchange for this, Trump claimed a $21.1 million charitable tax donation, the Times reports. His tax records show that over the years, Trump has claimed four conservation easement deductions on his taxes, which represent about $119.3 million of the roughly $130 million in personal and corporate charitable contributions he has reported to the Internal Revenue Service, the Times reports. When asked for comment about Seven Springs, Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, did not respond.”

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