President Trump paid little to no federal income taxes in recent years, according to the first series of New York Times stories on his tax returns.
During his 2016 campaign and throughout his time in office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly made promises to “drain the swamp.” The phrase signaled to many a desire to change Washington’s widely maligned political culture.
In office, however, Trump has reportedly done just the opposite, according to a recent New York Times investigation into the federal taxes across the Trump organization.
Here are some of the most notable revelations from the investigation, which found over 200 companies, lobbying groups and foreign governments did business with, and benefitted from, work with Trump’s businesses.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told the Times in response to their reporting that Trump remained out of the loop on the Trump Organization’s daily operations. Eric and Don. Jr remained in charge of the family business, he said.
“The president has kept his promise every day to the American people to fight for them, drain the swamp and always put America first,” Deere said.
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Trump did not back away from family operation
After his victory in the 2016 election, Trump vowed to back away from the day-to-day activities of the Trump Organization, leaving the family operation in the hands of his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
The Times found, however, that Trump would occasionally let managers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington know he was being briefed on their performances. At Mar-a-Lago, the president reportedly raised prices on new members aiming to join the club at least twice during his first term.
Trump also would sometimes survey the details of club memberships and operations while serving aspresident. Eric Trump was known to brief his father on the Trump Organization, according to a former administration officialcited by the Times.
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Trump family businesses earned millions before he took office
Interviews conducted by the Times with almost 250 business leaders, lobbyists and Trump administration officials detailed how Trump interacted with monied interests before and during his presidency.
The Times said almost a quarter of the patrons in its report had not been previously reported on by other outlets.
Sixty customers with business interests with Trump before he took office brought nearly $12 million to the Trump Organization during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, according to the Times.
While many of those interviews said that Trump’s advancing of their interests was not tied to their business with the Trump organization, almost all saw some kind of benefit from the federal government after Trump took office.
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The tax records found that the club’s initiation fees in 2016 gave about $6 million in revenue for the organization.
Mar-a-Lago operates as a major lobbying site
The Times report also found that many of Trump’s associates who helped lobby for his resorts had been elevated to political primacy in Washington as well.
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These customers ranged from political leaders in the Dominican Republic Nigeria and Ukraine to large private prison and agricultural firms. Each of the foreign officials and domestic firms who conducted business with Ballard’s firm saw notable material benefits from the administration.
Much of this lobbying was conducted at and through connections made at the Trump Organization’s Doral and Mar-a-Lago resorts in Florida.
Access to Trump through Mar-a-Lago was common
Trump has spent much of his time in office at one of his organization’s properties. The Times investigation found that his frequent stays at Mar-a-Lago made him and senior officials easily accessible to the resort’s members, many of whom had joined with the explicit goal of lobbying the president.
Trump has spent nearly 400 days of his presidency at one of the family’s hotels and properties during his presidency, making for many opportunities for such lobbying at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere.
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Customers framed their patronage in religious terms
Evangelical elites and other prominent social conservatives are among the president’s most fervent supporters and frequent customers. The organization’s Washington hotel has emerged as a major center of religious gatherings, fund-raisers and tours for conservative Christian groups during Trump’s presidency.
Many religious conservatives explicitly linked their support of the president’s businesses and administration to the president’s socially conservative agenda. Some cited Trump’s stances on conservative judges, abortion and Israel during interviews conducted with the Times to explain their support.
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High-profile evangelical ministers were also given VIP status at Trump resorts, according to former employees who spoke with the Times.
Social media chronicles Trump engagement with lobbyists
Hundreds of social media posts reviewed by the Times also found that many of those seeking favor with the president felt no need to hide their intentions. Many members and visitors of Trump properties frequently bragged about their access to the president.
“Once he became president, everyone wanted to be around him,” Jeff Greene, a Florida real estate developer and Mar-a-Lago member, told the Times. “People like to be where presidents are.”
The Times also found that over 20 officials, politicians and organizations from foreign groups had visited with the president and senior aides at Trump properties, often using the opportunities to gain political favor at home or lobby on behalf of their countries.
Many of these foreign politicians, many of whom were in not in government in their home countries, would treat the informal interactions as official state visits or otherwise capitalize on engagement an appearance would given them on social media.
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Experts on the implications
After the first installment of the New York Times investigation, USA TODAY spoke with multiple experts about the findings of the report, including their legality and implications for the president’s electoral chances. Overall, the president’s behavior and that of his businesses are likely legal, but highly problematic nonetheless.
“These tax returns are aggressive. The devil is in the details, but we don’t have all the details,” said Francine Lipman, a tax expert and professor with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas School of Law. “That doesn’t mean it’s tax fraud. But Trump is taking some very aggressive positions.”
Here the takeaways from what the experts said:
Massive deductions aren’t unusual in Real Estate
Dan Geltrude, a CPA, tax expert and founder of accounting firm Geltrude & Company LLC in Nutley, New Jersey, says it to see people in investment real estate take large tax deductions for depreciation.
“There are ways to pay little in taxes. That’s not Trump’s fault. Blame the IRS tax code for that,” says Geltrude. “It’s reasonable that he would want to limit what he pays in taxes just like everyone else would.”
Trump’s ongoing tax audit dispute with the Internal Revenue Service poses many questions.
“He’s a sitting president who gets to choose the IRS commissioner and the Treasury secretary and potentially owes $100 million. It reeks of conflict of interest,” Lipman said.
Net worth remains a mystery
Joshua Jenson, the managing partner of a CPA firm Jenson & Company, said even with the report it is still difficult to determine Trump’s overall net worth. As with the most recent revelations, however, they do show how Trump earns money and what he owns.
“It’s difficult to determine someone’s net worth from tax returns,” says Jenson. “But if you have the business tax returns, you can see the assets and liabilities, which in essence shows the net worth of that business. But only on the book basis, not fair market value.
Overall, Trump’s lack of paid taxes is an extreme example of what is possible under the U.S. tax code.
“If you find ways of deducting every act in society that you do, then you’ve basically eliminated an income tax for yourself,” Phil Hackney, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told USA TODAY. “That creates real problems because employees can’t do that. He’s found ways to deduct things that everyone else pays taxes on.”
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