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The Nation - September 28, 2020

"There’s ample political reason for the Biden campaign to start advertising Trump’s tax corruption. But this scandal clarifies larger problems that go beyond the presidential election. As Elizabeth Warren notes, “This is about more than one man’s personal tax scams. Donald Trump is a liar, a cheater, and a crooked businessman, yes. But he’s also taking advantage of a broken, corrupt, and unequal system that’s built for people like him to do what he did.”

In 2016, while running for president, Donald Trump paid Stephanie Clifford, the actor who stars in adult films under the name Stormy Daniels, $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter; for that entire year, Trump paid a total of $750 in federal income tax. The following year, his first as president, his income tax again totaled $750. Those two years were unusual for Trump, because normally in the past decade he hasn’t paid income tax at all. The New York Times, which in a blockbuster report based on documents concerning Trump’s taxes going back two decades before 2018, has found that in 11 of 18 years, Trump paid no taxes. That’s a remarkable achievement for a putative billionaire.

The Times exposé shows that Trump has pulled off the enviable trick of living like a king while paying taxes like a pauper. He’s done this through a complex shell game where taxes for the profitable part of his financial empire (largely his work as a reality-show star on The Apprentice and a few older real estate holdings) earn a lavish fortune that is not taxed because other enterprises, notably golf courses, regularly post large losses. But beyond this juggling game, Trump has also avoided taxes with actions that skirt the edges of the law and demand investigation, notably the practice of paying consulting fees to the three adult children (Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Eric Trump) who also help manage the Trump Organization. This self-dealing is combined with many questionable write-offs for personal expenses, including $70,000 for haircuts and more than $95,000 for a hair stylist used by Ivanka Trump.

While this chicanery is keeping Trump afloat, the Times observes that his business empire is suffering a heavy debt load that could capsize it. “What’s more, the tax records show that Mr. Trump has once again done what he says he regrets, looking back on his early 1990s meltdown: personally guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, a decision that led his lenders to threaten to force him into personal bankruptcy. ...
Read full report at The Nation