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NYT Publishes Illegally Obtained Trump Tax Records

tax-forms

The nation’s newspaper of record yesterday published portions of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns, which they claimed were mailed to them by an unknown party and bearing a New York City postmark and a Trump Tower return address. They preface the report with this ominous video:

The lede to the story:

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

I find the whole thing to be gross journalistic malpractice. First, they’ve gone public with stolen documents. Second, they’re using said documents to engage in wild speculation. Third, they’re editorializing in what is ostensibly a news story.  This isn’t the National Enquirer.

It’s hard to work up much sympathy for Trump, who has constantly revealed himself throughout this campaign to be a remarkably slimy and loathsome individual. And, yes, he’s the only major party nominee in decades not to voluntarily make his tax returns public. But none of that excuses the New York Times‘ unconscionable breach of professionalism here.

Beyond the journalistic ethics, I’m not sure how this story sheds any useful light on the presidential race. Trump is, by any traditional standards, grossly unqualified by experience, character, or temperament to be president. But nothing here would make me any less likely to vote for him.  We already knew that he’d declared bankruptcy on these business ventures; that was a matter of public record. And, even if it’s true that the $916 million loss in 1995 has been leveraged to offset his paying any taxes on income earned since then—which, again, is wild speculation—so what? Of course he’s going to amortize losses against profits. We don’t expect citizens to pay more taxes than they are required to under the tax code.

 

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    He lost almost $1 billion in a year, and uses that to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years.

    Nevada Grifter respect…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

  2. Mu says:

    Publishing thousands of stolen emails is fair game, but three pages of tax returns is journalistic malpractice? You must be wearing the new Trump glasses this morning that make everything pro-Trump look shiny and everything anti-Trump look red.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 64 Thumb down 3

  3. RJ in Hong Kong says:

    I think the rules are a bit different when you run for President, no? That is to say releasing the tax returns of a private citizen is unethical, but the line is far less obvious when it clearly serves the public interest to know.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 42 Thumb down 1

  4. Dumb Brit says:

    James, i don’t think the biggest takeaway here in journalistic malpractice. The best businessmen don’t typically lose nearly a billion dollars in a year. One of the few global truths is that you never find a poor bookie, so it must take a special skill to lose $1B when owning several casinos!
    I’m sure there will be many who were financially harmed by the bankruptcies that do not take kindly to a $50M a year government handout to Mr T every year for nearly two decades.
    On the plus side for Orangina, it take the tales of his misogyny off the front pages for a few days.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

  5. jewelbomb says:

    But none of that excuses the New York Times‘ unconscionable breach of professionalism here.

    Sure it does. A Trump win poses an existential threat to the US and the world more broadly. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  6. beth says:

    We don’t expect citizens to pay more taxes than they are required to under the tax code.

    True, but if you don’t pay any taxes, you don’t get to complain that our infrastructure is crumbling, our vets aren’t being taken care of and our military is diminished. You also don’t get to shame poor people who don’t earn enough to pay taxes and imply they somehow don’t deserve anything from the government because they have no skin in the game. All of which this leech does on a regular basis.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 48 Thumb down 2

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Mu: I’m generally very leery of publishing stolen information via Wikileaks, etc. Publishing Clinton’s official emails sent via her private server isn’t much of a violation of privacy, however.

    @RJ in Hong Kong: I don’t think so. POTUS candidates are under zero obligation to release their financial records. We’re free to judge them for not doing so, of course.

    @Dumb Brit: I think it’s possible to be successful in business and also write off massive losses. His business model is to leverage large amounts of other people’s money and cut losses quickly when he fails.

    @jewelbomb: Clinton is almost surely going to win the election. But, no, I don’t think “desperation” means we have to change the rules of the game.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 31

  8. Paul L. says:

    @Mu:
    I suspect you will want a 20 year prison term for the guy who stole the thousands of emails from the DNC and Climate Scientists.
    Trump’s tax returns and Bush’s college transcripts who will demand no charges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. From the standpoint of journalistic ethics, what is the difference between the Times publishing these returns and its publication in 1971 of the Pentagon Papers?

    Both sets of documents were illegally obtained after all. Yes, I’ll admit there are real differences between documents showing how two Presidential Administrations lied to the American people about the most important foreign policy story of the decade and the tax returns of a Presidential candidate, but both are newsworthy in their own right.

    As for newsworthiness, the fact that Trump has made his alleged business savvy one of the main reasons why he should be President. The fact that he lost a billion dollars in one year certainly undercuts that arguments.

    As a final point, the speculation and editorializing in the news article are problematic. Unfortunately, this is something that has become all too common in modern journalism.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 1

  10. One more point.

    If Trump did use his 1995 tax loss to reduce his burden in subsequent years, it would explain why he was being audited so frequently since this is often a “red light” for the IRS. That said, as long as it was legal, and it probably was, I have to wonder if there’s really a story if it turns out that Trump used this loss to avoid tax liability for the next 20 years. If the law allows it, then I see no reason why he shouldn’t take advantage of the laws.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 2

  11. Modulo Myself says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As for newsworthiness, the fact that Trump has made his alleged business savvy one of the main reasons why he should be President. The fact that he lost a billion dollars in one year certainly undercuts that arguments.

    What Trump probably did on his taxes is the definition of business savvy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. Guarneri says:

    Tax loss carry forwards are an element of risk management in the capital formation and deployment process, increasing the activity. Am I hearing from commenters we want to change the law and create yet another hindrance to economic activity? In case you haven’t heard, we have a growth problem. No wonder the average bloke is fed up with Washington.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 30

  13. Blue Galangal says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I suspect that the criticism the NYT has received regarding their anti Clinton bias and odd refusal to cover real Trump scandals may have bruised them. They have come out swinging lately, actually publishing articles looking at Trump’s legal and ethical issues, and the “shadowed” language in Clinton’s coverage has dried up. This, I wager, is why there is some editorializing. But it’s no worse than the way they have been reporting on Clinton all along. It’s just unprecedented for them to report on Trump this way.

    IANAL, so to me this, like Woodward and Bernstein, is the reason we have a free press and a First Amendment. Trump isn’t going to tell us, the IRS can’t tell us, and Trump is specifically running on his “acumen” as a businessman. This issue is germane to this election. In fact, the only reason it’s an issue still is because Trump has lied and dodged from day one about his tax returns. If you don’t want to release your returns, don’t run for president.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 41 Thumb down 1

  14. Hurling Dervish says:

    What evidence do you have that the tax return was stolen? There are suggestions that the return may have been leaked by Marla Maples, or some other family member, in which case, it wasn’t stolen at all. Before you accuse the New York Times of receiving stolen property and journalistic malpractice, you should offer some evidence for it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 1

  15. James Pearce says:

    But none of that excuses the New York Times‘ unconscionable breach of professionalism here.

    It would be weirder for them to sit on it, wouldn’t it?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  16. Pch101 says:

    @Dumb Brit:

    Real estate deals, including profitable ones, produce paper losses for tax purposes because the interest expense and asset depreciation both reduce taxable income.

    Ideally, real estate projects will throw off both cash flow and taxable losses in their early years so that there are two benefits: (a) money in your pocket and (b) reduced income taxes. Building a massive tower creates ample amounts of depreciation that is then taken over an extended period — the building is losing value that can be deducted even if its market value is increasing.

    And to some extent, losses from past periods can be carried forward into future periods. The write-offs that come from a major negative event can be so large that they become a credit against future obligations.

    I’m no fan of Trump, but this is typical of the industry and not unique to him. Ironically, Trump has been counting on the ignorance of the average voter to buoy him, but the average voter does not know enough about finance or real estate tax accounting to appreciate the nuances of his situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  17. Tillman says:

    We don’t expect citizens to pay more taxes than they are required to under the tax code.

    Which in the face of a billion dollar loss becomes absurd to the average taxpayer. It undercuts his narrative of business success, heightens all those stories about people he’s refused to pay over the years, and reminds voters that he’s running to lower the taxes of the rich.

    I’ve only been working intermittently for a decade or so and he’s paid less taxes than I have, and I’m in the generation screwed by student loan debt and the Great Recession. Trump is the grandest example of a welfare queen you can get.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 49 Thumb down 1

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Guarneri:

    Tax loss carry forwards are an element of risk management in the capital formation and deployment process, increasing the activity. Am I hearing from commenters we want to change the law and create yet another hindrance to economic activity?

    At the time that might have been valid. Now we’re awash in capital. Today’s interest rates say you literally almost can’t give away capital. You heard about the savings glut and the desperation for high “safe” returns causing the ’08 collapse?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Please. Spare me the pearl-clutching.

    If he would have released his tax returns months ago, then this speculation and publishing would not have occurred.

    If he had the capacity to be honest and say that he is a businessman that plays by the rules where some years are good, some bad, and that those rules (that apply potentially to us all) help those who have spectacularly bad years (a nanny-state government safety-net, if you will), then this is really would be a non-issue.

    However, that would peel the Superman label off of his chest. And a nationalist/fascist leader can’t have that. So, this is what we have.

    in the last two weeks, we have a candidate whose campaign is in a power-dive death-spiral and he has no one to blame but himself.

    However, the blame will be laid fast and furiously, flailing in all directions, by Trump after the election.

    Sort of like his campaign so far.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  20. gVOR08 says:

    Whether Trump pays federal income taxes or is one of the “47%” and whether he’s really a brilliant, even marginally competent, businessman are legitimate campaign issues. Are you really saying, James, that the Times should have sat on this? Are you alleging the Times did anything illegal?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 0

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Guarneri:

    Am I hearing from commenters we want to change the law

    Um, no. You might want to get your ears checked. Or the rest of your head, if you’re just hearing voices…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  22. DrDaveT says:

    I find the whole thing to be gross journalistic malpractice. First, they’ve gone public with stolen documents. Second, they’re using said documents to engage in wild speculation. Third, they’re editorializing in what is ostensibly a news story.

    If the documents in question had been Edward Snowden’s, and harmed his reputation, you would not be complaining. Given that Trump is a bigger threat to the US than Snowden is, stop whining.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  23. stonetools says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Wow, Doug, I agree with you on all points. What went wrong?:-).

    If the law allows it, then I see no reason why he shouldn’t take advantage of the laws.

    I would add that this is an excellent argument for changing the laws, so that this doesn’t happen again.
    I would also add that it shows up the hypocrisy of Trump when he attacks people who don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t make enough.

    The next debate will be interesting.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  24. Andrew says:

    If republicans abuse the system, that is the system fault. If the system abuses republicans, its the system’s fault.

    Got it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  25. Andrew says:

    If republicans abuse the system, that is the system fault. If the system abuses republicans, its the system’s fault.

    Got it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. stonetools says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    If you don’t want to release your returns, don’t run for president.

    There really ought to be a law. Agree with you that the NYT seems to have been stung by criticism that while they were obsessing over Clinton’s emails, they were ignoring legitimate Trump scandals. Thank God for David Fahrenthold, of the Washington Post, who seems to have shamed them and others into action on investigating Trump finances. I see a Pulitzer in that guy’s future.
    BTW, when is the OTB going to post on the Trump Foundation financial issues? I remember LOTS of posts on the (non-existent) Clinton Foundation financial scandals.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 1

  27. SKI says:

    @Hurling Dervish: this.

    James’s is over-reacting by more than a bit here. It would have been journalistic malpractice not to publish if you can confirm authenticity – which they did.

    And to try to differentiate between these tax documents and Hillary’s – or the DNC’s – emails is impossible. Personal emails that were hacked were published and I don’t remember James objecting.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  28. Pch101 says:

    @stonetools:

    The laws are pretty straightforward –

    -Assets are depreciated
    -Losses can be carried forward

    This is pretty basic, and changing this would be radical and bad for business.

    Real estate is a unique field in that its depreciating assets are often simultaneously appreciating in market value. A real estate owner will depreciate a building just as a manufacturer would depreciate a machine that is used on the production line. Yet while the machine is losing value over time and will eventually stop working, a building will probably increase in value over the long run while maintaining much of its usefulness. The building owner will eventually give much of this back in the form of additional taxable gain when the property is sold, but it creates tax deductions during the interim holding period.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m not sure this is truly newsworthy in that I already knew that Trump lost a lot of money on several businesses that went bankrupt. It’s been thrown at him time and again in the debates over the past year-plus. And, yes, I think that private citizens, even those running for president, have a different expectation of protection of private information than do governments.

    I’m seeing a lot of “the ends justify the means” commentary throughout this thread. I just think it’s a dangerous mindset.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 18

  30. Pch101 says:

    @James Joyner:

    You should note that the tax return was filed jointly with a certain woman named Marla.

    You may want to strongly consider the possibility that it came from her camp. It’s her document, too.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 0

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I already knew that Trump lost a lot of money on several businesses that went bankrupt.

    No, those businesses lost money — Trump has insisted, loudly and often, that he personally did not, as part of establishing his business acumen. He was lying. I’m sure you’re shocked.

    I’m seeing a lot of “the ends justify the means” commentary throughout this thread.

    Some of it is not “the ends justify the means”, it’s “you’re being a hypocrite”, in that you would not be making these objections about journalistic professionalism if you thought an actual national security interest were being served.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  32. john430 says:

    There is a difference between “avoiding” taxation and “evading” taxes. Judge Learned Hand noted that it is not a patriotic duty to pay extra taxes.

    As to the NYT journalistic ethics…just consider the Times journalists and commentators to be Democrat operatives and you’ll know the whole picture.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 24

  33. stonetools says:

    @Pch101:

    This is pretty basic, and changing this would be radical and bad for business.

    There ‘s probably a rational middle ground about how to reform these laws in there, somewhere. However, considering the character of this Congress, maybe we should wait on this. I wouldn’t trust this Congress to reform a dog catcher law. FFS, they overrode a Presidential veto in passing a law, then attacked the President for not telling them that the law was a bad one.

    BTW, OTB, will there be a post on the veto nonsense? Please…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  34. stonetools says:

    @john430:

    s to the NYT journalistic ethics…just consider the Times journalists and commentators to be Democrat operatives and you’ll know the whole picture.

    So you are saying the NYT is in the tank for Clinton? That’s unbelievable on its face, if you are familiar with NYT coverage of the Clintons since 1992.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 1

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @Pch101:

    You should note that the tax return was filed jointly with a certain woman named Marla.

    Interesting. For any returns filed as “Married filing jointly”, each spouse has full rights not only to release return information, but to authorize the IRS to release it.

    Time to call Ivana, too…

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  36. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m not sure this is truly newsworthy …”

    But you are sure that the NYT violated the law.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  37. Pch101 says:

    @stonetools:

    There’s nothing to reform.

    When you make a profit, then we call it income and you pay taxes on it.

    When you generate enough of a loss, then you get to apply those losses to subsequent periods, as they effectively create a credit for your account with the taxman.

    That’s fair enough. The reality is that Trump’s entities generated massive losses from his Atlantic City ventures, and at least some of those losses were passed though to his personal income statement.

    The process is quite normal, but the amounts in this case are almost as large as the braggadocio of the guy who lost all of that money.

    Trump is a prime example of the “fake it until you make it” ethic. He’s a BS artist, and some people are suckers for that sort of thing.

    Trump didn’t lose that money in order to scam everyone; he tried to put deals together and he failed with them. In that sense, those are honest losses and he has every reason to declare them and take the losses. Of course, he would have been smarter had he put together a deal that had been successful enough to produce income (taxable or otherwise) and that could have avoided the need for bankruptcy.

    For what it’s worth, I have taken troubled ventures that were started by others and put them into BK. The BKs were a good idea, all things considered, but it would have been better if my predecessors hadn’t failed with those investments in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  38. Argon says:

    “Illegal obtained”?

    Not at all.

    These documents were mailed anonymously to the Times. It’s a ‘dropped in your lap’ scenario that compels no legal prohibition against reporting or releasing the information. These documents may have been illegally sent but by no means were they illegally obtained. Further, these documents are absolutely germane to coverage of the candidate and the claims the campaign have made. This is a textbook case of perfectly appropriate reporting.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 0

  39. David M says:

    @Argon:

    Yes, and the multiple states involved means it’s probably a private individual who leaked them to the Times, and not a government employee.

    From the Times view, there may not be much difference, but I would prefer the IRS not start leaking individual tax returns, even for Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  40. stonetools says:

    @Pch101:

    My thought would be to suggest reforms that would discourage this:

    It’s typical for large business enterprises to be financed in large part by people who didn’t found the company and don’t necessarily manage it. Consequently, while one way to make a lot of money founding and managing a company is for the company to be very successful, and thus for your share of it to be very valuable, that actually isn’t the only way.

    Another thing you can do is run a business that stays afloat for a number of years without really being profitable. Then you pay yourself a high salary, and when it eventually goes bankrupt that’s the investors’ problem.

    Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli have a fantastic, in-depth, 5,000-word account of Donald Trump’s business dealings in Atlantic City for the New York Times that is full of lurid details that amount to this core point: Trump’s New Jersey casinos were never successful operating businesses, but they did make a lot of money for Donald Trump personally, because he tunneled assets out of the enterprises into his own pockets.

    While that’s a bit orthogonal to Trump carrying forward those losses, it is legal but ethically murky conduct that should be discouraged. Yglesias made a further point, which is that Trump is claiming to be a business “genius” by getting away with conduct that an ordinary taxpayer and homeowner wouldn’t be able to get away with.

    See also Bernstein:

    But as is often the case in tax law, what sounds reasonable is ripe for abuse. Real estate losses are notoriously easy to book. Trump bought buildings with borrowed money, which he could then deduct. Then, as tax lawyer Robert Kovacev put it, “Due to special carve outs in the tax code he could take depreciation deductions for real estate even while the real estate is appreciating in value.” It’s a very simple play: Once you combine debt-financing with booked (as opposed to real) depreciation, you’ve generated big losses against past and future tax liabilities.

    The NOL rules could be changed to prevent such tax avoidance. The idea that you can claim losses for almost two decades is ludicrous, as is the case that wealthy (non-)taxpayers can simultaneously accrue large income gains while writing off liabilities with alleged losses. A rule that disallows losses in such cases seems commonsensical, even to the tax lawyer who set these deals up for Trump: “He felt keenly aware that Mr. Trump was living a life of unimaginable luxury thanks in part to [his] ability to relieve him of the burden of paying taxes like everyone else. ‘Here the guy was building incredible net worth and not paying tax on it,’ he said.”

    Now why should I as a taxpayer be forced to subsidize Trump living in Trump Towers with his supermodel trophy wife and his gold plated bathroom fixtures while I’m here toiling for a living and paying my taxes, year by year? It’s a disgrace, really, if you think about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  41. stonetools says:

    @Pch101:

    My thought would be to suggest reforms that would discourage this:

    It’s typical for large business enterprises to be financed in large part by people who didn’t found the company and don’t necessarily manage it. Consequently, while one way to make a lot of money founding and managing a company is for the company to be very successful, and thus for your share of it to be very valuable, that actually isn’t the only way.

    Another thing you can do is run a business that stays afloat for a number of years without really being profitable. Then you pay yourself a high salary, and when it eventually goes bankrupt that’s the investors’ problem.

    Russ Buettner and Charles V. Bagli have a fantastic, in-depth, 5,000-word account of Donald Trump’s business dealings in Atlantic City for the New York Times that is full of lurid details that amount to this core point: Trump’s New Jersey casinos were never successful operating businesses, but they did make a lot of money for Donald Trump personally, because he tunneled assets out of the enterprises into his own pockets.

    While that’s a bit orthogonal to Trump carrying forward those losses, it is legal but ethically murky conduct that should be discouraged. Yglesias made a further point, which is that Trump is claiming to be a business “genius” by getting away with conduct that an ordinary taxpayer and homeowner wouldn’t be able to get away with.

    See also Bernstein:

    But as is often the case in tax law, what sounds reasonable is ripe for abuse. Real estate losses are notoriously easy to book. Trump bought buildings with borrowed money, which he could then deduct. Then, as tax lawyer Robert Kovacev put it, “Due to special carve outs in the tax code he could take depreciation deductions for real estate even while the real estate is appreciating in value.” It’s a very simple play: Once you combine debt-financing with booked (as opposed to real) depreciation, you’ve generated big losses against past and future tax liabilities.

    The NOL rules could be changed to prevent such tax avoidance. The idea that you can claim losses for almost two decades is ludicrous, as is the case that wealthy (non-)taxpayers can simultaneously accrue large income gains while writing off liabilities with alleged losses. A rule that disallows losses in such cases seems commonsensical, even to the tax lawyer who set these deals up for Trump: “He felt keenly aware that Mr. Trump was living a life of unimaginable luxury thanks in part to [his] ability to relieve him of the burden of paying taxes like everyone else. ‘Here the guy was building incredible net worth and not paying tax on it,’ he said.”

    Now why should I as a taxpayer be forced to subsidize Trump living in Trump Towers with his supermodel trophy wife and his gold plated bathroom fixtures while I’m here toiling for a living and paying my taxes, year by year? It’s a disgrace, really, if you think about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. stonetools says:

    Please rescue my comment from the spam defenses. Thanks in advance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. Steve V says:

    @Pch101:

    and at least some of those losses were passed though to his personal income statement.

    I’m curious what the basis/mechanism for this is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well, James, with all due respect you can’t start complaining about ends-justifying-means when you have been a member of a political party that uses voter suppression to stop minorities from exercising their rights.

    Everything we are seeing with Trump now is the end result of Republican race-baiting, misogyny, lies and direct attacks on democracy. This is your party.

    My party is straining desperately to save this country from the end results of GOP malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance. So probably what Republicans should do is STFU about ends-and-means and hope to God we succeed. If we manage to save the republic we can have a nice long talk about ends and means. We could start the conversation with the Civil Rights era when my party did the right thing, and yours started down the path to Donald Trump.

    There is a bright, clear line of causation between Nixon’s southern strategy and Trump. And James, you joined the GOP after the GOP had gone down the path of evil.

    Both major political parties are out of gas and out of ideas, but even in these days of political decadence we managed to nominate a former US Senator and former Secretary of State with a long record on women’s and children’s issues. Your party nominated a mentally unstable creep.

    As I have always said, I am a big believer in redemption. I welcome all converts with open arms and cold beer. But the next 34 days are about us trying to stop the threat to the United States of America and the larger world posed by your party’s nominee.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  45. anjin-san says:

    @Pch101:

    I saw an interesting comment from Marla Maples recently. She was speaking about their daughter and said “I’ve had the blessing of raising her largely by myself” – now this is not an exact quote, I am working from memory, but in any case, it is quite telling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  46. dmichael says:

    I should resist making this comment but can’t. The three pages of the tax return disclosed in the NY Times article is a personal joint income tax return filed with the New York state taxing authority by DT and his then wife, Marla. We may assume that it tracks the joint federal income tax return filed for the same tax year. The release does not contain any “statements” that would have been filed with the return. Those “statements” would have provided detail or at least some information about DT’s businesses, the losses from which would have formed the basis for the nearly one billion dollar loss DT claimed for that year. We have no information from which to determine whether any of the bankruptcies DT filed for the businesses resulted in any reduction or elimination of the debts incurred that would have (at least potentially) limited the loss DT claimed in 1995. We have no information about whether the IRS conducted an audit of this return (very surprising if it didn’t) nor whether DT (and Marla) had to file any amended returns for that year. We have no information about whether DT was able to “park” any of the business debt in a favorable fashion (the debt held by a company that is not enforcing payment).
    In other words, this release raises significant questions about DT and his business practices, the answers to which DT must answer but will not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  47. JohnMcC says:

    In a paper submitted to the Command and Staff College of the USMC wouldn’t an accusation that some act was illegal be required to actually cite the law that was alleged to be violated? Do we not deserve something close to that respect?

    I expect better from our Dr Joyner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  48. Davebo says:

    NYT Publishes Illegally Obtained Trump Tax Records

    I remember in law school the professors kept calling your name James and you never once answered.

    Hint “Illegally obtained” doesn’t mean what you apparently think it means and this post really takes the last breath of your credibility during this election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  49. SKI says:

    Josh Marshall put the NYT decision in context: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/a-few-notes-on-the-times-blockbuster

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  50. TheLounsbury says:

    Mate, “journalistic malpractice’ is easily one of the stupidest things you’ve ever written here.

    It’s bloody standard practice for God’s sake? Leakers, whistleblowers, etc. – that’s what bloody journos do.

    Jaysus what a dumb comment.

    Now, the fact of the large loss, eh, that’s neither here nor there, but had Trump disclosed as tradition, probably he wouldn’t have had a leaker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  51. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @DrDaveT: I doubt that would accomplish anything. Ivana took the money and left the kids. Marla took her kid and fled to the opposite coast (no doubt with some money).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  52. Kari Q says:

    Journalistic malpractice? Let’s see:

    Did the New York Times break the law to obtain the information? It doesn’t appear so.
    Is the information genuine or is there substantial reason to believe that is? Yes.
    Is this relevant to public events? Yes.

    Perhaps one might argue there was invasion of privacy, but a presidential candidate is a public figure and doesn’t have the expectation of privacy that a private citizen does.

    No, I don’t see journalistic malpractice here.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 0

  53. TheLounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: BTW mate you seem to not understand that Trump’s business structures used Pass Through Entities (LLCs, Partnerships), rather than Corps which retain earnings at the company level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  54. JohnMcC says:

    I’ll state the obvious here because in the Original Post and in these comments it does not appear to have been pointed out: First, that the papers obtained by the Times are not IRS forms. They are apparently copies of filings in NY, NJ, and CT. Second, that they were authenticated by Mr Trumps accountant from that time, a Mr Jack Mitnick.

    Redundancy are us, I guess. But no one seems to have actually pointed those little things out and I think they have some significance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  55. Pch101 says:

    @Steve V:

    I don’t know the specifics of Trump’s situation, but real estate deals are often set up with the use of “passthrough” entities such as limited partnerships and LLCs.

    Such entities are treated as individuals, similarly to corporations. But unlike corporations, they aren’t subject to income tax liability but instead “pass through” all profits and losses to those individuals and other entities that own them. The entities file informational tax returns, but the actual income tax liabilities or benefits are passed to the owners.

    So I would presume that when Trump Plaza and Taj Mahal filed BK in the early nineties that a lot of those losses went to entities that would have funneled many of those to Trump personally. As far as I can tell, Taj Mahal was largely funded by junk debt, not by equity, so the brunt of the hit would have flowed down to Trump himself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  56. stonetools says:

    I have no evidence, but it would be irresponsible not to speculate…
    This document came from Marla. It’s the simplest explanation that fits the facts. Trump apparently pressured Marla into doing a nude Playboy photo shoot (ugh!), for the likely reason that that he wanted the world to see what he had. He then traded her in for a younger model in the same callous way that he did for Ivanka, and ( some people say) stiffed her in the divorce settlement.

    She is probably now eating the coldest dish of revenge ever served.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  57. Tyrell says:

    Is this not similar to buying stolen merchandise ?
    Also, it seems to me that stealing Federal tax returns would be breaking a Federal law – racketeering or confidentialality laws.
    I wonder how this stuff was stolen ?
    I would hate for my returns to get swiped and wind up on “60 Minutes” or sent to Putin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  58. Hal_10000 says:

    This is another one of those stories that Trump could defuse in 30 seconds. He’s just have to say something along these lines.

    “I took a substantial business loss in 1995, which was already public knowledge. This happens in business. Not everything is going to be a success but, on balance, you try to win more than you lose and I’ve won more than I’ve lost. Yes, it meant I didn’t pay taxes for years. I, like very other American, will not pay more in taxes than I have to. But my businesses pay all kinds of taxes, create jobs, etc. blah blah blah”

    This wouldn’t necessarily be accurate but it would defuse the controversy very quickly. But Trump won’t do it because a) admitting to any failure is anathema to him; b) he’s going to play his full deny-and-act-butthurt three-act drama.

    As for the NYT finally doing its job on Trump … I know a lot of conservative who’ve been talking about this stuff ever since Trump entered the race 16 months ago. No one was terribly interested. Now that he’s the nominee and the election is close, suddenly everyone’s paying attention. Make of that what you will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  59. Andrew says:

    Just like with Clinton, people are jumping to the conclusion that this is an illegal act. Not stopping to think at all about how many lawyers the Times had to talk to before even giving the okay to print this report on Trump. How the Times would simply crumble if any of this was illegal.

    Yet again, we are talking about those that have little to no grasp on law. And since it is against Trump, and not Clinton. It is a horrendous act and shows that the “system” is out to get Trump. Just like in debates, the media, the microphones, the whatever else that keeps blame from actually resting on Donald.

    I expected no less.
    I can only image the meltdown Donald is having right now. And there is nothing he can do about it. As it is not Federal returns, and not illegal at all what the Times did. No matter how he may come out and declare otherwise.
    None of this will hurt Trump with those that have already tossed their Make America Great Again hats in the ring.
    It will, however, paint him as even more of a liar, cheat, and abysmal business man to those who have not already been coated in snake oil. Which is exactly want Hilary and Co. wants.
    She knows how to play hardball, Trump does not, without a tee to prop him up. That is not Clinton’s fault. It is Trumps.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  60. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Pch101: Would it be possible that one could argue for a change in the code if it is different for individuals than for corporations? I bring this up because I took a capital loss on a real estate transaction during the same time period. In my case, my Form 1040 instructions noted that I could revise one year back and carry forward the loss for a total of 3 years. (I didn’t really need to carry it forward more than one additional year–I guess I’m better/luckier at real estate than The Donald.)

    I note the difference between 5 and 20 years as a matter for discussion only. I’m open to an explanation of why there needs to be a difference and why it should be tilted 300% to the benefit of corporations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  61. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell:

    Is this not similar to buying stolen merchandise ?

    Not unless they either paid for it or contracted to obtain it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  62. stonetools says:

    The political bottom line: the Trumpkins are going to see this as yet another “trumped up” conspiracy by the liberal media, who is out to get poor old Trump, who just wants to make America great again, even if he didn’t dot all the i’s and cross the t’s on his tax returns. That’ll be about 35 per cent.
    The college educated suburbanites who lean Republican may be swayed if pitched the right way. IMO, the right way is not “Gee, Trump paid no taxes” , which seems to me the way every liberal pundit is going. No, I think the right way is :

    “if Trump is such a great businessman, who promises to make America great again by cutting the best deals, then how in the heck did he lose $916 million in the middle of a booming economy, with a rising stock market( which is how 1995 went)? And this was in a business-casinos- that is practically designed to fleece the gullible, where the odds are such as that the house CAN’T lose over time”.
    I don’t think Trump has a great answer to that question. It certainly doesn’t make him look smart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  63. Pch101 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    The rules are different for individuals than they are for corporations. There are limits to the extent that individuals can apply passive (investment) losses to active (earned) income.

    In the case of Trump, I am assuming that he can take the losses because those were active losses for him, not passive. (He was an active part of the businesses.) But he would have been subject to alternative minimum tax, so I seriously doubt that he had zero income tax liability and the NYT probably overreached with its speculation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  64. Hal_10000 says:

    Having thought abotu it some more, I do think James has a point here. Publishing tax returns *is* illegal. Comparing this to the Pentagon papers is a bit disingenuous since the tax returns don’t show any illegal behavior by Trump, just stuff that’s embarrassing. The moral equivalence of “but Clinton’s e-mails!” doesn’t make much sense either. Hacking is illegal and if the hackers are caught, I expect them to be prosecuted. But publishing the results of hacking is not illegal. Publishing a tax return is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  65. TheLounsbury says:

    @Hal_10000:
    A proper question – does the Federal law cover non-federal information / documentation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  66. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Publishing federal returns is illegal under 26 U.S. Code 7213(a)(3), but we’re not talking about a federal return. We’re talking about portions of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut state returns.

    Neither NY, NJ nor CT has a parallel statute to 7213(a)(3). The Times didn’t break the law.

    They’ve potentially opened themselves up to a civil suit, but thanks to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), it’s doubtful that he would prevail.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  67. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @TheLounsbury:

    No

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  68. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Note: going further, Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001) makes it clear that a media entity is not liable for printing privileged information that it does nothing illegal to obtain.

    This information was mailed to the Times by a third party, which means that the third party could have faced criminal sanction had this been a federal return, depending on who they are and how they came to be in possession of it, but the Times itself would bear no liability for publishing it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  69. michael reynolds says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Bet you a dollar the Times got the Fed as well as the states and edited on advice of counsel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  70. TheLounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Very good, I thought I had some fundamental misunderstanding of your system or the law as it was summarised.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  71. TheLounsbury says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Not a good bet, rather I would expect the Leaker knew bloody well what the law was and chose the documentation strategically.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  72. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It wouldn’t matter if they’d published federal forms as well IMO. They’d arguably still be protected under Bartnicki v. Vopper, but caution is the better part of valor. They’d probably prevail in the end, but it would be a long and drawn out fight. Better to avoid it if/when you know you’re absolutely free and clear under the applicable state laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  73. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Steve V:

    Pass-through entities. Generally speaking (although there are exceptions), only C corps file discrete tax returns. The rest (LLC’s, S corps, etc) all pass their gains and losses through to member individuals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  74. MarkedMan says:

    Josh Marshall has done a good job of summarizing the questions these state returns raise (as linked to above):

    1) It’s long been understood that Trump managed to get his creditors to bear the brunt of the losses. In fact, despite it making him look bad, he’s never denied it. But if they shouldered the losses, how did he end up with almost a billion in losses? If he claimed something he wasn’t entitled to, that would be fraud.

    2) If he transferred the loans to a company with the tacit understanding that they would never ask for it back, then both he and the company are guilty of fraud. Basically, if the intervening 18 years worth of tax records show no repayment of the loans, but he continued to take the loss, then it is a strong case for fraud. Bottom line: either they were loans and he should be repaying them, or they were gifts and he should have reported them as income that balanced his losses, leaving him with nothing to declare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  75. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW I think that there is a narrative here that hasn’t been taken advantage of: This is proof Trump has been BS’ing about his net income. Trump has strongly implied that his “take home pay” is in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Like everything Trump says it is just BS, but a lot of people have believed him. He recently implied that the $650M 2015 income he claims as revenue for Trump businesses was all profit that went to him. In the past he’s talked about dropping a $100M or more on the campaign and how it wouldn’t affect him. But if he really has gone 18 years without paying taxes due to a $916M loss, it means his net income is south of $50M. It’s nothing to sneeze at but it’s a lot, lot less than his supporters believe.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  76. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: The real scandal behind all of this may not be Trump’s using his real estate losses, but that he double-dipped.

    It would be irresponsible not to speculate….isn’t that the line Republicans use all the time? So what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, hmmm?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  77. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: Actually, if Trump has been double-dipping, these forms may indeed show evidence of a crime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  78. bk says:

    You have gone off of the rails here, James.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  79. Jen says:

    @grumpy realist: I would have to think that the IRS would have caught something like that–and it does explain why Trump is under perma-audit conditions. He seems to have some very creative lawyers and accountants working for him, who, I’m guessing, know *exactly* what the tax code says.

    The whole picture certainly isn’t very pretty. From losing nearly $1 billion in one year to treating his Foundation like an off-the-books piggy bank, this isn’t the person anyone should want making economic decisions on behalf of the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  80. al-Alameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    Tax loss carry forwards are an element of risk management in the capital formation and deployment process, increasing the activity. Am I hearing from commenters we want to change the law and create yet another hindrance to economic activity? In case you haven’t heard, we have a growth problem. No wonder the average bloke is fed up with Washington.

    I’m pretty sure that the average bloke wishes that he/she could file for business bankruptcy 4 or 5 times, “lose” $916 million, use that amount to offset taxable income for 18 years, and regularly be involved in beauty pageants.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  81. george says:

    Isn’t this kind of normal activity lately? I vaguely recall some releases from Clinton’s campaign that didn’t seem to bother the GOP overly; odd how trivial such things are when aimed at you opponent while simultaneously being important when its aimed at your own candidate.

    The long term problem of course is that it just becomes part of politics as usual, and will affect candidates, good and bad, of both parties in the future. Like hacking, this is going to become just another tool in the political toolbox, for good and for bad. Might as well get used to it, very little information is going to be secure in the future.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  82. gVOR08 says:

    Slightly off topic, but it seems Trump’s foundation failed to file paperwork required for a large charity to raise funds from the public in New York State. Filing said form subjects them to strict state audits, that have not been done. The foundation has been ordered to cease and desist fundraising in NY. (One suspects few donors were lining up.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  83. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I would embellish your post with the question of what people would say were it to be revealed (and it surely would) that the editor had it, determined it was real, but ordered his paper not publish it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  84. ASK says:

    @Mu:

    MU – how ridiculous. the EMAILS – BELONG TO US Federal Records Laws, FOIA, (Sarbanes-Oxley, et al)
    !James Joyner – the fact that your recognize that the NYT acted ILLEGALLY but then slime Trump is telling. How about you looking at Helliary’s records which matter more because SHE again lies – since Bill left office – and with Helliary being on the GOVERNMENT’s pay… they CLAIMED AGI of almost a QUARTER BILLION DOLLARS. They CLAIMED to have over $23.5 million in charity/gifts – which means TAX FREE – sounds good? And she slimed Trump claiming “maybe it is because he doesn’t give much to charity”… WELL since all but .3% of what they wrote off – WENT DIRECTLY TO THEMSELVES. Then the taxes on that $23 million + evaded taxes!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  85. ASK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I say that Helliary should publish her emails in their entirety – no redactions. Since she claimed that there was NO classified material there would be no problem, RIGHT?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  86. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I see that the Teatards have found their way here again.

    Yay … :roll:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  87. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @ASK:

    She submitted them to the State Department for review and classification / exclusion, which is how it’s supposed to be handled. She doesn’t get to make the decision about which records (a term which has a very specific meaning that you’ll want to acquaint yourself with …) meet the exclusionary criteria.

    If you want to see them, file a FOIA request.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  88. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @gVOR08:

    They tend to get a little upset about self-dealing …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  89. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @ASK:

    the fact that your recognize that the NYT acted ILLEGALLY

    Except they didn’t act illegally …

    Try again. You may consult a friend if you need to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  90. al-Alameda says:

    @ASK:

    I say that Helliary should publish her emails in their entirety – no redactions. Since she claimed that there was NO classified material there would be no problem, RIGHT?

    What happened to you? Why wasn’t the preferred “Killary” used?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  91. Scott O says:

    @ASK: The internet has been taken over by the UN. You’re not allowed on it anymore. I’ll let you go with a warning this time but if I catch you again you’re going straight to a FEMA camp.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  92. Tyrell says:

    This shows how far down the drain the NYT has fallen. This was once an esteemed, respected newspaper that is in its final years. Now it stoops to sleezy stunts like this that put it in the same class as the Enquirer. Next it might be a candidate’s grocery store shopping list, or their library checkouts.
    The NYT might as well just pack it up, close the doors, and go on home.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  93. al-Alameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    This shows how far down the drain the NYT has fallen. This was once an esteemed, respected newspaper that is in its final years.

    Not really.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  94. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: I’m certain you would love not having papers of record around to do muckracking, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0