In the wake of the bombshell New York Times report over the weekend that revealed just how little Donald Trump has paid in federal income taxes over the past two decades, the President and his top aides condemned the story as “fake news,” but were very careful not to say exactly what was incorrect or offer any specifics of their own to rebut the piece.
That changed on Tuesday night, when under pressure from moderator Chris Wallace, Trump said something that may come to regret. Here’s the exchange:
Wallace: … I’m asking you a question. Will you tell us how much you paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017?
Trump: Millions of dollars.
Wallace: You paid millions of dollars?
Trump: Millions of dollars, yes.
Wallace: So not $750?
Trump: Millions of dollars and you’ll get to see it – and you’ll get to see it.
What Trump did there is directly deny (on tape!) the reporting from The New York Times that he paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. And he actually did more than that. He insisted he paid “millions of dollars” in federal income taxes.
That’s very different than what Trump has said in the past – and in the last few days following the Times report – about his taxes.
He’s repeatedly insisted that he pays lot of taxes. But that sort of vague language allows him to include state income tax as well as assorted other taxes – Social Security, Medicare, investment income, etc. – that, for someone with Trump’s wealth, could actually total millions of dollars. And that fuzzy language also allows Trump to dispute the Times story as fake without engaging with its central premise: That he paid little (or no) federal income tax for the vast majority of the last two decades.
But by saying unequivocally, that he has paid “millions of dollars” in federal income taxes, Trump is directly disputing the Times report. But here’s the thing: The Times has the receipts. Literally.
“The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office,” wrote the story’s authors in their first piece about Trump’s taxes.
Now, it’s not at all clear whether (or if) the Times would release any of the data they have on Trump’s returns. As they note in their initial story:
“All of the information The Times obtained was provided by sources with legal access to it. While most of the tax data has not previously been made public, The Times was able to verify portions of it by comparing it with publicly available information and confidential records previously obtained by The Times.”
And we know that Trump won’t release his own returns despite his insistence on Tuesday night (and throughout his presidency) that “you’ll get to see it.” Trump also continues to hide behind the claim that he can’t release his tax returns because he is under audit. That is false. We also know that Trump will fight tooth-and-nail any attempt by the Times (or anyone else) to release them.
Regardless, Trump has now boxed himself into a very small corner. Either he paid “millions” in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 (as he claimed on Tuesday night) or he has paid $750 in each of those years (as the Times has reported.) Both statements can’t be true.
Know how Trump could straighten all of this out? By releasing his 2016 and 2017 tax returns. That he not only refuses to do but has unleashed a massive legal assault on any attempts to get those records should tell you everything you need to know about which side is likely telling the truth here.