President Donald Trump is the only modern American president to never release any of his tax returns – either while running for office or during his time in office. He’s offered a series of explanations for why that is, including that he is under audit by the Internal Revenue Service and that his taxes are too complicated for anyone to understand.
The questions surrounding Trump’s tax returns have only grown more urgent in the wake of a series of New York Times articles based on copies of Trump’s returns they were able to obtain, that suggest, among many other things, that Trump has paid little to no federal taxes in the last two decades and that he is personally responsible for more than $400 million in loans that come due over the next four years.
Which brings me to Thursday’s town hall with Trump – in which moderator Savannah Guthrie asked the President about his loans and his tax returns. I’m posting the full exchange – warning: it’s very long – between the two because, well, you have to see it to believe it. Here we go:
Guthrie: On the subject of taxes, as you know, The New York Times has obtained, it says, years of your tax returns among other things. It says that you have debts of approximately $421 million that you have personally–
Guthrie: – guaranteed and that will come due in the next four years. The question is on behalf of voters: who do you owe $421 million to?
Trump: OK. First of all, let me answer. What they did is illegal, number one. Also the numbers are all wrong with the numbers they released. And just so you understand when you have a lot of real estate. I have real estate. You know a lot of it, OK, right down the road, Doral, big stuff, great stuff. I’m very under – when I decided to run I’m very under levered fortunately but I’m very under levered. I have a very, very small percentage of debt compared – in fact some of it I did as favors to institutions that wanted to loan me money. $400 million compared to the assets that I have all of these great properties all over the world and frankly the Bank of America building in San Francisco. I don’t love what’s happening to San Francisco.
Guthrie: Well do I hear you right, it sounds like you’re saying–
Trump: 1290 Avenue (inaudible) one of the biggest–
Guthrie: $400 million isn’t that much.
Trump: – office buildings.
Guthrie: But are you confirming that, yes, you do owe sum $400 million?
Trump: What I’m saying is that it’s a tiny percentage of my net worth.
Guthrie: That sounds like yes.
Trump: And you will see that soon because we’re doing things. We’ve given – I think it’s 108 or 112 pages of financial detail to elections and we have to file as the president. As any politician you have to file. Nobody ever looks at that. When they do they see how incredible a company is but more importantly they see where this debt is. No, I don’t owe Russia money, I don’t owe – I owe a very, very small – it’s called mortgages. People have a house, they put a mortgage –
Guthrie: Yes. Any foreign bank, any foreign entity?
Trump: Not that I know of but I will probably because it’s so easy to solve and if you’d like to do – I will let you know who – who I owe whatever small amount of money. I want to say two things. Number one, it’s a very small amount of money. Number two, it’s very straight – it’s very, very straight but it’s a tiny percentage of the work. Did you ever hear the expression, under levered?
Trump: I am extremely under levered.
Guthrie: Well, here’s the thing, you could clear this up tonight by just releasing your tax returns yourself. I mean that’s what I don’t understand.
Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what –
Guthrie: I think people are just wondering, you’re the only –
Trump: As you know, I’m under audit. It turned out that I am under audit.
Guthrie: Yes, but the IRS said – you are –
Trump: They actually – excuse me. No, no, but you –
Guthrie: But the IRS says that doesn’t stop you from releasing.
Trump: But you accused me of not being under audit previously and so did other people at NBC and I am under audit.
Guthrie: You are.
Trump: So that was solved. That’s what – I am under audit. No person in their right mind would release prior to working out the deal with the IRS. And I’ll go a step further. I’m treated very badly by the IRS. They treat me very, very badly. You have people in there from previous administrations that treat me very badly. But we’re under audit. It’s very routine in many ways but we’re under audit. They like to change the game, change the rules, do everything. You saw what they did with the Tea Party people. You saw what they did with the religious groups.
Guthrie: But to be clear, there is no law or rule that prohibits you from releasing your tax returns.
Trump: No, except common sense and intelligence and having lawyers that say – because I would love to release them, and as soon as we come to a conclusion I will release them and very gladly. But if you go to elections and if you take a look you’ll see 112 – I think its 112, it talks about the income, which is rather massive. It talks about all of the properties, they have them listed. You can never learn more. But you know what happened; people went there, all the reporters went there. It was like a feeding frenzy. This was originally when I filed it. And I file it every year. I update it every year. My son is here, they run the company. I don’t run the company. You know – you know –
Guthrie: It also says that you paid $750 in taxes in the year you were elected. Is that true or not?
Trump: Yes, because that’s a statutory number. It’s a statutory – it’s not that –
Guthrie: But is that true?
Trump: I think it’s a filing number. You pay $750, it’s a filing – or a filing fee.
Guthrie: But is that all you paid because most people here probably paid more?
Trump: No, I don’t know. I can’t tell you this, if they have my tax returns, as you know, they have to go to jail. It’s illegal. But their numbers were wrong. But let me tell you what else. I don’t owe money to any of these sinister people. This has been going on for years now. Russia, Russia, Russia. It turned out to be a hoax and it turned out to be that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were dealing with Russia, not me. It’s a whole hoax. So I would not mind at all saying who it is but it’s very small. When you look at vast properties like I have and they’re big and they’re beautiful and they’re well located, when you look at that the amount of money, $400 million is a peanut. It’s extremely under levered. And it’s levered with normal banks, not a big deal.
Guthrie: All right. Let’s take a break. We’ll get more voter questions right after this.
Whoa boy. Amid all of the spin and misdirection that Trump attempted in that series of car-crash answers, Guthrie was able to extract a number of admissions from Trump.
Let’s go through them – in the order he said them.
1) Trump does have more than $400 million in loans coming due. Yes, he insists that $400 million is nothing compared the immense value of his various properties around the world. But when asked directly by Guthrie whether he owes $400 million, Trump responds: “What I’m saying is that it’s a tiny percentage of my net worth.” To which Guthrie interjects “that sounds like yes.” Which, well, exactly. As for Trump’s ability to pay off the loans, it’s worth noting here that he appears to have paid off a total of zero on the principal on a $100 million loan he took out on Trump Tower in 2012.
2) Trump won’t say whether he has loans with foreign banks or foreign governments. While this isn’t definitive proof that Trump does owe money to a foreign government or a foreign bank (or both) you would think that if he didn’t owe money to one of these places, he would say it. Right? What you probably wouldn’t think he would say is this: “Not that I know of but I will probably because it’s so easy to solve and if you’d like to do – I will let you know who – who I owe whatever small amount of money.”
3) Trump is under audit (still). Trump has used the under-audit excuse since at least early 2016 to explain why he is not releasing any of his taxes. (As Guthrie rightly notes, there is nothing in the law that says a president under audit can’t release his taxes anyway; Richard Nixon did just that.) Trump confirmed to Guthrie that he remains under audit as of Thursday night. Which, well, I guess that’s possible?
4) Trump seemingly only paid $750 in taxes in 2016. All but confirming the Times report regarding the meager amount he paid in taxes the year he was elected president, Trump told Guthrie that “you pay $750, it’s a filing – or a filing fee.” She followed up by asking whether that was all he paid that year in taxes. “No, I don’t know,” the President responded. Which very likely means yes, because again, if he paid more than $750 in taxes in 2016, don’t you think he would have taken the opportunity to say that? Of course he would!
Like I said, there was a lot more in Trump’s answers than he probably meant there to be. Which is a credit to Guthrie’s questions. And to The New York Times’ reporting – the vast majority of which Trump himself confirmed was right on Thursday night.