Trump tries new line of defense amid tax scandal

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President Donald Trump on Monday tried out a new line of defense amid fallout from a damaging report on his financial history — arguing he was “entitled” to take advantage of various tax loopholes and insisting he was mired in “very little debt.”

The latest explanation from the president, outlined in a series of morning tweets, marked his second attempt at defusing a New York Times exposé published Sunday, which reported that Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.

“The Fake News Media, just like Election time 2016, is bringing up my Taxes & all sorts of other nonsense with illegally obtained information & only bad intent. I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits,” Trump wrote.

The president was seemingly referring to another Times report on Trump’s taxes, published in October 2016, which revealed that he declared a nearly $1 billion loss on his 1995 tax returns and could therefore have avoided paying federal income taxes for almost two decades.

The Times presented a similarly dire account of the president’s finances on Sunday, reporting that he had paid no income taxes whatsoever in 10 of the last 15 years because he declared he had lost much more money than he had made. Trump is responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, according to the Times, with most of that amount due to be paid within the next four years.

But Trump tweeted Monday that he was in possession of “extraordinary assets” and claimed to be “extremely under leveraged,” writing: “I have very little debt compared to the value of assets.”

The president went on to write that he “may release” personal financial statements “showing all properties, assets and debts. It is a very IMPRESSIVE Statement, and also shows that I am the only President on record to give up my yearly $400,000 plus Presidential Salary!”

In fact, Herbert Hoover was the first president to refuse a salary. John F. Kennedy also did not accept a presidential salary, but he kept the office’s $50,000 expense account for “public entertaining” required of the president. Both Hoover and Kennedy donated their salaries to charity.

Although Trump has long boasted about forgoing his presidential salary, he has reaped considerable financial benefit during his time in the White House — promoting his properties and directing millions of taxpayer dollars to his businesses around the globe.

Asked about the most recent Times report at a White House news conference on Sunday, Trump repeated his assertion that he is unable to release his tax documents because he is under federal audit.

Trump said he would be “proud to show” his tax returns once the audit was completed and claimed he had paid “a lot” of money in taxes, including New York state income taxes. Former IRS officials have said there is nothing stopping him from making his taxes public.

“It’s going to come out, but after the audit,” Trump told reporters, describing the Times’ reporting as “totally fake news.”

Trump’s top aides, allies and campaign staff also mobilized to defend him on Monday, with White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dismissing the Times report as a “hit piece” strategically deployed ahead of the first 2020 presidential debate on Tuesday.

“This is the same playbook they tried in 2016 — the same playbook that the American people rejected and will do so again,” McEnany said in an interview on Fox News.

Trump campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine accused the Times of “going back to the same old well from” the previous election cycle. “It didn’t work then, and it didn’t work now,” she told Fox News.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, claimed his father had “paid tens of millions [of dollars] in taxes,” but did not say whether those payments were federal income taxes as opposed to state and local taxes or payroll taxes.

He also charged that the Times had “put out a selective picture” of his father’s tax history, while appearing to acknowledge that his father “does things in certain years where you get depreciation, where you get write-offs [and] historical tax credits.”

“People don’t understand what goes into a business,” Trump Jr. told Fox News. “It doesn’t include property taxes. It doesn’t include payroll taxes. It doesn’t include real estate taxes. It doesn’t include so many of the things that he’s been paying taxes on forever.”

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