US President Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire many times over, paid $38 million as tax on an income of $150 million in 2005, after writing off millions in losses from previous years, according to a document made public on Tuesday, and confirmed with surprising alacrity by the White House.
The two-page tax return, called Form 1040 of the Internal Revenue Service (something like Income Tax Form 16 in India), was obtained by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and he reported it first on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, in a revelation that didn’t quite live up to the hype preceding it, given the reaction.
Most commentators and critics on the right and left were underwhelmed by the disclosure and worried it could divert attention from the administration’s many ongoing troubles, including a muddled start to repealing and replacing Obamacare, a major Republican poll promise, and a congressional probe of Trump campaign aides’ links to Russia.
From the time Trump announce his candidacy for the White House, he has faced and rejected calls to release his tax returns breaking from a tradition going back to Republican president Richard Nixon. They are under audit, he said first. Then he claimed voters were not interested, only reporters were; and, finally, this is not such a long tradition.
But the White House was quick to confirm the document on Tuesday — too quick, according to some. It said in a statement, “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.” It added that Trump, as “one of the most successful businessmen in the world”, paid “no more tax than legally required.”
The statement went on to say: “Mr Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that. Despite this substantial income figure and tax paid, it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”
The amount revealed on Tuesday was low relative to his boast about wealth, but Trump doesn’t like paying taxes and has said so multiple times in the past. “I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible,” he told ABC in 2016.
The White House did not say if it would release returns from other years as well.
Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns has made them the holy grail of US political journalism. The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said last September he was willing to risk going to jail to publish Trump’s tax returns.
He did publish a report on Trump’s 1995 tax returns, sent anonymously to one of his reporters and confirmed by tax experts, that showed the real estate tycoon had shown losses of $916 million that would save him taxes for the next 18 years.
Trump did not deny it, and had said in a statement, “Mr Trump is a highly-skilled businessman who has a fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required.”