A groundbreaking investigation by the New York Times revealed that President Donald Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency, and the same amount during his first year in the White House. The Times report, based on the president’s tax returns the publication says was leaked to them by sources with legal access, states that Trump paid no taxes in 10 of the 15 years prior to his presidential campaign. Questions raised in the report include whether or not Trump illegally misrepresented his income and taxes, and the extent of his failure as a businessman. The president consistently refused to release his taxes over the four years of his time in office, whereas all presidents (except for Trump and Gerald Ford) since Richard Nixon have released theirs prior to taking office. Even Vice President Mike Pence has released his tax returns.
The average U.S. citizen pays $12,200 in taxes each year — 16 times what the president has paid. The spotlight on Trump’s taxes draws attention to long running demands for reform of the U.S. tax system to ensure the wealthiest Americans aren’t able to use complex loopholes to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, which exacerbates historic levels of economic inequality.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, who assesses the significance of the Times’ report on the president’s non-payment of taxes, the impact if any on the Nov. 3 election and the exposure of Trump and his family members to future criminal charges.
KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: From my perspective, one of the most dangerous things that we should be looking at is that he has a number of loans that he personally guaranteed that are coming due, which are millions of dollars. And the question remains: Who may end up helping him with this debt that he has? There are opportunities for foreign entities or special interests to bail him out. We wouldn’t necessarily know if any of that happens because — let’s be honest — he has battled and fought continuously to block Congress, a court in New York state who are investigating his taxes and his financial records. He has fought to protect this from public view. And so to me, that’s one of the most dangerous pieces of this — he has these money-losing businesses and who is going to bail him out and how is he going to be bailed out dealing with that? And I think that, you know, people could leverage power over him where they to lend him money or help him with those bills. And some of what I know they’re looking at in New York — we saw nothing in here about any Russian banks helping the president — but I do think that’s one thing that people are looking at going way back as a way to possibly explain his loyalty to Putin, despite his many challenges.
SCOTT HARRIS: And Karen, I did want to ask you about this, although, much of what Donald Trump did in terms of taking advantage of loopholes for the wealthiest Americans, this reporting again, spotlights the fact that there is one tax system for the very wealthy of this country and another for the rest of us. And beyond what Donald Trump may have done in terms of unethical behavior in his business capacity and in filing his taxes, it really opens up a whole other discussion about the urgent need for reforming the tax system so it’s not so grossly unfair and perpetuates economic inequality in this country.
KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: Right. And you know one of the things that he did, you know, fairly early in his tenure was to give what was billed as tax relief for all Americans. And really it was tax relief for the wealthiest at the very top. And you know, the Americans are suffering now like they haven’t since probably since the late 1920s, with a global pandemic, historic levels of unemployment. And as we are entering this fall and have not — you know, this administration has botched the effort to get and contain this COVID-19 pandemic. We are going to see these spikes going up and my guess is even though we’ve seen states and Trump trying to push kids back into schools, we’re going to see kids coming home, school shutting down as we enter flu season coupled with the fact that we don’t have the testing we need, the supplies we need to battle COVID. And so, I think the economic inequality that we see is going to get worse.
SCOTT HARRIS: I’m sure we don’t know all the story about this tax situation with Donald Trump. But is there any indication from where you sit that Donald Trump could be open to criminal charges regarding his misrepresenting his earnings and his cash flow?
KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: I think that is absolutely the case. And there’s even some reports that Ivanka Trump could face legal repercussions because one of the things that they found in the taxes is that while she was working as an employee of the Trump Organization, she also received a large amount of consulting fees, which is not something the IRS would allow. And so, it’s also a way they can sort of act as if they have more expenses than they have. I also think that the New York state investigators who are looking at his financial records and his taxes may also bring charges. So I do think that that’s a real challenge. And I also think it is another reason why he wants to be re-elected, to put off at least, any federal charges.
For more information, visit Common Cause at CommonCause.org.