Tanzina Vega: An explosive report The New York Times got its hands on President Trump's tax returns for the better part of two decades including his first two years as President. The documents filed by the President reveal a pattern of paying little to no federal income tax, claiming huge losses on many of his luxury properties and investments, and a looming potential debt load of more than $400 million that could come due in the next few years.
For many working Americans, one eye-popping number could be the $750 in income tax the President paid in 2016 and 2017. At a press conference yesterday in response, the President not surprisingly called it--
President Trump: Fake news. Made up. Fake.
Tanzina: For more on the details about Trump's tax returns, we’re joined now by Maya King, politics reporter for Politico. Maya, welcome back to the show.
Maya King: Thanks for having me.
Tanzina: The biggest eye-popping takeaway would you say was what, that the President hasn't paid federal income tax in a couple years. What would you say?
Maya: I think it's actually that statistic that you read a bit earlier, Tanzina, that he's got about $400 million that could come due in the next four years. If he is re-elected, we could be looking at the very real possibility of a sitting President being audited, which is something that we've never seen before, of course. The awkwardness that would create, the dialogue that would create-- Then, of course, the way that voters and his supporters would have to think about the fact that they've paid more in taxes than he has.
Tanzina: We are now 36 days out from the 2020 election. Maya, what effect do you expect this could have on the race, if any?
Maya: I don't anticipate this having a huge effect on his base because as we know anything that this President does with his most ardent supporters, it's not going to move the needle. However, we have a presidential debate now, tomorrow night, and this is giving the Biden campaign more than enough fodder to go after President Trump before then. The Biden campaign this morning has already released a new ad about how little that this President has paid an income taxes compared to essential workers, teachers, construction workers, other people that the Biden campaign is really trying to add to its coalition.
I think in this game at the margins going after people who were independence, or on the fence about this President or Biden, this could really be something that shores up support away from the President, and towards Joe Biden.
Tanzina: What I found interesting as well is that the executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, wrote a note explaining to readers why they decided to publish this now. My sense, and I'd love to hear your thoughts, is that The Times is attempting, at least, to avoid any criticism for doing it so close to the election.
Maya: I agree. I think that they understood the stakes of this, and that they knew what this would be this September surprise. I don't fault them at all. I appreciate Dean Baquet’s willingness to be open about that process. Because, of course, also the stakes here are the fact that they didn't want to out their sources. There was definitely a lot riding on the release of these tax returns though. I think that Democrats would agree the timing here was really just right.
Tanzina: We mentioned that the President has a lot of debt, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, much of it could be due very soon. One thing I have found interesting, Maya, was that The New York Times piece says that President Trump may have run for president to shore up his personal brand. What was your take on that?
Maya: I think that's one of the more really frankly terrifying details of this story because, what that says is, this is a President who never intended to really win, or at least never intended to take this thing as seriously as we were, as we in the press were, and as voters were, that this was really as you said, an attempt to shore up some empty debts. There's a line in the story high up that I thought really captures the essence of what they're saying, which is ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.
What makes this story so compelling to is that it closes the gap between Trump, the billionaire that he appears to be, and Trump, the businessman, who owes nearly a billion dollars that he really is.
Tanzina: Ivanka Trump appears in this report a couple of times. What do we know about how she may have benefited from some of these tax loopholes?
Maya: We know that she was brought on as a member of the family to, of course, help with the administration, but that she was also being paid with federal dollars to actually do these jobs, which I think is also very telling and speaks to a lot of the criticisms that people had of this White House that is just steeped in lots of nepotism. I think that a lot of people have also looked at Ivanka as very much a public-facing, almost ambassador for this White House. Again, it's another detail of this story that there's more to that, and in fact, that she really has played a role in the illegal dealings financially of this President and of this administration.
Tanzina: One of the other things that stood out is the President's properties, many of which include golf courses that he touts regularly are also in financial straits. What’s interesting is they point out in the report a strategy that the President may have used to lower his tax bill even further by claiming losses from these properties including golf courses, et cetera. What else do we know about that? That seems to be par for the course with the President.
Maya: I think that this plays into the strategy that this President has employed from the beginning. We understood that this was a President who really was not a very successful businessman but has made a lot of money. Now we know by claiming losses on these properties, and actually reaping the benefits of them. I think that that's something that we really want to know more about as The New York Times continues to release more information here. This is a President who also spends a lot of time golfing and playing at Mar-a-Lago, and trying to make that almost a White House South.
It's really, again, a very disheartening but also just when you start to dig into this story and see all of the different angles here, and how much has gone into this President's business dealings, and just, again, the illegality of all of this, it really is jarring.
Tanzina: We will be paying very close attention to this story as it evolves. Maya King is a politics reporter for Politico. Maya, thanks for being with me.
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