Donald Trump’s troubled presidential ambitions were rocked anew Saturday night with a New York Times story that said the Republican nominee had declared a nearly billion-dollar loss on his tax return for 1995 that “could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.”
Trump did not mention the story during a speech that lasted more than an hour before thousands of cheering supporters in Manheim, a central Pennsylvania town.
His campaign issued a statement condemning the Times story but not directly refuting it.
“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,” the statement said. “That being said, Mr. Trump has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes, sales and excise taxes, real estate taxes, city taxes, state taxes, employee taxes and federal taxes, along with very substantial charitable contributions.”
By declining to deny the gist of the Times story, the campaign seemed to confirm that Trump had avoided paying federal taxes.
The subject first arose in Monday’s presidential debate, when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton suggested that one of the reasons Trump had declined to release his tax returns was that he had likely paid no federal income taxes.
“That makes me smart,” Trump replied, seeming to acknowledge her argument.
Trump has refused to release his returns on the grounds that he is under federal audit. He also has refused to release returns not under audit, however, and IRS officials have said he is free to make his returns public. His son Donald Trump Jr. said recently that releasing the returns would distract from his father’s message. Though the documents were two decades old, they offered the clearest glimpse yet into how Trump operated under the tax code.
But the decision to claim privacy over matters usually made public by major party nominees set off a week of criticism of Trump, even by fellow Republicans.
The New York Times story rested on previously private records mailed to the newspaper. It outlined tax advantages Trump received during a particularly difficult turn in his business career, when several of his businesses, including casinos, were either failing or under threat.
The Times cited tax experts who said that the $916 million he cited as a loss in 1995 would have canceled out that level of income over nearly two decades — or more than $50 million in taxable income annually.
The loss “certainly could have eliminated any federal income taxes Mr. Trump otherwise would have owed” for his income from NBC’s “The Apprentice,” which began airing in 2004, or “the roughly $45 million he was paid between 1995 and 2009 when he was chairman or chief executive of the publicly traded company he created to assume ownership of his troubled Atlantic City casinos,” the Times said.
As he received the benefit, the Times said, investors in his company saw their stakes collapse in value, and his casino contractors also suffered huge losses.
The Trump campaign statement sought to ensure that voters view Trump as someone who played by the rules, even if they were not available to all.
“Mr. Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for president and he is the only one that knows how to fix it,” said the statement, which called the document “illegally obtained” and another sign of the media’s efforts to boost Clinton.
The story was likely to draw intense attention leading up to the second presidential debate, to be held Oct. 9 in St. Louis. For the night, however, it also distracted from an extended and accusatory speech Trump delivered in Pennsylvania.
He cast Clinton as corrupt and urged voters to “follow the money” — a line of argument that rang differently as the Times story was published. In one of its most breathtaking passages, he appeared to accuse Clinton of cheating on her husband. He offered no proof.
“I don’t think she’s even loyal to Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. And then he alluded to Bill Clinton’s extramarital history, adding, “And really, folks, really — why should she be?”
The slight was part of a Trump argument that Clinton’s sole loyalty was to her campaign contributors and herself. But he went back to the topic of Bill Clinton’s dalliances at some length, ignoring the warning of many Republicans who fear that raising it will damage the party in the election. It is a particularly raw subject because Trump cheated on his first wife with the woman who became his second wife. He current wife, Melania, is his third.
“He got impeached for lying,” Trump told the audience. “You remember what he lied about.”
The accusation about Hillary Clinton’s loyalty to her husband was Trump’s most jarring outburst of the night, but it was hardly the only one.
“She could actually be crazy,” Trump speculated at one point, without giving any rationale or evidence.
Trump also salted his speech with hyperbole about Clinton’s policy prerogatives. He said at one point that she wanted to “erase” the nation’s borders to please her campaign donors.
“She wants people to pour into our country without knowing who they are,” Trump said, alluding to Clinton’s support of admitting Middle East war refugees into the U.S. under a vetting process that is stricter than it is for any other immigrants.
8:15 p.m.: This story was updated with more comments from Trump.
This story was originally published at 8:05 p.m.