Trump responds to New York Times report he may have avoided paying federal taxes for 18 years

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Trump speaks at a rally in Manheim, Pa., on Saturday. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Trump speaks at a rally in Manheim, Pa., on Saturday. (Photo: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is hitting back at the New York Times after the paper published a copy of his 1995 tax records showing he declared a $916 million loss that could have allowed him to legally avoid paying federal income taxes for up to 18 years.

“I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president,” the Republican nominee tweeted early Sunday. “And am the only one who can fix them. #failing @nytimes.”

“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 Trump campaign said in a statement. “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.”

Hillary Clinton’s campaign quickly seized on the Times report.

“It reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” Sunday. “He apparently got to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades while tens of millions of working families paid theirs.”

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s top advisers, had a predictably different take.

“My response is he’s a genius,” Giuliani said on “This Week.”

“A genius?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Absolute genius,” Giuliani replied. “This is a perfectly legal application of the tax code. And he would’ve been a fool not to take advantage of it.”

Not only that: Trump could’ve been sued if he hadn’t, Giuliani said.

“You have an obligation when you run a business to maximize the profits,” the former mayor argued. “And if there is a tax law that says, ‘I can deduct this,’ you deduct it. If you fail to deduct it, people can sue you. Your investors can sue you.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of Trump’s transition team, also called Trump a “genius” for avoiding federal taxes.

“There’s no one who has shown more genius in their way to maneuver around the tax code and to rightfully use the laws to do that,” Christie said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And he’s already promised in his tax plan to change many of these special interest loopholes and get rid of them so you don’t have this kind of situation.”

“I want a man who’s a genius at figuring out how to take this country that’s moving in the wrong direction,” Giuliani added. “Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman, and the only thing she’s ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out her emails?”

Trump, the only major-party nominee since 1976 not to release his tax returns, has resisted calls to do so, claiming he cannot release them because he’s under audit. In response, the Internal Revenue Service said an audit would not prevent Trump from releasing his returns.

At last week’s presidential debate, Clinton raised the issue of Trump’s evasiveness when it comes to disclosing his finances.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, why won’t he release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons,” the Democratic nominee said. “First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. … Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.”

“That makes me smart,” Trump replied.

Meanwhile, his campaign is suggesting the Times may have broken the law in obtaining Trump’s tax records, which the paper said were mailed anonymously last month to Susanne Craig, one of its reporters.

“The only news here is that the more than 20-year-old alleged tax document was illegally obtained,” the campaign said in a statement.

And a lawyer for Trump threatened “prompt initiation of appropriate legal action” against the Times for publishing Trump’s tax returns.

It’s unclear whether any laws were broken. In terms of obtaining Trump’s taxes, the Times believes it did no wrong.

“I don’t think it’s a crime to check your mailbox,” Craig said on CNN Sunday.

But U.S. law makes it illegal to publish a federal tax return without authorization. The Times published copies of Trump’s New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut state income tax returns, but not his federal one.

In mid-September, Times executive editor Dean Baquet said he would risk jail time to publish Trump’s taxes.

“[His] whole campaign is built on his success as a businessman and his wealth,” Baquet said.

“Our job is to report on matters of public concern, and that’s what we did here,” a spokeswoman for the Times said in a statement to Yahoo News. “Neither Mr. Trump nor his campaign has said anything to refute our conclusion that the tax information we published was accurate.”

She added: “Nothing could be more central to the First Amendment than our right to publish, and the public’s right to know, important information about presidential candidates.”

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