Given what I do for a living, people understandably are asking me what I think of the blockbuster New York Times story about the long-hidden, now revealed, tax returns filed over the years by our president, Orange Caligula. I just took my first spin through the remarkable new article, and here are some initial takeaways:
- To no one's surprise, Trump is not really a successful businessman.
- He is deeply (nine figures) in debt personally (although we still don't know exactly to whom).
- He pays little or no federal income tax because his tax returns show little or no profit.
- The tax returns claim a number of suspect deductions, including a consulting fee that may have been paid to Ivanka, expenses for a family vacation resort, and a criminal lawyer's fee. In addition, a $70 million federal income tax refund that Trump received (along with another $20 million from state and local taxing authorities) was based on a questionable claim that he abandoned, rather than exchanged, an interest in a partnership.
- Congress has had several of Trump's tax returns for years, because when he filed for the big refund, it was so large that by law the IRS must keep the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation copied on results of its audit of the matter. The audit is still ongoing, apparently, and Trump's people have extended the statute of limitations (which is pretty routine, but the years in question are now unusually old).
It's hard to tell exactly what the Times is looking at. They are calling it "tax return data." That indicates that they don't have the actual returns. But the details the reporters are discussing go beyond what would appear in a cursory IRS "transcript" of the taxpayer's records, which might be easier to get. The Times says that its source or sources had "legal access" to what they showed the newspaper folks.
You know that Donnie will be suing people left and right over this. And you know that Bill "Robespierre" Barr will be opening a criminal investigation into the leak, first thing in the morning.
But the questions for Orange Caligula won't be going away. Fake billionaire? Tax fraud artist? Both?