The year he was elected to the White House, President Donald Trump paid just $750 in taxes to the IRS. During the same period, he paid foreign governments over $300,000 in taxes, leading many to question his claim of putting “America first.”
The details of Trump’s tax filings have been published for the first time in a bombshell report in the New York Times, which details the president’s tax filings for the last two decades. The report not only lays bare Trump’s tax-avoidance schemes but also exposes the potential conflict of interest created by the president’s continued business involvements in some of the world’s geopolitical hotspots.
The documents reveal the Trump organization as a network of hundreds of companies whose losses Trump uses to pay virtually no income tax.
In 2016, the year he won the presidency, Trump also paid just $750 in taxes and in 10 of the previous 15 years, Trump paid $0 in personal income taxes.
Trump managed to reduce his U.S. income taxes despite generating hundreds of millions in revenue from the NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” and from endorsements and property investments, through accounting practices that helped him write off huge losses at many of his other companies.
But when it came to paying taxes on his overseas earnings, Trump appears to have been much less concerned about limiting his liability.
When Trump became president, he said he would pursue no new foreign deals while in office, but that didn’t stop him raking in significant revenue from the overseas deals he already had in place.
In his first two years in the White House, his revenue from abroad totaled $73 million, the Times reports. While much of that is from golf properties in Ireland and Scotland, it also includes deals in countries with strongmen leaders that Trump has openly praised, such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Narendra Modi in India, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.
During 2016 and 2017, Trump earned $3 million in licensing deals in the Philippines, $2.3 million from similar deals in India, and $1 million in Turkey from putting his name on two towers.
The records obtained by the Times show that Trump reported paying taxes on a number of his overseas ventures. In 2017, Trump’s $750 U.S. tax payment was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, $145,400 in India, and $156,824 in the Philippines.
But the continued revenue stream from these countries also created conflicts for Trump while in the Oval Office.
In the Philippines, Duterte appointed the businessman behind the Trump tower in Manila as a special trade envoy to Washington.
Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, who helped Trump secure a licensing deal in Istanbul in 2008 that has so far netted the president $13 million, was appointed as chairman of the Turkey-U.S. Business Council and regularly lobbied U.S. government officials.
When relations between Istanbul and Washington deteriorated, a Turkish business group canceled a conference at Trump’s Washington hotel, but rescheduled the event six months later when relations had improved.
The deal in Istanbul, which involved two Trump-branded towers, is under scrutiny for another reason, as it involved huge consulting fees of almost $2 million paid to an unknown consultant.
A source with knowledge of the deal in Istanbul told the Times there was never any third-party consultant involved.
The payment of large consulting fees was a tactic Trump employs often: between 2010 and 2018, the president wrote off some $26 million in unexplained “consulting fees” as a business expense across nearly all of his projects.
The Times linked the payment of some of those consulting fees to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, suggesting Trump was using the mechanism to transfer assets to his children without incurring a gift tax — something Trump’s father Fred was also accused of doing.
At a news conference shortly after the Times article was published online, Trump called the findings “totally fake news, made-up, fake,” but didn't dispute specific data cited by the report.
While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is yet to comment on the revelations, his campaign is already seeking to take advantage with social media campaigns highlighting how much less Trump paid in taxes compared to teachers, nurses and firefighters.
Other Democrats were quick to attack Trump’s tax records, too particularly his willingness to pay more income tax to foreign governments than to the IRS.
“Befitting his pattern of selling out the American people throughout his presidency, today’s reporting paints a grim picture of Trump as a grifter who paid more in income taxes to foreign governments than to the United States,” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) said in a statement.
Cover: President Donald Trump does a little dance after speaking at a campaign rally Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Newport News, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)