Donald Trump dismissed a published copy of an IRS filing that showed he used the U.S. tax code to take a nearly $1 billion operating loss in 1995, saying Monday the news media is “obsessed” with a decades’ old return and that he, in fact, “brilliantly used the law” to salvage his real estate empire.
Trump made his comments two days after The New York Times published a story about the nearly $1 billion loss that also stated that as a result, he might not have had to pay federal taxes for 18 years.
“From the depths of that terrible real estate depression, I created a company worth billions and billions of dollars and created tens of thousands of jobs,” Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said at a campaign stop in battleground state Colorado. “Everybody said I was done. I knew how to use the tax code while others didn’t.”
Trump's reported loss was purportedly the result of his Atlantic City hotels suffering amid the resort’s declining casino-gambling industry, a failed airline venture and the purchase of the Plaza Hotel on Central Park in Manhattan.
The campaign for Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival, almost immediately pounced on The Times’ story, calling it a “bombshell,” in a tight race, with Election Day about five weeks away.
Hours before Trump spoke Monday, Clinton said at a rally in Toledo, Ohio, that Trump had used tax loopholes to “take from America with both hands and leave the rest of us with the bill.”
Trump argued over the weekend that he knows the country's "complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president" and can fix them. And his campaign issued a statement arguing the anonymously supplied documents on which The Times based its story were “illegally obtained.”
Trump avoided the controversy at a Monday morning rally in northern Virginia. However, in Colorado he referred to the documents as “alleged” tax filings.
Still, neither Trump nor his campaign has said whether a lawsuit against the paper, which has endorsed Clinton, will be filed.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Monday morning urged Trump to sue the newspaper “into oblivion.”
Lewandowski, now a CNN political analyst, questioned The Times’ legal standing on the story, arguing its being published was not a matter of national security.
“That’s a fact,” he said. “And The New York Times should be held accountable. If it comes out that these aren’t accurate, where’s the recourse?”
On Sunday, Trump surrogates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani defended Trump’s 1995 returns as legal and said they showed his business “genius.”
“What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?” Clinton asked the crowd in Toledo.
Trump is not alone in having potentially used the tax system to reduce his tax burden.
Though Trump's "operating loss" was on a substantially larger scale, Clinton reported a roughly $700,000 long-term capital loss in 2015, according to copies of her IRS returns released in August.
The tax return controversy follows last week's opening debate, after which Clinton has opened up a small polling lead, according to the latest Fox News survey.
While Trump’s reported loss is legal, the revelation that he might have used the U.S. tax code to not pay taxes for nearly two decades has renewed calls for him to releases his returns, as Clinton has done.
Clinton on Monday also called for a law that would require future nominees to releases their taxes as a requirement for a White House run.