U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday belittled a report that he lost more than $1 billion as a New York real estate mogul between 1985 and 1994, claiming it was "sport" for developers to write off such losses to legally avoid paying federal taxes.
In a pair of tweets, the president called the report in The New York Times "very old information ... a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!" but did not dispute that he avoided paying federal income taxes in eight of the 10 years in question.
"Real estate developers in the 1980’s & 1990’s, more than 30 years ago, were entitled to massive write offs and depreciation which would, if one was actively building, show losses and tax losses in almost all cases," Trump said. "Much was non monetary. Sometimes considered "tax shelter,..." you would get it by building, or even buying. You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes....almost all real estate developers did - and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport."
As he ran for the presidency in 2016 and since assuming power, Trump has often portrayed himself as a successful entrepreneur worth billions of dollars. But unlike U.S. presidents for the last four decades, he has balked at voluntarily disclosing his personal federal income tax returns.
He wrote a best-selling book, "Trump: The Art of the Deal," but the newspaper called his financial dealings three decades ago a "Decade in the Red," and "The Art of Losing Money."
The Times said that in the 10-year period in question Trump lost more money year after year than any other U.S. taxpayer. The newspaper did not use the actual returns for its report but instead used information provided by someone who had access to the documents.
The bulk of Trump’s losses during that period came from his core businesses, including hotels, casinos and retail space inside apartment buildings.
They also include failed investments in an airline, a professional football team and unfinished plans for real estate developments.
According to the Times, Trump was able to maintain a life of luxury all those years because most of his money came from banks and bond holders who invested in the Trump empire. Trump also relied on his father's wealth, according to the report.
But it appears Trump did not break any federal laws because the U.S. tax code allows people to deduct substantial business losses from their income, cutting their tax bills to little or nothing.
One of the president's lawyers, Charles Harder, told the newspaper that the tax information it used was "demonstrably false."
"IRS (Internal Revenue Service) transcripts, particularly before the days of electronic filing, are notoriously inaccurate ... would not be able to provide a reasonable picture of any taxpayer's return," he told the Times.
Opposition Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives are trying to get their hands on Trump’s tax returns from 2013 to 2018 as part of their investigation into the president’s foreign business deals.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has so far declined, saying the request has no "legitimate legislative purpose."
Disclosure of Trump's tax returns is one of several current legislative oversight disputes the majority bloc of House Democrats is waging with Trump and his administration. Several panels are seeking background information uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump campaign links to Russia in 2016 and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart Mueller's probe.
House Democrats are threatening to hold key Trump administration officials in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over information or to testify about their actions.