Republican Donald Trump's two-decade-old tax returns are roiling the U.S. presidential race, with Democrat Hillary Clinton accusing him of becoming rich at regular taxpayers' expense, while his allies describe him as a "genius" for legally avoiding paying millions of dollars in taxes.
Clinton argued Monday at a campaign rally in the key Midwestern state of Ohio that Trump "was taking from America with both hands and leaving the rest of us with the bill."
She leveled the new allegations in the aftermath of a recent New York Times report showing a portion of the Republican nominee’s 1995 state tax returns in which he declared nearly $916 million in business losses from failing casinos and other ventures. It was a deduction so large that it could have allowed the real estate mogul to legally avoid paying U.S. income taxes for as many as 18 years.
“What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?” Clinton asked.
“Trump represents the same rigged system that he says he is going to change,” Clinton said. “After he made all those bad bets and lost all that money, he didn't lift a finger to help and protect his employees or all the small businesses or contractors. They all got hammered, while he was busy with his accountants to see how he could keep living like a billionaire."
The Trump campaign has not denied the accuracy of the returns, with the real estate mogul saying on his Twitter account, "I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them."
Trump has defied four decades of U.S. presidential campaign tradition by refusing to release his tax returns. He says his U.S. income tax returns for recent years are under audit by federal officials and that he will release them when the reviews are finished, even though there is no prohibition against disclosing the information ahead of that time.
In interviews Sunday on political news talk shows, Trump's allies contended the revelation that he might have legally avoided huge amounts of taxation made him a genius.
"Don't you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?" former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked rhetorically.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of numerous Republican candidates Trump defeated for the party's presidential nomination, called the tax revelations "a very, very good story for Donald Trump," showing him "a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow."
'Extraordinary tax benefits'
The Times said the Trump tax records expose "the extraordinary tax benefits" he acquired from "the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel" in New York City. The Times said the documents were mailed to a reporter at the newspaper from a New York address, and consisted of three pages.
Nothing in the documents sent to The Times shows illegal behavior by Trump. All Americans can offset taxable gains with financial losses. But in a political cycle where income inequality and transparency have been major issues, Trump’s tax history, what is known and unknown, is giving Democrats ample ammunition as the election draws closer.
Both Trump and Clinton headed back onto the campaign trail Monday. Trump talked with retired military officers in Virginia before traveling to Colorado, both closely contested states five weeks ahead of the November 8 election.
Trump drew the ire of veterans’ groups after he suggested that soldiers who suffer from mental health issues might not be as strong as those who don’t.
“When people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” Trump said.
The comment drew swift condemnation from critics as well as veterans’ groups that have been working for years to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues in an effort to encourage soldiers to seek treatment.
Clinton heads to Ohio
In the Ohio appearance, Clinton also highlighted the disparities in the U.S. economic system that has led to a growing gap between the country's wealthy and millions of middle-income people.
Trump's and Clinton's vice presidential running mates, Republican Indiana Governor Mike Pence and Democratic Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, are set to hold their only debate late Tuesday. Trump and Clinton square off next Sunday for the second of their three planned face-to-face encounters.