This is a very, very long story which details dubious write-offs, money made while in office, massive financial losses and sheltering money using family members.
LONG-CONCEALED RECORDS SHOW TRUMP’S CHRONIC LOSSES AND YEARS OF TAX AVOIDANCE
Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.
He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.
As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.
The returns are some of the most sought-after, and speculated-about, records in recent memory. In Mr. Trump’s nearly four years in office — and across his endlessly hyped decades in the public eye — journalists, prosecutors, opposition politicians and conspiracists have, with limited success, sought to excavate the enigmas of his finances. By their very nature, the filings will leave many questions unanswered, many questioners unfulfilled. They comprise information that Mr. Trump has disclosed to the I.R.S., not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Mr. Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.
The tax data examined by The Times provides a road map of revelations, from write-offs for the cost of a criminal defense lawyer and a mansion used as a family retreat to a full accounting of the millions of dollars the president received from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Together with related financial documents and legal filings, the records offer the most detailed look yet inside the president’s business empire. They reveal the hollowness, but also the wizardry, behind the self-made-billionaire image — honed through his star turn on “The Apprentice” — that helped propel him to the White House and that still undergirds the loyalty of many in his base.
Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.
The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.
Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.
His revenue from “The Apprentice” and from licensing deals is drying up, and several years ago he sold nearly all the stocks that now might have helped him plug holes in his struggling properties.
The tax audit looms.
And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.
Against that backdrop, the records go much further toward revealing the actual and potential conflicts of interest created by Mr. Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his business interests while in the White House. His properties have become bazaars for collecting money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking face time, access or favor; the records for the first time put precise dollar figures on those transactions.
At the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., a flood of new members starting in 2015 allowed him to pocket an additional $5 million a year from the business. In 2017, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association paid at least $397,602 to the Washington hotel, where the group held at least one event during its four-day World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.
The Times was also able to take the fullest measure to date of the president’s income from overseas, where he holds ultimate sway over American diplomacy. When he took office, Mr. Trump said he would pursue no new foreign deals as president. Even so, in his first two years in the White House, his revenue from abroad totaled $73 million. And while much of that money was from his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland, some came from licensing deals in countries with authoritarian-leaning leaders or thorny geopolitics — for example, $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.
Mr. Trump’s net income from his fame — his 50 percent share of “The Apprentice,” together with the riches showered upon him by the scores of suitors paying to use his name — totaled $427.4 million through 2018. A further $176.5 million in profit came to him through his investment in two highly successful office buildings.
So how did he escape nearly all taxes on that fortune? Even the effective tax rate paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans could have caused him to pay more than $100 million.
The answer rests in a third category of Mr. Trump’s endeavors: businesses that he owns and runs himself. The collective and persistent losses he reported from them largely absolved him from paying federal income taxes on the $600 million from “The Apprentice,” branding deals and investments.
That equation is a key element of the alchemy of Mr. Trump’s finances: using the proceeds of his celebrity to purchase and prop up risky businesses, then wielding their losses to avoid taxes.
Throughout his career, Mr. Trump’s business losses have often accumulated in sums larger than could be used to reduce taxes on other income in a single year. But the tax code offers a workaround: With some restrictions, business owners can car
It did not take long for conflicts to emerge when Mr. Trump ran for president and won. The Philippines’ strongman leader, Rodrigo Duterte, chose as a special trade envoy to Washington the businessman behind the Trump tower in Manila. In Argentina, a key person who had been involved in a Uruguayan licensing deal that earned Mr. Trump $2.3 million was appointed to a cabinet post.
The president’s conflicts have been most evident with Turkey, where the business community and the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have not hesitated to leverage various Trump enterprises to their advantage. When Turkish-American relations were at a low point, a Turkish business group canceled a conference at Mr. Trump’s Washington hotel; six months later, when the two countries were on better terms, the rescheduled event was attended by Turkish government officials. Turkish Airlines also chose the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia to host an event.
More broadly, the tax records suggest other ways in which Mr. Trump’s presidency has propped up his sagging bottom line. Monthly credit card receipts, reported to the I.R.S. by third-party card processing firms, reflect the way certain of his resorts, golf courses and hotels became favored stamping grounds, if not venues for influence-trading, beginning in 2015 and continuing into his time in the White House.
The credit card data does not reflect total revenue, and is useful mainly for showing short-term ups and downs of consumer interest in a business. While two of Mr. Trump’s marquee draws — the Washington hotel in the Old Post Office and the Doral golf resort — are loaded with debt and continue to lose money, both have seen credit card transactions rise markedly with his political ascent.
At the hotel, the monthly receipts grew from $3.7 million in December 2016 shortly after it opened, to $5.4 million in January 2017 and $6 million by May 2018. At Doral, after Mr. Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015, credit card revenue more than doubled, to $13 million, for the three months through August, compared with the same period the year before.
One Trump enterprise that has been regularly profitable, and is a persistent source of concern about ethical conflicts and national security lapses, is the Mar-a-Lago club. Profits there rose sharply after Mr. Trump declared his candidacy, as courtiers eagerly joining up brought a tenfold rise in cash from initiation fees — from $664,000 in 2014 to just under $6 million in 2016, even before Mr. Trump doubled the cost of initiation in January 2017. The membership rush allowed the president to take $26 million out of the business from 2015 through 2018, nearly triple the rate at which he had paid himself in the prior two years.
Some of the largest payments from business groups for events or conferences at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties have come since Mr. Trump became president, the tax records show.
At Doral, Mr. Trump collected a total of at least $7 million in 2015 and 2016 from Bank of America, and at least $1.2 million in 2017 and 2018 from a trade association representing food retailers and wholesalers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid Doral at least $406,599 in 2018.
Beyond one-time payments for events or memberships, large corporations also pay rent for space in the few commercial buildings Mr. Trump actually owns. Walgreens, the pharmacy giant that resolved an antitrust matter before federal regulators in 2017, pays $3.4 million a year for a lease at 40 Wall Street, a Trump-owned office building in Manhattan.
Another renter at 40 Wall, for $2.5 million a year, is Atane Engineers, which changed its name in 2018 after a corruption scandal that culminated in two former top executives’ pleading guilty to paying bribes for city infrastructure contracts. Despite the criminal case — which landed the company on New York State’s list of “non-responsible entities” that require a waiver to obtain state contracts — the newly christened Atane registered as an eligible federal contractor with no restrictions listed in its file.
Rental income over all at 40 Wall has risen markedly, from $30.5 million in 2014 to $43.2 million in 2018. The tax records show that the cost of existing leases there has risen. and at least four law firms appear to have moved in since Mr. Trump ran for president.
In addition to buildings he owns outright, there is the president’s stake in the Vornado partnerships that control two valuable office towers — 1290 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and 555 California Street in San Francisco. Vornado’s chief executive, Steven Roth, is a close Trump ally recently named to the White House economic recovery council. Last year, the president appointed Mr. Roth’s wife, Daryl Roth, to the Kennedy Center board of trustees.
Vornado tenants include a roster of blue-chip firms paying multimillion-dollar leases, many of whom regularly do business with, lobby or are regulated by the federal government. Among the dozens of leases paid in 2018 to Mr. Trump’s Vornado partnerships, according to his tax records, were $5.8 million from Goldman Sachs; $3.1 million from Microsoft; $32.7 million from Neuberger Berman, an investment management company; and $8.8 million from the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.