The Times has been obtaining Donald Trump’s tax information for more than two decades, revealing distressed properties, vast write-offs, an overhaul battle, and hundreds of millions of outstanding debts.
Donald J. Trump paid $ 750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year at the White House, he paid another $ 750.
He had not paid any income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years, largely because he had reported losing far more money than he had earned.
As the president embarks on a re-election campaign that polls are likely to lose, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars of debt he has personally guaranteed. He also has a decade-long overhaul 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 $ 1
The tax returns that Trump has long struggled to keep private tell a fundamentally different story than the one he sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. He plays a businessman who collects hundreds of millions of dollars a year but accumulates chronic losses which he uses aggressively to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his growing financial challenges, data shows that he is increasingly dependent on making money from companies that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.
The New York Times obtained tax return data spanning more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including insights from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of the Times results; further articles will be published in the coming weeks.
Returns are some of the most sought and speculated records in recent memory. In Trump’s nearly four years in office – and his countless publicly publicized decades – journalists, prosecutors, opposition politicians, and conspiracists have tried, with little success, to delve into the conundrums of his finances. By their very nature, statements will leave many questions unanswered, many unsatisfied questioners. They include information Trump disclosed to the I.R.S., not the results of an independent financial review. 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 previously unreported connections to Russia.
The president’s fees
In response to a letter summarizing the Times’ findings, Alan Garten, a Trump Organization attorney, said “most, if not all, the facts appear to be inaccurate” and requested the documents on which they were based. After the Times refused to provide the documents, in order to protect his sources, Mr. Garten directly challenged only the amount of taxes that Mr. Trump had paid.
“Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since he announced his candidacy in 2015, ”Mr. Garten said in a statement.
By the term “personal taxes,” however, Mr. Garten appears to be confusing income taxes with other federal taxes that Mr. Trump has paid: Social Security, Medicare, and taxes for his home employees. Mr. Garten also said that some of what the president owed was “paid with tax credits,” a misleading characterization of credits, which reduce an entrepreneur’s income tax bill as a reward for various activities, such as historical conservation.
The tax data examined by the Times provides a road map of revelations, from cancellations for the cost of a criminal defense attorney and a mansion used as a family retreat to a comprehensive accounting of the millions of dollars the president received from Miss 2013. Entertainment of the universe in Moscow.
Along with related financial records and legal documents, the ledgers offer the most detailed aspect yet within the president’s business empire. They reveal the emptiness, but also the magic, behind the self-made billionaire image – honed through his star turn on “The Apprentice” – that helped propel him to the White House and still underpins the loyalty of many in its base.
Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business tycoon than being one in real life.
“The Apprentice,” coupled with the licensing and sponsorship deals that stemmed from his expanding stardom, brought Mr. Trump a total of $ 427.4 million, according to the Times’ analysis of records. He has invested much of this in a collection of companies, mostly golf courses, that have consistently devoured money over the years since then – as much as the money he secretly received from his father has funded a spree of quixotic overspending they have. led to its collapse in the early 1990s.
In fact, his financial condition when he announced his run for president in 2015 lends some credence to the idea that his long-range campaign was at least partly a gamble to revive the marketability of his name.
As the legal and political battles for access to his tax returns intensify, Trump has often wondered aloud why anyone would want to see them. “There’s nothing to learn from them,” he told The Associated Press in 2016. There is much more useful information, he said, in the annual financial information required of him as president – which he cited as evidence of his mastery. thriving and immensely profitable business universe.
Indeed, those public statements offer a skewed picture of its financial status, as they simply report revenue, not profit. In 2018, for example, Mr. Trump announced in his disclosure that he had earned at least $ 434.9 million. The tax records provide a very different picture of its profits: $ 47.4 million in losses.
Tax records do not have the specificity to assess the legitimacy of every business expense that Mr. Trump claims to reduce his taxable income – for example, with no explanation in his returns, the general and administrative expenses of his Bedminster New York golf club. Jersey quintupled from 2016 to 2017. And he previously boasted that his ability to get by without paying taxes “makes me smart,” as he said in 2016. But the returns, on his own, undermined his claims of financial acumen, showing that he is simply pouring more money into many businesses than he is taking out.
The image that perhaps most clearly emerges from the mountain of tax figures and tables prepared by Trump’s accountants is that of a president-businessman in a financial squeeze.
Most of Mr. Trump’s major businesses – from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative hotel magnet in Washington – report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.
His earnings from “The Apprentice” and licensing deals are running out, and several years ago he sold nearly every stock that could now help him plug holes in his ailing properties.
The tax audit is upon us.
And within the next four years, more than $ 300 million in loans will be owed – bonds for which he is personally responsible.
In this context, the documents go much further to reveal the actual and potential conflicts of interest created by Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his business interests while in the White House. Its properties have become bazaars to raise money directly from lobbyists, foreign officials and others seeking time, access or favor; the ledgers for the first time report precise dollar figures on those transactions.
At the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, a wave 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 at the Washington hotel, where the group held at least one event during the four-day World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.
The Times was also able to take the most comprehensive measure to date of the president’s overseas revenue, where he holds the greatest control over American diplomacy. When he took office, Mr. Trump said he would not pursue new foreign deals as president. Even so, in his first two years in the White House, his overseas income amounted to $ 73 million. And while much of that money came from his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland, some came from licensing deals in countries with authoritarian-led or geopolitical thorny leaders – for example, $ 3 million from the Philippines, $ 2.3 million from the Philippines. ‘India and $ 1 million from Turkey.
He reported paying taxes, in turn, on a number of his overseas businesses. In 2017, the president’s $ 750 contribution to U.S. government operations was dwarfed by $ 15,598 paid by him or his companies in Panama, $ 145,400 in India, and $ 156,824 in the Philippines.
Mr. Trump’s US payment, after accounting for his losses, was roughly equivalent, in non-inflationary dollars, to another presidential tax bill revealed nearly half a century earlier. In 1973, The Providence Journal reported that after a charitable deduction for donating his presidential documents, Richard M. Nixon had paid $ 792.81 in 1970 with an income of approximately $ 200,000.
The escape of Mr. Nixon’s small tax payment caused an uproar that set a precedent: from now on, presidents and presidential candidates would make their tax returns available to the American people.
The contents of thousands of personal and business tax documents fill in financial details that have been hidden for years.
“I’d love to do that,” Trump said in 2014 when asked if he would release his taxes if he ran for president. It has since backtracked.
When he escaped, he said he could have made his taxes public if Hillary Clinton had done the same with the deleted emails from her private server – an echo of his taunt, while fueling the birther fiction, that he could have released the returns if President Barack Obama had released. his birth certificate. He once boasted that his tax returns were “very large” and “beautiful”. But make them public? “It’s very complicated.” He often claims he cannot do this while under control – an argument disproved by his own I.R.S. commissioner. When prosecutors and Congressional investigators issued subpoenas for his repatriations, he exercised not only his private lawyers, but also his justice department’s power to block them all the way to the Supreme Court.
Trump’s elaborate dance and defiance has only fueled suspicion of what secrets he might be hiding in his taxes. Is there a financial clue to your deference to Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin? Did you cancel the cash payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election as a corporate expense? Did a hidden source of money fuel its takeover frenzy that began in the mid-2000s?
The Times reviewed and analyzed data from thousands of individual and corporate tax returns from 2000 to 2017, along with additional tax information from other years. The treasury included years of employee compensation information and cash payment records between the president and his assets, as well as information on ongoing federal audits of his taxes. This article is also based on dozens of interviews and previously unreported material from other sources, both public and confidential.
All information obtained by the Times was provided from sources with legal access. Although most of the tax data has not previously been made public, The Times was able to verify parts of it by comparing it to publicly available information and confidential documents previously obtained by The Times.
Digging into the documents means taking a closer look at the complex structure of the president’s business interests – and the depth of its intertwining. What is popularly known as the Trump Organization is actually a collection of over 500 entities, virtually all wholly owned by Trump, many of which bear his name. For example, 105 of them are a variation of the name Trump Marks, which he uses for license agreements.
Fragments of Trump’s tax returns have already leaked in the past.
Transcripts of his main federal tax form, 1040, from 1985 to 1994, were obtained by the Times in 2019. They showed that, over many years, Mr. Trump has lost more money than almost any other American taxpayer. Three pages of his 1995 returns, sent anonymously to the Times during the 2016 campaign, showed that Mr. Trump had declared losses of $ 915.7 million, giving him a tax deduction that could have allowed him to avoid federal taxes. on income for nearly two decades. Five months later, reporter David Cay Johnston got two pages of Trump’s 2005 returns; that year, his fortunes had rebounded to the point that he was paying taxes.
The vast and new treasure trove of information analyzed by the Times complements the recurring pattern of rise and fall that has defined the president’s career. Even so, it has its limitations.
Tax returns, for example, do not record net worth – in the case of Mr. Trump, a subject of much attitude and almost as much debate. Documents record a large amount of money, but while returns report debts, they often don’t identify lenders.
The data doesn’t contain any new disclosures about paying $ 130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, the actress who plays Stormy Daniels – a focal point of the Manhattan District Attorney’s citation for Trump’s tax returns and other financial information. Mr. Trump acknowledged having reimbursed his former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, who paid the compensation, but the materials obtained by the Times did not include any detailed payments to Mr. Cohen. The amount, however, may have been improperly included in legal fees written off as business expenses, which do not need to be detailed in tax returns.
No argument has provoked more intense speculation about Trump’s finances than his ties to Russia. Although the tax records revealed no previously unknown financial connections – and, for the most part, lacked the specificity required to do so – they shed new light on the money behind the 2013 Miss Universe show in Moscow, the subject of lasting intrigue due to subsequent investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
Records show that the contest was the most lucrative Miss Universe during Trump’s time as a co-owner, and that it generated a $ 2.3 million personal payday, made possible, at least in part, by the Agalarov family, who in following would help. organized the infamous 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials looking for “dirt” on Ms. Clinton and a Russian attorney linked to the Kremlin.
In August, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that extensively examined the circumstances of the Moscow rally and revealed that it was only in February that investigators sued Russian singer Emin Agalarov, who was involved in its planning. Agalarov’s father Aras, a billionaire who boasts close links to Putin, was Trump’s partner in the event.
The committee interviewed a senior Miss Universe executive, Paula Shugart, who said the Agalarov offered to subscribe to the event; their family business, Crocus Group, paid a license fee of $ 6 million and an additional $ 6 million in expenses. But while the show proved to be a financial loss for the Agalarov – they only recovered $ 2 million – Ms. Shugart told investigators that it was “one of the most profitable deals” the Miss Universe organization has ever done, according to. the report.
This is confirmed by the tax documents. They show that in 2013, the contest recorded $ 31.6 million in gross revenue – the highest since at least the 1990s – allowing Mr. Trump and his co-owner, NBC, to split the profits by 4.7 Millions of dollars. By comparison, Mr. Trump and NBC shared losses of $ 2 million from the contest the year before the Moscow event and $ 3.8 million from that the following year.
The reported losses from the companies that Mr. Trump owns and manages have helped clear the tax bills on hundreds of millions of dollars of celebrity income.
While Mr. Trump crossed the country in 2015 describing himself as uniquely qualified to be president because he was “very rich” and had “built a great company,” his accountants in New York were busy putting the finishing touches on his statement. of 2014 income.
After tabulating all the profits and losses from Mr. Trump’s various efforts on Form 1040, the accountants got to line 56, where they had to enter the total income tax that the candidate had to pay. They only needed space for a single figure.
For Mr. Trump, that bottom line must have seemed familiar. It was the fourth consecutive year that he hadn’t paid a cent in federal income tax.
Trump’s income tax avoidance is one of the most surprising discoveries in his tax returns, especially considering the vast stream of income detailed elsewhere in those statements.
Mr. Trump’s net income from his fame – his 50% stake in “The Apprentice,” coupled with the wealth poured into him by the dozens of suitors who paid to use his name – amounted to $ 427.4 million until 2018. Another $ 176.5 million in profit came to him through his investment in two highly successful office buildings.
So how did he escape almost all the taxes on that fortune? Even the effective tax rate paid by the top 1% of Americans could have made them pay more than $ 100 million.
The answer lies in a third category of Mr. Trump’s efforts: the businesses he owns and runs himself. The collective and persistent losses he reported from them largely exempted him from paying federal income taxes on “The Apprentice” $ 600 million, branding and investment deals.
That equation is a key element of Trump’s finance alchemy: using his celebrity proceeds to buy and support risky assets, then managing his own losses to avoid taxes.
Over the course of his career, Trump’s corporate losses have often piled up in sums greater than what could be used to reduce taxes on other income in a single year. But the tax code offers an alternative solution: with some restrictions, entrepreneurs can carry over the remaining losses to reduce taxes in future years.
That arrangement was the background music of Trump’s life. As the Times’ previous report on his 1995 comeback showed, the nearly $ 1 billion in losses since his collapse in the early 1990s generated a tax deduction he could use for up to 18 years in the future.
The most recent tax returns show that Mr. Trump burned the last of that billion-dollar tax-cutting power in 2005, just as a torrent of entertainment riches began to make its way after the debut of “The Apprentice.” “the year before.
From 2005 to 2007, the money from licensing and sponsorship deals filled Trump’s bank accounts with $ 120 million in pure profit. With no losses from the previous year to reduce his taxable income, he paid for the first time in his life substantial federal income taxes – a total of $ 70.1 million.
As his celebrity earnings increased, Mr. Trump went on different purchases than he had had since the 1980s, when eager banks and his father’s wealth allowed him to buy or build casinos, airplanes, yachts and old hotels that would soon leave it. Bass.
When “The Apprentice” premiered, Mr. Trump had only opened two golf courses and was renovating two more. By the end of 2015 it had 15 courses and was transforming the Old Post Office building in Washington into a Trump International Hotel. But instead of making it richer, tax records reveal how never before, each new acquisition has only fueled the blueprint on its profits.
Consider the results at its largest golf resort, Trump National Doral, near Miami. Mr. Trump bought the resort for $ 150 million in 2012; in 2018, its losses totaled $ 162.3 million. He’s pumped $ 213 million of fresh cash into Doral, according to his tax records, and has a $ 125 million mortgage due in three years.
Its three courses in Europe – two in Scotland and one in Ireland – recorded losses of $ 63.6 million.
Overall, since 2000, Mr. Trump has reported losses of $ 315.6 million in golf courses that are his prized assets.
For all its Trumpworld charm, its Washington hotel, which opened in 2016, hasn’t fared much better. Its tax records show losses through 2018 of $ 55.5 million.
And Trump Corporation, a real estate services firm, has reported losing $ 134 million since 2000. Mr. Trump has personally financed the losses year after year, marking his cash infusions as a loan with a steadily rising balance. show his tax records. In 2016 it waived the repayment and transformed the loan into a cash contribution.
Mr. Trump has often speculated that his losses are more accounting magic than real money out the door.
Last year, after The Times released details of his 1980s and 1990s tax returns, he attributed the red ink to depreciation, which he said in a tweet would show “losses in almost all cases. “and that” much was not monetary “.
“I love the depreciation,” Trump said during a presidential debate in 2016.
Depreciation, however, isn’t a magic bullet – it involves real money spent or borrowed to buy buildings or other assets that are expected to last for years. These costs must be allocated as expenses and deducted over the useful life of the asset. Even so, the rules reserve particular advantages for real estate developers like Mr. Trump, who are allowed to use real estate losses to reduce taxable income from other businesses.
What the tax records for Mr. Trump’s assets show, however, is that he has lost parts of his fortune even before depreciation is calculated. The three European golf courses, the Washington hotel, Doral and Trump Corporation reported losing a total of $ 150.3 million. from 2010 to 2018, not including depreciation as an expense.
To see what a successful business looks like, depreciation or not, look no further than one in Mr. Trump’s portfolio that he doesn’t manage.
After plans for a Trump-branded mini-city on Manhattan’s Far West Side stalled in the 1990s, Trump’s stake was sold by his partner to the Vornado Realty Trust. Mr. Trump opposed the sale in court, saying he was not consulted, but he found himself with a 30% stake in two valuable office buildings owned and operated by Vornado.
Its share of profits through the end of 2018 amounted to $ 176.5 million, with depreciation taken into account. He has never had to invest more money in the partnership, tax records show.
Of the companies he runs, Trump’s early success remains the best. The commercial and retail spaces of Trump Tower, completed in 1983, have reliably delivered more than $ 20 million a year in profits, totaling $ 336.3 million since 2000 which has done a lot to keep it at afloat.
Mr. Trump has a proven track record of tightening up his lenders. But the tax returns reveal that it has failed to repay much more money than previously known – a total of $ 287 million since 2010.
Theirs. considers forgiven debt an income, but Trump was able to avoid taxes on much of that money by reducing his ability to report future business losses. For the rest, he took advantage of a Great Recession bailout provision that allowed the proceeds of canceled debt to be fully deferred by five years, and then distributed evenly over the next five. It declared the first $ 28.2 million in 2014.
Once again, the losses suffered by the business mainly discharged its tax liabilities. He paid no federal income taxes for 2014.
Mr. Trump was periodically required to pay a parallel income tax called an alternative minimum tax, created as a tripwire to prevent wealthy people from using huge deductions, including business losses, to completely write off their tax liabilities.
Mr. Trump paid an alternative minimum tax in seven years between 2000 and 2017 – a total of $ 24.3 million, excluding refunds received after filing. For 2015, he paid $ 641,931, his first federal income tax payment since 2010.
When he settled in the Oval Office, his tax bills soon got back in shape. His potential taxable income in 2016 and 2017 included $ 24.8 million in profits from sources related to his celebrity status and $ 56.4 million for loans he didn’t repay. The dreaded alternative minimum tax would allow his business losses to cancel only part of his liability.
Each time, he requested an extension to submit his 1040; and each time he made the payment requested to I.R.S. for the income taxes he should have owed – $ 1 million for 2016 and $ 4.2 million for 2017. But pretty much all that responsibility was wiped out when he finally filed the return and most of the payments were shifted forward to cover potential taxes in future years.
To void tax bills, Mr. Trump used $ 9.7 million in corporate investment credits, at least some of which related to his Old Post Office hotel renovation, which qualified for a historic preservation tax deduction . Sebbene avesse crediti più che sufficienti per non dover pagare alcuna tassa, i suoi contabili sembrano aver ritagliato un’indennità per una piccola responsabilità fiscale sia per il 2016 che per il 2017.
Quando arrivarono alla riga 56, quella per le imposte sul reddito dovute, l’importo era lo stesso ogni anno: $ 750.
“The Apprentice” ha creato quello che è stato probabilmente il più grande morso di imposta sul reddito della vita di Trump. Durante il salvataggio della Grande Recessione, ha chiesto indietro i soldi.
Testimoniando davanti al Congresso nel febbraio 2019, l’avvocato personale del presidente, il signor Cohen, ha ricordato che il signor Trump gli aveva mostrato un enorme assegno dal Tesoro degli Stati Uniti alcuni anni prima e riflettendo “che non poteva credere quanto fosse stupido il governo per dare a qualcuno come gli restituiamo tutti quei soldi. “
In effetti, i documenti riservati mostrano che a partire dal 2010 ha rivendicato e ricevuto un rimborso dell’imposta sul reddito per un totale di 72,9 milioni di dollari – tutta l’imposta federale sul reddito che aveva pagato dal 2005 al 2008, più gli interessi.
La legittimità di tale rimborso è al centro della battaglia di audit che da tempo conduce, fuori dagli occhi del pubblico, con l’I.R.S.
Le registrazioni che il Times ha esaminato piazza con il modo in cui Trump ha ripetutamente citato, senza spiegazioni, un audit in corso come motivo per rifiutare di rilasciare le sue dichiarazioni dei redditi. Ha accennato ad esso non più tardi di luglio su Fox News, quando ha detto a Sean Hannity: “Mi trattano orribilmente, l’I.R.S., orribilmente”.
E sebbene i registri non riportino tutti i dettagli dell’audit, corrispondono alla dichiarazione dei suoi avvocati durante la campagna del 2016 secondo cui gli audit dei suoi resi per il 2009 e gli anni successivi sono rimasti aperti e hanno coinvolto “transazioni o attività che sono state riportate anche sui resi per il 2008 e gli anni precedenti. “
Il signor Trump ha raccolto quella fortuna di rimborso dichiarando enormi perdite di affari – per un totale di $ 1,4 miliardi dalle sue attività principali per il 2008 e il 2009 – che le leggi fiscali gli avevano impedito di utilizzare negli anni precedenti.
Ma per trasformare quel lungo arco di fallimento in un gigantesco assegno di rimborso, ha fatto affidamento su un abile lavoro di contabilità e su un dono inconsapevole di una fonte improbabile: Obama.
Le perdite aziendali possono funzionare come una cedola di elusione fiscale: un dollaro perso su un’azienda riduce un dollaro di reddito imponibile da un’altra parte. I tipi e gli importi di reddito che possono essere utilizzati in un determinato anno variano a seconda dello status fiscale del proprietario. Ma alcune perdite possono essere salvate per un uso successivo o addirittura utilizzate per richiedere un rimborso sulle tasse pagate in un anno precedente.
Fino al 2009, quei buoni potevano essere utilizzati per cancellare le tasse che risalgono a soli due anni fa. Ma quel novembre, la finestra è stata più che raddoppiata da una disposizione poco notata in un disegno di legge che Obama ha firmato come parte dello sforzo di ripresa della Grande Recessione. Ora gli imprenditori potevano richiedere il rimborso completo delle tasse pagate nei quattro anni precedenti e il 50% di quelle dell’anno precedente.
Il signor Trump non aveva pagato imposte sul reddito nel 2008. Ma il cambiamento significava che quando ha presentato le tasse per il 2009, poteva chiedere il rimborso non solo dei $ 13,3 milioni che aveva pagato nel 2007, ma anche dei $ 56,9 milioni pagati nel 2005. e il 2006, quando “The Apprentice” ha creato quello che è stato probabilmente il più grande morso di imposta sul reddito della sua vita.
I registri esaminati dal Times indicano che il signor Trump ha presentato istanza per la prima di diverse tranche del suo rimborso diverse settimane dopo, nel gennaio 2010. Ciò ha dato il via a quello che i professionisti fiscali chiamano “rimborso rapido”, un assegno elaborato in 90 giorni su base provvisoria, in attesa di una verifica da parte dell’IRS
Il suo rimborso totale dell’imposta sul reddito federale alla fine sarebbe cresciuto fino a $ 70,1 milioni, più $ 2,733,184 di interessi. Ha anche ricevuto 21,2 milioni di dollari in rimborsi statali e locali, che spesso vengono trasferiti su documenti federali.
Se il signor Trump riuscirà a mantenere i soldi, tuttavia, rimane tutt’altro che una cosa sicura.
I rimborsi richiedono l’approvazione di I.R.S. revisori dei conti e un parere del Comitato misto del Congresso sulla tassazione, un gruppo bipartisan meglio noto per la revisione dell’impatto della legislazione fiscale. La legge fiscale richiede che il comitato sopporti tutti i rimborsi superiori a $ 2 milioni a persone fisiche.
Records show that the results of an audit of Mr. Trump’s refund were sent to the joint committee in the spring of 2011. An agreement was reached in late 2014, the documents indicate, but the audit resumed and grew to include Mr. Trump’s returns for 2010 through 2013. In the spring of 2016, with Mr. Trump closing in on the Republican nomination, the case was sent back to the committee. It has remained there, unresolved, with the statute of limitations repeatedly pushed forward.
Precisely why the case has stalled is not clear. But experts say it suggests that the gap between the sides remains wide. If negotiations were to deadlock, the case would move to federal court, where it could become a matter of public record.
The dispute may center on a single claim that jumps off the page of Mr. Trump’s 2009 tax return: a declaration of more than $700 million in business losses that he had not been allowed to use in prior years. Unleashing that giant tax-avoidance coupon enabled him to receive some or all of his refund.
The material obtained by The Times does not identify the business or businesses that generated those losses. But the losses were a kind that can be claimed only when partners give up their interest in a business. And in 2009, Mr. Trump parted ways with a giant money loser: his long-failing Atlantic City casinos.
After Mr. Trump’s bondholders rebuffed his offer to buy them out, and with a third round of bankruptcy only a week away, Mr. Trump announced in February 2009 that he was quitting the board of directors.
“If I’m not going to run it, I don’t want to be involved in it,” he told The Associated Press. “I’m one of the largest developers in the world. I have a lot of cash and plenty of places I can go.”
The same day, he notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that he had “determined that his partnership interests are worthless and lack potential to regain value” and was “hereby abandoning” his stake.
The language was crucial. Mr. Trump was using the precise wording of I.R.S. rules governing the most beneficial, and perhaps aggressive, method for business owners to avoid taxes when separating from a business.
A partner who walks away from a business with nothing — what tax laws refer to as abandonment — can suddenly declare all the losses on the business that could not be used in prior years. But there are a few catches, including this: Abandonment is essentially an all-or-nothing proposition. If the I.R.S. learns that the owner received anything of value, the allowable losses are reduced to just $3,000 a year.
And Mr. Trump does appear to have received something. When the casino bankruptcy concluded, he got 5 percent of the stock in the new company. The materials reviewed by The Times do not make clear whether Mr. Trump’s refund application reflected his public declaration of abandonment. If it did, that 5 percent could place his entire refund in question.
If the auditors ultimately disallow Mr. Trump’s $72.9 million federal refund, he will be forced to return that money with interest, and possibly penalties, a total that could exceed $100 million. He could also be ordered to return the state and local refunds based on the same claims.
In response to a question about the audit, Mr. Garten, the Trump Organization lawyer, said facts cited by The Times were incorrect, without citing specifics. He did, however, write that it was “illogical” to say Mr. Trump had not paid taxes for those three years just because the money was later refunded.
“While you claim that President Trump paid no taxes in 10 of the 15 previous years,” Mr. Garten said, “you also assert that President Trump claimed a massive refund for tens of millions for taxes he fatto pay. These two claims are entirely inconsistent and, in any event, not supported by the facts.”
House Democrats who have been in hot pursuit of Mr. Trump’s tax returns most likely have no idea that at least some of the records are sitting in a congressional office building. George Yin, a former chief of staff for the joint committee, said that any identifying information about taxpayers under review was tightly held among a handful of staff lawyers and was rarely shared with politicians assigned to the committee.
It is possible that the case has been paused because Mr. Trump is president, which would raise the personal stakes of re-election. If the recent Fox interview is any indication, Mr. Trump seems increasingly agitated about the matter.
“It’s a disgrace what’s happened,” he told Mr. Hannity. “We had a deal done. In fact, it was — I guess it was signed even. And once I ran, or once I won, or somewhere back a long time ago, everything was like, ‘Well, let’s start all over again.’ It’s a disgrace.”
Helping to reduce Mr. Trump’s tax bills are unidentified consultants’ fees, some of which can be matched to payments received by Ivanka Trump.
Examining the Trump Organization’s tax records, a curious pattern emerges: Between 2010 and 2018, Mr. Trump wrote off some $26 million in unexplained “consulting fees” as a business expense across nearly all of his projects.
In most cases the fees were roughly one-fifth of his income: In Azerbaijan, Mr. Trump collected $5 million on a hotel deal and reported $1.1 million in consulting fees, while in Dubai it was $3 million with a $630,000 fee, and so on.
Mysterious big payments in business deals can raise red flags, particularly in places where bribes or kickbacks to middlemen are routine. But there is no evidence that Mr. Trump, who mostly licenses his name to other people’s projects and is not involved in securing government approvals, has engaged in such practices.
Rather, there appears to be a closer-to-home explanation for at least some of the fees: Mr. Trump reduced his taxable income by treating a family member as a consultant, and then deducting the fee as a cost of doing business.
The “consultants” are not identified in the tax records. But evidence of this arrangement was gleaned by comparing the confidential tax records to the financial disclosures Ivanka Trump filed when she joined the White House staff in 2017. Ms. Trump reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622, that exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Vancouver and Hawaii.
Ms. Trump had been an executive officer of the Trump companies that received profits from and paid the consulting fees for both projects — meaning she appears to have been treated as a consultant on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father’s business.
When asked about the arrangement, the Trump Organization lawyer, Mr. Garten, did not comment.
Employers can deduct consulting fees as a business expense and also avoid the withholding taxes that apply to wages. To claim the deduction, the consulting arrangement must be an “ordinary and necessary” part of running the business, with fees that are reasonable and market-based, according to the I.R.S. The recipient of the fees is still required to pay income tax.
The I.R.S. has pursued civil penalties against some business owners who devised schemes to avoid taxes by paying exorbitant fees to related parties who were not in fact independent contractors. A 2011 tax court case centered on the I.R.S.’s denial of almost $3 million in deductions for consulting fees the partners in an Illinois accounting firm paid themselves via corporations they created. The court concluded that the partners had structured the fees to “distribute profits, not to compensate for services.”
There is no indication that the I.R.S. has questioned Mr. Trump’s practice of deducting millions of dollars in consulting fees. If the payments to his daughter were compensation for work, it is not clear why Mr. Trump would do it in this form, other than to reduce his own tax liability. Another, more legally perilous possibility is that the fees were a way to transfer assets to his children without incurring a gift tax.
A Times investigation in 2018 found that Mr. Trump’s late father, Fred Trump, employed a number of legally dubious schemes decades ago to evade gift taxes on millions of dollars he transferred to his children. It is not possible to discern from this newer collection of tax records whether intra-family financial maneuverings were a motivating factor.
However, the fact that some of the consulting fees are identical to those reported by Mr. Trump’s daughter raises the question of whether this was a mechanism the president used to compensate his adult children involved with his business. Indeed, in some instances where large fees were claimed, people with direct knowledge of the projects were not aware of any outside consultants who would have been paid.
On the failed hotel deal in Azerbaijan, which was plagued by suspicions of corruption, a Trump Organization lawyer told The New Yorker the company was blameless because it was merely a licenser and had no substantive role, adding, “We did not pay any money to anyone.” Yet, the tax records for three Trump L.L.C.s involved in that project show deductions for consulting fees totaling $1.1 million that were paid to someone.
In Turkey, a person directly involved in developing two Trump towers in Istanbul expressed bafflement when asked about consultants on the project, telling The Times there was never any consultant or other third party in Turkey paid by the Trump Organization. But tax records show regular deductions for consulting fees over seven years totaling $2 million.
Ms. Trump disclosed in her public filing that the fees she received were paid through TTT Consulting L.L.C., which she said provided “consulting, licensing and management services for real estate projects.” Incorporated in Delaware in December 2005, the firm is one of several Trump-related entities with some variation of TTT or TTTT in the name that appear to refer to members of the Trump family.
Like her brothers Donald Jr. and Eric, Ms. Trump was a longtime employee of the Trump Organization and an executive officer for more than 200 Trump companies that licensed or managed hotel and resort properties. The tax records show that the three siblings had each drawn a salary from their father’s company — roughly $480,000 a year, jumping to about $2 million after Mr. Trump became president — though Ms. Trump no longer receives a salary. What’s more, Mr. Trump has said the children were intimately involved in negotiating and managing his projects. When asked in a 2011 lawsuit deposition whom he relied on to handle important details of his licensing deals, he named only Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric.
On Ms. Trump’s now-defunct website, which explains her role at the Trump Organization, she was not identified as a consultant. Rather, she has been described as a senior executive who “actively participates in all aspects of both Trump and Trump branded projects, including deal evaluation, predevelopment planning, financing, design, construction, sales and marketing, and ensuring that Trump’s world-renowned physical and operational standards are met.
“She is involved in all decisions — large and small.”
Hair stylists, table linens, property taxes on a family estate — all have been deducted as business expenses.
Private jets, country clubs and mansions have all had a role in the selling of Donald Trump.
“I play to people’s fantasies,” he wrote in “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”
If the singular Trump product is Trump in an exaggerated form — the man, the lifestyle, the acquisitiveness — then everything that feeds the image, including the cost of his businesses, can be written off on his taxes. Mr. Trump may be reporting business losses to the government, but he can still live a life of wealth and write it off.
Take, for example, Mar-a-Lago, now the president’s permanent residence as well as a private club and stage set on which Trump luxury plays out. As a business, it is also the source of millions of dollars in expenses deducted from taxable income, among them $109,433 for linens and silver and $197,829 for landscaping in 2017. Also deducted as a business expense was the $210,000 paid to a Florida photographer over the years for shooting numerous events at the club, including a 2016 New Year’s Eve party hosted by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump has written off as business expenses costs — including fuel and meals — associated with his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his various homes and properties. Likewise the cost of haircuts, including the more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during “The Apprentice.” Together, nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.
In allowing business expenses to be deducted, the I.R.S. requires that they be “ordinary and necessary,” a loosely defined standard often interpreted generously by business owners.
Perhaps Mr. Trump’s most generous interpretation of the business expense write-off is his treatment of the Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, N.Y.
Seven Springs is a throwback to another era. The main house, built in 1919 by Eugene I. Meyer Jr., the onetime head of the Federal Reserve who bought The Washington Post in 1933, sits on more than 200 acres of lush, almost untouched land just an hour’s drive north of New York City.
“The mansion is 50,000 square feet, has three pools, carriage houses, and is surrounded by nature preserves,” according to The Trump Organization website.
Mr. Trump had big plans when he bought the property in 1996 — a golf course, a clubhouse and 15 private homes. But residents of surrounding towns thwarted his ambitions, arguing that development would draw too much traffic and risk polluting the drinking water.
Mr. Trump instead found a way to reap tax benefits from the estate. He took advantage of what is known as a conservation easement. In 2015, he signed a deal with a land conservancy, agreeing not to develop most of the property. In exchange, he claimed a $21.1 million charitable tax deduction.
The tax records reveal another way Seven Springs has generated substantial tax savings. In 2014, Mr. Trump classified the estate as an investment property, as distinct from a personal residence. Since then, he has written off $2.2 million in property taxes as a business expense — even as his 2017 tax law allowed individuals to write off only $10,000 in property taxes a year.
Courts have held that to treat residences as businesses for tax purposes, owners must show that they have “an actual and honest objective of making a profit,” typically by making substantial efforts to rent the property and eventually generating income.
Whether or not Seven Springs fits those criteria, the Trumps have described the property somewhat differently.
In 2014, Eric Trump told Forbes that “this is really our compound.” Growing up, he and his brother Donald Jr. spent many summers there, riding all-terrain vehicles and fishing on a nearby lake. At one point, the brothers took up residence in a carriage house on the property. “It was home base for us for a long, long time,” Eric told Forbes.
And the Trump Organization website still describes Seven Springs as a “retreat for the Trump family.”
Mr. Garten, the Trump Organization lawyer, did not respond to a question about the Seven Springs write-off.
The Seven Springs conservation-easement deduction is one of four that Mr. Trump has claimed over the years. While his use of these deductions is widely known, his tax records show that they represent the lion’s share of his charitable giving — about $119.3 million of roughly $130 million in personal and corporate charitable contributions reported to the I.R.S.
Two of those deductions — at Seven Springs and at the Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles — are the focus of an investigation by the New York attorney general, who is examining whether the appraisals on the land, and therefore the tax deductions, were inflated.
Another common deductible expense for all businesses is legal fees. The I.R.S. requires that these fees be “directly related to operating your business,” and businesses cannot deduct “legal fees paid to defend charges that arise from participation in a political campaign.”
Yet the tax records show that the Trump Corporation wrote off as business expenses fees paid to a criminal defense lawyer, Alan S. Futerfas, who was hired to represent Donald Trump Jr. during the Russia inquiry. Investigators were examining Donald Jr.’s role in the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who had promised damaging information on Mrs. Clinton. When he testified before Congress in 2017, Mr. Futerfas was by his side.
Mr. Futerfas was also hired to defend the president’s embattled charitable foundation, which would be shut down in 2018 after New York regulators said it had engaged in “a shocking pattern of illegality.”
The Trump Corporation paid Mr. Futerfas at least $1.9 million in 2017 and 2018, tax records show. Also written off was at least $259,684 paid to Williams & Jensen, another law firm brought in during the same period to represent Donald Trump Jr.
Deals in countries led by strongmen, tenants who have business before the federal government, and hotels and clubs that draw those seeking access or favor.
In May, the chairman of a trade group representing Turkish business interests wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross urging support for increased trade between the United States and Turkey. The ultimate goal was nothing less than “reorienting the U.S. supply chain away from China.”
The letter was among three sent to cabinet secretaries by Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, chairman of the Turkey-U.S. Business Council, who noted that he had copied each one to Mr. Trump.
The president needed no introduction to Mr. Yalcindag: The Turkish businessman helped negotiate a licensing deal in 2008 for his family’s company to develop two Trump towers in Istanbul. The tax records show the deal has earned Mr. Trump at least $13 million — far more than previously known — including more than $1 million since he entered the White House, even as his onetime associate now lobbies on behalf of Turkish interests.
Mr. Yalcindag said he had “remained friendly” with Mr. Trump since their work together years ago, but that all communications between his trade group and the administration “go through formal channels and are properly disclosed.”
The ethical quandaries created by Mr. Trump’s decision to keep his business while in the White House have been documented. But the full financial measure of his extraordinary confluence of interests — a president with a wealth of business entanglements at home and in myriad geopolitical hot spots — has remained elusive.
The tax records for Mr. Trump and his hundreds of companies show precisely how much money he has received over the years, and how heavily he has come to rely on leveraging his brand in ways that pose potential or direct conflicts of interest while he is president. The records also provide the first reliable window onto his finances before 2014, the earliest year covered by his required annual disclosures, showing that his total profits from some projects outside the United States were larger than indicated by those limited public filings.
Based on the financial disclosures, which report much of his income in broad ranges, Mr. Trump’s earnings from the Istanbul towers could have been as low as $3.2 million. In the Philippines, where he licensed his name to a Manila tower nearly a decade ago, the low end of the range was $4.1 million — less than half of the $9.3 million he actually made. In Azerbaijan, he collected more than $5 million for the failed hotel project, about twice what appeared on his public filings.
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.
Threats are converging: mounting business losses, the looming I.R.S. audit and personally guaranteed debts coming due.
When Mr. Trump glided down a gilded Trump Tower escalator to kick off his presidential campaign in June 2015, his finances needed a jolt.
His core businesses were reporting mounting losses — more than $100 million over the previous two years. The river of celebrity-driven income that had long buoyed them was running dry.
If Mr. Trump hoped his unlikely candidacy might, at least, revitalize his brand, his barrage of derogatory remarks about immigrants quickly cost him two of his biggest and easiest sources of cash — licensing deals with clothing and mattress manufacturers that had netted him more than $30 million. NBC, his partner in Miss Universe — source of nearly $20 million in profits — announced that it would no longer broadcast the pageant; he sold it soon after.
Now his tax records make clear that he is facing a battery of threats to his business and his own financial well-being.
Over the past decade, he appears to have filled the cash-flow gaps with a series of one-shots that may not be available again.
In 2012, he took out a $100 million mortgage on the commercial space in Trump Tower. He took nearly the entire amount as a payout, his tax records show. His company has paid more than $15 million in interest on the loan, but nothing on the principal. The full $100 million comes due in 2022.
In 2013, he withdrew $95.8 million from his Vornado partnership account.
And in January 2014, he sold $98 million in stocks and bonds, his biggest single month of sales in at least the last two decades. He sold $54 million more in stocks and bonds in 2015, and $68.2 million in 2016. His financial disclosure released in July showed that he had as little as $873,000 in securities left to sell.
Mr. Trump’s businesses reported cash on hand of $34.7 million in 2018, down 40 percent from five years earlier.
What’s more, the tax records show that Mr. Trump has once again done what he says he regrets, looking back on his early 1990s meltdown: personally guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, a decision that led his lenders to threaten to force him into personal bankruptcy.
This time around, he is personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, with most of it coming due within four years. Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president.
There is, however, a tax benefit for Mr. Trump. While business owners can use losses to avoid taxes, they can do so only up to the amount invested in the business. But by taking personal responsibility for that $421 million in debt, Mr. Trump would be able to declare that amount in losses in future years.
The balances on those loans had not been paid down by the end of 2018. And the businesses carrying the bulk of the debt — the Doral golf resort ($125 million) and the Washington hotel ($160 million) — are struggling, which could make it difficult to find a lender willing to refinance it.
The unresolved audit of his $72.9 million tax refund hangs over his head.
The broader economy promises little relief. Across the country, brick-and-mortar stores are in decline, and they have been very important to Trump Tower, which has in turn been very important to Mr. Trump. Nike, which rented the space for its flagship store in a building attached to Trump Tower and had paid $195.1 million in rent since the 1990s, left in 2018.
The president’s most recent financial disclosure reported modest gains in 2019. But that was before the pandemic hit. His already struggling properties were shut down for several months earlier this year. The Doral resort asked Deutsche Bank to allow a delay on its loan payments. Analysts have predicted that the hotel business will not fully recover until late 2023.
The President’s Taxes
Mr. Trump still has assets to sell. But doing so could take its own toll, both financial and to Mr. Trump’s desire to always be seen as a winner. The Trump family said last year that it was considering selling the Washington hotel, but not because it was losing money.
In Mr. Trump’s telling, any difficulty in his finances has been caused by the sacrifices made for his current job.
“They say, ‘Trump is getting rich off our nation,’” he said at a rally in Minneapolis last October. “I lose billions being president, and I don’t care. It’s nice to be rich, I guess, but I lose billions.”