AP – Democrats in Congress released thousands of pages of former United States (US) president Donald Trump’s tax returns on Friday, providing the most detailed picture to date of his finances over six years, including his time in the White House when he fought to keep the information private in a break with decades of precedent.
The documents include individual returns from Trump and his wife, Melania, along with Trump’s business entities from 2015 to 2020.
They show how Trump used the tax code to lower his tax obligation and reveal details about foreign accounts, charitable contributions and the performance of some of his highest-profile business ventures, which had largely remained shielded from public scrutiny.
The disclosure marks the culmination of a yearslong legal fight that has played out everywhere from the presidential campaign to Congress and the Supreme Court as Trump persistently rejected efforts to share details about his financial history – counter to the practice of transparency followed by all his predecessors in the post-Watergate era.
The records’ release comes just days before Republicans retake control of the House and weeks after Trump announced another campaign for the White House.
The records show how Trump limited his tax liability by offsetting his income against corporate losses as well as millions of dollars in business expenses, asset depreciation and other deductions.
While Trump paid USD641,931 in federal income taxes in 2015, the year he began his campaign for president, he paid just USD750 in 2016 and 2017, according to a report released last week by Congress’ non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
He paid nearly USD1 million in 2018, but only USD133,445 in 2019 and nothing in 2020, the year he unsuccessfully sought re-election.
The records also detail Trump’s foreign holdings.
Trump, according to the filings, reported having bank accounts in China, Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK) in 2015 through 2017, even as he was commander in chief. Starting in 2018, however, he only reported an account in the UK.
The returns also show that Trump claimed foreign tax credits for taxes he paid on various business ventures around the world, including licencing arrangements for use of his name on development projects and his golf courses in Scotland and Ireland.
In several years, Trump appears to have paid more in foreign taxes than he did in net US federal income taxes, with income reported in countries including Azerbaijan, China, India, Indonesia, Panama, the Philippines, St Martin, Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates.
The documents also show that Trump’s charitable donations often represented only a sliver of his income.
In 2020, the year the coronavirus ravaged the economy, Trump reported no charitable donations at all. In 2019 and 2018 he reported writing checks for about USD500,000 in donations. In earlier years the numbers were higher – USD1.8 million in 2017 and USD1.1 million in 2016.
It’s unclear whether the reported sums included Trump’s USD400,000 annual presidential salary, which he had said, as a candidate, that he would forgo and which he claimed he donated to various federal departments.
An accounting professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School Jeff Hoopes described Trump’s returns as “large and complicated” with “hundreds of entities scattered all over the globe”.
He noted that many of those entities are slightly unprofitable, which he described as “pretty magical as far as the tax code”.
“It’s hard to know if someone’s bad at business or good at tax planning because they both look like the same thing,” he said.
A taxation professor at New York University Daniel Shaviro cited the large financial losses from so many of Trump’s businesses, despite their often healthy sales, as something that should raise suspicions from auditors. “There’s fishy-looking stuff here.”