President Trump claimed he has paid “millions” in federal income taxes as his election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, pointed out that Trump has refused to make his tax information public during their debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
“I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax,” Trump said.
“Show us your tax returns,” Biden challenged.
The contentious exchange came after the debate moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, asked about a New York Times report on Sept. 27 that the president had paid “no income taxes at all” in 10 of the last 15 years and just $750 in 2016 and again in 2017.
The Times said it had reviewed years of the president’s tax returns, which Trump has refused to make public.
“Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?” Wallace asked Trump.
Trump answered that he has “paid millions of dollars in taxes,” but Wallace was unable to pin him down about the two years specifically. His claim cannot be verified because he is the first president since Richard Nixon who has not made his tax returns public.
According to the Times, its report was based on “tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization.” As he touted the amount he paid, Trump alluded to leaked tax return data reported by journalist David Cay Johnston that showed he paid $38 million in 2005, which was not one of the years in question.
Trump began the debate by consistently interrupting both Biden and Wallace. As the president made his claims about his tax payments, Biden repeatedly cut in and asked him to prove it by making his documents public.
“Show us your tax returns,” Biden said.
Trump has previously said he cannot release his tax returns because they are under audit. An audit would not actually prevent Trump from making his returns public, a fact which the president’s own IRS commissioner confirmed in a congressional hearing last year.
“You’ll see it as soon as it’s finished,” Trump said. “You’ll see it.”
The Times report suggested Trump is indeed facing an audit for a $72.9 million tax refund he received after claiming losses. According to the report, claiming losses related to his various businesses was part of how Trump was able to pay so little in income tax. Trump’s longtime former attorney, Michael Cohen, also accused Trump of inappropriately requesting large refunds in a tell-all book he published earlier this month after having a falling out with the president as both faced investigations.
Trump went on to suggest that his financial disclosures showed he and his business are doing well and contradicted the Times’s assertion that he is deeply in debt with over $300 million in loans coming due within the next four years.
“I’m totally underleveraged because the assets are extremely good,” Trump said. “I built a great company.”
As Trump boasted about his finances, Wallace returned to the original question. Trump tried to talk over him, prompting the moderator to say, “No, Mr. President.”
“I’m asking you a question,” Wallace said. “Will you tell us how much you paid in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017?”
Trump repeated his assertion that he has paid “millions of dollars” and the public will “get to see it.” He then returned to an argument he has made in the past, that he is simply a shrewd businessman who took advantage of the tax code to pay the best rate he possibly could.
“I don’t want to pay tax. Before I came here, I was a private developer,” Trump said. “Like every other private person — unless they’re stupid — they go through the laws.”
Trump went on to point to Biden’s tenure in the West Wing and said it was President Barack Obama who passed “a tax bill that gave us all these privileges for depreciation and for tax credits.” The president noted that his company, the Trump Organization, received tax credits to build a hotel in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Trump was leased that landmark by the General Services Administration in 2013. He opened his hotel in the nation’s capital three years later.
Biden responded by accusing Trump of paying “less tax than a schoolteacher.” He also vowed to roll back corporate tax cuts that Trump instituted as president.
“He says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. That’s why I'm going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts,” Biden said. “We’re going to eliminate those tax cuts and make sure that we invest in the people who, in fact, need the help. People out there need help.”
Trump, who said he wouldn’t mind seeing the tax benefits ended, questioned why Biden didn’t do more to improve the tax code during his time as vice president and lengthy tenure in the U.S. Senate.
“Why didn’t you do it over the last 25 years?” Trump asked.
The candidates concluded the exchange with a pair of parting shots as Biden said he didn’t need to change the tax code because Trump wasn’t in the White House “screwing things up.”
“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Biden said.
“Let me just tell you Joe, I’ve done more — in 47 months, I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years Joe,” Trump responded. “We’ve done things that you’ve never even thought of doing.”
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