Trump and Taxes: The Art of the Dodge

From the moment during the presidential campaign that Donald Trump broke decades of precedent and declined to release his personal tax returns, the issue of Trump and the taxes he has paid (or not paid) has been the subject of widespread fascination, scrutiny and not a little controversy. That scrutiny ratcheted up significantly in recent weeks with two substantial media investigations of the tax-paying practices of Trump’s family and those of Trump in-law and White House official Jared Kushner. This week’s episode of Trump, Inc. brings clarity to a complex subject. It identifies three patterns in the president’s approach to taxes. First, it describes a history of ignoring norms (which, for presidential candidates, include releasing tax returns). Second, it delves into a recent New York Times investigation — which concluded that the president’s family committed “outright fraud” — to show a history of breaking tax rules. Finally, it examines Trump’s ability to change tax rules to benefit himself and his wealthy peers. The episode includes an interview with The New York Times’ Susanne Craig, the co-author of the expose that reported that Fred Trump passed $413 million in today’s dollars to his son Donald, who describes how she reported her article and the mysteries she and her colleagues unraveled. It also examines a second New York Times article that explored how Kushner exploited a seemingly prosaic tax technique — depreciation — to wipe out his taxable income. (Representatives of the Trumps and Kushners have denied any tax improprieties.) Finally, the episode looks at many of the ways in which Trump’s signature tax cut will redound to the benefit of the real estate industry. The bigger picture? As tax expert Jenny Johnson Ware puts it in the podcast, for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”   Correction:  This story originally misattributed and misquoted a statement. Jenny Johnson Ware did not say, “It’s a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax money.” ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger asked, “Is it a good time to be wealthy in the United States if you are aggressive about your tax planning?” Ware responded that for taxpayers who want to be aggressive, “It’s a great time.”

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