Trump’s tax returns reveal how he manipulated laws to minimise yearly payments

A Democratic-controlled House of Representatives committee has published six years of President Donald Trump’s tax returns in an extraordinary move days before Republicans take control of the chamber.

The House Ways and Means Committee made public redacted versions of Mr Trump’s business and personal tax returns for the years 2015 – when he announced his candidacy for the presidency in the 2016 election – through to 2020, the last full year of his term.

The release of the tax returns finally allows the public a window into his financial condition which was denied during his 2016 presidential campaign and his failed re-election bid in 2020. Mr Trump was the only major party presidential candidate since the Watergate era to refuse to make his tax returns public, although he frequently claimed he could not do so because they were under audit.

Last week, committee members voted along party lines to release Mr Trump’s returns after redacting them to conceal sensitive data such as social security numbers and contact details. The decision was one of the last acts of the committee after four years of Democratic control, as the current Democratic majority’s ability to release the documents will lapse when the 118th Congress convenes on 3 January.

The documents shed some light on the rather opaque conditions of Mr Trump’s income and net worth, both of which have been shrouded in secrecy for years. They were obtained just weeks ago after the Supreme Court declined to take up a last-ditch effort by Mr Trump to keep the committee from obtaining his returns under a century-old law allowing the chair of either the House Ways and Means or Senate Finance Committees to request any American’s tax return from the Treasury Department.

The return documents show the way Mr Trump manipulated tax laws to minimise his yearly payments.

In 2020, more than 150 separate Trump-owned businesses listed negative income, defined by the Internal revenue Service (IRS) as “the net amount of qualified items of income, gain, deduction and loss from any qualified trade or business”.

Combined with almost $9m (£7.45m)in business losses from 2019, Mr Trump’s “qualified losses” for his final year in the White House came to more than $58m (£48m).

Mr Trump also made no contributions to charities during his last year in office, according to the documents released on Friday. He had pledged to donate his $400,000 per year presidential salary during his term, and for his first few years in the White House he made a show of donating his quarterly salary back to federal agencies, including the National Park Service. During his first year as president, he reported $1.7m in charitable contributions, and just past $500,000 during his next two years.

According to a Washington Post analysis, Mr Trump’s returns showed him as earning income from more than 12 countries other than the US, including Azerbaijan, Panama, Canada and Qatar, during his first year in office.

While he notoriously declined to divest himself from his own businesses before he was sworn in on 20 January 2017, he did take some steps to minimise potential conflicts with regard to other companies. The Post found that he divested stock in Apple, Exxon Mobil, Caterpillar and PepsiCo during the weeks preceding his inauguration.

The outgoing Ways and Means chairman, Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, had initially resisted demands from liberal activists to immediately seek and publish Mr Trump’s returns when Democrats took control of the House in 2019, but requested them from the Treasury Department in April of that year to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service’s longstanding program to conduct mandatory audits of presidents’ tax returns was functioning properly.

Under then-treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, the department refused to produce the returns despite federal law stating that the secretary “shall” honour such requests from the House Ways and Means chair. Mr Mnuchin and the Trump administration defended the refusal to follow a longstanding federal law by suggesting that the Democratic chairman’s reason for requesting them was a pretext for simply exposing them to embarrass Mr Trump.

According to a committee report released earlier this month, the IRS failed to conduct the audits of Mr Trump’s taxes that have long been required during his presidency, and only launched an audit of his 2016 returns – which would’ve been filed during his first year in the White House – on the day Mr Neal requested copies of the returns in April 2019.

That failure to give the required scrutiny to Mr Trump’s returns stands in stark contrast to how other presidents have been treated by the IRS. Spokespersons for the White House and Barack Obama confirmed that President Joe Biden and Mr Obama both had their taxes audited by the IRS during each year they were in the White House.

A separate report on the returns by the Joint Committee on Taxation suggested there are multiple areas where Mr Trump’s returns could have been flagged for violations, including tax deductions he has taken based on conservation and charity donations, purported loans to his children that could have been listed as such to avoid gift taxes, and carried-over business losses.

The report by the nonpartisan joint committee revealed that Mr Trump paid $641,931 in federal income taxes in 2015, the year he launched his 2016 run for president. He paid $750 (£622) in 2016 and 2017, almost $1m in 2018, $133,445 in 2019 and nothing in 2020, the year of his failed reelection bid.

Although Mr Trump has not been accused of any criminal tax law violations, two of his companies were convicted of criminal tax fraud in a New York court earlier this month.

The convictions came after his longtime accountant, Mazars USA partner Donald Bender, told jurors that Mr Trump reported massive losses on his returns for a 10-year period, including a $700m loss in 2009 and a loss of $200m the next year.

The disgraced ex-president, who is currently the subject of several criminal investigations as he seeks to earn the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024, weighed in on the unveiling of his tax documents, predicting that it will “lead to horrible things for so many people” and cause divisions in the US to “grow far worse”.

“The radical, left Democrats have weaponised everything, but remember, that is a dangerous two-way street,” the ex-president said. He also claimed the documents show he has been “proudly successful” and illustrate the way he has “been able to use depreciation and various other tax deductions as an incentive for creating thousands of jobs and magnificent structures and enterprises”.

With additional reporting by agencies