President Donald Trump kicked off his Wednesday morning by attempting to fire back at a New York Times report from the evening before detailing his extensive business losses in the 1980s and 90s.
In a pair of tweets, he attempted to both justify his massive failures while simultaneously denying them, ignoring the impact they might have had on other people.
While Trump’s actual tax returns remain elusive, the Times reported on 10 years-worth of his finances from 1984 to 1995. Documents obtained by the paper show that Trump suffered $1.17 billion in business losses over that decade.
The Times also noted that Trump “appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer” during that time period. This resulted in him being able to avoid paying any income tax for eight of those 10 years, despite the fact he did have significant multimillion-dollar gains that were simply “overwhelmed by losses.”
The report also describes Trump’s attempt to brand himself as a corporate raider, profiting off of stock increases when he publicly suggested he would become a majority owner in a company, only to sell back the stock he’d bought to turn a profit. He made millions — that is, “until investors realized that he would not follow through.”
As Times reporters Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner noted in a follow-up piece, Trump published The Art of the Deal in 1987, meaning he was marketing himself as a great deal-maker even though he had already been losing millions of dollars a year for several years.
In his tweets Wednesday, Trump attributed his massive tax write-offs to depreciation from “actively building,” even though Craig and Buettner pointed out there was no way depreciation alone would explain all of his losses. Comparing himself to other real estate developers, Trump went on to brag about his businesses tactics, claiming that showing losses for tax purposes was intentional.
“You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes…almost all real estate developers did – and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport,” he wrote.
He added “The very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!”
….you would get it by building, or even buying. You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes….almost all real estate developers did – and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport. Additionally, the very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2019
Despite relying on his old canard of crying “fake news” to dismiss unflattering reporting, Trump’s tweets appear to validate the veracity of these financial records. As the Times noted, one of Trump’s lawyers, Charles Harder, claimed the tax information was “demonstrably false,” and that the IRS transcripts the reporting was based upon “are notoriously inaccurate.” But neither Harder nor Trump identified any specific errors to substantiate their broad-brush claims.
Trump’s response to the Times report also betrays his blatant disregard to the consequences other people experienced from such actions. Banks would lose money when Trump’s ventures failed, scores of people would lose jobs when his businesses closed, and companies suffered when Trump profited off his own branding as a fake corporate raider.
The president’s long history of refusing to pay contractors for work they’ve done for his businesses — both during that low period and in the years that followed — is also well-documented. Oftentimes those workers had to shell out their own money to fight him in court. Others simply chose to file for bankruptcy.
Though some of those contractors and business owners were able to recoup some of their losses through court settlements with Trump’s struggling businesses, several were forced to close altogether.
Trump himself has defended this type of shady business practice by claiming many of those he allegedly shortchanged were the ones at fault.
“Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late,” he told USA Today in 2016. “I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely.”
There’s no reason to believe the Times’ reporting is inaccurate, but even if Trump’s losses weren’t as severe as they appear, it still would do little to remedy his defense of his business tactics. Trump gambled with other people’s money, lost it, and expected to be applauded for it.
As he stated Wednesday, it was all for “sport.”