Trump Says $1.17 Billion Losses Were ‘Sport,’ Sound Tax Policy

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump defended his real estate tax strategy saying his business was “entitled” to write-offs following a New York Times investigation that showed he reported losses of $1.17 billion between 1985 and 1994.

“You always wanted to show losses for tax purposes,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Almost all real estate developers did - and often re-negotiate with banks, it was sport."

The president was responding to a Times report showing his businesses generated huge losses and his hotel and casino properties were eligible for large depreciation write-offs that meant he paid taxes for only two years during that period. The report was based on tax records the newspaper said it had obtained.

Without disputing the substance of the newspaper’s findings, Trump called it "very old information put out is a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!"

Trump whittled down his tax payments using the same parts of the U.S. tax code that he’s criticized other businesses for taking advantage of since he entered politics. He’s complained that large corporations such as Amazon.com -- led by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos -- are shirking their tax responsibilities.

Trump’s tax information shows he only paid taxes during two years during the decade the Times examined. He faced a liability those years -- for a combined total of about $1.5 million in taxes -- because of the alternative minimum tax, a backstop that prevents the wealthy from claiming so many tax credits and deductions that they don’t pay any tax.

Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said the report showed Trump “failed spectacularly” in business during that time frame.

“How was he bailed out?” Coons said on CNN. “That’s really the question worth asking.”

New reports of Trump’s low tax bills are fueling House Democrats’ anger at not being able to view his more recent tax returns. The Times said their reporting was based on figures from his tax transcripts and the figures from his tax returns, but not the returns themselves.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the new information wasn’t enough.

"It tells me nothing," Pelosi of California said Wednesday at an event in Washington, adding, "It does tell us it would be useful to see his tax returns."

Trump broke with more than 40 years of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns before the 2016 election. Last month, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal requested that the IRS release Trump’s personal and business tax returns, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday refused.

Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, is currently consulting with legal counsel on how to proceed, and the clash is likely to turn into a protracted legal battle.

Trump sold himself to voters as a master deal-maker who could bring the same success to the country as he says he did to his businesses. The Times report underscores the steep losses and frequent failures of his deals. While he never personally filed for bankruptcy, his businesses sought bankruptcy protection four times.

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