The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Trump’s tax-return leak, Clinton accuses him of protecting a ‘rigged system’

Democratic presidential nominee said rival Republican Donald Trump has "been taking from America with both hands," at a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio. (Video: Reuters)

TOLEDO, Ohio — Hillary Clinton looked to compound Donald Trump’s season of bad news, sharply criticizing him Monday for losing nearly a billion dollars and pocketing tax savings while ordinary Americans pay their fair share.

“What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?” Clinton asked a crowd in downtown Toledo, with a hint of amusement in her voice.

The speech came on Clinton’s first trip to the state since Sept. 5, and it marked the first time that she has commented on a New York Times report showing that Trump filed tax returns in 1995 reporting a massive $916 million loss, which would have allowed him to avoid paying taxes for 18 years.

Here in the economic rust belt, support for Trump has been difficult for Clinton to dislodge. But with the new revelations, the campaign sees an opportunity to refocus on the economy. Most of her speech here hinged on making the case that Trump is more robber baron than populist prince.

The new revelations about his taxes only bolsters Clinton's argument against Trump that he has hidden his returns from the public to avoid revealing that he is not as wealthy or successful as he has claimed, or that he has not paid federal income taxes.

“After he made all those bad bets and lost all that money, he didn’t lift a finger to protect his employees, or the small businesses and contractors he’d hired, or the people of Atlantic City,” Clinton said. “They all got hammered, while he was busy with his accountants figuring out how he could keep living like a billionaire.”

Following Trump tax revelations, voters in Toledo question his business acumen

The campaign on Monday released a new television ad using footage from the first presidential debate at Hofstra University last week, in which Trump responded to accusations that he avoided paying taxes by saying it made him “smart.”

A new television ad from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign uses footage from the first 2016 presidential debate to attack rival Donald Trump (Video: Hillary Clinton)

“You work hard, you pay your taxes, but why didn't Donald Trump pay his," the narrator says. "If he thinks that makes him smart, what does he think of you?"

Pro-Clinton allies also ran with the same message, highlighting the tax revelations and Trump's boasting that the tax strategy showed his smarts.

Following the first presidential debate, Trump has had some of his most challenging days of the campaign, causing concern among many Republicans. He spent days attacking former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, whom he criticized for gaining a "massive amount of weight" after the pageant.

Then, as the tax story broke, Trump went off script, lashing out at Clinton in a speech in Pennsylvania, accusing her of being unfaithful to her husband and mocking her for coming down with pneumonia last month.

As news of Trump’s taxes breaks, he goes off script at a rally in Pennsylvania

But none of that was mentioned here Monday. Clinton instead focused on the economy, an acknowledgment that her biggest challenge with white working-class voters in this part of the country is in reassuring them about her ability to handle the economy and undermining Trump's candidacy.

Clinton reiterated her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Such agreements have been blamed for accelerating the negative effects of globalization on American workers. And she resurrected her support for the auto-industry bailout, an issue that still resonates in places like Ohio, where auto manufacturing remains a critical industry.

"Donald Trump, for one, said rescuing the auto industry didn’t matter very much," Clinton said. "Everybody in Ohio who is thinking about voting for Trump should think of that.

"At the time of the worst financial crisis in Ohio in 2009, he would have let you twist and fall," she added.

Trump also picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, Clinton added, calling him " an ardent opponent of the auto rescue."

Clinton has several other companies in her sights: Wells Fargo, which was recently criticized for a scheme in which employees created fake bank accounts for customers in order to meet internal targets, and, of course, the Trump Organization.

She said Trump's tax proposals benefit him and his companies the most.

"Trump represents the same rigged system he claims he will change," Clinton charged. "Trump’s plan would cut his own taxes even more. He’d open the loopholes even wider. "

Clinton also said she would push for new steps to crack down on “forced arbitration” fine print that prevents workers and consumers from suing companies, proposals aimed at reducing market concentration and increasing competition, and curbing tax rules that gave corporations and the super-wealthy, like Trump, tax breaks not available to ordinary taxpayers.

For Clinton's supporters, the news of Trump's taxes validates their hunches about him, but it's less clear whether it will move some of Trump's supporters elsewhere in the state.

"It's obvious that he's that kind of guy," said Jeff Zenz, 64, who wore a Bernie Sanders shirt to the rally and said he was reluctantly backing Clinton. "I don't know why people need more evidence — it's everywhere, if you're looking for it."

"Nothing's going to convince his devotees," said Zenz's wife, Kellie, 63.

"His deplorables," he said, by way of a correction, referencing Clinton's much-criticized remarks at a recent fundraiser.

Max Cummins, 18, who attended the rally with half a dozen friends from his high school, said Clinton seemed more energized than media coverage had indicated.

"It was clear that Trump was probably evading taxes," said Cummins. "But people question the credibility of what politicians are saying. When she said so, they didn't want to believe it. Now it's confirmed, and maybe that makes a difference."