“They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car,” he said at a rally in Sarasota, Fla. “You didn't pay tax on the car or a company apartment. You used an apartment because you need an apartment because you have to travel too far where your house is. You didn't pay tax. Or education for your grandchildren. I don't even know. Do you have to? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged the Trump Organization and CFO Allen Weisselberg with orchestrating a 15-year scheme to avoid taxes by providing benefits hidden from the federal government. Weisselberg, they said, evaded taxes on $1.7 million in fringe benefits, which included the Trump Organization paying his rent, leasing him cars and other gifts. The Trump Organization and Weisselberg both pleaded not guilty this week, and Trump was not charged in the case.
But Trump excoriated the prosecutors for what he argued was a politically motivated investigation and one that came at the expense of focusing on violent crimes.
“For murder and for selling massive amounts of the worst drugs in the world that kill people left and right, that's okay,” he said. “Think of it, think of how unfair it is. Never before has New York City and their prosecutors or perhaps any prosecutors criminally charged a company or a person for fringe benefits. Fringe benefits. Murders, okay. Human trafficking, no problem — but fringe benefits, you can’t do that.”
Tax experts have said prosecutions centered on fringe benefits are rare, but some have compared the charges to the case against Leona Helmsley, a New York real estate developer who was convicted of evading $1.2 million in taxes in the 1980s.
Yet Trump maintained that he was the victim of “the radical left” who failed to “get him” in Washington with the Mueller investigation and said prosecutors only want to target him and other Republicans.
“Every abuse and attack they throw my way, it's only because I have been fighting for you against the corrupt establishment,” he said. “That's all it is.”
But prosecutors for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office argued Thursday that the business practices were not “standard practice,” attempting to counter Trump’s argument that the investigation is politically motivated.
“There is no clearer example of a company that should be held to criminal account,” said Carey Dunne, a prosecutor working for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D).
Trump’s rally was part of his effort to ramp up his political activity ahead of the midterm elections, as he looks to settle scores with political opponents and position himself for a possible 2024 presidential run, which he once again teased Saturday night. Trump also held the rally despite concerns from Florida politicians about the event being a distraction from search-and-rescue efforts after the collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Fla.
Trump held a moment of silence for the victims of the accident, which killed more than 20 people and left more than 100 people missing, before launching into a lengthy list of grievances. He assailed the Biden administration for its immigration policy, made false claims about the 2020 election and called for more information about the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed while storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump also questioned why people were being jailed in connection with the insurrection but not for participating in racial justice protests.