The Times report comes a day after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would not comply with a request from a House committee to turn over copies of more recent Trump tax returns. A 1924 law gives Congress the explicit power to request such returns, but Mnuchin said the request lacked a “legitimate legislative purpose,” a stance that is expected to be challenged in court.
Trump fired back on Wednesday by declaring the report “very old information” and “a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!”
In a pair of tweets, he claimed that real estate developers in the 1980s and 1990s were “entitled to massive write offs and depreciation which would, if one was actively building, show losses and tax losses in almost all cases.”
“Much was non monetary,” he said. “Sometimes considered ‘tax shelter,’ 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.”
The White House and the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent Tuesday evening. The Times said a private attorney for the president, Charles Harder, called its report “demonstrably false” but did not cite any specific errors.
Until now, Trump’s early career in real estate was believed to have reached a peak in the late 1980s, when Trump wrote the “The Art of the Deal” — and then collapsed into loss and debt in 1990 and 1991.
The Times story shows, however, that Trump’s losses began earlier. In 1985, the future president reported $46.1 million in losses from his casinos, hotels and other businesses, according to the report.
Those losses got worse in 1990 and 1991, as Trump’s big bets on casinos, hotels and an airline all went bad.
Trump reported $517.6 million in combined losses during those years, the Times said. Because of his losses, the Times said that Trump was not required to pay income taxes for eight of the 10 years it examined.
Trump’s most profitable business during this period, the Times reported, was not in real estate but in the stock market. As the Times described it, Trump would buy stock in a company, then make public statements that indicated he was contemplating a hostile takeover of that company. The publicity would make the stock price rise, and then Trump — rather than buying more shares to make good on his takeover threat — would sell his stocks at a profit.
That sort of faux takeover talk earned Trump $57 million by 1988, the Times reported. But eventually, investors stopped falling for it: When Trump bought stock in American Airlines and talked about a takeover, the market didn’t bite. Trump lost $34.9 million on short-term stock trades that year, the Times said.
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.