Trump Is No Genius At Tax, Says Accountant

Donald Trump, who lost $916 million in 1995, has cited his tax affairs as evidence of his business acumen.

Donald Trump’s former accountant has disputed his boasts that he “brilliantly” used the US tax code to pay as little as possible, claiming that the Republican nominee had “virtually zero” involvement in preparing his returns.

It emerged last week that Mr Trump lost $916 million in 1995, potentially allowing him to avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years. He has since cited his tax affairs as evidence of his business acumen, telling a rally in Colorado this week: “I have brilliantly used those laws” and “I understand the tax laws better than almost anyone, which is why I am the one who can fix them”.

Jack Mitnick, who handled Mr Trump’s taxes in the 1990s, disagreed. “I did all the tax preparation. He never saw the product until it was presented to him for signature,” Mr Mitnick told the Inside Edition news programme.

Speaking to CNN, he said he had seen no evidence that Mr Trump was able to “game the tax code”.

The accountant told NBC: “As far as I know, and this only goes through 1996, [Mr Trump] didn’t understand the code, nor would he have had the time or patience to learn.”

That version of events stands at odds with Mr Trump’s. He has frequently praised himself for not paying more taxes than he must — a perfectly legal decision but one the Clinton campaign has tried to frame as a political liability. “That makes me smart,” he told Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate.

A recent CNN poll found that nearly nine in ten voters believed that paying taxes was a civic duty.

The Democrats are demanding that Mr Trump release his full tax returns — a tradition that dates back to Richard Nixon, though he only released his tax details after he won office.

Surveys suggest that Mr Trump’s tax affairs are not the priority for voters, who tell pollsters that they are more worried by his temperament.

This week he portrayed himself as a master of the comeback who, in the 1990s, was a victim of “one of the most brutal economic downturns in our country’s history”.

People who have studied his business record dispute that. In the 1990s Mr Trump and his businesses borrowed about $3.4 million, much of it junk debt with unsustainably high interest rates. He ignored warnings that the casino industry in Atlantic City was saturated and bought an airline despite having no experience in that sector. He admitted overpaying for the Plaza Hotel in New York and his businesses tumbled into bankruptcy several times.

He was under scrutiny from a different angle yesterday after The Wall Street Journal revealed how he and his family had frequently made donations to state attorney-generals who were investigating his businesses. Mr Trump gave about $140,000 to a dozen people who were either state attorney- generals or running for the post from 2001 to 2014, the newspaper reported

The donation that has received most attention was $25,000 to Pam Bondi, the Florida attorney-general, who was considering whether to bring fraud charges against Trump University. She later decided not to. Mr Trump was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine after it emerged that he had made the gift from his personal charity, breaking tax rules.

New polling released yesterday put Mrs Clinton ahead by 11 points in Michigan, a rust belt state where Mr Trump had hoped to compete. Two new polls from Florida indicated a knife-edge race in the biggest battleground state. According to an Emerson survey, Mr Trump led by one point. A University of North Florida poll put Mrs Clinton ahead by three. Yesterday the Clinton campaign called for officials in Florida to extend voter registration deadlines because of Hurricane Matthew, which was approaching the state last night, and cancelled television adverts that were to air on stations carrying the Weather Channel.

In an average of recent national polls by the Real Clear Politics website, Mrs Clinton led by 3.9 points.

Clinton wins media vote

The Atlantic magazine yesterday became the latest US publication to break with decades of precedent to endorse Hillary Clinton for president (Rhys Blakely writes).

The magazine, founded in 1857, has previously backed only two presidential candidates: Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

It called Donald Trump the “most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.” It added: “He traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself.”

The influence of newspaper endorsements has diminished in the online era and the mostly metropolitan readership of The Atlantic has long appeared unlikely to vote for Mr Trump, who has instead found favour with right-wing websites such as the Drudge Report.

In recent weeks, however, several newspapers have shifted allegiances. In its 148-year history The San Diego Union-Tribune had never endorsed a Democrat until last week when it threw its weight behind Mrs Clinton. It described Mr Trump as “vengeful, dishonest and impulsive”.

USA Today took sides for the time since being founded in 1982, urging readers to reject Mr Trump without explicitly endorsing his rival. “We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst,” the newspaper said.