Listen Now

'New York Times' Report Reignites Interest In Trump's Tax Returns

Oct 4, 2018
Originally published on October 4, 2018 10:46 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's tax returns are back in the headlines, not because they have been released but because a bombshell report from The New York Times is renewing calls for them to be made public. The report claims that Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes. A lawyer for Trump has denied any wrongdoing. To help us understand what this means, we have Andrea Bernstein with us. She is the co-host of Trump, Inc., a podcast. It's a co-production of WNYC and ProPublica. She's with us from our studios in New York.

Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning. So great to talk to you.

GREENE: Yeah. It's good to talk to you, too.

So let's try and sort this out. I mean, The New York Times is reporting that Donald Trump received what's the equivalent today of more than $400 million from his dad's real estate empire and that much of this cash came through these dubious tax schemes back in the '90s. I mean, I guess the first question I have is, do we know whether Trump might still be involved in questionable tax practices?

BERNSTEIN: Well, this is indeed an open question. And The New York Times was able to document what they had because they received hundreds of tax returns from either Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, or his companies and were able to trace the flow of cash for that reason. For example, there was a set of buildings in the outer boroughs of New York and Brooklyn and Queens worth millions of dollars that Fred Trump appears to have transferred to his children without paying taxes and without creating any public trace. So there is no way we would know if such a thing was happening now without corresponding documents.

Now, there are some suggestive things we do know. One is that our colleagues at ProPublica reported last year that Donald Trump had transferred an apartment in one of his Manhattan buildings to his son Eric for a price much below market. Without seeing the president's tax returns, we don't know how they handled that. But it was an outward indicia of the kinds of things that The New York Times traced to Fred Trump and his children, Donald and his siblings.

GREENE: So who is actually looking into this and investigating this?

BERNSTEIN: Well (laughter), a lot of people.

GREENE: OK (laughter).

BERNSTEIN: The most recent revelations that came out in The New York Times are being examined by tax authorities both at the state and city level in New York. In addition to that, we know that prosecutors in the Southern District have been following up on the things that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to last summer, which had to do with tax fraud as well.

GREENE: Oh, the president's former lawyer - yeah.

BERNSTEIN: Correct. And then, in addition to that, the New York attorney general is looking at the Trump Foundation. And one of the things that we've already learned from her investigation is that the walls between the foundation and the Trump Organization were thin to nonexistent. So it's possible that there might be more to learn there. Now, on top of all of that, there's the House Democrats who've said they want to see the president's current tax returns. If they take control over the House, they could demand to see them.

GREENE: So a lot swirling here. But I mean, when we've reported on the president's tax practices in the past, I mean, a lot of people have said, look - there's tax avoidance in a legal way, and then there's illegal tax evasion and that it's often murky, what's actually happening. So I mean, is it possible that there might be no legal fallout here for the president?

BERNSTEIN: It is possible that there might be no legal fallout. And of course, he and his lawyers are maintaining that he's done nothing wrong and that this was all looked at - in some cases, decades ago - and cleared.

There are a number of things that are extremely puzzling. And one of the situations that The New York Times pointed out was a company called All County Building & Maintenance (ph), which was basically a company that did nothing other than mark up prices of things like boilers and air conditioners and stoves for Trump apartments and then give the markup to Donald Trump and his siblings with no apparent tax consequences. There was also something that the Trumps seemed to have done frequently and we know - from our reporting on Trump, Inc., the podcast - that they're still doing today, which is when it is in their interest to puff up a value of a property - they'll say, oh, this is the biggest, the best - they do so. Sounds like the president - right?

But they're in disputes with tax authorities around the country right now, for example, claiming some of their golf courses are really worth very little in an effort to get lower taxes. So some of the techniques described in the article we know are continuing through today.

GREENE: All right. So a lot of threads, a lot of investigations to follow here - but one question is whether those tax returns will ever actually be made public. And what happens in this election could say a lot about that. All right, Andrea Bernstein is the co-host of the Trump, Inc. podcast.

Andrea, thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.