After three straight nights of braying about his greatness and dancing to the Village People in front of his most devoted supporters, President Trump ran into a buzzsaw in Miami on Thursday. Unlike his rallies, the town hall event hosted by NBC took place in reality, and a confused, exceptionally moist Trump spent the better part of the hour wilting under questions from moderator Savannah Guthrie.
Trump’s flop sweat may have been glistening the brightest when Guthrie grilled him over his taxes, a subject of intense speculation since his initial refusal to release his returns prior to the 2016 election. His financials cycled back into the spotlight late last month after The New York Times released a report finding that the president only paid $750 in income tax for years — and that he currently is at least $421 million in debt. Trump has for the most part dodged addressing the report, but Guthrie pressed him over the particulars at length on Thursday.
When asked about the $750 number, Trump didn’t explicitly deny he paid less than a month’s rent on a modest studio apartment to the government every year. Instead, he argued that $750 was only a “statutory number” and a “filing number” before saying he doesn’t know how much he pays annually.
Trump then said the numbers in the Times’ report were “wrong” and that the reporters responsible should probably be in jail for gaining access to his tax return information, because why not?
Savannah Guthrie: "It also said you paid $750 in taxes in the year you were elected. Was that true?"
Trump: "It’s a statutory number."
Guthrie: "Is that true?"
Trump: "I think that’s a filing number… I don't owe money to any sinister people!" pic.twitter.com/SLd7I7LIgy
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) October 16, 2020
Though Trump claimed the numbers in the report were wrong, Guthrie was able to get him to admit for the first time that he does indeed owe north of $400 million. Don’t worry, though; he claims it only makes up a “tiny percentage” of his worth.
“$400 million is a peanut,” the president said. Very relatable.
To whom does Trump owe this paltry sum? Not Russia, he said. What about a foreign bank, Guthrie asked? “Not that I know of,” Trump said. “But because it’s so easy to solve, and if you’d like to do, I will let you know whoever I owe such a small amount of money.”
Whether this is actually true is a mystery, and a crucial issue as Trump seeks another term in office. Much of the $421 million Trump owes is coming due in the next four years. This is a problem. “There’s the concern that a president who is personally on the hook for significant loans that come due while he’s the president might take official actions, or appear to take official actions, that are meant to alleviate the personal financial pressure he faces,” University of Texas School of Law professor Steve Vladeck told Rolling Stone last month. “Indeed, there’s a reason why the federal government generally won’t give security clearances to those who have significant debt — it’s because they’re too much of a risk. So, too, apparently, is the president of the United States.”
One way to clear up what kind of financial pressure the president might be facing would be for him to release his tax returns, as every major presidential candidate has done for decades. Since initially refusing to do so, Trump has claimed that he really, really would love to release the returns, but he can’t because they’re under audit. He did the same when Guthrie asked him about it on Thursday, but when she kept pointing out that an audit in no way precludes him from releasing the returns, Trump didn’t disagree, saying that he’s not releasing them due to “common sense, and intelligence, and having lawyers that say—”
But he didn’t finish the thought, instead pivoting to his “rather massive” income.
.@SavannahGuthrie: “You could clear this up tonight by just releasing your tax returns yourself.”
President Trump: “As you know, I’m under audit.”
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 16, 2020
None of this provided any clarity whatsoever about the president’s financial situation. Instead, Trump’s frantic, sweaty responses only reinforced the idea that he’s lying about something, whether it be how much he’s paying in taxes, to whom he owes money, or how much he’s worth. More than likely, it’s all of the above.
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