Washington - The worst week of Donald Trump's presidential campaign began with a widely criticised debate performance and ended with a bombshell report that he could have avoided paying federal income taxes for 18 years.
"This could be the worst week in presidential history for any candidate," said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and former communications director to Texas Senator Ted Cruz's presidential campaign. "I certainly wouldn't know how to top it."
Many Republicans were left wondering whether Trump could recover or if he had effectively lost the race in the past seven days.
The New York Times reported late on Saturday that the Republican presidential nominee recorded a $916m loss on his 1995 income tax return, and as a result may have been able to reduce his tax bills for as many as 18 years.
Trump dodges call to reveal tax returns
The report is expected to increase pressure on Trump to release his tax returns, as major party nominees have for decades. He has said he won’t do so until the Internal Revenue Service concludes an audit. While no law prevents people from disclosing their records while under audit, tax advisers say doing so would subject the returns to public scrutiny that might uncover issues auditors had missed.
Trump’s supporters shot back on Sunday against the Times’ report, calling the real estate developer a “genius” and portraying him as a turn-around artist who would be good for the country.
Trump, the campaign said, "knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for President and he is the only one that knows how to fix it." The campaign didn't comment on the central assertion—that Trump posted a $916m loss on his tax returns that year.
The report came five days after Trump fuelled questions about his taxes at the debate, which broke records with a viewership of more than 84 million. "That makes me smart," he interjected when Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton said it's possible he has paid "nothing" in federal taxes.
Trump supporters fight back
On Sunday, Trump surrogate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC that the Times article shows Trump is an "absolute genius" for using available tax breaks, and that the real estate developer "would've been a fool not to take advantage of it."
“He’s a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow,” Giuliani said. He said that “great men have big failures”.
“What it shows is what an absolute mess the tax code is,” Trump adviser and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Fox News on Sunday. “There’s no one who has showed more genius to manoeuvre around the tax code.”
Trump struck a similar tone in a response on Twitter: “I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them.”
The Times story cited Trump’s former accountant, Jack Mitnick, as recalling that Trump’s former wife, Ivana Trump, “almost always” asked more questions about their annual tax returns than her then-husband.
Mitnick said he couldn’t address details of Trump’s finances, the Times reported, but he did discuss Trump’s approach to taxes, describing his “brash and undisciplined style” and contrasting it with the attention to detail of his father, the late Fred Trump.
‘Fought and clawed’
Mitnick, who handled Trump’s tax affairs in the 1990s, is now retired. During a brief telephone interview on Sunday, he declined to comment on Trump’s 1995 tax return.
Christie, who’s serving as the head of Trump’s transition team, said there’s no allegation the developer violated the law. “He fought and clawed back to build a new fortune,” Christie said. “This is actually a very good story for Donald Trump.”
Democrats continued an attack that Clinton used in the first presidential debate on September 26, when she said that Trump may be paying “zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health” by avoiding federal income tax.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook piled on after the Times report. "In one year, Donald Trump lost nearly a billion dollars. A billion," he said in a statement. "He stiffed small businesses, laid off workers, and walked away from hardworking communities."Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:Fin24’s top stories