WHITE HOUSE RACE: ANALYSIS

Hillary Clinton goes on the attack against Donald Trump, who suffers fresh setback with charitable foundation ‘cease and desist’ notice

Trump claimed a loss of nearly US$916 million in a single year on his personal tax filings, which may have allowed to avoid income taxes for nearly two decades

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 8:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 10:26am

Hillary Clinton tore into Donald Trump’s tax manoeuvring, business skills and trustworthiness on Monday as she sought to capitalise on news that the New York real estate mogul may have paid no federal taxes for years. Unfazed, he boasted of using US tax laws “brilliantly” and cast himself as a savvy business survivor poised to save a reeling nation.

Also, Trump’s presidential hopes suffered a punishing new setback when authorities clamped down on his charitable foundation. Already weakened by damaging revelations about his taxes, the real estate billionaire was hit with an order by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that the Donald J. Trump foundation must “cease and desist from soliciting contributions” in New York.

The notice informed the charity that it had engaged in fundraising activities not permitted under the law because it had not been registered with the state authorities.

What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?
Hillary Clinton

Campaigning at a Toledo train station, Clinton castigated Trump as a cold-hearted and bungling businessman who “represents the same rigged system that he claims he’s going to change”. She called for a new law requiring presidential candidates from major parties to release their tax returns, as Trump has refused to do, and she accused him of shirking his responsibility as a taxpayer.

“He’s taken corporate excess and made a business model out of it,” she said. “It’s Trump first and everyone else last.”

The Democrat’s broadside was her first response to a weekend New York Times report that Trump claimed a loss of nearly US$916 million in a single year on his personal tax filings. The Times said the size of the loss could have allowed him to avoid federal taxes for nearly two decades, an assertion his campaign neither confirmed nor disputed. Nor did Trump.

Instead, at a Colorado rally, he portrayed himself as a man who bounced back from financial losses, will recover from a currently difficult stretch of the campaign and propel the nation to a similar turnaround.

“On November 8, America’s comeback begins,” he told cheering supporters in Pueblo.

As for questions about his tax history, Trump said he had “brilliantly used those laws ... legally used the tax laws to my benefit and to the benefit of my company, my investors and my employees.”

“The unfairness of the tax laws is unbelievable. It’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time, despite, frankly, being a big beneficiary of the laws,” Trump told the crowd in Pueblo. “But I’m working for you now. I’m not working for Trump.”

He acknowledged business failures as well as successes but declared: “I’m still here.”

He said that “our country is in need of a major comeback,” just like the one he was able to pull off after near-financial collapse in the 1990s – and the one, he implied, he would make from his recent drop in the polls after a difficult campaign week.

Several of Trump’s surrogates also rallied to note that the Times report did not allege wrongdoing and they contended the Republican presidential candidate was a “genius” for using the tax system to rebuild his fortune.

At the same time, the Clinton campaign seized on the comment with a new TV ad, asking: “If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make the rest of us?”

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In her remarks in Ohio, Clinton mocked: “What kind of genius loses a billion dollars in a single year?”

Other Trump troubles mounted. Former cast and crew members from the reality TV show The Apprentice described for the first time his treatment of women on the set. Show insiders said Trump rated female contestants by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he’d like to have sex with. The campaign issued a broad denial, calling the claims “totally false.”

The back-to-back bad news piled on a week of Trump missteps and his increasingly aggressive personal attacks on Clinton. Since a rocky debate last week, Trump has engaged in a distracting feud with a former beauty queen he called “Miss Piggy” because she gained weight during her reign. He seemed to try to shift the conversation Saturday night when he suggested, without evidence, that Clinton may have cheated on her husband.

Trump’s campaign is searching for a way to rattle Clinton – while also getting control of its own message. The new revelations only make that harder. While the incomplete tax records published by the Times show no irregularities, the size of Trump’s loss cuts at a core tenet of his presidential bid – his remarkable business success. Meanwhile, his boorish comments are threatening to turn away female voters.

At a forum in Virginia, Trump went after Clinton’s commitment to fighting cybersecurity threats and pointed to her use of a private, email server when she served as secretary of state. He said Clinton’s handling of classified emails on the server makes her “totally unfit” for the Oval Office.

But Trump’s taxes dominated the conversation. In a story published over the weekend, the Times said it received the first pages of Trump’s 1995 state income tax filings in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from an anonymous person. The filings showed a net loss of US$915,729,293 in federal taxable income for the year – losses of a magnitude that they might have allowed Trump to avoid paying taxes for years.

His campaign said that he had paid “hundreds of millions” of dollars in other kinds of taxes over the years.