Trump Deflects Questions About Taxes, but First Debate Has a New Issue

WASHINGTON — The disclosure that President Trump paid little or no federal income taxes for years, including while in the White House, convulsed the presidential campaign on Monday with only five weeks to go and immediately scrambled the equation and stakes of the first debate to be held on Tuesday night.

While Mr. Trump tried to deflect the news about his taxes, and his Republican allies generally kept their silence, Democrats pounced and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the party’s presidential candidate, posted a video noting that the president paid less in income taxes than everyday Americans like teachers, firefighters and nurses.

The report in The New York Times, published online on Sunday evening and in print on Monday, revealed that Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes for 11 of the 18 years examined and just $750 in 2016, the year he won the presidency, and $750 in 2017, his first year in office. Mr. Trump wrote off more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during “The Apprentice” and collected $72.9 million in refunds challenged by I.R.S. auditors. He owes hundreds of millions of dollars to creditors due in the next four years.

The tax data analyzed by The Times, which was provided by sources with legal access to it, further undercut the image of a wildly successful businessman long projected by Mr. Trump while he was reporting expansive and chronic losses by many of his marquee properties like his golf courses in Florida and Europe and his hotel in Washington — losses that he then used to reduce or eliminate tax liabilities.

“The man paid $750,” Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate, said mockingly at an event in North Carolina. “Come on now.”

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In an interview with MSNBC, she said the president owed full disclosure. “The American people have a right to know that when the president of the United States acts, he acts with their priorities in mind, not with his priorities in mind,” she said. “And we’ve already known that he puts his political priorities in front of the American people.”

The records reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Trump was personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, with about $300 million of it coming due in the next four years when he would be serving a second term if he wins on Nov. 3. That raised the scenario of lenders being forced to decide whether to foreclose on a sitting president or give him a special break to avoid doing so.

“This president appears to have over $400 million in debt, 420, whatever it is, million dollars in debt,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC. “To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have? So for me, this is a national security question.”

While Republican lawmakers dodged questions about Mr. Trump’s taxes, John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio who has endorsed Mr. Biden, said the disclosures could affect blue-collar voters who are not yet decided.

“These folks are scraping to make a living and they’re going to wake up to find out this incredible mogul paid $750? I don’t care what his excuses are,” Mr. Kasich told CNN. “It doesn’t pass the smell test. It’s not going to disrupt those people who were for him totally. They’ll still be for him. But it’s those people on the fence.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that writes tax law, declined to comment on how little Mr. Trump paid in taxes. “The thought that comes to my mind is how come it’s taking the I.R.S. so long to get the audits done,” he told reporters. Asked about the $750 tax payments, Mr. Grassley said, “I want to wait until the I.R.S. gets done so I know how much he owes.”

Other Republicans avoided discussing the matter at all. Spokesmen for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the top two Republicans in the Senate, declined to comment.

One of the few prominent voices outside Mr. Trump’s campaign to come to his defense was Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February at Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Limbaugh said on his show on Monday that Mr. Trump’s penchant for minimizing his taxes was something to be proud of, not scorned. “He’s a master at this,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “These tax returns show that he is a master at using the tax code legally. If Trump had done all of this illegal stuff after all of these years, it would have caught up with him by now.”

Mr. Trump on Sunday night initially dismissed the Times report as “fake news” only to pivot on Monday to say that it was information that was illegally obtained.

Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, wrote in an editor’s note published Sunday that “the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the First Amendment allows the press to publish newsworthy information that was legally obtained by reporters even when those in power fight to keep it hidden.”

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