The fallout from the New York Times bombshell investigation into two decades of Trump’s tax returns filtered through Monday’s late-night shows, as hosts reacted to the revelation that Trump paid merely $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017. “Seven hundred and fifty dollars!” Stephen Colbert exclaimed on The Late Show. “Trump paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 and he screwed the country way more.”
The Times also found that Trump paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years, partly because of questionable “business expenses” including more than $70,000 to style his hair when he hosted The Apprentice. “He spent $70,000 on … that?” Colbert deadpanned. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but he should’ve paid more.”
Additionally, in 2010, Trump claimed and received a tax refund of $72.9m – a refund the IRS has not confirmed is legal, and whose penalties would cost Trump $100m. And “there’s a good ole chance that good ole fake billionaire President Trump wouldn’t be able to pay that bill,” Colbert added, as the New York Times revealed his businesses have accrued chronic losses over the years.
Trump’s golf courses, for example, have reported losses of $315.6m since 2000. “Someone really needs to explain to him that in golf, you want a low score. In golf business, you really don’t want to finish 315 million under par,” Colbert joked.
On top of the business losses, the Times also found that Trump is personally responsible for loans and other debt totaling $421m. “To put that in layman’s terms – I can’t,” said Colbert. “It’s 421 million dollars.”
“Normally you don’t find someone who owes that kind of cash in the Oval Office,” he added. “You find them washed up on the banks of a river. And Trump only looks like he washed up on the banks of a river.”
On the Daily Show, Trevor Noah was especially shocked by Trump’s $70,000 “business expense” deduction for his hair on The Apprentice. “Now it looks like two crimes have been committed here: one is Trump’s tax evasion, and two is whoever swindled Trump into paying $70,000 for what they did to him.”
In all seriousness, Noah added, “the worst part of this story for Donald Trump isn’t that he got out of paying taxes. Because I mean, let’s be honest, lots of billionaires do that. Billionaires paying their fair share of taxes is like someone going to a pumpkin patch and not Instagramming it – it doesn’t happen.
“But what this story exposes isn’t just that Trump is bad at paying taxes. It’s that he’s even worse at business.” The New York Times investigation laid bare Trump’s flailing business empire, in which his core operations – golf courses and name-brand hotels – reported millions or tens of millions in losses year after year. In 2018 alone, Trump businesses reported $47.4m in losses. And Trump personally owes a debt of $421m – one that could come due during his second term in office if he’s re-elected.
“Can I just say, if you decided to lend $420m to Donald Trump, that’s on you,” Noah said. “I hope he doesn’t pay you back, because you are the one person on earth worse with money than he is.”
In sum, reading the New York Times report, and learning the size and scope of Trump’s business debts, means “everything makes so much sense now,” Noah concluded. “This tax story is the Rosetta Stone that helps us figure everything out. Trump doesn’t want to be president – he just really needs that Secret Service protection. Shit, if I had $421m in loans coming due, I’d also be trying to cancel the election.”
“So Trump paid virtually nothing in taxes in 2016 and 2017,” said Seth Meyers on Late Night, which is one thing if you’re “just a New York real estate grifter” but “it’s especially brazen to do it while you’re a sitting president.
“That means he was in the Oval Office on the phone with his accountant saying, ‘What? ‘Eight hundred ninety bucks seems like a lot. Can we get it down to seven-fifty?’”
Allegations of Trump’s illegal financial dealings is old news, Meyers continued – Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen alleged Trump illegally deflated the value of his New York real estate holdings, and Trump is currently under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney and New York’s state attorney general. “But to my mind, what’s legal is just as much of a scandal here,” Meyers said. “Trump took advantage of a labyrinthine tax system designed to protect his wealth and shield him from consequences.
“In fact, he and his allies have long argued that rather than be ashamed of this behavior. He should be proud of it.” Meyers cut to clips in which Trump bragged about avoiding taxes, claiming the loopholes made him “smart”.
“It doesn’t make you smart. It makes you powerful,” Meyers corrected. “There are plenty of smart people who pay their taxes in full every year because they don’t have the army of accountants and vampire lawyers that rich people like Trump or companies like Amazon have.
“If the IRS found out you did what Trump is accused of,” Meyers added, “your response would be,” to quote Trump’s press conference from Sunday, “Oh, shit.”