The tax forms were sent to David Cay Johnston, a former New York Times reporter who covered the Internal Revenue Service for years and has written a book on Mr. Trump. Appearing with Ms. Maddow, he said he had received the forms “over the transom” and did not know who had sent them. He suggested that they might even have been sent by Mr. Trump himself.
Mr. Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public broke with decades of tradition in presidential contests and emerged as a central issue in the campaign. That drumbeat has continued since he entered the White House, particularly from people who feel his returns may shed light on various aspects of his business practices, including whether he has done business with Russian firms and banks.
Mr. Trump initially promised he would release the returns: “I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful, and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time,” he said in a January 2016 television interview. He then backpedaled, saying he would wait until the Internal Revenue Service had completed its audit. In May 2016, his lawyers released a letter saying that his personal tax returns had been “under continuous examination” by the I.R.S. since 2002, and that the examinations for the returns from 2009 on were continuing.
The I.R.S. has not confirmed that Mr. Trump’s taxes are in fact under audit.
Democrats immediately pounced on Tuesday night’s report, arguing that the White House’s decision to release details of Mr. Trump’s 2005 taxes before Ms. Maddow’s show undercut his past refusal to release any such information.
“If they can release some of the information, they can release all of the information,” Zac Petkanas, a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “The only reason not to release his returns is to hide what’s in them, such as financial connections with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin.”
In October, The New York Times published three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 returns, which showed a $916 million tax deduction that could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years.
This deduction was derived from the financial wreckage of some of the companies he drove into bankruptcy years ago, including his Atlantic City casinos, and would have allowed him to cancel out taxable income for an 18-year period. A tax code provision benefiting real estate developers, which took effect in 1993, permitted businesses like Mr. Trump’s to take tax deductions for losing other people’s money.
Few people outside of Mr. Trump’s inner circle have seen his tax returns. One person who has is Timothy L. O’Brien, another former reporter for The New York Times, who was sued for libel by Mr. Trump after he published a book that argued that Mr. Trump’s net worth was $150 million to $250 million, rather than several billion dollars, as Mr. Trump had claimed. The suit was ultimately dismissed.
Limited information about Mr. Trump’s tax returns from other years has surfaced in court and regulatory records. A 1981 report by New Jersey regulators assessing Mr. Trump’s fitness for a casino license stated that he had paid more than $71,000 in federal income taxes on about $218,000 of taxable income earned from 1975 to 1977.
But in the next two years, 1978 and 1979, Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes. The report explained that by taking advantage of deductions available to real estate developers and claiming losses from partnerships, he was able to report a “negative income” of $406,379 in 1978 and $3.4 million in 1979 — thus avoiding any tax liability for those two years, a time when he claimed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tax court records indicate that Mr. Trump also avoided paying any federal income taxes in 1984. In 1991 and 1993, when Mr. Trump’s Atlantic City casinos were in deep financial trouble, casino commission reports show that he claimed losses that would have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes in those years, too. Mr. Trump may have been able to use those losses to reduce or eliminate his federal tax bill for years to come.
During the presidential debates, Hillary Clinton suggested that Mr. Trump was refusing to release his tax returns to hide the fact that he did not pay federal income taxes. “That makes me smart,” Mr. Trump retorted during one debate.
In response to The Times’s disclosure that Mr. Trump could have used a $916 million tax loss to avoid paying years of federal income taxes, Mr. Trump and his surrogates said the revelation merely proved Mr. Trump’s “genius” at legally avoiding that burden.
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