Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime former personal attorney, has a theory. He believes the president is terrified of receiving a large bill from the Internal Revenue Service.
“His biggest fear is … he will end up with a massive tax bill, fraud penalties, fines, and possibly even tax fraud,” Cohen said in an interview with Yahoo News on Monday, the morning after the New York Times published a report detailing how Trump, a self-described billionaire, paid zero dollars in income taxes for more than 10 years.
The article, which was based on tax return data obtained by the Times, also revealed that Trump paid only $750 in income taxes both in 2016, as he ran for office, and in 2017, after he became president. According to the newspaper, the documents showed Trump used losses at his various businesses and expenses, including personal hair care, to justify taking massive tax deductions.
Trump’s taxes have long been the subject of intense speculation, since he is the first president since Richard Nixon to be elected without making some of his tax returns public.
Cohen, who was also an executive at the Trump Organization, the president’s eponymous real estate company, attributed that reluctance to share the data to a fear of legal consequences.
“Donald Trump’s financial records are the Rosetta stone for understanding the depth of his corruption and crimes,” Cohen said in the interview. “The more it is unraveled, the more he will unravel. It’s the reason he’s fought so hard to keep it under wraps.”
In the past, Trump has blamed this on an ongoing IRS audit, which he has claimed prevents him from disclosing the returns. The president’s own IRS commissioner confirmed last year that there is no rule stopping Trump from releasing his returns while he is under audit.
The Times article confirmed that a $72.9 million tax refund Trump received after claiming losses is under audit, meaning that an “adverse ruling” could lead to him receiving a tax bill of over $100 million. The Times’s reporting also raised questions about Trump’s ability to pay any major penalties, since he has more than $300 million in loans coming due within the next four years.
While the Times report has sparked a renewed conversation about Trump’s taxes, Cohen has been raising alarms about the real estate magnate’s finances since the pair had a falling out in 2018 during a legal drama that ensued following investigations into the president and his campaign. Cohen has also gone further than the Times article, alleging that Trump’s tax avoidance was clearly against the law.
In his book “Disloyal,” which was published earlier this month, Cohen said Trump “almost certainly illegally evaded” income taxes. Cohen also recounted a scene in which the pair were in Trump’s Manhattan office tower and the future president showed off a $10 million tax refund check he received from the IRS. “Can you believe how fucking stupid the IRS is?” Trump said, according to Cohen, adding, “Who would give me a refund of 10 fucking million dollars?”
Cohen told Yahoo News that moment made him certain Trump had engaged in illegal conduct with respect to his taxes. “To me, it didn’t make any sense,” Cohen said of the refund. “There’s no doubt that he had to have committed some sort of a fraud.”
Cohen, whose book accuses Trump of habitually engaging in unethical business practices at his real estate company, also said tax fraud would fit the president’s modus operandi. “Nothing that goes on at the Trump Organization is done straight up. There’s always some form of a shady angle,” he said.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere responded to Cohen’s claims by questioning his credibility.
“Michael Cohen is a disgraced liar who has no idea what he’s talking about,” Deere wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
Trump Organization spokesperson Kimberly Benza similarly dismissed Cohen as unreliable.
“If you are interested in reporting the truth we would suggest you find a source other than Michael Cohen,” Benza wrote.
On Twitter, Trump denied that he engaged in any impropriety in a series of messages posted on Monday morning.
“The Fake News Media, just like Election time 2016, is bringing up my Taxes & all sorts of other nonsense with illegally obtained information & only bad intent. I paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits,” he wrote.
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