Earlier this month, The New York Times published an extensive investigation of the Trump family’s widespread tax evasion schemes entitled “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches from His Father.” The article described tax evasion that lasted for decades and led to President Trump receiving far more financial help from his family than he has claimed. After more than a year of examining tax documents, the investigators found that Trump’s parents avoided taxes by making deceptive and sometimes fraudulent transfers to their children, avoiding the 55 percent tax rate on inheritances. However, likely due to its length, level of detail, and competing coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings and confirmation, its publication received very little attention and few other newspapers covered the investigation’s findings. The article deserves much more attention than it has received because it is a stunningly researched, precisely written piece of journalism.
The investigation began when New York Times reporter Susanne Craig noticed an unusual $1 million loan from a Trump family-owned company on a disclosure form for the president’s sister and started digging. The journalists who worked on the article read over 100,000 pages of documents with painstaking attention to detail, knowing the entire investigation would be discredited if they made an assertion that was later shown to be false. The tax code and the transactions they were following are extremely complex, so it’s a remarkable accomplishment to write about them in a way that is accessible to the public and doesn’t distort the truth. The article is a prime example of what good journalism is supposed to do: carefully follow leads that seem minor at first, research rigorously, and explain complex topics to the public. It’s also a reminder of the critical role a free press plays in keeping our elected leaders accountable, and I would not be surprised if the journalists win a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.
Additionally, the article contradicts the myth the president has cultivated about all his wealth being self-made. The president has repeatedly claimed that he received “only” a $1 million loan from his parents, but The New York Times investigation showed that he was actually given millions of dollars more. The extensive financial help the president received from his family proves that he has lied for years about a primary part of his identity, that he obtained his wealth entirely on his own and without significant help from his family. One of his campaign strategies was to portray himself as self-made and accountable to no one. Instead, The New York Times investigation proved that the president was already earning hundreds of thousands of dollars every year from his parents’ businesses by the time he was a toddler and was repeatedly bailed out by his father when his ill-advised business ventures failed. Therefore, the president’s claims that he accomplished what he did on his own are complete lies.
Of course, this article doesn’t really provide any new information about the president’s character—it’s clear that he utterly lacks a moral compass. Very few people haven’t made up their minds about how they feel about the president. Since many readers likely found that the article only confirmed their already deeply negative opinion of the president, they could argue that its findings aren’t important because they are unlikely to change anyone’s mind. However, the article is a reminder that our president has no appreciation for the duty of the wealthy to pay their share of taxes, further implying that he has a deeply held disrespect for the ability of government to redistribute wealth and make people’s lives better. It also is indicative of his broader attitude that the rules just don’t apply to him. Thankfully, New York state tax authorities have begun investigating the allegations of tax evasion in the New York Times article. There’s no statute of limitations on civil charges for tax evasion in New York, so the President could still be compelled to repay unpaid taxes from decades ago as a direct result of the work of the journalists at The New York Times. Since the article could have these concrete consequences, it is an important piece of journalism and deserves more attention than it initially received upon publication. Furthermore, it is an impressive reminder of the ability of journalism to explain complex topics and hold elected officials accountable.