Patterico's Pontifications


Breaking October Surprise: New York Times Obtains Trump Tax Records

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:44 pm

The October surprise came early this year, didn’t it? The headline at the New York Times reads: “Trump Tax Records Obtained by The Times Reveal He Could Have Avoided Paying Taxes for Nearly Two Decades.”

Donald J. Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns, a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years, records obtained by The New York Times show.

The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Tax experts hired by The Times to analyze Mr. Trump’s 1995 records said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

According to the accountant who prepared them, they look legit:

On Wednesday, The Times presented the tax documents to Jack Mitnick, a lawyer and certified public accountant who handled Mr. Trump’s tax matters for more than 30 years, until 1996. Mr. Mitnick was listed as the preparer on the New Jersey tax form.

Mr. Mitnick, 80, now semiretired and living in Florida, said that while he no longer had access to Mr. Trump’s original returns, the documents appeared to be authentic copies of portions of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns. Mr. Mitnick said the signature on the tax preparer line of the New Jersey tax form was his, and he readily explained an obvious anomaly in the way especially large numbers appeared on the New York tax document.

A flaw in the tax software program he used at the time prevented him from being able to print a nine-figure loss on Mr. Trump’s New York return, he said. So, for example, the loss of “-915,729,293” on Line 18 of the return printed out as “5,729,293.” As a result, Mr. Mitnick recalled, he had to use his typewriter to manually add the “-91,” thus explaining why the first two digits appeared to be in a different font and were slightly misaligned from the following seven digits.

“This is legit,” he said, stabbing a finger into the document.

My guess: Hillary Clinton found out about this before the debate. Regarding the timing, the story says only that the Times obtained the records “last month.” If Hillary was tipped off, that could explain her comment at the debate speculating that the records, if revealed, would show that Trump had paid no income taxes for several years — an accusation that Trump seemed to confirm when he replied: “That makes me smart.”

This is a legitimate issue, and this story will increase the pressure on Trump to release the actual returns. The cynic in me suspects, however, that we won’t find out what he’s hiding until it’s too late.

UPDATE: Flashback:

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

Reminder of Why the Court Matters: First Amendment Case Going to the Supreme Court May Affect Redskins Trademark

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:30 pm

Lost in the welter of stories about sex tapes and the presidential election this week was the news that a very important First Amendment case is on its way to the Supreme Court. The case, a trademark dispute involving a band called The Slants, could determine the future of the Washington Redskins’ trademark. The case is a reminder that the Supreme Court still has a vacant seat and that our most precious Constitutional freedoms hang in the balance.

If you’re looking for the full background, I wrote up the case last December in this post, but here is the nutshell version: a bunch of Social Justice Warriors in the U.S. Government want to claim the ability to deny you a trademark law if they find your trademark “disparaging.” And thanks to a landmark victory in the Federal Circuit won by Ron Coleman — partner at Archer & Greiner and the author of the Likelihood of Confusion blog — the government’s SJWs no longer have that power.

The quick and dirty background is this: The Slants is a rock group consisting of Asians. They took on the name “The Slants” to “own” the term, which is commonly thought to be derogatory towards Asians. And then the government told them that they could not do that and still claim federal trademark protection. Like the “Redskins” trademark, the government invoked a provision of trademark law that prevents registration of “disparaging” marks. I turn the mic over to Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post:

Based on that provision, the Patent and Trademark Office barred the registration of THE SLANTS (I use all-caps for this in this post, to follow trademark opinion style), a trademark used by Simon Tam’s Asian American musical group of that name. The PTO has famously canceled the registration of REDSKINS. And it has done the same for many other marks: STOP THE ISLAMISATION OF AMERICA, THE CHRISTIAN PROSTITUTE, AMISHHOMO, MORMON WHISKEY, KHORAN for wine, HAVE YOU HEARD THAT SATAN IS A REPUBLICAN?, RIDE HARD RETARD, ABORT THE REPUBLICANS, HEEB, SEX ROD (apparently some sort of reference to the Red Sox), MARRIAGE IS FOR FAGS, DEMOCRATS SHOULDN’T BREED, REPUBLICANS SHOULDN’T BREED, 2 DYKE MINIMUM, WET BAC/WET B.A.C., URBAN INJUN, SQUAW VALLEY (in part), N.I.G.G.A. NATURALLY INTELLIGENT GOD GIFTED AFRICANS, “a mark depicting a defecating dog … (found to disparage Greyhound’s trademarked running dog logo),” “an image consisting of the national symbol of the Soviet Union with an ‘X’ over it,” and more.

Thanks to Ron Coleman’s pro bono work for The Slants, the “disparagement” provision has been found unconstitutional by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I quote from the court’s decision:

The government cannot refuse to register disparaging marks because it disapproves of the expressive messages conveyed by the marks. It cannot refuse to register marks because it concludes that such marks will be disparaging to others. The government regulation at issue amounts to viewpoint discrimination, and under the strict scrutiny review appropriate for government regulation of message or viewpoint, we conclude that the disparagement proscription of § 2(a) is unconstitutional. Because the government has offered no legitimate interests justifying § 2(a), we conclude that it would also be unconstitutional under the intermediate scrutiny traditionally applied to regulation of the commercial aspects of speech.

This is where I stand up and start singing the national anthem.

That the government cannot deny one applicant a trademark because it is disparaging to a group, while awarding another applicant a trademark that praises the same group, should be an obvious conclusion. Preventing viewpoint discrimination by the government is at the heart of the First Amendment.

Nevertheless, the issue is now on its way to the Supreme Court, where four hard-left Justices are tenuously balanced by four judicial conservatives who display varying degrees of fidelity to the Constitution.

And one seat remains open. The election will determine who fills that seat, and may determine the future of the First Amendment in this and other cases.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I should add that Ron and the excellent Bruce Godfrey of Jezic & Moyse LLC have represented me pro bono in the past and have always done an excellent job. I am forever grateful to them — and I look forward to Ron arguing in the Supreme Court!

[Cross-posted at RedState.]

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