How the NYT published the blockbuster exclusive on Trump's taxes
President Donald J. Trump (c) on the South Lawn driveway of the White House in Washington, DC, on 28 September 2020. EFE/EPA/Ken Cedeno / POOL
By Jairo Mejia
New York, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- A team of three reporters and two editors with The New York Times worked for four years to provide the details of President Donald Trump's tax returns, returns he has made a determined effort to hide from public view and which show minimal tax payments, hundreds of millions of dollars in debts to unknown parties, questionable fiscal and accounting practices and possible conflicts of interest.
Journalists Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, supported by Paul Fishleder, a veteran investigations editor, and Matthew Purdy, the daily's deputy managing editor, on Sunday published "the most comprehensive picture yet" of the business activities and financial activities of the president, according to a statement by NYT executive editor Dan Baquet accompanying the exclusive.
The team's exclusive relies on a huge number of documents provided by sources with "legal access" to them and whom the NYT is not revealing to protect their anonymity, Baquet said, adding that they made the materials available at "enormous personal risks to help inform the public."
During the past year, none of the three reporters published more than half a dozen articles in the NYT and the majority of those articles dealt with issues that had something to do with Trump's businesses and taxes, demonstrating the exclusive dedication of the team, which is clearly now in the running for Pulitzer Prizes next year.
"Some will raise questions about publishing the president's personal tax information. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the First Amendment allows the press to publish newsworthy information that was legally obtained by reporters even when those in power fight to keep it hidden. That powerful principle of the First Amendment applies here," said Baquet in his statement, promising to "continue our reporting and publish additional articles about our findings in the weeks ahead."
Michael Luo, the publisher of The New Yorker magazine, said on Twitter that "Arguably, no other news org in the world could invest as much time/resources into Trump tax investigations as NYT has. Maybe Washington Post and ProPublica too? Three reporters; unlimited time. Support investigative journalism as a bulwark of democracy."
The expose of some 10,000 words appeared on Sunday on the daily's Web page and on Monday it occupied almost the entire front page and a total of six pages in the print edition, where the team analyzes how Trump avoided paying any federal taxes at all for more than a decade and, in 2016 and 2017, paid only $750 in each year, despite publicly claiming hundreds of millions in profits on his various businesses and a net worth of several billion.
The investigation describes a complex network of businesses, income, debts and deductions that have allowed the president to avoid paying taxes over the past 20 years, but also how a large portion of his businesses are money sinkholes that make no profits.
In addition, it discusses how Trump has more than $300 million in outstanding loans and mortgages in his personal name that come due within the coming four years and - if he were re-elected on Nov. 3 - would fall within his second term, thus presenting the possibility that he might become bankrupt while occupying the White House.
In addition, he could face the obligation to return $72.9 million in refunds to the Internal Revenue Service, plus interest and penalties bringing the total to well over $100 million. This case is currently being audited but seems to be delayed by the very government bureaucracy over which Trump presides.
According to Columbia University journalism professor Emily Bell, this is a damaging and constitutionally dangerous snapshot of Trump's finances although it does not really come as a surprise if one takes into account the revelations about his finances that have been emerging since he announced his presidential run in June 2015.
Buzzfeed technology correspondent Ryan Mac praised the Times for having delved into Trump's complex financial universe and, at the same time, for presenting it so clearly.
Meanwhile, on Monday Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NBC that the revelations about Trump's tax situation pose a "national security problem" for the US, given that due to his some $421 million in outstanding debt potentially coming due within the next four years, if he is reelected he may go bankrupt and be subject to blackmail or "influence" from foreign individuals or countries to prevent it.
Pelosi asked whom Trump owed the money to, since this is not yet clear, although his son Eric said back in 2014 that the Trump Organization does not rely on US banks for financing and allegedly gets all the money it needs "from Russia."
Arguing that the public has a "right to know" to whom Trump owes the hundreds of millions of dollars, for which he is personally on the hook, Pelosi alluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be one such individual and head of state to have influence over the US leader.