WASHINGTON - Joe Biden's campaign is capitalizing on revelations that President Donald Trump has paid little or no federal income taxes for years, amplifying the Democratic nominee's message that the 2020 election is a choice between the working-class he came from and the wealthy elite the president personifies.
The bombshell poses another obstacle to the president's effort to catch up to Biden, who is leading in most national and battleground-state polls as their race enters its final five weeks. It also throws Trump on the defensive on the eve of Tuesday's first presidential debate.
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump's campaign, shrugged off the report, calling it "a big nothing-burger and a pre-debate attack intended solely to help Joe Biden." On Sunday, Trump called it "fake news" but offered no evidence to refute the report in The New York Times.
The Biden camp immediately seized the fresh ammunition for attacking the president and drawing a heightened contrast between the rivals.
"You have in Donald Trump a president who spends his time thinking about how he can work his way out of paying taxes, of meeting the obligation that every other working person in this country meets every year," Kate Bedingfield, Biden's deputy campaign manager, said on CNN Sunday. "With Joe Biden, you have somebody who has a completely different perspective on what it means to be a working family in this country."
The latest revelations likely won't upend a presidential race that, polls show, has been remarkably stable despite numerous developments that might have altered it - a worldwide pandemic that has left more than 200,000 Americans dead, a recession, wildfires consuming the West, and widespread protests for racial justice. It also may not dampen enthusiasm for Trump among his most ardent supporters, who have brushed off outrage after outrage for years.
But it's Trump, not Biden, who needs to dramatically reshape the presidential race in order to pull off a victory. Questions about his taxes and business dealings will likely distract attention even as his window of time for trying to close the gap with Biden is closing.
The Times report, based on years of tax records that it said it obtained from sources who legally possessed them, show Trump often paid little to no federal income taxes because he repeatedly reported steep business losses to the IRS. During his first year in office, he paid $750 - a startlingly low amount for a self-avowed billionaire, and much lower than what the average middle-class American pays.
The Times also reported that Trump is personally responsible for debt and loans worth $421 million, and a big chunk of the bill is coming due, creating enormous financial pressure on the president. Money trouble is a textbook pressure point for intelligence services around the world, and national security experts said the latest revelations add to concerns that Trump is vulnerable to foreign influence and perhaps makes decisions with his personal interests in mind.
Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said the reporting is "riddled with gross inaccuracies" and "part of the Times' ongoing smear campaign in the run up to the election."