Donald Trump.jpg
Photograph: EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

Donald Trump might have avoided paying federal income taxes for as along as 18 years by writing off an extremely high business loss, a leaked tax document obtained by the New York Times shows.

The 1995 tax document reveal the tax benefits the Republican presidential nominee possibly reaped from the financial mismanagement of casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey; his attempt to start an airline and his purchase of a large hotel in Manhattan.

The newspaper said tax experts it hired to analyze the three-page document said that tax rules especially advantageous to wealthy people would have allowed Trump legally to use an 916-million-dollar loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period.

The New York Times reported late Saturday that it had received the document, which shows Trump declared the 916-million-dollar loss on his 1995 tax filing due to failed business ventures.

Trump's tax documents have been a major issue in the campaign because he has refused to make them public, saying they are under audit by the US tax authority. But there is no law or precedent to preclude their release, and US presidential candidates have done so for several decades.

Trump's critics have accused Trump of refusing the release his tax returns because he is hiding something that could be damaging to his presidential bid.

At their first debate last week Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton speculated he was not releasing them because they could reveal "he's not as rich" or "charitable as he claims."

She also said that they might show "he's paid nothing in federal taxes," to which Trump interjected: "That would make me smart."

A Trump campaign statement said the Times had illegally obtained the document, but it neither challenged nor confirmed the authenticity of the document.

"Trump is a highly skilled businessman who has a fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required," the statement said.

It said Trump had paid hundreds of millions of dollars in other taxes over the years. These include property taxes, sales and excise taxes, real estate taxes, city taxes, state taxes, employee taxes and federal taxes.

"Trump knows the tax code far better than anyone who has ever run for president, and he is the only one that knows how to fix it," the statement said.

It added that the skills Trump has shown in building his business "are the skills we need to rebuild this country," while Clinton is a "corrupt public official who violated federal law" by using a private email server while she was secretary of state.

The publication of the document further demonstrated that the New York Times is an "extension" of the Clinton campaign, the statement said.

Clinton's campaign said the report "reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump's past business failures." The statement, posted on Facebook, said Trump "apparently got to avoid paying taxes for nearly two decades—while tens of millions of working families paid theirs."

The campaign also posted a mock "tax calculator" Sunday at her website to draw attention to the New York Times report. It purports to calculate how much a person would pay in taxes if they paid the same as Trump, but any salary submitted results in a tax bill of zero.

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