During a press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was given a chance to push back on a bombshell New York Times investigation alleging President Donald Trump — despite the image he’s cultivated of himself as a self-made billionaire — used tax dodges and in some cases “outright fraud” to siphon nearly a half-billion dollars from his dad’s real estate empire into his own pockets without paying appropriate taxes.
Trump’s initial response to the story came via his personal lawyer, Charles Harder, who released a statement dismissing the “highly defamatory” story as “extremely inaccurate.” But the statement doesn’t dispute a single fact in the report, which found “the money [Trump] made during his decades in real estate came from tax schemes of dubious legality, the existence of records of deception in documenting the family’s financial assets, and that the beginning of the president’s so-called self-made fortune dates back to his toddler years when, by the time he was 3 years old, Mr. Trump earned $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father.”
On Wednesday, Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post pressed Sanders to be more specific than Harder, asking if she could “explain what is inaccurate about that story, if there is anything that is actually in accurate about it?”
Sanders could not.
“It’s a totally false attack based on an old recycled news story. I am not going to go sit and go through every single line of a very boring 14,000 word story,” she said, despite the fact that she hadn’t even gone through a single line of it.
Sanders immediately pivoted to trying to spin the story as actually reflecting positively on Trump.
“I will say one thing the article did get right was that it showed that the president’s father actually had a great deal of confidence in him,” she said. “In fact the president brought his father into a lot of deals, and they made a lot of money together. So much so that his father went on to say that ‘everything he touched turned to gold.'”
Sanders concluded her response by falsely asserting that “the president’s lawyer addressed some of the specific claims and walked through how the allegations of fraud and tax evasion are 100 percent false and highly defamatory. There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. He went on much further, and I would encourage you to read every word of his statement which completely undercuts the accusations in the New York Times.”
As mentioned earlier, however, Harder’s statement doesn’t address any of the article’s factual claims or findings.
Dawsey followed up by asking Sanders if Trump has any plans to release his tax returns, which could prove that the president hasn’t engaged in fraud. Sanders said she’s “not aware of any plans to do so.”
The White House’s failure to release Trump’s tax returns — standard procedure for previous presidents — represents a broken promise. In 2014, Trump said that if he “decide[s] to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns. Absolutely. I would love to do that.” Even after he took office, he continued to promise he would release his tax returns, but that appears now to have been an outright lie.