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White House

Obama Wrote Trump a $73 Million Check

Donald Trump speaks with President Barack Obama before being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The New York Times’ big exposé on President Trump’s tax returns flags some things that may be dodgy but mainly it just confirms what everybody (including Trump) has always said — there are a lot of loopholes in the tax code that a savvy operator can exploit. Whose fault is that? The system long predates Trump’s political career. For me, one part of the story really stands out, though: “To turn that long arc of failure into a giant refund check,” says the Times, Trump “relied on some deft accounting footwork and an unwitting gift from an unlikely source — Mr. Obama.”

Huh? Obama’s stimulus policies led to the Obama IRS writing a check to Trump for $73 million. The Times explains that a business loss can be used as a coupon that can be redeemed against a gain in another business.

Until 2009, those coupons could be used to wipe away taxes going back only two years. But that November, the window was more than doubled by a little-noticed provision in a bill Mr. Obama signed as part of the Great Recession recovery effort. Now business owners could request full refunds of taxes paid in the prior four years, and 50 percent of those from the year before that.

Mr. Trump had paid no income taxes in 2008. But the change meant that when he filed his taxes for 2009, he could seek a refund of not just the $13.3 million he had paid in 2007, but also the combined $56.9 million paid in 2005 and 2006, when “The Apprentice” created what was likely the biggest income tax bite of his life.

The records reviewed by The Times indicate that Mr. Trump filed for the first of several tranches of his refund several weeks later, in January 2010. That set off what tax professionals refer to as a “quickie refund,” a check processed in 90 days on a tentative basis, pending an audit by the I.R.S.

His total federal income tax refund would eventually grow to $70.1 million, plus $2,733,184 in interest. He also received $21.2 million in state and local refunds, which often piggyback on federal filings.

Trump may have to pay back that money; an IRS audit and an investigation by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation are pending. But if he doesn’t, it looks like an alternate headline of the Times story could have been: “Obama Policies Created a $73 Million Tax Refund for Trump.” I trust the Times will next be sending out formal letters of apology to those of us who argued Obama’s stimulus policies were unnecessary, wasteful, and bound to be abused.

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