Chris Christie on Trump taxes: He's a 'genius' if he didn't pay for 18 years

Chris Christie on Trump taxes: A New York Times report revealed that Republican candidate Donald Trump may have been legally allowed to not pay federal income taxes for 18 years. 

James Robinson/
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump finishes his speech at Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manhime, Pa., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.

After months of mystery surrounding the unreleased tax returns of Donald Trump, The New York Times has obtained the presidential candidate's 1995 state income tax filings. 

The records, reportedly mailed to the newspaper anonymously from Trump Tower, showed a net loss of $915,729,293 in federal taxable income for the year, according to the Times – a loss that could have allowed Mr. Trump to legally pay no federal income taxes for 18 years. 

Hillary Clinton's campaign was quick to highlight that possibility, following Mrs. Clinton's suggestions during Monday night's debate that the reason Trump had withheld his tax returns was because he had not paid federal taxes: "Trump's returns show just how lousy a businessman he is AND how long he may have avoided paying any taxes," tweeted campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. 

But whether the allegations have a negative effect on Trump's campaign remains to be seen. Shortly after the Times published its findings, the Trump campaign issued a statement denouncing the announcement as an attempt by the media to promote Hillary Clinton. 

"The only news here is that the more than 20 year-old alleged tax document was illegally obtained, a further demonstration that the New York Times, like establishment media in general, is an extension of the Clinton Campaign, the Democratic Party and their global special interests," the campaign said in a statement. 

At a time when Americans' distrust of the mass media – and Republicans' distrust of the media in particular – is at an all-time high, the message may resonate with Trump supporters. 

"A lot of [the media's low approval rating] has to do with what Americans view as dishonest, agenda-laden reporting," Jim Kuypers, author of "Partisan Journalism: A History of Media Bias in the United States," told The Christian Science Monitor in June. 

"Many Americans," and Trump supporters especially, "are fed up with what they see as a press that talks about free speech, but does not responsibly use that right," Dr. Kuypers continued. "To the degree that is there, Trump has tapped into that."

Furthermore, rather than disputing or making excuses for the findings, surrogates of Trump such as Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie have since framed the possibility of Trump not paying taxes as a savvy business strategy that is further proof of Trump's "genius." 

"He's a genius – absolute genius," Mr. Giuliani said on ABC's "This Week." "This was a perfectly legal application of the tax code, and he would've been a fool not to take advantage of it." 

"It shows you what a genius he is – how smart he is, how intelligent he is, how strategic he is," he later added. "I want that working for me. I want to see if he can produce these kinds of results for us." 

Governor Christie, similarly, told "Fox News Sunday" that "this is actually a very, very good story for Donald Trump." 

"What it shows is what an absolute mess the federal tax code is, and that's why Donald Trump is the person best positioned to fix it," Christie said. "There's no one who's showed more genius in their way to move around the tax code and to rightfully use the laws to do that." 

Since the start of his campaign, many of Trump's supporters have referenced his success in business as one of his qualifications for the presidency. 

"The argument is widely used," writes Gautam Adhikari, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, for The Huffington Post. "It goes like this: First, Trump has been so successful in business that he is not only a billionaire, he can use his business acumen and managerial skills to run the administration far more efficiently than any career politician. Second, Trump has so honed negotiating expertise as an experienced businessman that as president he can make winning deals with Congress, with Mexico, with Russia, with China, you name it." 

But also since the start of the campaign, the Republican nominee has refused to release his tax returns, maintaining that his tax returns in recent years are under audit and that he has been advised by his lawyers not to release them during the process. 

"It’s an interesting tactic he is able to pull off at this point," Diana Owen, a political science professor at Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology graduate program, told The Christian Science Monitor in September. "In a clever way, he has been able to tread that line. ‘I am successful. I do have great wealth. But, at the same time, I’m relatable.'"

But, she added, "once you get some more concrete things out there, like his taxes, it might be a little bit harder for him to play this game." 

While it's impossible to say, in the immediate aftermath of the revelation, whether Trump's campaign will suffer, polls show that a majority of voters do care about candidates' tax records. In a Monmouth University poll last month, 62 percent of respondents said it was very important or somewhat important for candidates to show their tax records.

However, that poll suggests that the revelation may more important for voters on the fence than for those who already support Trump: only 10 percent of Trump supporters said disclosure of tax records was very important.

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