The top ranked Democrat in Washington has called President Donald Trump’s alleged tax avoidance a question of ‘national security’.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi questioned whether Mr Trump owed money to foreign interests following a disclosure of his financial records by the New York Times.
Among the revelations is that Mr Trump paid $750 (£580) in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017.
Mr Trump called the report “fake news”.
Speaking on NBC, Ms Pelosi said the report shows that “this president appears to have over $400m in debt”.
“To whom? Different countries? What is the leverage they have?” she asked, adding: “So for me, this is a national security question.”
“The fact that you could have a sitting president who owes hundreds of millions of dollars that he’s personally guaranteed to lenders, and we don’t know who these lenders are,” she said, and suggested that Mr Trump may be indebted to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “What does Putin have on the president politically? Personally? Financially?”
According to the explosive report in the New York Times – which says it obtained tax records for Mr Trump and his companies over two decades – Mr Trump paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years. It adds that the president is personally responsible for more than $300m in loans, which will come due in the next four years.
It does not suggest Mr Trump received any previously unknown ties to Russia, though it revealed that the president has earned some money from foreign sources.
The records reveal “chronic losses and years of tax avoidance”, it says.
“Actually I paid tax. And you’ll see that as soon as my tax returns – it’s under audit, they’ve been under audit for a long time,” he told reporters after the story was published on Sunday.
“The IRS [Internal Revenue Service] does not treat me well… they treat me very badly,” he said.
Mr Trump has faced legal challenges for refusing to share documents concerning his fortune and business. He is the first president since the 1970s not to make his tax returns public, though this is not required by law.
The New York Times said the information scrutinised in its report was “provided by sources with legal access to it”.
The report came just days before Mr Trump’s first presidential debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden and weeks before the 3 November election.
The Times said it reviewed tax returns relating to President Trump and companies owned by the Trump Organization going back to the 1990s, as well as his personal returns for 2016 and 2017.
It said the president paid just $750 in income taxes in both 2016 and 2017, while he paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years, “largely because he reported losing much more money than he made”.
Before becoming president, Mr Trump was known as a celebrity businessman and property mogul, building an image of a hugely successful self-made billionaire which could be dented by the latest revelations, observers say.
But the newspaper says his reports to the IRS “portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes”.
According to the US Bureau on Labor Statistics, the average American household paid $9,302 in federal income tax in 2018, on an average earnings figure of $78,635.
In an annual financial disclosure that he is required to make as president, President Trump said he made at least $434.9m in 2018.
The newspaper disputes this, alleging that his tax returns show the president had instead gone into the red, with $47.4m in losses.
The Trump Organization joined the president in denying the allegations in the report. The company’s chief legal officer, Alan Garten, told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate”.
“Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015,” he said.
By using the term “personal taxes”, the New York Times points out, Mr Garten appears to be conflating other federal taxes paid by Mr Trump – such as social security, Medicare and taxes for people who work in his household – with federal income tax.