Reports that Donald Trump may have paid no income taxes for nearly two decades show the Republican presidential nominee is a genius, his closest allies have said.
The Trump campaign came out fighting after a story in the New York Times that the tycoon lost nearly $916m in 1995 – so much that he could have legally avoided paying federal income taxes for as many as 18 years.
It came after a tough week for Mr Trump following the first TV debate against Hillary Clinton, which sparked a feud with a former beauty queen he called “Miss Piggy” as he shamed her for gaining weight.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a senior Trump supporter, did not dispute the newspaper report, and called the businessman “a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow”.
He told ABC’s This Week: “Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman? And the only thing she’s ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out her emails.”
When asked whether such a loophole was fair, he noted that many Americans have such low incomes that they are not required to pay federal income taxes either.
“A lot of the people that are poor take advantage of loopholes and pay no taxes. Those are loopholes also.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared it “a very, very good story for Donald Trump”.
He told Fox News Sunday the New York Times story showcases “the genius of Donald Trump” because he has said he would follow the law, would ease tax policy on working people and knows tax policy better than anyone.
Mr Trump did not appear publicly on Sunday, but weighed in on social media, saying he was singularly qualified to fix the nation’s tax system.
“I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them,” he tweeted.
Early voting is already under way in some states, and former Trump adviser Barry Bennett said: “He’s not been on message. A week was wasted where he could have been talking about the heroin epidemic and jobs and ISIS. All the money in the world can’t get that time back.”
Democratic rival Mrs Clinton made no mention of Mr Trump’s taxes during her events in North Carolina on Sunday.
But she reposted a tweet from Mr Trump, who wrote in 2012: “HALF of Americans don’t pay income tax despite crippling govt debt…”
“Now that’s pretty rich coming from a guy who paid $0 in taxes for 18 years,” Mrs Clinton tweeted.
Mr Trump is deciding whether to use the next TV debate to attack Mrs Clinton’s role in the infidelities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and met his senior advisers on Sunday to prepare for it.
On Saturday night in Manheim, Pennsylvania, Mr Trump imitated Mrs Clinton’s stumbles as she left this year’s 9/11 memorial service ill with pneumonia and questioned her loyalty to her husband.
“Why should she be, right?” he asked. “Why should she be?”
The Trump campaign said that he had paid “hundreds of millions” of dollars in other kinds of taxes over the years.
He has refused to release his tax returns, breaking with four decades of presidential campaign tradition. Mr Trump has said his lawyers are advising him to keep his tax returns private until a government audit is completed.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a House committee on September 21 that people under IRS audit are free to release their returns.
Mrs Clinton has publicly released nearly 40 years’ worth of tax returns, and Mr Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, has released 10 years of his tax returns.