US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has attacked her rival Donald Trump’s tax history, business acumen and trustworthiness as she sought to capitalise on news that the Republican candidate may not have paid federal taxes for years.
Campaigning at a union hall in Ohio, Democratic candidate Mrs Clinton cast the New York billionaire as a cold-hearted and bungling businessman who “represents the same rigged system that he claims he’s going to change”.
She called for a new law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns, something her opponent has refused to do.
Mrs Clinton then mocked Mr Trump for losing money in the casino industry, and claimed he left workers and taxpayers to pick up the bill from his failed enterprises.
“He’s taken corporate excess and makes a business model out it,” she said.
“It’s Trump first and everyone else last.”
The Democrat’s broadside was her first response to a weekend New York Times report that Mr Trump claimed a loss of nearly US$916m in a single year on his personal income taxes.
The Times said the size of the loss could have allowed Mr Trump to avoid owing federal taxes for nearly two decades, an assertion his campaign neither confirmed nor disputed.
While Mr Trump’s allies contended the Republican presidential candidate was a “genius” for using the tax system to rebuild his fortune, the Clinton campaign released a new TV ad, asking: “If not paying taxes makes him smart, what does that make the rest of us?”
Mr Trump made no reference to the tax issue at an event with veterans in Virginia, but he dispatched several surrogates to defend him.
Meanwhile, former cast and crew members from the reality TV show The Apprentice described for the first time Mr Trump’s treatment of women on the set.
Insiders said Mr Trump rated female contestants by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he would like to have sex with.
The campaign issued a broad denial, calling the claims “totally false”.
The revelations piled on a week of Trump missteps and his increasingly aggressive personal attacks on Mrs Clinton.
Mr Trump has engaged in a feud with a former beauty queen he called “Miss Piggy” because she gained weight during her reign.
He seemed to try to shift the conversation on Saturday night when he suggested, without evidence, that Mrs Clinton may have cheated on her husband, former US president Bill Clinton.
Ahead of the second debate next Sunday, Mr Trump’s campaign is searching for a way to rattle the typically disciplined Mrs Clinton while also gaining control of its own message.
While the tax records published by the Times show no irregularities, the size of Mr Trump’s loss cuts at a core tenet of his presidential bid – his remarkable business success.
Meanwhile, his boorish comments to women are threatening to turn away female voters.
At a forum hosted by the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, Mr Trump took aim at Mrs Clinton’s commitment to fighting cybersecurity threats and pointed to her use of a private email server when she served as US secretary of state.
He said Mrs Clinton’s handling of classified emails on the server makes her “totally unfit” for the Oval Office, and pledged to make cybersecurity an “immediate and top priority”.
Mr Trump’s campaign said he had paid “hundreds of millions” of dollars in other kinds of taxes over the years, and supporters noted the story did not allege any illegal tax dodging.
Trump supporter and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called him “a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow” on ABC’s This Week.
Mrs Clinton reposted a tweet from Mr Trump, who wrote in 2012 that “HALF of Americans don’t pay income tax despite crippling govt debt”.
She tweeted: “Now that’s pretty rich coming from a guy who paid $0 in taxes for 18 years.”