Donald Trump appeared to admit the central thrust of the criminal case against the Trump Organisation on Saturday, asking how “anybody could know” businesses have to pay tax on the benefits they offer employees, such as company cars or school fees.
The former president’s property empire has been accused of evading taxes on $1.7 million dollars’ worth of benefits handed to its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, which included private schools fees for his grandchildren.
Mr Trump was unrepentant when he addressed supporters at a rally in Sarasota, Florida, asking whether the charges even amounted to a crime.
“They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car,” he said.
“You didn’t pay tax on the car or a company apartment. You used an apartment because you need an apartment because you have to travel too far where your house is.
“You didn’t pay tax. Or education for your grandchildren. I don’t even know. Do you have to? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?”
The former president, who along with his family has not been charged with any offence, said New York’s prosecutors should devote their attention elsewhere.
“For murder and for selling massive amounts of the worst drugs in the world that kill people left and right, that’s okay.
“Think of it, think of how unfair it is. Never before has New York City and their prosecutors or perhaps any prosecutors criminally charged a company or a person for fringe benefits.
“Fringe benefits. Murders, okay. Human trafficking, no problem – but fringe benefits, you can’t do that.”
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Mr Trump’s anger has been fuelled by the fact that prosecutions for dodging tax on fringe benefits are rare.
The case has echoes of the case brought against property developer, Leona Helmsley in the 1980s, who was jailed after being convicted of evading $1.2 million of taxes in a case brought by then US attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
At the time Donald Trump had little sympathy for his rival property developer who, according to evidence presented in court, said: “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes.”
Embroiled in a property dispute with Mrs Helmsley at the time, Mr Trump said: “I can feel sorry for my worst enemy, but I cannot feel sorry for Leona Helmsley. She deserves whatever she gets.”
The tax case in New York is just part of a blizzard of litigation which is likely to engulf the former president – who has lost immunity since leaving office. According to the Washington Post, there are nearly 30 cases and investigations pending.
Two Democratic congressmen, Bennie Thompson and Eric Swalwell, have sued Mr Trump for allegedly inciting the Jan 6 Capitol riot.
In Atlanta, prosecutors are investigating Mr Trump’s call to Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensberger, in which he asked him to “find” enough votes to overturn the presidential election result in the state.
Mr Trump’s bombastic response to the New York charges came as little surprise to Christopher Galdieri, an associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College.
“Trump’s strategy with this sort of thing is to talk about it in public and say it is not a crime,” he said. “He says it’s a smart thing to do and anybody who doesn’t do it is a dummy and that prosecutors are out to get him.
“This might work with Trump’s supporters, but it will not be terribly persuasive with prosecutors, a judge or a jury in the court room.
“If the investigation spreads to Trump or his children, he won’t be able to make a successful defence with this argument.”
While Mr Trump wrestles with his latest legal problems, his successor continues to ride high in the polls.
According to a Washington Post-ABC survey more than 60 per cent of Americans approve of Joe Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – even though he has missed is target of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one shot by July 4.
His overall approval rating stands at 50 per cent, unchanged since April with the only disapproval being the administration’s record on crime and immigration.
Mr Biden also drew praise from Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and potential 2024 election opponent, over his response to the Surfside disaster.
Sitting alongside Mr Biden, Mr DeSantis said: “You guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy.”