Donald Trump's tax returns are the talk of the town, and news outlets and the Twittersphere are humming with comparisons to another White House occupant plagued by tax scandals: Richard Nixon.
"'People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,' Nixon said," tweeted Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell on Monday. "The comment wasn't about Watergate, but rather funny business in his tax returns."
A New York Times exposé published Sunday revealed that Trump's billionaire persona is largely a myth. Instead, Trump's financial records show massive debt, bumbling business dealings, and a penchant for avoiding taxes.
The kicker: Donald Trump paid no taxes at all in ten of the past 15 years, and only paid only $750 in federal income taxes during both the year he was elected and his first year in the White House.
Trump claimed that in those years his financial losses surpassed his gains, but his ongoing feud with the IRS about whether a $72.9 million tax refund he claimed is legitimate potentially speaks otherwise.
Other troubling details emerged in the Times report, including a questionable tax write-off for a family retreat mansion and unexplained claims that his expenses at one New Jersey property increased fivefold between 2016 and 2017.
Trump is the first presidential candidate to refuse to release his tax returns after the custom began with former President Richard M. Nixon in 1973.
In news that shook the political sphere 47 years ago this week, the Providence Journal reported that Nixon paid just $792.81 in taxes in 1970 and $878.03 in 1971.
He agreed to release his tax returns, noting that "the confidentiality of my private finances is far less important to me than the confidence of the American people in the integrity of the president."
Audits by the IRS and Joint Committee on Taxation followed, determining Nixon owed $471,431 in back taxes — and that he'd taken huge and questionable deductions, including $576,000 upon donating his vice-presidential papers to the National Archives and backdating it so it wouldn't be illegal for him to do claim the deduction.
Edward Morgan, a former White House lawyer, later took the heat and pled guilty to preparing the fraudulent document, spending four months in prison and 20 months on probation. Two other preparers were indicted as well, but Nixon was never charged by the IRS.
The similarities between Trump and Nixon go beyond their questionable tax returns, however.
Both shared a passionate hatred of the media. Trump has notoriously called the press the "enemy of the people" and dubbed its offerings as "fake news." The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a research engine monitoring attacks on the press, has unearthed 2,000 negative remarks by Trump on Twitter about journalists since 2015 — attacks that have only escalated during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nixon, too, waged war on the press. After losing the White House to John F. Kennedy in 1970, he called a news conference to fume, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore!"
He famously told his press secretary that "no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House again." And during his presidency, he ordered major investigations of several journalists and added some to a public enemies list.
Both, too, had crooks and con artists in their inner circle. Nine of Nixon's allies were imprisoned for a total of more than 100 months, including Attorney General John Mitchell, campaign operative G. Gordon Liddy, and former White House counsel Chuck Colson.
Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, was charged with defrauding Trump supporters. Roger Stone, another Trump friend and adviser, was convicted of lying under oath about Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. Michael Flynn, a Trump national security adviser, pled guilty to lying to the FBI about dealings with the Russian ambassador before the election. Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of tax fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy charges. Trump former lawyer Michael Cohen is serving a three-year sentence for payments to silence women accusing Trump of sexual assault. The list goes on.
And, of course, Trump and Nixon were both notorious misogynists.
Trump has been accused of 26 women of sexual misconduct. During the election he repeatedly mocked opponent Hillary Clinton in sexist terms, noting that "if [she] were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote."
Several women also accused Nixon of sexual misconduct, and in the 1950 Senate race he derided Democratic opponent Helen Douglas as the "Pink Lady" for alleged Communist sympathies, noting she was "pink right down to her underwear."
The similarities the two men share may be unsurprising, given that they enjoyed a decade-long friendship and correspondence.
"I think that you are one of the country's great men, and it was an honor to spend an evening with you," Trump wrote to Nixon in June 1982, less than eight years after Watergate. He urged Nixon to move to Trump Tower.
In 1993, he wrote to Nixon: "You are a great man and I have had and always will have the utmost respect and admiration for you. I am proud to know you."
Former White House counsel John Dean, who served during Watergate, said the two picked up "waves of each other's personalities."
"These are two authoritarian personalities who would have a natural affinity for each other," Dean said.
As for the disgraced "tricky Dick," he was a huge fan of Donald Trump.
In 1987, he wrote to Trump, noting that his wife Pat "is an expert on politics."
"She predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner," Nixon told him.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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