Not long after Donald Trump locked up the Republican nomination for president, he struck what can only be described as a Faustian deal with the religious right. In return for his promise to roll back Obama’s policies on abortion and marriage equality and only appoint simon-pure conservative judges, the nation’s so-called moral guardians would excuse Trump’s many outrages on the campaign trail and in office. Well, over the weekend, we got an idea of just how far that deal goes. Apparently the religious right is willing to condone massive tax fraud.
In early October, The New York Times published the results of a lengthy investigation into Trump’s finances. The Old Grey Lady revealed that Trump has received $413 million over the last six decades from the real estate empire he inherited from his father. Much of that wealth flowed into Trump’s coffers via “dubious tax schemes,” some of which crossed the line into “outright fraud.”
Among other things, Trump and his siblings set up a dummy corporation to help their parents, Fred and Mary, hide transfers of over $1 billion in wealth to them. This enabled Fred and Mary to pay a mere $52 million in taxes on those transfers when they should have paid more than 10 times that amount.
The Times also found that Trump helped his father take several million dollars more in dubious and illegal tax deductions. In one of the more egregious examples, Donald wanted to get an $11 million loan from his father off the books in 1987. Fred’s solution? He paid $15.5 million for a 7.5 percent stake in Donald’s Manhattan condo tower, Trump Palace. He then sold it back to his son four years later for a mere $10,000, allowing him to take a huge–and, according to tax experts, illegal–write-off of $8 million in gift taxes and $5 million in income taxes.
While statutes of limitations would likely rule out any criminal charges at this point, officials with both New York state and New York City are investigating potential civil penalties.
On the face of it, tax fraud of this magnitude would offer at least one explanation for why Trump has steadfastly refused to release his tax returns. Moreover, said explanation would not be related to any funny business involving deals with foreign governments, especially Russia. But according to Steve Strang, founder and publisher of Charisma magazine, this is a lot of fuss over nothing.
Strang is in a class by himself among the many religious right leaders who have bowed down to Trump. Among other things, he thinks that demons are out to derail Trump’s agenda in the upcoming midterms. He also thinks that the right’s favorite bogeyman of late, liberal megadonor George Soros, is working in the spirit of the Antichrist.
Strang has been making the rounds of right-wing media to promote his upcoming paean to Trump, “Trump Aftershock.” His latest stop came on Friday to “Five in Ten,” one of the flagship programs of startup Christian podcaster Skywatch TV. That visit revealed just how far Strang was willing to go to run interference for his new messiah. Watch here.
About seven minutes into his chat with host Derek Gilbert, Strang touched on what has become a familiar theme for him whenever he talks about Trump–most people who don’t like him object to his personality, but can’t argue with his policies. For instance, he believes “the average liberal voter” can’t complain about Trump’s recent tax cut–apparently glossing over the large body of evidence that the people benefiting the most are the people at the very top.
Gilbert mused that it was ironic Strang was talking about taxes, given the fallout over The Times report. However, Gilbert and the reality-based world must have been reading different stories. Where the reality-based world saw staggering evidence of tax fraud, Gilbert saw one of Trump’s biggest gadflies “digging into his tax returns” and criticizing him for lowering both his and his parents’ tax burden “by doing things that are perfectly legal.”
Strang’s response? Even if Trump did break the law, the tax laws all but forced him to engage in what most of us would consider tax fraud.
That’s what we all do. They write the tax laws to force you to do that because they are so unfair.
Really, Steve? So we all create fake corporations to hide nine-figure transfers of wealth? So we all find ways to pay a mere fraction of what we’re supposed to pay by means that are questionable at best and fraudulent at worst? Suffice to say that as a tax expert, Steve, you make a good Christian publisher. But then again, judging by how much you’ve bowed down to Trump, you’re not even good at that.
Granted, we knew Strang’s moral compass was fundamentally warped. After all, he not only insists that opposing a man who revels in degrading women and condones violence is demonic. He also wagged his finger at Christine Blasey Ford for trying to derail Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation over “nickel and dime stuff.”
But at least he has a defense–albeit a flimsy one–for complaints about Trump’s boorish behavior both in public and on social media. To hear him talk, all that matters is that he’s giving the religious right everything it wanted and then some. But defending tax fraud of this magnitude? If Strang has stooped that low, then as one of my left-leaning Christian friends says, it’s not the man upstairs he’s listening to.
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