Donald Trump and his allies scrambled Sunday to contain the fallout from a stunning New York Times story suggesting the Republican presidential nominee may have avoided paying federal taxes for years, arguing that it proves Trump is best qualified to fix the tax system.
"Oh, for gosh sakes," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on Fox News Sunday. "No apologies for complying with the law."
Trump himself, in a tweet Sunday morning, said "I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them."
The damage control came as the Times reported that, based on tax documents it obtained, Trump declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income — a deduction that may have allowed him to legally avoid paying federal income taxes for 18 years.
The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and other Democrats pounced on the story, saying that Trump has refused to release his tax returns because they would show he hasn't paid any federal taxes in some years.
"This bombshell report reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump's past business failures and just how long he may have avoided paying any federal income taxes whatsoever," said a statement from the Clinton campaign.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said the Trump tax story underscores the unfairness of the economic system. While the "rich are getting richer" and most other people are "getting poorer," Sanders told ABC's This Week, "billionaires like Donald Trump are able to manipulate the tax system so that they avoid paying federal income tax."
Trump and his surrogates, meanwhile, tried Sunday to turn the story into an asset, saying that reports he avoided paying taxes for years prove his business acumen and deep knowledge of the tax system.
"He’s a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC's This Week. "I want a man who’s a genius at figuring out how to take this country, that’s moving in the wrong direction."
Christie told Fox News Sunday that it was a "very, very good story" for Trump, and noted that "he's already promised in his tax plan to change many of these special interest loopholes and get rid of them, so you don’t have this kind of situation."
Trump and aides did not provide specifics about his taxes, and did not indicate that he plans to release full tax returns.
The tax story capped a rough week for Trump that began with his poorly reviewed debate performance against Clinton on Monday and included a days-long spat over his comments about the weight of a former Miss Universe. Polls in recent days who Clinton building a lead over her Republican rival in several key battleground states.
Trump's refusal to release his tax returns — as every presidential nominee has since the 1970s — is been a constant source of criticism from Clinton and her allies.
The New York businessman says he doesn't want to release his returns because they are under audit.
In its story, the Times said it hired tax experts who reported that "rules that are especially advantageous to wealthy filers would have allowed Mr. Trump to use his $916 million loss to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income over an 18-year period."
The Times added: "Although Mr. Trump’s taxable income in subsequent years is as yet unknown, a $916 million loss in 1995 would have been large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over 18 years."
In its statement, the Clinton campaign stressed the nature of Trump's business losses in the single year of 1995: Nearly $1 billion. It said the GOP candidate "stiffed small businesses, laid off workers, and walked away from hardworking communities," and a result had the opportunity to pay no federal taxes while "millions of working families" paid up.
"He calls that 'smart," the campaign said "Now that the gig is up, why doesn't he go ahead and release his returns to show us all how 'smart' he really is?"
The Trump campaign responded with a statement saying the Trump campaign said the Times "illegally obtained" a 20-year-old document and applied a misleading spin. The Times reported that it received the document in anonymous letter.
A businessman like Trump has the "fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required," the statement said. "That being said, Mr. Trump has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes, sales and excise taxes, real estate taxes, city taxes, state taxes, employee taxes and federal taxes, along with very substantial charitable contributions."
The Trump statement did not provide specifics.