Trump sues niece, New York Times over 2018 tax report

The $100m lawsuit accuses Mary Trump and New York Times of ‘insidious plot’ to obtain tax records.

Former President Donald Trump, who has cultivated his image as a successful businessman, has long shielded details of his personal finances from the public [File: LM Otero/The Associated Press]

Former United States President Donald Trump has filed a $100m lawsuit against his estranged niece Mary Trump and The New York Times newspaper, alleging they engaged in “an insidious plot” to obtain his tax returns for the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of his finances.

The lawsuit, filed in Dutchess County, New York state on Tuesday, says that New York Times reporters Susanne Craig, David Barstow and Russ Buettner conducted “an extensive crusade to obtain Donald J Trump’s confidential tax records”.

“The defendants engaged in an insidious plot to obtain confidential and highly sensitive records which they exploited for their own benefit and utilised as a means of falsely legitimising their publicised works,” the lawsuit says, alleging they were “motivated by a personal vendetta.”

The New York Times and the three journalists won the Pulitzer in 2019 for their investigation of the Trump family’s finances, which the Pulitzer Prize Board said “debunked his claims of self-made wealth and revealed a business empire riddled with tax dodges”.

The newspaper reported that Trump had received more than $400m – in modern terms – from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through fraudulent tax schemes.

Mary was the daughter of the eldest Trump brother Fred Trump Jr, who died in 1981 from complications due to alcoholism.

In her no-holds-barred 2020 memoir, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, she revealed that she was the primary source for the New York Times investigation.

Trump has repeatedly sought to shield his financial records from public view, even though the disclosure of tax returns has become routine for US presidential candidates.

The tax documents have played a role in several investigations into Trump and his business dealings. Most recently, the US Justice Department ordered the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to turn over Trump’s returns to a Congressional committee.

Trump is also under investigation in New York for tax fraud and other alleged wrongdoings relating to the financial activities of his Trump Organization.

‘I think he is a loser’

Trump’s 27-page lawsuit asserts that the New York Times reporters “relentlessly sought out his niece, Mary L Trump, and convinced her to smuggle the records out of her attorney’s office and turn them over to The Times”.

Times reporter Craig tweeted early on Wednesday: “I knocked on Mary Trump’s door. She opened it. I think they call that journalism.”

The lawsuit alleges that, by providing information, Mary Trump was in violation of a non-disclosure agreement signed in 2001 after a settlement over the estate of Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump Sr.

The former president is seeking $100m in compensation and damages, as well as all the proceeds from his niece’s book.

In a statement quoted by NBC, Mary Trump said of her uncle: “I think he is a loser, and he is going to throw anything against the wall he can.”

“It’s desperation. The walls are closing in and he is throwing anything against the wall that he thinks will stick. As is always the case with Donald, he’ll try and change the subject,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the New York Times said the newspaper’s coverage “helped inform citizens through meticulous reporting on a subject of overriding public interest”.

“This lawsuit is an attempt to silence independent news organisations and we plan to vigorously defend against it.”

The current lawsuit focuses only on the 2018 report. It does not address a Times report in 2020, which found the former president paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years.

Source: News Agencies