NEW YORK (AP) — Ever defiant, Donald Trump and his Republican allies largely embraced a report that said the New York businessman may not have paid federal income taxes for nearly two decades after he and his companies lost nearly $916 million in a single year.
The unexpected weekend revelation punctuated a week of missteps and aggressive personal attacks from the Republican presidential contender, with early voting already underway in some states and Election Day quickly approaching.
If there was a bright spot to the explosive story about his taxes in The New York Times, Trump supporters said, it was that it may shift the national conversation away from Trump's weeklong feud with a former beauty queen he called "Miss Piggy" as he shamed her for gaining weight, and his unfounded suggestion Hillary Clinton may have cheated on her husband.
"He's not been on message," said Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser. "A week was wasted where he could have been talking about the heroin epidemic and jobs and ISIS. All the money in the world can't get that time back."
On Monday, the challenges mounted. Several former cast and crew members from Trump's reality show 'The Apprentice' described for the first time Trump's treatment of women on the set. The show insiders told The Associated Press that Trump rated female contestants by the size of their breasts and talked about which ones he'd like to have sex with.
The campaign issued a broad denial, calling the claims "totally false."
Trump's troubles have snowballed after his rough performance in last week's debate. His campaign is hoping to try to regain its footing at the next face-off with Clinton on Sunday.
Trump is deciding whether to use the debate stage to attack Clinton's role in the infidelities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. That's according to a person with intimate knowledge of Trump's thinking as his senior advisers huddled Sunday for a rare session of debate preparation. The person was not authorized to discuss publicly the private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Publicly, however, Trump's team was aggressively defiant.
Former Rep. Jack Kingston, a Trump supporter, said Monday he was confident Trump paid his taxes as required by law. He noted the story said Trump's loss in 1995 was big enough that he could have legally avoided paying taxes for as many as 18 years, but campaign has not disclosed Trump's actual tax bills.
Kingston accused the New York Times of carrying a "very partisan" agenda.
"There's no allegation — even form The New York Times — that he's not complying with the tax laws," Kingston said.
On Sunday, neither New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie nor former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also top Trump supporters, disputed the report.
On "Fox News Sunday," Christie declared it "a very, very good story for Donald Trump." Giuliani called him "a genius at how to take advantage of legal remedies that can help your company survive and grow" on ABC's "This Week."
"Don't you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman? And the only thing she's ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out her emails," Giuliani said.
Trump did not appear publicly on Sunday, but weighed in on social media, saying he was singularly qualified to fix the nation's tax system.
"I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them," he tweeted.
Clinton made no mention of Trump's taxes during her events in North Carolina on Sunday. But the Democratic presidential nominee reposted a tweet from Trump, who wrote in 2012 that "HALF of Americans don't pay income tax despite crippling govt debt..."
She tweeted: "Now that's pretty rich coming from a guy who paid $0 in taxes for 18 years."
On Saturday night in Manheim, Pennsylvania, Trump launched personal attacks against Clinton, mocking her recent bout with pneumonia, saying she should be in prison and questioning her loyalty to her husband.
"Why should she be, right?" he asked. "Why should she be?"
In a story published online late Saturday, The Times said it anonymously received the first pages of Trump's 1995 state income tax filings in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The filings show a net loss of $915,729,293 in federal taxable income for the year.
That Trump was losing money during the early to mid-1990s — a period marked by bankruptcies and poor business decisions — was already well established.
But the records obtained by the Times show losses of such a magnitude that they potentially allowed Trump to avoid paying taxes for years, possibly until the end of the last decade.
His campaign said that Trump had paid "hundreds of millions" of dollars in other kinds of taxes over the years.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, breaking with four decades of presidential campaign tradition.
Kellman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jeff Horwitz in Washington and Ken Thomas in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.