Donald Trump's campaign, reeling Sunday from a report that the business mogul may not have paid taxes for up to 18 years after declaring a $916 million loss on his 1995 returns, mounted a vigorous defense by calling the revelation proof of the Republican presidential nominee's "genius."
A New York Times report late Saturday showed how Trump had used byzantine tax laws to cancel out income taxes after his real estate and casino empire nearly collapsed in the early 1990s, and the Times calculated that the resulting deductions may have allowed him to pay no federal income taxes for 18 years.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump's leading surrogates, fanned out across the Sunday political talk shows to defend their candidate - though they did not dispute the Times's findings, nor has Trump's campaign.
"He's a genius - absolute genius," Giuliani said on ABC's "This Week." "This was a perfectly legal application of the tax code, and he would've been a fool not to take advantage of it."
Giuliani repeatedly used the word "genius" to describe Trump's management of his taxes, adding later in his interview with George Stephanopolous, "It shows you what a genius he is - how smart he is, how intelligent he is, how strategic he is. I want that working for me. I want to see if he can produce these kinds of results for us."
Christie, who chairs Trump's presidential transition project, proclaimed on "Fox News Sunday" that "this is actually a very, very good story for Donald Trump."
"What it shows is what an absolute mess the federal tax code is, and that's why Donald Trump is the person best positioned to fix it," Christie said. "There's no one who's showed more genius in their way to move around the tax code and to rightfully use the laws to do that."
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, as all presidential nominees have done for decades. Asked by Chris Wallace whether there were any apologies for Trump's apparent avoidance of paying taxes, as reported by the Times, Christie was unrepentant.
"Oh, for gosh sakes, no apologies for complying with the law, and taking a bow for the fact that he has said well before this story came out that we should change the tax laws," Christie said.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said Trump has "spun out of control."
"We see Donald Trump is having to defend the fact that he may not have paid taxes for 20 years, which is something most Americans don't have the option to do," Mook said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Giuliani had a fiery exchange with Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union," in which the former mayor argued that Trump has a fiduciary responsibility to exploit every tax advantage available to him. The two men often shouted over each other, with Giuliani insisting that Trump could have been sued if he had not applied his 1995 loss to future tax returns.
"That's why the simplistic analysis of an extraordinarily complex code is so unfair," Giuliani said. "There are not very many smart businessmen who don't take advantage of the tax - legal tax laws that are there. And if they are, then they're not very good businessmen and no one wants to go into business with them and they don't have very good lawyers and they don't have very good accountants."
Central to Trump's candidacy has been the idea of him as a successful businessman. Political analysts said the revelation that Trump declared a nearly $1 billion loss when his real estate company nearly collapsed threatens to undercut his credibility in business.
Trump's surrogates on Sunday sought to prevent that from happening.
"Every great man has had failures," Giuliani said on ABC, citing Apple founder Steve Jobs and others. Referencing Trump, he continued, "The reality is this man 26 years ago had some failures and then he built an empire. I'd like that working for me for the United States."
Giuliani added, "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?"
Clinton's supporters held up Trump's apparent manipulation of tax laws to avoid paying taxes as an example of inherent unfairness in the tax code, which allows billionaires to use loopholes that they said were unavailable to ordinary workers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on "State of the Union" that this is "exactly why so many millions of Americans are frustrated, they're angry, they're disgusted" by the "corrupt political system."
"So you've got the middle-class people working longer hours for low wages - they pay their taxes, they support their schools, they support their infrastructure, they support the military," Sanders said. "But the billionaires, no, they don't have to do that because they have their friends on Capitol Hill. They pay zero in taxes.
"So Trump goes around and says: 'Hey, I'm worth billions! I'm a successful businessman! And I don't pay any taxes. But you, you make 15 bucks an hour, you pay the taxes, not me.' That is why people are angry and want real change in this country."