Donald Trump attacked the entity he referred to as the “AmazonWashingtonPost” in a tweet Wednesday morning, the latest attempt by the president to cast Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post in a nefarious light.
There are a number of stories currently running prominently in the Washington Post that could make Trump unhappy — the newspaper is reporting that GOP senators are unafraid of him and that his lawyer’s family has been paid millions from charities it controls. But the story that seems most likely to irk the president personally is a piece by long-time Trump scourge David Fahrenthold exploring why the president’s golf clubs are displaying a phony Time magazine cover.
While it's hard to parse his tweet for specific meaning, it’s likely he’s resurfacing a criticism he’s made about Amazon’s tax practices in the past. In December 2015, Trump unloaded on the Washington Post, describing it as a tax shelter that Bezos uses to keep Amazon’s taxes low. Without tax shenanigans, Trump argued, Amazon’s stock would “crumble like a paper bag.”
In fact, Amazon doesn’t actually own the newspaper. Bezos owns it directly through Nash Holdings LLC, his holding company. So there’s no connection between the tax burdens of the e-commerce company and the newspaper.
It’s also possible that Trump is referring to internet sales taxes in his tweet. For years, Amazon’s stance that it shouldn’t have to collect sales taxes for purchases in states where it doesn’t have a physical presence was a hot-button policy issue. But that’s old news. In its quest for ubiquity, Amazon has decided it needs to open distribution centers everywhere. It now collects sales tax in every state that has one. One big loophole remains: Amazon's policies don't apply to other companies selling goods through its website, and many of those transactions remain untaxed. Such sales make up about half of the company's volume.Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment, the Washington Post declined to comment, and the White House declined to elaborate on the president's thinking.
None of this means that the Trump administration doesn’t have the power to cause trouble for Amazon or Bezos. Trump has said that Amazon has a “huge antitrust” problem, arguing that the company has destroyed department stores and the retail industry. That hasn’t kept the company’s stock from rising 27 percent since election day, and recently topping $1,000. But Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, raises a new antitrust vulnerability for the company.
Of course, that’s getting pretty far ahead of Wednesday's tweet. The AmazonWashingtonPost wasn’t the only target in the president’s morning Twitter fusillade. He also criticized the New York Times as a “Fake News Joke!” and said “some of the Fake News Media” were wrongly accusing him of being unengaged in the health care debate. The Times ran a front-page story saying that Republican senators were keeping Trump at arms length as it tried to write new health care legislation.
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