(This story originally ran on April 17, 2018. It has been updated – since Donald Trump still has not released his taxes, one year later.)
With a midnight Monday deadline for all Americans to file their taxes (or seek an extension), it’s a good time to remember this fact: The President of the United States has still never released any detailed – or un-detailed – information about his tax returns.
That makes him the only modern president to refuse to do so. He was also the only modern-era major party presidential nominee not to release any sort of tax return information. History!
That historic lack of transparency has not, however, stopped President Donald Trump from pushing into law a major overhaul of the nation’s tax structure.
“America’s tax code is a total dysfunctional mess,” he said at a rally just before Congress passed his tax cuts in 2017. “It is riddled with loopholes that let some special interests, including myself, in all fairness – it is going to cost me a fortune, this thing. Believe me, believe me, this is not good for me.”
It’s literally impossible to fact check that statement.
A reminder: Trump has said he is unable to release his tax returns because they are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. (Nota bene: This audit has been ongoing, according to Trump, since at least 2016.)
That’s not true. Trump is, of course, able to release his tax returns even though he is under audit – Richard Nixon did so in 1973. To put it more accurately, Trump is unwilling to release his returns.
And, even that “under audit” explanation has shifted somewhat. In January 2016, months after Trump was elected, White House senior counsel Kellyanne Conway made this case on his taxes:
“We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like. And you know full well that President Trump and his family are complying with all the ethical rules, everything they need to do to step away from his businesses and be a full-time president.”
Then there is the argument forwarded by Trump that releasing his taxes is pointless because they don’t show much about a person’s actual financial situation. Which, again, is inaccurate. What Trump’s tax return would reveal – via CNN’s Money Jeanne Sahadi – would include:
- What his income was for that year
- How much Trump deducted
- How much he paid in taxes
- If he has any foreign bank accounts
- Whether he has paid taxes to a foreign government
- Profits and losses from his businesses
- How – and whether – Trump would benefit from his administration’s proposal on tax reform
In short, Trump’s explanation for releasing (or not releasing his tax returns) has shifted repeatedly. Back in 2014, Trump said this: “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely. And I would love to do that.” Even as late as January 2016, Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd this about his returns: “I have very big returns, as you know, and I have everything all approved and very beautiful and we’ll be working that over in the next period of time.”
The real reason is simple: He doesn’t want to – and he doesn’t think he will ultimately pay any price for not doing so. Which, if past is prologue, he won’t.
Happy Tax Day!