After Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reiterated his plan not to release his tax returns prior to the election due to an IRS audit -- despite the IRS saying he is not precluded from doing so -- media figures questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s excuse, arguing instead that it could be due to his possible business dealings with Russia, paying little to no taxes, and not giving to charity, among other reasons.
Trump Claims IRS Audit Prevents Him From Releasing Tax Returns
NBC News: Trump “Likely Won’t Be Releasing” His Tax Returns Before The Election Because Of “An Audit Of His Returns Since 2009.” Trump said he likely won't release his tax returns before November, due to an IRS “audit of his returns since 2009,” NBC News reports. Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd in May that he’d release his returns “If the auditors finish. I'll do it as fast as the auditors finish ... I can't do it until I'm finished with the audit." [NBC News, 5/12/16]
Trump Campaign Chairman Reiterates Audit Claim. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort told CBS This Morning on July 27 that “‘Mr. Trump has said that his taxes are under audit and he will not be releasing them.’” [The Hill, 7/27/16]
But The IRS Commissioner Said Months Ago Audits Do Not Preclude Candidates From Releasing Tax Returns
IRS Commissioner: Even “If You’re Being Audited,” And “You Want To” Release Your Tax Returns, “You Can Do That.” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen responded to Trump’s February claim that he couldn’t release his tax returns due to an audit stating, “From our standpoint, if you’re being audited, and you want to do something else, share that information with your returns, you can do that.” [Politico, 2/26/16]
And Trump Has Previously Released Tax Returns While Being Audited
CNN: “Trump Has Handed Over Tax Returns In The Midst Of Audits Before.” CNN reported in May that “Trump has handed over tax returns in the midst of audits before -- to state gambling officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as part of the process of seeking casino licenses in those states,” noting, “At least some of the federal and state tax returns he gave Pennsylvania were the subject of ongoing audits at the time.” CNN reported that though “Trump insists he won't release his tax returns ... because those returns are the subject of ongoing Internal Revenue Service audits ... When he's had casinos on the line, it's been a different story.” From the May 11 CNN report:
Donald Trump insists he won't release his tax returns during his 2016 presidential run because those returns are the subject of ongoing Internal Revenue Service audits.
When he's had casinos on the line, it's been a different story.
Trump has handed over tax returns in the midst of audits before -- to state gambling officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as part of the process of seeking casino licenses in those states.
The returns haven't been publicly accessible, but they were used by the state investigators who reviewed those applications.
At least some of the federal and state tax returns he gave Pennsylvania were the subject of ongoing audits at the time. Trump in March released a letter from his attorneys saying that every tax return he's filed since 2002 was audited, and the returns for 2009 and every year since are still the subject of ongoing audits.
Asked why Trump would share returns that were the subject of ongoing audits with state casino licensing officials, but won't release his tax returns now, spokeswoman Hope Hicks would only say in an email Wednesday: “Mr. Trump has always said that when the routine audit is complete he would release his tax returns.” [CNN, 5/11/16]
Given Shaky Audit Claim Media Speculate On Other Possible Reasons Trump Won’t Release Returns
They Could Show Trump’s Ties To Russia
The Guardian’s Julian Borger: Returns Could Show Trump’s Campaign “Draws On Russian Capital.” Guardian editor Julian Borger wrote that without seeing Trump’s returns it’s impossible to know for sure “how much of Trump’s self-funded campaign draws on Russian capital.” From a July 25 piece:
There seems little doubt that there is a stiff wind from the east at Trump’s back. The difficult question is to what extent there is an orchestrated, clandestine Kremlin plot to get him elected, whether Trump is, in effect, the Siberian Candidate.
Without the publication of his tax returns, it is hard to say how much of Trump’s self-funded campaign draws on Russian capital, and where exactly that money comes from. If the Kremlin’s hand in the DNC email hack and leak is confirmed, however, that would represent concrete evidence not just of espionage but an active attempt to influence the political process of another country. [The Guardian, 7/25/16]
George Will: Returns Could Show Trump “Deeply Involved” With “Russian Oligarchs.” Conservative columnist George Will suggested that it’s “reasonable [to] surmise” that Trump is refusing to release his returns because they could show “he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs.” From the July 25 edition of Fox News’ Special Report:
GEORGE WILL: Well, it's the sort of thing we might learn if we saw the candidate’s tax returns. Perhaps one more reason why we’re not seeing his tax returns because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others. Whether that's good, bad or indifferent, that’s probably the reasonable surmise. [Fox News, Special Report, 7/25/16]
Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall: Returns Could Show Trump’s “Dependence On Russian Capital.” Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall wrote that Trump has “steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia” and that his “tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin.” From a July 23 blog post:
After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.
Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you're keeping score at home: no, that's not reassuring. [Talking Points Memo, 7/23/16]
They Could Show Trump Is Not As Wealthy As He Claims
Fortune’s Shawn Tully: Returns Could Show Trump Has “Overstated His Income, By A Lot.” Fortune editor Shawn Tully wrote Trump “appears to have overstated his income, by a lot, which could be the reason he has so far tried to avoid releasing his returns.” From a March 2 article (emphasis original):
Trump sounds less righteous in claiming that he won’t publicly release his tax returns while he’s being audited by the IRS, but does pledge to eventually make the highly anticipated filings public.
Until then, voters can glean a great deal of information from two sets of documents the Trump campaign has already provided: A balance sheet released in June, when Trump declared his candidacy for President, and a 92-page Personal Financial Disclosure (PFD) form submitted to the Federal Election Commission a month later.
Neither document is as telling as a tax return would be. But when closely read together, you can learn a great deal about Trump’s financial affairs. Here’s the most concerning thing I learned: Trump appears to have overstated his income, by a lot, which could be the reason he has so far tried to avoid releasing his returns. [Fortune, 3/2/16]
They Could Show He Is Paying Less In Taxes Than Hillary Clinton
The Hill: Mark Cuban Claimed Trump’s Returns Would Show He Pays Less In Taxes Than The Clintons. The Hill reported that billionaire Mark Cuban claimed Trump’s returns could show “the 43 [million] in TAXES the Clinton's (sic) paid is not only more taxes than [Trump] has paid,” but that the Clintons “made more too.” From a July 26 piece:
Billionaire Mark Cuban on Tuesday suggested that Donald Trump hasn't released his tax returns because he might not be as wealthy as Hillary Clinton.
“Maybe @realDonaldTrump didn't release his taxes [because] @HillaryClinton paid more in taxes than @realDonaldTrump made in income?” Cuban tweeted Tuesday.
In a series of tweets, Cuban said that a lot of people were “concerned how much money the Clinton's [sic] have made.”
“More interesting to me they have paid 43mm IN TAXES since 2007,” he tweeted.
“I'd bet the 43mm in TAXES the Clinton's (sic) paid is not only more taxes than @realDonaldTrump has paid. I'd bet they made more too.”
Cuban called Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, “much smarter business people and negotiators.” [The Hill, 7/26/16]
They Could Show Trump Is Avoiding Paying Taxes
Wash. Post’s Dana Milbank: Returns Would Show Trump “Has Been Feeding At The Public Trough.” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that Trump does not want to release his returns because he “has been feeding at the public trough” and is able to “report negative income — and therefore not pay taxes — because of loopholes and dubious deductions that benefit powerful real estate interests.” From a May 23 column:
Trump has been refusing to release his tax returns, and now we have a pretty good idea why: He has been feeding at the public trough.
The Post’s Drew Harwell reported over the weekend that, for at least two years in the late 1970s (the last time Trump’s tax information was made public), Trump paid no federal income taxes. Several tax experts I spoke with said it’s entirely possible that Trump has continued to report negative income — and therefore not pay taxes — because of loopholes and dubious deductions that benefit powerful real estate interests. They say it’s likely that whatever taxes he does pay would be at a rate lower than the average worker pays.
He may have less income than believed, potentially undermining his standing as a good businessman. He may be avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas — a practice he denounces. But whatever other reasons he has, there’s a good chance that his returns would show that he pays a lower tax rate than the typical working American. [The Washington Post, 5/23/16]
New York Daily News Editorial Board: Returns Could Show Trump “Is Hiding Tax Maneuvers.” The New York Daily News’ editorial board wrote that Trump’s returns could show he is “hiding tax maneuvers that reduced his taxable income to next to nothing for a man of his wealth.” From a June 20 editorial:
Multibillionaire Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has famously refused to release his tax returns on the altogether bogus grounds that he is barred from public disclosure by an IRS audit.
While the true reason for his secrecy will be known only if he lays bare his filings, the evidence is overwhelming that Trump is hiding tax maneuvers that reduced his taxable income to next to nothing for a man of his wealth.
Property tax records show that in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the city Department of Finance granted Trump a small real estate tax break open only to taxpayers with federal adjusted gross incomes of no more than $500,000.
The News conducted this lengthy expedition because the public deserves to know — and there is every sign that Trump intends keep his returns secret for fear of suffering immense political damage. He is a coward. [New York Daily News, 6/20/16]
They Could Show He Is Committing Tax Fraud
Former U.S. Ambassador: Returns Could Show Trump Is A “Tax Cheat” Based On What Is Left Off. Howard Gutman, a former U.S. ambassador and frequent Fox News guest, wrote in Politico magazine that Trump’s returns could show he is a “tax cheat” because of what he “leaves off” of them. From a May 18 article in Politico:
That’s because, to expose a wrong-hearted real estate developer as a tax cheat, it is often more important to focus not on what the developer reports on his returns, but on what he leaves off.
You see, the goal of tax cheats is usually not to save money for some corporation, but to avoid using their own shekels to pay for personal expenses. Why pay for their own homes, food, golf rounds, cars or flights—or the taxes thereon—when their companies can pick up the tab? But personal expenses charged to a company counts as compensation, and failing to report such perks as taxable income is illegal. [Politico, 5/18/16]
They Could Show He Is Using Offshore Bank Accounts
Vanity Fair’s Tina Nguyen: Returns Could Show Trump “Keeps Money In Offshore Bank Accounts.” Vanity Fair’s Tina Nguyen wrote Trump’s returns could show that, in addition to paying “an insultingly low tax rate,” they might reveal that Trump “keeps money in offshore bank accounts.” From a May 31 article:
While Trump has lied about a great many things without serious repercussions, the revelation that his net worth is not what it appears could be extraordinarily damaging. His tax returns could also reveal that he keeps money in offshore bank accounts, or that he pays an insultingly low tax rate, but neither strikes at the core of the brand Trump has worked to build for decades. [Vanity Fair, 5/31/16]
They Could Show He Is Not Donating To Charity
Wash. Post Editorial Board: Returns Could Show Trump “Has Given Little Or No Money To Charity.” The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote that in addition to having less wealth than he claims, Trump’s returns could show “he has given little or no money to charity in recent years.” From a July 19 editorial:
Theories abound about the true motivation for his recalcitrance. Maybe Mr. Trump’s reported earnings would show he is not as successful as he has claimed. Maybe we’d learn that he has given little or no money to charity in recent years. Maybe embarrassing foreign tax shelters would be revealed. What is certain is that useful information would emerge. [The Washington Post, 7/19/16]
New Republic’s Alex Shepherd: Returns Could Show That Trump “Has A Charitable Giving Problem.” The New Republic’s Alex Shepard wrote that Trump often “makes promises” of charitable giving, but “rarely he delivers,” and that “the only way to confirm” otherwise would “be if Trump releases his tax returns.” From a June blog post:
Trump’s charitable giving is out of step with his supposed peers but the most notable aspect is how often he makes promises and how rarely he delivers—a practice the Post traces back to the 1980s. But Trump’s team denies that he hasn’t followed through. They claim, preposterously, that “he has given away millions privately, off the foundation’s books.” Of course, the only way to confirm this would be if Trump releases his tax returns—statements like that all but guarantee he won’t. [New Republic, June 2016]