Trump 'might' release returns 'when I'm out of office'
President Donald Trump has reneged on a pledge to release his tax returns after an IRS audit, confirming what many have long suspected: that the real obstacle to disclosure is Trump himself.
The tax returns came up in a May 4 discussion with The Economist when a reporter asked the president if he would be willing to trade his tax returns for Democratic votes on a tax plan.
After incorrectly saying that only reporters care about his returns, Trump said he "might release them after I'm out of office." That was new to us given Trump had previously said he would not release them because he is under an audit.
"I'm under a routine audit, and it'll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released," Trump said at the first presidential debate in September.
The back-and-forth between The Economist, Trump and several administration members is worth reading in full (emphasis ours):
The Economist: "If you do need Democratic support for your ideal tax plan, and the price of that the Democrats say is for you to release your tax returns, would you do that?"
Trump: "I don't know. That's a very interesting question. I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they're not going to…nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I'll release them. Maybe I'll release them after I'm finished, because I'm very proud of them actually. I did a good job."
Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communication: "Once the audit is over."
Trump: "I might release them after I'm out of office."
Three things are noteworthy about the end of this exchange. First is Hicks' attempt to prod Trump back on script about his IRS audit being the grounds for nondisclosure, and second is Trump's sidestepping of this cue. The most remarkable point is Trump's new position that he reserves the right not to release his tax returns until after he's left office.
This contrasts sharply with campaign messaging that saw Trump and his surrogates give more than a dozen excuses for why he was the first presidential nominee in nearly 40 years not to release his tax returns, with new reasons tacked on after he was elected.
One such argument was that Trump's financial disclosures more than make up for not releasing his tax returns -- and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin alluded to this in the Economist interview. But as we've shown before, this is a red herring because tax returns may reveal financial information like charitable giving and income sources not necessarily covered in Trump's financial disclosure.
Eventually Trump's refusal came to rest upon the IRS audit, which he even alluded to later in the Economist interview. The IRS, however, has said nothing precludes a president from releasing tax returns while under audit (Nixon did).
But here the president has indicated for the first time that he will not necessarily release his tax returns after the IRS audit. Rather, he reserves the right to keep his tax returns under seal during his time in the White House.
They say sunlight's the best disinfectant, and despite Trump's alternative facts about lagging public interest, most voters want to see his shrouded tax returns exposed to the light of day. In fact, two in three voters now believe Congress should pass a law requiring future presidential candidates to release the previous few years of their tax returns.
But given Trump's backpedaling, Americans will be kept in the dark for the foreseeable future — and not for the reason previously described. We rate this Promise Broken.
The Economist, "Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump," May 11, 2017
Washington Post, "The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate transcript, annotated," Sept. 26, 2016
Washington Post, "All the excuses Trump has given for why he won't release his tax returns," Sept. 15, 2016
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says his financial disclosures more than make up for lack of releasing tax returns," Sept. 7, 2016
PolitiFact, "Tim Kaine correctly notes Richard Nixon released tax returns despite audit," Oct. 5, 2017
Bloomberg-Morning Consult Poll, April 4-5, 2017
Quinnipiac Poll, March 22, 2017
Trump has 'no intention' of releasing tax returns, Steve Mnuchin says
The 2017 tax filing season has come and gone, and President Donald Trump still hasn't made his tax returns public.
According to his Treasury secretary, it's not going to happen.
A reporter asked Steve Mnuchin if Trump will release his own returns during an April 26 press conference to lay out Trump's tax plan.
"The president has no intention," Mnuchin replied. "The president has released plenty of information and, I think, has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information."
Trump was the first major presidential nominee in 40 years not to release his tax returns, citing a routine audit.
However, nothing prevents someone from making their tax returns public while undergoing an audit. President Richard Nixon, in fact, released his returns during one.
Trump promised that when the audit was over, he would release his returns.
Earlier in April, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump's audit was still ongoing, so there was no timeline on when he would release his, tax returns.
"We're under the same audit that existed, and so nothing has changed," Spicer said in an April 17 press briefing.
An interesting note: Since the 1970s and the Watergate era, all presidential tax returns undergo an IRS audit — "mandatory examination" — according to the IRS manual.
So the taxes Trump filed in 2017 actually do face an audit, but it's unknown how many past years of Trump's tax returns remain under audit. We'll only know Trump's audit is over if and when he decides to inform to the public.
Congressional Democrats have warned that if Trump doesn't release his personal returns, it will be difficult to accomplish tax reform. And the New York Times counted more than a dozen Republican lawmakers who say Trump should release them, not to mention broad public support.
Given Mnuchin's statement and the fact that the White House continues to drag its feet on releasing any of Trump's tax returns, we rate this promise Stalled.
CQ, Mnuchin and Cohn press briefing, April 26, 2017
CQ, White House press briefing, April 17, 2017
IRS, Internal Revenue Manual, accessed April 26, 2017
New York Times, "Trump's Unreleased Taxes Threaten Yet Another Campaign Promise," April 17, 2017
Trump says he will release tax returns after 'audit'
Donald Trump is the first president in almost 40 years to not release his tax returns, which has people wondering: What's in them?
Trump promised to release them during his campaign, but he has yet to do so, citing an ongoing audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
"I'm under a routine audit and it'll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released," Trump said at the first debate in September.
An audit doesn't legally stop a person from releasing tax returns, though.
WHY HE'S PROMISING IT
Trump was called on repeatedly to release his tax returns throughout the election.
While not required by law, all but one major party nominee over the last 40 years has released tax returns for the prior year. Republican President Gerald Ford did not release a tax return, either.
Trump's team argued during the campaign that his release of financial disclosures were most than sufficient, but that isn't true.
Experts told PolitiFact in 2016 that releasing tax returns would offer valuable details on his tax rate, the types of taxes he paid, and his charitable giving, as well as a better idea of his income-producing assets.
WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY
While Trump has made it seem like they are factors standing in his way, experts have labeled those reasons as excuses and have questioned his lawyers' rationale.
There is no law that stops a person from releasing tax returns while under audit. Richard Nixon released his tax returns in the middle of an audit a year after being re-elected.
Edward McCaffrey, a tax law professor at the University of Southern California, wrote a column on CNN in August 2016 dissecting Trump's excuses one by one and ultimately concluded none were valid.
McCaffrey told PolitiFact in November the reason Trump hasn't released his tax returns comes down to not wanting other people to help the IRS see issues that might cost Trump money.
In March 2016, Trump's attorneys wrote a letter explaining why they have advised Trump to not release his returns. They cite Trump's ownership in over 500 companies and said his tax returns are unusually complex, which is why they have been under examination.
Given that being under audit doesn't stop someone from releasing his returns, Brian Galle, a tax law professor at Georgetown University, questions how "my attorneys told me not to" is an acceptable excuse.
"It is tantamount to saying, in essence, that there is something incriminating that the official does not want uncovered," Galle said.