WASHINGTON — Donald Trump is trying to defy a law requiring the Internal Revenue Service to turn over his tax returns upon request to Congress, despite Trump’s repeated promises that he would disclose them if he ran for president.
“If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns. Absolutely. I would love to do that,” Trump said in a May 2014 television interview, 13 months before announcing his presidential campaign.
“I want to tell you right now I have no problem with giving my tax returns,” he told Fox News in April 2015, two months before coming down his escalator in Trump Tower.
But 1,392 days following that announcement, Trump’s new position is that perhaps no one will see his tax returns, ever.
“I got elected. They elected me,” Trump told reporters Friday — repeating a relatively new talking point that American voters don’t care about his returns because they would not have elected him otherwise.
“Oh, no, never. Nor should they,” his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told Fox News on Sunday when asked if Democrats would ever get Trump’s returns. “Keep in mind, that that’s an issue that was already litigated during the election. Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn’t, and they elected him anyway.”
And a lawyer for Trump informed the Treasury Department that Trump objects to House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal’s request for six years of Trump’s tax returns, calling it an attempt to score “political points against President Trump.”
In a letter Friday, William Consovoy wrote that the Massachusetts Democrat had no “legislative purpose” in asking for the returns and was opening a “Pandora’s box” by doing so. “The IRS should refrain from divulging the requested information until it receives a formal legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel,” Consovoy wrote.
The law, however, states plainly that the heads of the Senate Finance Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation can request the return of any taxpayer, provided that the information is reviewed in a closed-door setting.
“The law is very clear,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, adding that Democrats who now control that chamber would not be “walking away” from their demand.
Trump for years claimed that releasing his returns was of little consequence to him, and in fact would just prove how rich and successful a businessman he really was.
“Maybe I’m going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate. I’d love to give my tax returns. I may tie my tax returns into Obama’s birth certificate,” Trump said in April 2011, back when he was the national face of the false, racially motived claim that Obama was not born in the United States.
(Obama wound up releasing his birth certificate later that month; Trump did not, however, release his tax returns.)
Trump during the 2012 presidential campaign berated GOP nominee Mitt Romney for waiting too long to release his returns and getting a lot of unnecessary media attention because of it. “If you didn’t see the tax returns, you would think there is almost something wrong,” Trump said on Sean Hannity’s show in January that year.
After Trump was officially a candidate himself, though, his statements about releasing his returns began to change.
“We will see what I am going to do with tax returns. I have no major problem with it, but I may tie them to a release of Hillary’s emails,” Trump told CBS News in August 2015.
In January 2016, he told NBC News that he intended to release them but that the returns were so massive that it was taking time to review them. “We’re working on that now. 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,” he said.
On Feb. 10, 2016, he told NBC that he would release his returns “over the next few months” and that the holdup was the size and complexity. “It’s the very big tax returns. The biggest, I guarantee you this, the biggest ever in the history of what we’re doing,” he said. “So, it’s very complicated stuff. But we’ll be releasing that.”
But toward the end of that month, Trump began claiming a new reason for not disclosing his returns: “For many years, I’ve been audited every year. Twelve years, or something like that. Every year, they audit me, audit me, audit me,” he said at a GOP candidates’ debate on Feb. 25, 2016. “I will absolutely give my return, but I’m being audited now for two or three years, so I can’t do it until the audit is finished. Obviously.”
Trump wound up becoming the first major party presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns — a custom that was established after the scandal-plagued White House of Richard Nixon.
Trump — who is known to lie on a near daily basis on matters both great and small — has not offered any proof that he remains under audit, other than the one the IRS conducts each year on sitting presidents and vice presidents as a matter of course. In any event, that fact did not preclude him from releasing his tax returns if he wanted to — and still does not.
Previous presidents released their tax returns annually, even though those returns were also under routine audit.
Trump’s lawyer appears to be alluding to that in his letter last week. “The IRS is already conducting its own examination,” Consovoy wrote, citing that as another reason why Neal’s request is inappropriate.