Trump’s Tax Returns

May 11, 2016 3:01 p.m.

A few thoughts on Trump and his tax returns. He now says he’ll never release them – November means never, in political terms. So what’s the deal?

A few thoughts.t

First, as far as I know, Trump has never released any proof from the IRS that he is in fact being audited. However, he has released a letter from his tax counsel in which said counsels, Sheri Dillon and William Nelson, state that Trump’s “personal tax returns have been under continuous examination by the Internal Revenue Service since 2002” and that the returns from 2009 on are “on-going.”

Now having spoken to a few accountants who play in the Trumpite stratosphere, I know that Trump’s ‘company’ is actually a huge number of individual corporate entities in which he has a personal ownership stake – even more complex than many big corporations, to isolate the risk between different ventures. Indeed, the letter from the tax counsels says that Trump owns part or whole ownership of some 500 legal entities. The point here is that there is no practical difference between Trump’s personal and ‘business’ returns.

Now, one point: the supposed ‘audit’ could be into any of these 500 entities. Indeed, if you are a part or whole owner of 500 legal corporations it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be at least one at any given point that weren’t subject to some sort of IRS audit. In practice, we don’t really know if Trump is being ‘audited’ in any sense most people would understand him to mean.

More relevant, there’s no reason at all not to release his returns just because he’s being audited. None. There’s certainly no legal reason. It’s not like he’s releasing anything the IRS doesn’t already have in its possession. So there’s no legal exposure he’d be risking. There may be a political liability if they would reveal unethical or potentially illegal tax avoidance. But obviously that doesn’t cut it as a rationale for not releasing them. The only somewhat legitimate rationale I can think of is that his tax returns could reveal something that would put him at a business disadvantage vis a vis business competitors. But that doesn’t have anything to do with an audit. And if that’s the case, you shouldn’t run for president.

Basically, the audit means nothing in terms of not releasing the returns.

So why not release them? I doubt the issue would be paying very little taxes, as it often is with very wealthy candidates. Trump’s clear that he works the system as aggressively as he can. It’s been one of the premises of his campaign. Quite possibly, even likely, a close examination of his tax returns would strengthen or even prove the claims of those who say that Trump isn’t worth anything like he claims. What if, God forbid, he wasn’t even technically a billionaire?

Maybe that’s it.

But perhaps there are just uglier or more embarrassing details contained in them. Is he investing in things or in businesses that may be lawful but raise warning signs about a potential head of state? Who knows?

Trump says that his supporters don’t care. That’s probably true. But that’s not really the point. Polls suggest his core supporters are a fairly small slice of the electorate. He needs to persuade a significant number of non-supporters to get behind his bid, either through partisan loyalty or out of opposition to Hillary Clinton. A lot of them probably do care. More specifically, they’ll not unreasonably just what it is he’s hiding.

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