Faced with a new wave of scrutiny over his tax returns when House Democrats take power in 2019, President Donald Trump is turning to an old — and totally incorrect — defense: Sorry, they’re under audit.
That was part of the rambling justification Trump gave Wednesday when asked at a post-election press conference about the near certainty that Democrats will put his tax returns on their agenda in January. In addition to breaking out that old campaign trail excuse, he also claimed they’d be too complex and long for anyone to understand.
“But people do not understand tax returns. I did a filing of over 100 pages, which is in the offices — pity them — with people went and saw that filing, they saw the magnitude of it and they were very disappointed. They saw the detail,” Trump, ah, explained, adding, that his returns could be “feet high.”
The argument that Trump’s tax returns are long and complicated doesn’t really seem like one that will dissuade Democrats and government watchdogs who say that his tax returns could reveal any number of critical conflicts of interest, including those with foreign governments.
But that wasn’t really the root of Trump’s defense Wednesday. He then returned to his old argument: Listen, he’d release them — feet-high stacks of paper and all — but his hands are tied.
“But if I were finished with the audit — I would have an open mind to it,” he said. “But I do not want to do it during the audit. And no lawyer, even from the other side, they say often. Not always. But when you are under audit, you do not subject it to that. You get it done, and then he released it.”
“Nobody returns a return when it is under audit,” he added.
There might be a lot to learn from Trump’s tax returns — or not. Either way, his refusal to share them is norm-defying.
Every president since Richard Nixon has released their tax returns. Trump has repeatedly refused to do so.
While campaigning, he blamed the IRS audit, saying he couldn’t make his returns public while it was ongoing. (Once he won the presidential election— and Republicans in Congress refused to examine them — no incentive existed for him to release them.)
Trump may indeed be facing an audit, and that would make sense if his returns were as complicated as he suggests. But there is no law or rule preventing him from releasing returns if that’s the case.
And once again, the complexity of Trump’s tax returns only underscores why the public should have a chance to see them. In October, the New York Times published a blockbuster report that revealed how Trump had used sketchy schemes to avoid paying taxes on his income and the wealth he inherited from his father — nearly $413 million in today’s dollars. The reporters’ analysis and tax experts suggested that the antics the Trump family used could possibly be criminal, though the statute of limitations would have long since passed.
As Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote in response to the Times report:
... the fact that the president appears to have been involved in serious financial crimes in the past finally puts a very heavy finger on the most likely reason for his unprecedented lack of transparency — he didn’t magically stop committing crimes in the mid-1990s, he’s just been getting away with it in an era of reduced enforcement and he fears his documents wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.
That’s all speculation until Trump releases his tax returns. Democrats will try to force him to do so with a simple vote — though it seems clear the president is ready to resist.
“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Two can play that game!”