Reviews | Releasing Trump’s tax returns was the right move

In each of these successive waves, we learned more information than we should have had from the beginning. Take, for example, the details we gathered about Trump’s foreign trade entanglements. Tax filings reveal that Trump had foreign bank accounts between 2015 and 2020. Some of these accounts had been previously reported, such as a bank account in China between 2015 and 2017, which is believed to be linked to the commercial promotion of Trump International Hotels Management in China.

But the returns show much more, including an impressive number of other foreign financial touchpoints, including Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Ireland , Israel, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. , Qatar, South Korea, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.

We have never seen anything like it with an American president. Beyond shedding light on potential foreign policy conflicts around the world, this kind of information is vitally important for legal reasons, as two of us explained for POLITICO a while ago. six years. From the start of the Trump administration, there was cause for concern about his adherence to the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits anyone in a position of trust in the U.S. government from receiving benefits and advantages – that is to say emoluments – of foreigners. Governments. Of course, not all foreign financial contacts are emoluments and not all emoluments are bribes. But the founders took no risks. These types of payments are prohibited to federal officials at all levels, and Congress, the public, and the press are entitled to full transparency so that we can fully understand Trump’s financial ties to other countries for ourselves. The newly released statements of course do not detail payments or other benefits from foreign governments as such, but the web of foreign entanglements they reveal heightens these concerns.

Then there’s the issue of Trump’s meager, and sometimes non-existent, tax payments. We now know that Trump paid very little in federal income taxes during the first and last years of his presidency, claiming huge losses. Trump reported a loss of $105 million when he came back in 2015, $73 million in 2016, $45 million in 2017, and $23 million in 2018. This is odd considering that Trump has ran for president claiming to be a successful businessman and billionaire. He told the IRS a different story, reducing his tax bill to next to nothing. The problem is both that his reported “losses” year after year are suspect and that he appears to have been dishonest about his losses when he was racing.

Trump also demanded interest on loans to his children, which is a trick often used to disguise the gifts. It’s reminiscent of a scheme used by Trump’s father, Fred Trump, to transfer money to his children, the subject of a blockbuster New York Times survey in 2018.

The newly revealed returns also raise questions about very large charitable deductions claimed by Trump for possibly unfounded conservation easements, large cash contributions and other disputed practices.

All of this brings us back to a practice dubbed by British economists in the 1970s as “tax evasion” — blurring the lines between legal but ethically dubious tax avoidance strategies and illegal tax evasion. It’s bad enough for Fred Trump to have done it and got away with it, but at least Fred Trump wasn’t president. This is hardly the standard of tax compliance we expect from the president, especially when nearly every tax bill a president signs into law closes some tax loopholes and opens new ones. A president who secretly exploits tax loopholes for his own benefit should not propose, lobby Congress, and enact a law, legislation that determines how much tax the rest of us pay.

Trump’s returns also heighten concerns about tax and trade evasion. The Trump Organization has previously been criminally convicted on 17 counts of tax evasion in New York State, in which the prosecution easily convinced a unanimous jury that Trump and his company “cultivated a culture of fraud and deception”. Another fraud lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General’s office is pending, this one civil in nature. The returns support the New York Attorney General’s central theory of liability: that Trump and his business entities engaged in years of financial fraud, such as using the tax document’s questionable conservation easements.

Trump’s tax and trade obligations were relevant to the American people who understood him – and still are now that he is running again (assuming he is not disqualified). Americans have a right to know about Trump’s taxes so we can assess his reliability, conflicts of interest, and tax policies. Instead, we had been left in the dark until Trump’s feedback was disclosed.

Finally, there is the issue of IRS policy to conduct what was supposed to have been a mandatory audit of the president’s tax returns. It was a bad joke under the Trump administration. The IRS only opened one “mandatory” audit during Trump’s presidency – for his 2016 tax return. come as no surprise, given that it is none other than the president who appoints and has the power to fire the IRS commissioner. By contrast, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was audited annually, as was his successor, Joe Biden.

All of this is why the argument that Trump’s tax relief is an unprecedented invasion of privacy fails. Americans have a right to know, and the House committee had a legal right to release Trump’s tax returns: the combination of those two rights justifies the decision to release them. The same goes for the committee’s report on the failure of the presidential audit program. As we currently see with the January 6 Committee transcript releases, it is customary to back up Congressional reports with the underlying data. Here, the evidence that establishes why the audits were so necessary is the tax returns themselves.

Now Americans must decide what to do with them, and with a man who was probably the most confrontational – and now, we know, undertaxed – president in modern American history.


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