An aide to Donald Trump confirmed that his boss “will not be releasing” his taxes. Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort seemed resolute: “It has nothing to do with Russia, it has nothing to do with any country other than the United States and his normal tax auditing process.” As Hillary and Tim Kaine renew calls for Donald Trump’s tax returns, there is a new spin after the hack of Democratic National Committee emails. The embarrassing email release proved that the Democratic Party had a bias against Bernie.
The picture painted of Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was hardly flattering, and she had to resign. There is still rancor among many Bernie supporters who feel cheated. And while the disgraced Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was ousted, Hillary promptly hired her. But George Will and many Democrats think the hack itself is the real news, and they think the hack was Russian. Even more, they think that Trump might be in bed with the Russians. It is a clever spin, which Trump tried to spin back.
Trump suggested that it would be good if the Russians can keep hacking to find more Hillary emails, including the 33,000 deleted Hillary emails allegedly still missing from her infamous private email server. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign then accused Trump of irresponsibly inviting a foreign power to gain access to information that could jeopardize national security. Zounds! Email security is serious business Mr. Trump, they seemed to say. There was a tenor of outrage from the Hillary camp.
Yet, as Fox’s Charles Krauthammer pointed out, weren’t all those emails that Hillary deleted just personal? If so, there’s no national security issue, right? And if there is a national security issue with the Russians finding Hillary’s 33,000 deleted emails, then maybe Hillary needs more spin on this one? And so the tit for tat continues. Meanwhile, Trump shows no signs of handing the tax returns over.
And at this point, despite the traditions, maybe he is right not to. It is not legally required for candidates to release any tax returns. It is just traditional, which Trump is not. In fact, Trump secured the Republican nomination even though some Republicans had urged convention delegates to abstain from voting if Trump failed to release his tax returns. Trump says that he pays as little in taxes as he can. One reason is wasteful government spending, he suggests. Some of Trump’s returns are still under audit, and many tax professionals agree that releasing returns under audit is not wise.
If Richard Nixon did it, that does not mean it was wise. Months ago, Trump’s campaign released a letter from his tax lawyers confirming the ongoing IRS audit for 2009 and later. The letter also said that Mr. Trump’s 2002 through 2008 tax years were audited but closed. The fact that the IRS says that Mr. Trump could decide to release the returns despite an audit does not mean that doing so would be a good idea. Most tax lawyers have said that from a tax viewpoint, Trump should not release the returns until his audit has been completely concluded.
Yet politics has very different rules, and Trump is running for President. Besides, Trump’s tax returns might not tell us much we do not already know. We know he is rich, but he seems to frequently argue that he is richer than we think he is. They also could show a lot less of what we might call hard income than he may want us to see. Or, they could reveal that he is stingy with charities? And the latest theory: they could show he is in bed with the Russians.
But no one actually knows. And Trump, given his unique style, may be better off with the buzz. Nothing seems to sway him, including the fact that a Republican donor offered $5 million for Trump to release his tax returns. It could take an act of Congress to break them free, although the Presidential Tax Transparency bill to require Trump to hand over his tax returns has generated little interest. Well, maybe the Russians will get behind that bill.
For alerts to future tax articles, email me at Wood@WoodLLP.com. This discussion is not legal advice.
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