April 14, 2017
With Tax Day quickly approaching, we are reminded once again that President Donald Trump is going against decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns. While he says that he can’t release his tax returns because they’re under audit by the IRS, the IRS has clearly stated that audits don’t prevent the release of tax returns. In fact, the tradition of presidents releasing their tax returns began with Richard Nixon all the way back in 1973. Most importantly, releasing his tax returns could show where Trump’s business dealings — and potential conflicts of interest — lie. CREW’s emoluments lawsuit seeks to ensure that President Trump isn’t violating the Constitution by illegally receiving payments from foreign governments. To begin to address concerns regarding his administration’s and his businesses’ relationships with foreign governments, including Russia, Donald Trump must release his tax returns — and what better day than on tax day?
By refusing to release his tax returns, Trump casts a specter of doubt over his entire presidency. The longer he waits to release them, the more suspicious his and his administration’s relationship with Russia becomes. Throughout his campaign and short presidency, Trump and his administration have consistently denied financial ties with Russia despite multiple news outlets releasing report after report that contradict these claims. Many officials in Trump’s administration have known ties to Russian officials: Michael Cohen (Trump’s lawyer), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Paul Manafort (former campaign chairman), Carter Page (former adviser), Michael Flynn (former national security adviser), J.D. Gordon (former national security adviser), and Jared Kushner (senior aide) all omitted meetings with Russians on their security clearance forms. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently came under fire for allegations of perjury after The Washington Post released a report that detailed his two meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak after he denied communications with any Russian representatives at his confirmation hearing.
Since the presidential campaign, Donald Trump has stated that he has “nothing to do with Russia.” Trump has also said that he has no investments in the country despite evidence to the contrary. He also made questionable statements defending Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. All of this points to a relationship that perhaps goes deeper than what the Trump campaign and administration has admitted.
The first step in confirming whether Trump, the President of the United States, has no significant relationship to Russia is to see his tax returns. When the Miss Universe pageant was hosted in Moscow, Trump earned millions of dollars. He’s also explored real estate in the country, and has been in contact with Russian officials — including Vladimir Putin — since before the campaign. Trump may not have any significant relationship with Russia, but there’s no way for us to know. While there’s no law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns, presidents have released them for decades. Moreover, presidents are automatically audited every year of their presidency by law, so every time a president releases his or her tax returns, those tax returns are under audit.
Statements on Russia from the Trump family and administration often come in conflict with one another. In 2008 at a Manhattan real estate conference, Donald Trump Jr. commented, “…Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” and, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” That stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s claim that “the reason they blame Russia [for hacking into Democratic emails] is that they are trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know about Russia, but not about the inner workings. I have no business there and no loans from Russia.”
Donald Trump’s tax returns are said to be 12,000 pages long — compared to his 104-page campaign financial disclosure, which he, as a presidential candidate, was legally obligated to release and which he claims is a sufficient replacement. Not only is the campaign finance disclosure form 11,896 pages shorter than his tax returns might be, it also includes less definitive information. His tax returns would show a more precise figure of what Trump earns than the financial disclosure does, how much he pays in taxes, and give more information about where his business dealings lie.
Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. Trump refuses to release his tax returns despite no legal constraints keeping him from doing so. His aides have repeatedly denied involvement with Russian officials — before news outlets leak reports that reveal the opposite. Regardless of any possible involvement with Russia, Trump needs to release his tax returns because transparency is vital to public trust in government. Donald Trump should do what’s right — for the sake of government transparency and the American people — and release his tax returns.