Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised repeatedly that he would release his tax returns. All presidential candidates have done this for the last 40 years, out of respect for the American people’s right to know their leaders’ financial obligations and potential conflicts of interest. There was nothing stopping Trump from releasing his returns; he claimed he couldn’t do it while under IRS audit, but this is false. The law and the IRS placed no restriction on his ability to publicly release his tax returns at any time. Financial obligations and entanglements can give corporations, foreign governments, or even enemies of the state undue influence over the leader of America and the free world. American citizens have the right to know if our leaders have been, or could be, compromised. Accordingly, the only right thing for Donald Trump to do was/is to release his tax returns and let us see whom he truly serves: himself, foreign governments, corporations and business partners, or America. He knew we wanted and deserved to see his tax returns, so he hemmed and hawed, made flimsy excuses, and kept kicking the can further down the road… putting it off just long enough to get elected.
Now that Donald Trump has been sworn in as president, he and his representatives are dropping all pretense of transparency. He will never voluntarily release his tax returns, and almost certainly never intended to do so. Continuing the new administration’s disturbing trend of presenting “alternative facts” (translation: lies), Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the American people don’t care about the tax returns. “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns,” said Conway on ABC’s “This Week.” “We litigated this all through the election.” However, a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that about 74% of Americans – including 53% of Republicans – believe he should release them. A petition for Trump to immediately release his tax returns has gotten over 336,000 signatures so far. The American people clearly do care what those tax returns contain.
And they have good reason to care. If Trump’s tax returns showed him to be a charitable giver worth $10 billion (as he has claimed), who has no shady deals, no major debts to foreign entities, no problematic conflicts of interest, and no entanglements with foreign governments, we can be sure that he would have not only presented his returns by now – he would have made certain they got the widest possible circulation and coverage. There is something (or multiple somethings) in those tax returns that Donald Trump does not want America to see. Now that he got what he wanted – enough votes for an electoral victory and a term as president – he no longer even feels the need to fabricate dishonest excuses for hiding his tax returns. He flatly refuses to respect the American people and come clean.
But it may not be entirely up to him. Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against Donald Trump since his inauguration, mostly challenging his business conflicts of interest and potential violations of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause,” which prevents the president from receiving any gifts or payments from foreign governments. These initial lawsuits may not succeed in their stated aims, for a variety of reasons – but they might provide a hugely important secondary benefit. Since these lawsuits relate directly to Donald Trump’s finances, the plaintiffs may be able to successfully subpoena his tax returns as evidence, thereby making them part of the record… and available to the public.
Donald Trump will never voluntarily release his complete and unaltered tax returns, but he may be thwarted in his attempt to set a disturbing new precedent of secrecy. The American people deserve to know where their president’s interests and obligations lie, and although Trump is pathologically dishonest, hopefully our legal system can still force him into doing the right thing.
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