They are important documents reviewed by accountants and federal auditors, and they must be accurate under penalty of law. But instead of sharing his returns, Trump and his supporters have relied on a growing list of excuses to defend keeping them hidden.
Trump was the first major presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns — a move that The Post’s editorial board called “an unprecedented sign of contempt for voters.” As president, Trump has continued to stand behind old excuses to explain his non-release, even though every elected president since the 1970s has voluntarily released their tax returns every year.
Trump’s excuses are listed below, along with reasons to question them.
Excuses that Trump and his supporters have given for not releasing tax returns
- Trump: “I’m being audited … so I can’t.” (See next section.) (Repeatedly since February)
- Trump: “There’s nothing to learn from them.” (Fact-checkers say this is false.) (February, February, May, May, January)
- Trump: “Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed and … didn’t file until a month and a half before the election and it cost him big league.” (February, July)
- Trump: His tax rate is “none of your business.” (May)
- Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman: American people “wouldn’t understand them.” (May)
- Manafort: The only people who want them “are the people who want to defeat him.” (May)
- Trump: “I don’t think anybody cares.” (Polls show this is false.) (May, September)
- Eric Trump, son: Would be “foolish” to release; “you would have a bunch of people who know nothing about taxes trying to look through and trying to come up with assumptions on things that they know nothing about.” (August)
- Mike Pence, vice president who released his tax returns: They’re a “distraction.” (September)
- Donald Trump Jr.: “Would distract from (his dad’s) main message.” (September)
- Kellyanne Conway, then-campaign manager and current counselor to the president: “I just can’t find where this is a burning issue to most of the Americans.” (In April, before joining his campaign, Conway said, “Donald Trump’s tax returns aren’t … transparent” and called for their release.) (September)
- Jeffrey Lord, commentator: Tax returns are “a political gimmick, a gotcha … Political opponents are going to go through there and look to make issues out of things.” (September)
- Trump Jr.: “There’s a lot in a 12,000-page tax return that wouldn’t make sense to open up.” (September)
- Trump: “You will learn more about Donald Trump” by looking at his financial disclosure forms than by looking at tax returns. (Fact-checkers say this is false.) (September)
- Rudy Giuliani, Trump surrogate: “The way all of you are treating this is a very good indication of why someone might not want to release their tax returns.” (October)
- Trump: Blames Clinton for fact he doesn’t pay taxes: “A lot of my write-off was depreciation, and that, Hillary as a senator, allowed. The people that give her all this money want it.” (As a senator, Clinton did vote to close tax loopholes — including one Trump may have used to pay no federal income taxes.) (October)
- Trump: “The only ones that care about my tax returns are the reporters.” (Roughly 74 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, say Trump should make his tax returns public, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll in January.) (January)
- Conway: “People didn’t care. They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.” (January)
Why IRS audits do not prevent Trump from releasing his tax returns
- Trump’s tax attorneys said in March that his returns since 2009 were being audited. The IRS said nothing, including an audit, “prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.”
- His tax attorneys said returns from 2002 to 2008 are no longer being audited. Neither are the returns from 1977 to 2002. Trump said he will still not release any of those returns because “they’re all linked.”
- Multiple former IRS commissioners say audits are a bad excuse.
- President Richard Nixon released his tax returns while under audit.
- All major presidential nominees of the past 40 years have released their tax returns.
- Trump can delay the completion of his audits.
- As president, Trump will be automatically audited every year, an IRS practice in place for presidents and vice presidents since the 1970s.
- Every elected president, dating back to Richard Nixon, has voluntarily released his tax returns each year.
What we would learn from Trump’s tax returns
- How much (or how little) money he makes
- How much (or how little) he pays in taxes
- How much (or how little) he gives to charity
- What deductions and tax credits he uses
- His investments
- His business partners
- Who he owes money
- What he writes off as business expenses
- How much (or how little) money he keeps in foreign accounts (including in Russia)
What Trump has said about his tax returns
- 2011: Said he would release tax returns after President Obama released his long-form birth certificate
- 2014: Said he would “absolutely” release returns “if I decide to run for office.”
- 2015: “I would release tax returns. … Nobody knows the tax return world better than me.”
- 2015: Said he would release tax returns when “we find out the true story on Hillary’s emails.”
- January 2016: Said he was ready to disclose his “very big … very beautiful” returns.
- February 2016: Said he would release returns “probably over the next few months.”
- February 2016: “I will absolutely give my return, but I’m being audited now for two or three [years’ worth] now so I can’t.”
- February 2016: Responding to claims he has a “bombshell” in his taxes,” Trump said: “We’ll make a determination over the next couple of months. It’s very complicated.”
- May 2016: Said he fights “very hard to pay as little tax as possible.”
- May 2016: Will “release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!”
- July: Manafort: “Mr. Trump has said that his taxes are under audit and he will not be releasing them.”
- July: “I haven’t had much pressure (to release tax returns). I’ll be honest, most people don’t care.”
- September: “When the audit is complete I will release my returns. I have no problem with it. It doesn’t matter.”
- September debate: “I will release my tax returns, against my lawyer’s wishes, when [Clinton] releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted.”
- January, first press event as president: “I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know they’re under audit.”
- May: “I might release them after I’m out of office.”
Years Trump paid $0 in federal income taxes
What Trump has said about other people’s taxes
- 2011: Tweet: “We have to combat the welfare mentality that says individuals are entitled to live off taxpayers.” #TimeToGetTough
- 2011: Tweet: You know what is the worst part of @BarackObama’s Tuesday speech playing class warfare–we paid for it with our tax dollars.
- 2011: Says on Fox News, “Well, I don’t mind sacrificing for the country, to be honest with you. But you know, you do have a problem because half of the people don’t pay any tax. And when he’s talking about that he’s talking about people that aren’t also working, that are not contributing to this society. And it’s a problem. But we have 50 percent. It just hit the 50 percent mark. Fifty percent of the people are paying no tax.”
- 2012: Said Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, should release his tax returns: April 1 “historically is the time that everybody gives them.”
- 2012: Tweet: HALF of Americans don’t pay income tax despite crippling govt debt…
- 2012: Criticized Romney for delaying the release of his tax returns: “It’s a great thing when you can show that you’ve been successful and that you’ve made a lot of money.”
- 2012: Tweet: @BarackObama who wants to raise all our taxes, only pays 20.5% on $790k salary. Do as I say not as I do.
- 2013: Tweet: “@conservativeJT: @bluejoni @realDonaldTrump Trump is an American that will pay more taxes in one year than you pay in your entire life.
- 2015: Tweet: The hedge fund guys (gals) have to pay higher taxes ASAP. They are paying practically nothing. We must reduce taxes for the middle class!
- 2015: Corporate executives “get away with murder” by using deductions to lower tax bills: “They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, okay?”