Early on Wednesday night, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin informed Congress that his department would not be able to comply with the deadline of the House of Democrats. This is the latest in the ongoing battle to make Trump’s tax returns public, or at least to allow them to be reviewed by Congress. This may seem like a very unusual controversy to those who never really thought of tax returns as a political bargaining chip.
Thus begging the question, what does the information on Trump’s tax returns mean to the public and to Congress? Why is it such a big deal? Well, tax returns, in the United States at least, are a treasure trove of information on anyone, but especially on high level government officials and billionaires. The current president of the U.S. happens to be both. Not only will it decide which tax bracket Trump and his businesses are really in, it also gives the public a background to his administration’s tax reform plans. It will let everyone know if Trump, his businesses, or his children will benefit from his new tax legislation plans. The Democrat-controlled House, who had requested the documents be delivered to them by the Wednesday deadline, will most likely pounce on all of this information as soon as it is revealed and dissect it at every level.
President Donald Trump’s position on whether or not he will release his tax returns has changed over the last couple years. OnMay 20th, 2014, Trump claimed, “if I decided to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely,” continuing with “and I would love to do that,” when he was interviewed by Colette Fitzpatrick on the Irish TV show. Trump seemed open to the idea until around February 2016, when, on Hewitt’s radio show and on CNN with Anderson Cooper, Trump’s answer changed to a ‘maybe’. On February 27th of the same year, Trump tweeted that he can release them after the audit is done, the story he has stuck with since. In the same tweet, he claimed “Tax experts throughout the media agree that no sane person would give their tax returns during an audit,” a statement that is simply false, especially because President Richard Nixon released his tax returns, those filed between 1968 and 1972, while he was still under audit in 1973, during the Watergate investigation.
As the Democratic Senator from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin, put it: “The time is way past due for Donald Trump to release his tax returns, as every other major party nominee has done for the past 40 years.” Which is mostly true, as all major party candidates for President have done so, except for the 1976 Republican nominee Gerald Ford, who submitted a summary of his tax data instead of his full tax returns according to the Archive for Presidential Tax returns.
The first president to release his tax returns was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Nixon was the first Republican to do so. The number of years of tax returns released has differed from candidate to candidate, but it has been considered a way for citizens to see behind the mask of candidates, to know who they are voting for without the slogans and speeches.
Everyone will be watching what President Trump and the Treasury committee will do next. Most likely Trump will continue with the concerns of his taxes being currently audited. One must keep in mind that making your tax returns public is not a requirement as president or as a party nominee, but it has become a standard practice of transparency to the public. Thus Trump’s refusal to share makes people want to know more and some, like the House Democrats who demanded to see them, are concerned about what Trump may be hiding.
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