Donald Trump, then a real estate tycoon and media personality, poses in the Trump Tower atrium in 1989.
Trump in 2016 became the first presidential nominee of a major party in decades to refuse to release his tax returns.
But a series of leaks and investigations mean that, piecemeal, he is losing the battle to conceal his tax records from the American public.
The latest came last last night, when the New York Times published details of the president’s 1985 to 1994 tax records.
The documents expose large losses by Trumps’ network of casinos and hotel businesses, totalling $1.17 billion over the course of the nine years — more than any other US citizen in the same period, according to the Times.
And they contribute to a growing — but still incomplete — picture of Trump’s tax stratagems and business dealings before his election.
Before his victory— back in October 2016 – the Times acquired documents that undermined Trump’s campaign trail boasts about his business acumen, showing that Trump claimed $916 million losses in his 1995 personal filing.
The documents suggested that he may have paid no federal income tax for two decades.
Trump welcomes Slovakia’s Prime Minister at the White House in May 2019.
Trump bounced back from the revelations, in a debate with his presidential rival Hillary Clinton claiming that paying no taxes made him “smart.” He went on to win the election.
In May 2017 more details from Trump’s private tax documents were made public by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who acquired two pages from Trump’s 2005 tax returns that had been leaked to investigative reporter David Cay Johnston.
The documents showed that Trump had in fact not avoided paying taxes for two decades, and paid $38 million on $153 million earnings that year, though at a comparatively low 25% tax rate.
Maddow defended herself afterwards from accusations the story was something of a letdown.
There were more more damaging revelations from the Times last year, which reported that Trump used a series of dubious tax schemes to shield his $400 million inheritance from his father from the IRS.
The information in the public eye so far exposes a pattern of failure and enormous financial losses during a nine-year period when Trump was building his brand as a superlative dealmaker — puncturing a narrative of success that was central to his presidential bid in 2016.
The president, though, has continued to refuse to release the full documents.
Commentators have speculated that the information could show Trump’s boasts of his wealth to be an exaggeration, lay bare how little tax he paid after his 1995 losses — or even expose financial ties with Russia.
When Democrats seized control of the House after November’s mid-terms, they pledged to get the full records.
The House Ways and Means Committee in March issued a formal demand to the Treasury for six years of the president’s tax records.
On Monday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin refused to meet a second deadline for handing over the records, claiming the Democrat-led panel was acting for purely political reasons. The situation could now escalate to a Supreme Court showdown.
A victory there for Trump would vindicate his strategy of concealing the documents, and offer a big win after a series of small links chipped away at his preference for secrecy. But regardless of the outcome, we may see more Trump records reach the light of day.
State lawmakers have also begun to place the president under pressure, with Democrats in 20 states introducing bills that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the state ballots in 2020.
The president continued to insist he could not release the returns because they remained under Internal Revenue Service audit — but promised to do so at an unspecified point in the future.
The IRS has said those under audit are free to release their tax returns at any time, but the battle is likely to continue and Trump’s reluctance to release the information in full to be a source of speculation.
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