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To Mark Tax Day, We’re Reminding Trump—and You—That He Still Hasn’t Released His Tax Returns

David Cay Johnston

It’s Tax Day and again we are not going to see the president’s tax return. Unlike his modern predecessors—as well as losing candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney—Donald Trump hides his tax returns.

What is Trump afraid of?

Plenty. Close analysis of his returns would tell us a great deal about his sources of income and deductions. We would also see if figures track properly from one year to the next.

The tax law Trump signed in December will no doubt save him a lot of money though he claims the opposite. But that law took effect this year, while today is the deadline for filing 2017 taxes or getting an extension to Oct. 15.

Trump’s tax returns would also show profits from his enterprises and, along with prior returns, give an idea of just how much he is profiting from the presidency. For example, what did he claim as profits from Mar-a-Lago in 2017 versus the years before he used it to meet secretly with those seeking official favors?

As with hush money payments to women and the nondisclosure agreements he makes almost everyone around him sign, including a lifetime promise to never speak negatively about him, his company or his family, Trump wants power without accountability. And anyone who challenges his version of events, like James Comey, the former FBI director, gets attacked.

Just look at Trump’s fury a year ago when DCReport got “client copies” of his 2005 tax return’s first two pages in the mail. We believe Trump himself leaked the returns–he often leaks about himself, as I detail in my books about him.

Trump posing with what he said was a recent tax return (Feb. 25, 2016)

Our suspicion is that since I am a well-known expert on both Trump and taxes that the president anticipated basking in the glow of a report, under my byline, that made him look like a modern Midas who pays a lot of taxes.

His return showed income of $152.7 million, though less than $31.6 million of that was taxable. It also showed that Trump and his then new third wife, the former soft porn model Melania Knaus, paid $36.6 million in income taxes. On the surface that would indeed polish Trump’s image as a modern Midas while undoing some of the damage from his campaign statement that paying zero income taxes makes him smart.

What Trump didn’t consider was that I would explain the details and be able to extract a great deal of information from the return. Among these facts was that Trump wanted new tax laws under which he would have paid only about $5 million in income tax.

That would have made his tax rate less than 3.5% on almost $3 million a week. In contrast, the poorest half of 2005 taxpayers, who averaged just $300 a week, paid more than 3.5%.

Trump’s own words a day after we broke the story support our suspicion.

On Fox with Tucker Carlson, Trump inflated his reported income by almost two-thirds to a quarter of a billion dollars. Trump’s comments to Carlson, a lapdog Fox host with almost no reporting credentials, revealed his ignorance of his own tax situation, his penchant for inflating numbers to make himself appear richer than he is and why he favors what I called the Faux News channel controlled by Rupert Murdoch, where tough questions are as rare as a copy of a Trump tax return.

Trump said it was “illegal” for me to have his return, which is not true. He called me a “weird dude.” And then, tellingly, he said, “It’s certainly not an embarrassing tax return” referring to the size of his income that year and the share of his income paid in taxes.

What Trump didn’t mention, and Carlson didn’t ask, was whether Trump got a refund the next year on his $36.6 million income tax, a refund of $31.3 million or about 85% of his tax bill.

Trump almost certainly did, though if his income fell or he had large business losses it may have taken him several years to recapture the so-called refundable Alternative Minimum Tax, which applies to real estate investors.

Making his tax returns public would likely not damage, but destroy, Trump’s image as the modern Midas, whose magic touch, you may recall, is a tale of tragedy because the ruler inadvertently turned his beloved daughter to gold.

Keep in mind that Trump claimed as his election campaign announced he was worth $8.7 billion. Days later he said $10 billion and right after that more than $10 billion.

As we have reported, Trump just makes this stuff up. The simple truth is that there is not now, and never has been, a shred of verifiable evidence that Trump has ever been a billionaire. A decade of his tax returns would provide a roadmap to better estimate his net worth.

After he got into the Oval Office, Trump filed a statement under penalty of perjury showing a net worth of just $1.4 billion. His lawyers asked if he could file it without the perjury statement. The government ethics office said “no” to that.

The White House has never explained where that missing $9 billion went, assuming it was more than another Trump fantasy.

Even Trump’s drastically reduced net worth figure relies on inflated valuations of his assets. It uses values his loyal team wrote down, not figures from independent appraisers. It lists his money-losing Turnberry golf course in Scotland at more than $50 million, for example, when it may be worth little to nothing. And the disclosure law has loopholes that let Trump hide loans except for those made to him or his companies directly, as opposed to loans to partnerships and similar ventures.

Back in 1990, when I revealed that Trump was no billionaire, he called me a liar for the next four months. Then he had to put his bankers’ estimate of his net worth into the public record, which showed I was telling the truth and Trump was lying. Trump’s net worth was negative by almost $300 million. (Trump would later say the figure was negative $900 million, another colossal exaggeration.)

Candidate Trump promised that he would release his returns.

“We’re working on that right now,” Trump told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on Jan. 24, 2016. “At the appropriate time, you’ll be very satisfied.”

“This is not, like, a normal tax return,” Trump also said. These remarks are about halfway down the transcript.

Trump said he was under audit, but would not produce any audit letters, which are anodyne. The way he and his lawyers spoke the audit could have been for a gift tax (where cheating is rampant, IRS studies show) or even an excise tax, such as fuel for his Boeing 757 jet or helicopter.

He also cited a phony excuse—that he had to wait for the supposed audits to be completed. That’s phony because once a return is filed—and signed under penalty of perjury—releasing it changes nothing. Once in the Oval Office, Trump changed his tactics. He said no one but those pesky journalists cares so he could back out on his promise.

Trump’s word is worth as much as a wooden nickel. If you doubt that just ask his wives, except, like almost everyone else around Trump, they can’t speak freely because he had them sign nondisclosure agreements. You could ask Stormy Daniels, but Trump aka David Dennison is seeking $20 million in damages over a nondisclosure agreement about a one-night stand that Trump says never happened.

And what of the man a heartbeat from the presidency? Will we see his 2017 tax return?

Mike Pence, the vice president, released a decade of tax returns in September 2016. Until he became vice president at a taxpayer salary of $230,700 plus a taxable $10,000 expense account, Pence had never made $200,000 in a year, his tax returns show.

Curiously, the Trump-Pence campaign removed the Pence tax returns from its website. However, it still hawks Trump goods, including a $16 MAGA dog leash for those who are in control.

Fortunately, the valuable Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine saved the Pence tax returns for future generations to study.

Maybe, someday, we will see Trump’s returns. One thing for sure is that Trump will not be happy if that day ever comes.

April 17, 2018