Speed Reads

Trump's Taxes

IRS didn't start auditing Trump's presidential-era taxes until day House Democrats asked for records in 2019

The House Ways and Means Committee released a handful of documents and reports on former President Donald Trump's sparser-than-expected 2015-2020 tax returns Tuesday night, shortly after voting along party lines to release the long-sought returns to the public. The tax documents themselves won't be made public for a few days, until after committee staff have redacted personal information like bank accounts and taxpayer ID numbers. 

Committee Democrats focused Tuesday night on the IRS's mandatory audits of Trump during his presidency. They found them lacking. Trump filed his 2015 and 2016 tax returns in 2017, the year he took office, but the IRS did not select any of his presidential-era returns for an audit until April 3, 2019 — the same day committee chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) requested access to Trump's taxes and any associated audits, the committee's report said

The IRS has a Jimmy Carter–era rule that "individual tax returns for the president and the vice president are subject to mandatory review." Neal said Tuesday he has introduced legislation to codify that rule in law, requiring an annual audit of the president's taxes and more transparency around the audits, including an initial report no later than 90 days after a president's returns are filed. The House will vote on the bill this week, Democratic leaders said.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told CNN he found it "surprising" the IRS didn't start auditing Trump until "the day they received Mr. Neal's request for these documents." He also said the supporting documentation for Trump's huge write-offs was very thin, and "I have my doubts that another taxpayer could go into audit and provide as little as was provided here and expect to have a completed audit."

An accompanying letter from acting IRS Commissioner Douglas O'Donnell said the agency started auditing Trump's 2015 returns in January 2018, not 2019, and the ongoing audits of the presidential-era returns were considered "mandatory."

A separate report from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation criticized the IRS for not bringing in specialists to audit Trump's complicated tax structures and for giving deference to Trump's figures because his lawyers and an accounting firm had participated in preparing his returns. 

A Trump spokesman called the vote to release Trump's tax documents an "unprecedented leak by lame duck Democrats." 

"It is highly unusual for lawmakers to forcibly release private tax information, and Trump was not legally required to disclose his taxes," Politico notes. Every president except Trump has voluntarily released his tax returns since 1976.