Explainer-Trump’s Supreme Court loss the latest failure to keep tax returns secret
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump lost his latest battle to keep his tax returns secret when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the release of the Republican former president’s records to the Democratic-led House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.
Here is a look at Trump’s efforts to keep his tax returns secret, what is known about their content so far and what could come next as he again runs for president in 2024.
What might the tax returns show?
Members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction related to tax issues, have said they hope to receive Trump’s returns as soon as next week after the Supreme Court’ action on Tuesday.
Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, reported heavy losses from his business enterprises over several years to offset hundreds of millions of dollars in income, according to news media reporting and trial testimony about his finances. That allowed him to pay very little in taxes.
In 2020, the New York Times, citing two decades of tax return data, said Trump paid no federal income tax in 10 of the 15 years through 2017 despite receiving $427.4 million in income from his reality television program and other endorsement and licensing deals through 2018. The newspaper reported that Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017.
Trump in 2020 called the article “fake news.” A Trump Organization lawyer in 2020 said that Trump “paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government” over the prior decade.
The Trump Organization, his real estate company, is on trial in Manhattan after pleading not guilty to a July 2021 indictment from the Manhattan district attorney’s office charging it with tax fraud and other crimes. Prosecutors have accused the Trump Organization of paying executives through off-the-books perks including bonuses as if they were freelancers. Trump was not charged in the case. The company’s former chief financial officer was charged and pleaded guilty.
Trump’s outside accountant testified at the trial on Tuesday that Trump reported net operating losses every year from 2011 to 2018 following losses of $700 million in 2009 and $200 million in 2010.
Why does congress want trump’s tax returns?
Trump was the first U.S. president in four decades not to release his tax returns, which contain details about his wealth and his company. It had long been customary, though not required, for presidents to release their returns. Trump cited an IRS audit to justify not releasing his returns.
Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee have said they need Trump’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020 to assess whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is properly auditing presidential returns and whether new legislation is needed.
The committee will have little time to complete its work related to the returns before a Republican takeover of the House. Republicans secured a narrow majority following the Nov. 8 midterm elections and take control of the House – and the committee – in January.
Do other officials have trump’s tax returns?
Yes. The Manhattan district attorney in February 2021 said it obtained eight years of Trump’s tax returns in the investigation that led to the Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial. Trump had sought to block the DA’s office from enforcing a 2019 subpoena for the returns against his longtime accounting firm Mazars USA. The Supreme Court rebuffed his efforts.
Alvin Bragg, the current Manhattan district attorney, has said his investigation is ongoing.
Trump has called the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Bragg is a Democrat as is his predecessor Cyrus Vance, who brought the tax fraud charges.
What are the political implications?
Lawyers for Trump have said the Ways and Means Committee is seeking to expose and publicize politically damaging information about him. The Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to allow the panel to obtain the tax returns came a week after Trump announced his latest presidential run. It remains to be seen what – if any – political effect would follow the release of his taxes. Trump has been able to weather innumerable controversies to date involving personal conduct, presidential policies, business practices and other issues.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Amy Stevens)