Donald Trump lied when he said he would release his tax returns for public scrutiny if elected. He didn’t. Then he lied again because he said he couldn’t release them since he was under audit. In response the IRS officially said that there was no government statute preventing Trump from turning over his returns if he wanted to, audit or no. Despite this official disavowal Trump continued to tell the lie that the IRS wouldn’t let him reveal his tax returns while he was under audit.
Those days are now over. It turns out that the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., received eight years of Trump’s tax records on Monday, mere hours after the Supreme Court refused to hear Trump’s lawyers on appeal. That information has only just been released.
One pertinent question that doesn’t get asked very often is, if Trump’s tax returns are full of evidence of criminal misconduct, why doesn’t the IRS itself recommend him for prosecution? There are two possible answers. The first is they might do just that. Their investigation of Trump hasn’t ended. Trump has been under audit for years, which may suggest they’re on to something.
The second possibility is there’s ostensibly nothing there to prosecute. Trump has been a criminal for almost as long as he has been filing tax returns. He’s managed to stay out of prison precisely because he knows exactly how to stretch tax laws without breaking them.
But New York’s Mr. Vance could find things that the IRS cannot. The IRS confines itself to violations of tax and money laundering laws. What New York might derive from their investigation is bank and loan fraud. Trump’s practice of fraudulently inflating his worth for the purposes of qualifying for loans on the one hand, and deflating his worth for the purposes of minimizing his tax exposure on the other, may be flagrant enough to be criminal and may fall outside the investigative scope of the IRS.
But the notion that Trump’s tax records are positively dripping with criminality on their own is probably naive. While Trump himself is an idiot, he does possess a certain low, primitive cunning. His tax returns probably aren’t going to be full of flagrant criminality. If they had been then he’d be in prison already. After all, Trump doesn’t have to turn over his tax returns to anyone in order to get recommended for prosecution by the Internal Revenue Service.
It may be that the real reason Trump has never kept his promise to release his returns to the public is because they are proof that, not only is he not a billionaire, he is in fact flat broke. Last September the New York Times obtained exclusive evidence that Trump’s returns exposed years of chronic losses and tax avoidance. (Tax evasion is illegal, tax avoidance is not.) Trump may have kept his returns from us simply because of his egotistical drive to appear richer than he really is.
Whatever the reason, prosecutors need those returns. And, to paraphrase Miranda, anything those tax records say can and will be used against him in a court of law. Once Trump’s complete tax records are exposed in court the rest of the world will learn exactly what’s in them and why they implicate Donald Trump in criminal behavior. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.