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Editorial: Time for President Trump to release tax returns

  • Jennifer Taub, a professor at Vermont Law School who lives in Northampton, is the catalyst for last Saturday’s nationwide Tax March calling on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Millions of Americans met this week’s filing deadline to pay their share of income taxes.

Now it’s time for President Donald Trump to release his tax returns, answering the demand of thousands of Americans who demonstrated across the country on Saturday. Though the president is not required by law to make tax returns public, Trump is ending the practice of presidents of both parties who, since the 1970s, have shared that information with the nation they serve.

Trump’s reasons for not releasing his returns – a continuing audit by the Internal Revenue Service and supposed public indifference – don’t hold up. Tax experts say Trump may lawfully release his returns during an audit. And public indifference? Organizers of the Tax March – which has roots in Northampton – estimate that more than 125,000 people attended rallies in Washington, D.C, 44 states and four other countries calling on Trump to end the secrecy.

At the rally in Washington, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland said, “In America, no one is above the law, and all of us are subject to it. If you don’t release your taxes, we have no way of knowing if you are putting America first, or Donald Trump first.”

Americans deserve to know how much the nation’s first billionaire president pays in taxes, whether there are any potential conflicts of interest in Trump’s business dealings and if there is any evidence of financial ties to Russia.

Persistent questions about Trump’s dealings with Russia prompted a public interest group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, to file a federal lawsuit Saturday attempting to force the IRS to release Trump’s tax returns. The IRS previously rejected EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act request for those records.

Making public Trump’s tax returns “Is a matter of unique importance and public interest,” the lawsuit states. “The release of Donald J. Trump’s tax returns would help determine whether statements regarding his business relations with Russia and the Russian government are correct or not correct.”

Trump insists that his tax returns won’t be released and that Americans don’t care about them. Trump spent Easter weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort and golf club in Florida, and there were Tax March demonstrators nearby. On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to respond to Saturday’s protests.

“Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!” Trump tweeted. Another followed: “I did what was an almost impossible thing to do for a Republican — easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?”

A few details about Trump’s tax filings have been made public. The New York Times reported in October that Trump’s 1995 income tax returns showed a $916 million loss, which opened the door for him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years. And in March, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC reported that a portion of Trump’s 2005 return showed he paid $36.3 million in federal taxes on more than $150 million in income.

There are political considerations as well that should motivate Trump to make his tax records public. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., contends that continued secrecy will cast a cloud over Trump’s planned tax-reform package. Americans “are going to say, ‘Oh, he’s not doing it because it’s good for me. He’s doing it because it’s good for him.’ So for his own good, he ought to make them public,” Schumer said.

The catalyst for Saturday’s Tax March was Jennifer Taub, a professor at Vermont Law School who lives in Northampton. “Let’s plan a nationwide #DivestDonald and #showusyourtaxes protest for Saturday, April 15,” she tweeted Jan. 22, the day after the Women’s March international rallies opposing Trump’s presidency.

Taub, who specializes in business law, corporate corruption and white-collar crime, said she was motivated by Trump’s claim that Americans don’t care about his tax returns.

“I just thought that was arrogant and incorrect,” she told the Gazette last week. “I think he owes it to the people to be transparent and show his tax returns like every president since Watergate.”

We urge Taub and thousands of other Americans who share her belief to continue delivering that message loudly and clearly until Trump stops his tax disclosure dodge.