President-elect Donald Trump said in a debate earlier this election season that he would release his tax returns if his opponent released her 33,000 deleted emails.
Well, the emails turned out to be a nonissue. The FBI determined last week that a new batch of emails linked to Hillary Clinton’s private server “had not changed (the FBI’s) conclusion,” and she was once again cleared of any wrongdoing.
With Trump, on the other hand, there appears to be some gray area.
The winner in Tuesday’s election certainly doesn’t have to release his returns, as there’s no official requirement — although by failing to do so, he became the first major-party candidate not to make them public since President Gerald Ford about 40 years ago, according to media reports.
Trump has said his taxes are under a routine audit by the IRS, so he can’t disclose them. But tax lawyers seem to agree, there’s no law in place that prevents the Republican from releasing his returns. Richard Nixon released his returns even under audit — although, to be fair, they didn’t come out while he was running for president, but instead, a year after his re-election.
Nixon released his returns after reports surfaced saying that for years, he’d only been paying a small amount of federal tax. In order to lay the issue to rest, Nixon gave up his returns to the public and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., claimed prior to Election Day that if their father released his returns, it would only serve as a political distraction. They called the idea “foolish” and said the move would bring too much scrutiny to his campaign.
As for Clinton, she reminded voters of the issue at a rally earlier this week, suggesting “there must be something really terrible in those tax returns.”
Republicans have blasted Trump for failing to disclose, as well. Future Vice President Mike Pence released a decade of his own tax returns. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, released theirs this summer.
It’s a common tradition in presidential politics to release the returns, regardless of party.
What precedent does this set for future candidates when it comes to transparency? Is there anything Trump doesn’t want people to see — for example, any conflicts of interest? What about his net worth, or his charitable contributions? Or perhaps his dealings abroad, especially in places like Russia? Has he been paying enough federal income tax?
And as for whether Trump will receive more pressure to release the returns: Stay tuned.