Does Donald Trump need to release his tax returns?
By Joe Harker
A special investigation from the New York Times alleges that US president Donald Trump received at least $413 million from his father during his time as a businessman, much of it through "tax dodges" in the 1990s. They report that Trump, who styles himself as a self made billionaire, actually received huge amounts of money from Fred Trump.
They allege that Trump and his siblings set up a sham corporation to hide over a billion dollars in gifts from their parents, which would have robbed the US of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.
They claim that wealth from Fred Trump's real estate empire was gifted to his children in ways that disguised the flow of money from the IRS, including trust funds and loans that were never repaid. By age three it is claimed that Donald Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today's money, with the amount of money gifted per year rising as he got older.
The president declined to comment on the investigation but a lawyer for Donald Trump called the allegations "false and highly defamatory". They claim the information the New York Times used during its investigation is "extremely inaccurate".
There is a difference between avoiding tax and committing the felony of tax evasion. Lee-Ford Tritt, a professor in tax law from the University of Florida, explained the situation. Professor Tritt said that many of the wealthiest Americans use methods of tax avoidance that would shock the public but aren't actually illegal. However, if the Trumps were involved in more extreme methods of dodging tax then it could go down as illegal business.
If the Democrats win the House of Representatives or the Senate at the midterms they will apply to look at Trump's tax returns. Since Trump was inaugurated the Democrats have lost more than a dozen votes attempting to get the president to release information about his taxes. During the 2016 election campaign Trump said he would release his returns, but has since refused to do so, breaking with 40 years of tradition from US presidents.
However, the Washington Examiner argues that Democrats face a dilemma over the issue. Winning either the House or the Senate gives them the power to request specific tax returns, but there are laws in place to protect taxpayer privacy.
If the Democrats do well in the midterms they can legally request Trump's tax returns but US law requires they be kept confidential without authorisation from the taxpayer in question. They would need Trump's consent to make the information public. The Democrats could get the information about the president's taxes that they want but could lack the ability to make that information public.
Leaking private information about taxes can land you a prison sentence, so the Democrats could get their hands on Trump's tax returns but could have little opportunity to do much with them.
CBS reports that Trump probably couldn't be prosecuted on his taxes even if the New York Times investigation is true. The statue of limitations on many of the incidents has expired, meaning they would need to find more recent evidence of tax fraud. Even if Donald Trump and his family illegally evaded taxes they could get away scot free.