Donald Trump’s shifting positions on whether or not he will release his tax returns has taken another series of twists and turns in the past 24 hours, with the mogul declaring to the Associated Press that he probably wouldn’t release them before the election in November, on the grounds that, “There’s nothing to learn from them.”
Hours later, he told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren that he’d “like” to release his returns before the election, but can’t because of an ongoing IRS audit. For the record, that’s a bogus claim that no self-respecting reporter should allow Trump to get away with making, since the IRS itself debunked it in an on-the-record statement back in February.
But Trump’s new favorite justification is simply, “there’s nothing to see here.” As he had insisted to the AP, Trump told Van Susteren, “You learn very little from a tax return.”
That is, of course, complete nonsense, as author Timothy L. O’Brien pointed out in an article on Bloomberg View Thursday morning. O’Brien, who spent years entangled in a lawsuit against Trump when the billionaire unsuccessfully sued him for libel, wrote that he has seen copies of Trump’s returns, and that there is plenty to learn from them.
O’Brien saw the returns under seal as part of a court case and is barred from discussing them. However, he stated the fairly obvious fact that Trump’s returns, in addition to information about the size and sources of Trump’s income, would identify charitable giving, the use of certain tax avoidance techniques, and more.
At a minimum, the returns would either vindicate or disprove claims about his charitable giving, would give a sense of the scope of his business empire and how much he earns, and would allow for a calculation of his effective tax rate -- all information that presidential candidates have made available well before the election in every cycle since Watergate.
It’s a point not lost on Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, who wrote on Facebook, “It is disqualifying for a modern-day presidential nominee to refuse to release tax returns to the voters, especially one who has not been subject to public scrutiny in either military or public service. Tax returns provide the public with its sole confirmation of the veracity of a candidate’s representations regarding charities, priorities, wealth, tax conformance, and conflicts of interest.”
Romney then speculated darkly: “There is only one logical explanation for Mr. Trump's refusal to release his returns: there is a bombshell in them. Given Mr. Trump's equanimity with other flaws in his history, we can only assume it's a bombshell of unusual size.”
Trump’s shifting positions on releasing his tax returns probably shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Both Trump himself and his campaign seem uniquely incapable of sticking to even their most adamantly stated positions.
Trump, for example, has repeatedly said that he will not touch Medicare or Social Security if he is elected president. On Wednesday in Washington, his chief policy adviser told a very different story, saying that changes to the programs would be on the table once a Trump administration has established itself in Washington.
As Trump moves toward his virtually certain nomination, he was in Washington Thursday to meet with Congressional leaders. After speaking with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he was pleased with the meeting and that he and Trump are finding that they have some shared “core values.”
Apparently consistency and transparency weren’t among them.