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Trump tax returns: What happens to the president now – and will anything be done?

John T. Bennett
·5-min read
President Trump answers questions during a Sunday press conference at the White House. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
President Trump answers questions during a Sunday press conference at the White House. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

New financial documents that appear to show Donald Trump taking huge losses each year and facing $300m in soon-to-come due debts likely will lead to little more than more Democratic outrage and a House hearing or two.

There is no special law enforcement unit dedicated to policing questionable presidential behavior, not even if a sitting chief executive says one thing about his businesses only to be undermined by financial records that went to the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service. The New York Times obtained new records that provide a complex and deeper picture of the president’s finances, including paying only $750 in federal taxes one year and even less the next.

They also show revenue streams from overseas and hundreds of millions in debts that would come due during a possible second term, bringing howls from Democrats and government ethics officials that Mr Trump cannot objectively conduct American diplomacy while being so dependent on those revenue streams.

His businesses are hemorrhaging monies to the tune, some years, in the hundreds of millions of dollars and dwarf the amount of income Mr Trump pulls in from the same ventures, including championship golf courses, resort properties, other hotels and various other kinds of enterprises. The image sketched by the documents in the newspaper’s report are being labeled a “bombshell” by other media outlets in part because the president ran in 2016 as an uber-successful businessman who was too wealthy to be controlled or influenced by anyone in the world and uniquely qualified to run the economy, federal government and negotiate with world leaders.

"This is a con man in the White House," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told CNN on Sunday night.

Even if that is true, whether or not Mr Trump has paid too few taxes or broken any tax laws would be adjudicated by the IRS and Justice Department.

Like with the conduct that led House Democrats to impeach him over a conversation with Ukraine’s president in which Mr Trump requested an investigation there into his Democratic domestic foes, the president, for now, is protected from prosecution.

That shielding comes from a longstanding Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel policy that states: “The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”

The policy, however, does not say anything about federal tax collectors looking into a sitting commander in chief’s personal and business finances, and possibly ordering him to pay back taxes that he or she might have improperly avoided via creative maneuvers cooked up by his high-dollar accountants. Mr Trump long has claimed the IRS has been conducting an audit of his finances, but the agency has never confirmed that, citing his right to privacy like any other American citizen.

The matter appears one for those federal agencies and voters, who will get to decide in a few weeks if they want a deeply in-dept chief executive whose businesses are financially in trouble and who depends on payments from some of the countries involved in complex global situations that directly affect US interests.

Democrats in Congress are predictably outraged by what the newly unearthed documents show, but they are not suggesting taking any action other than pushing already crafted bills and likely holding a hearing or two.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the president during a midday Monday interview on MSNBC, saying the president has a “conflict of interest” problem and his finances raise national security concerns. She did not mention trying to again impeach the president over what his critics call a false picture of his business acumen and wealth that he has describes.

The speaker was even more tepid in a statement issued after the Times published its article.

“This report provides further evidence of the clear need for the Ways and Means [Committee] lawsuit spearheaded by Chairman [Richard] Neal to access Trump’s tax returns and ensure the presidential audit program is functioning effectively, without improper influence,” Ms Pelosi said. “With the leadership of Representatives Anna Eshoo, Bill Pascrell, Lloyd Doggett and John Sarbanes, the House passed a requirement that presidents disclose their personal and business tax returns as part of our H.R. 1, the For The People Act.”

That measure, however, was never taken up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a powerful ally of Mr Trump.

Mr Neal, in his own statement, made clear the ball is in the IRS’s court.

“This reporting shines a stark light on the vastly different experience people with power and influence have when interacting with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) than the average American taxpayer does. It appears that the President has gamed the tax code to his advantage and used legal fights to delay or avoid paying what he owes. For example, according to this report, President Trump has been engaged in a lengthy audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service that could potentially result in him owing the federal government $100 million,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

“Now, Donald Trump is the boss of the agency he considers an adversary,” he added. “It is essential that the IRS’s presidential audit program remain free of interference.”

Some pundits have suggested Mr Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic might lead a substantial portion of his conservative base to abandon him.

But Cornell Belcher, a political strategist who was the pollster for the Democratic National Committee said a slew of recent events show for them “there is no final straw.”

Read more

Trump’s taxes show chronic losses and years of income tax avoidance

Biden ridicules Trump for paying $750 in taxes with scathing attack ad

Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 after reporting millions in losses, report claims

We need to ease the struggle of bricks-and-mortar businesses – not pile on more taxes