What exactly is Trump hiding in his tax returns?

He has just asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether he should release his returns. I find this mystifying. Sure, everyone has a right to privacy — if I were asked to hand over my tax information to some random person, I’d resist on principle, but if I were given a subpoena and told to hand them over to authorities, I’d comply. I gave them to the IRS, after all.

This zealous refusal is peculiar and excessive, which makes me even more curious about what’s in there. There are two alternatives: 1) his tax returns are scrupulously honest and accurate, but he finds the truth embarrassing, so embarrassing that he would risk his reputation, low as it is, to hide them. Or 2) he lied, and they contain so much irresistible bait for investigative journalism that he fears he’ll be in legal jeopardy if they’re exposed.

I’m inclined to believe there are skeletons in there.

His defense is that a ruling against him would open the doors to all kinds of legal shenanigans against the presidency, although that’s never harmed a president before, and that he is above the law and gets to do whatever he wants while in office. That’s worrisome: he has incentive to never give up the presidency, and when he is expelled in 2020 or, dog forbid, in 2024, he’s going to fight like hell against the law.


  1. says

    Just what, exactly, could possibly make Trump be in any more trouble than he already is?

    Democrats are going to vote to impeach him and remove him from office for other things he’s done (even if for many of them, it’s really for his offenses against style). Republicans are going to vote the opposite way because any Republican capable of doing other than what the party leadership wants was weeded out years ago, and the party leadership with or without Trump doesn’t want a Republican removed from office. Another crime against the country won’t change this in the slightest.

    He’s already basically guaranteed to be tried and sent to prison by several states the minute he leaves office, and the Presidency can’t do anything to pardon him. There’s nothing in his tax returns which can make him more indictable in those cases than he already is.

    People who will vote for him would vote for him no matter what, because they hate “Liberals” (by which they mean, against all common sense, Democrats) so much that they will make any excuse to support the Republican Party, up to and including outright denial of their own lived reality. There could be lines in there saying “Received from Putin-Soros-Clinton-Beelzebub Joint Cabal for Secret Delivery of Aborted White Christian Fetuses” and it wouldn’t lose him a single vote.

    At this point, I’m starting to suspect that there is genuinely nothing there, and that this is all a long-planned distraction — he’ll release them two weeks before the election so he can have his vindication be the headline right before the election.

  2. says

    He’s hiding the fact he’s a fake billionaire. He was elected by a lot of aging boomers who still believe in “The American Dream”, with capital letters. Trump is the avatar that has transformed the “American Dream” into the American Nightmare. Keep fighting.

  3. archangelospumoni says

    Something in there mighty stinky and I strongly suspect there were some shenanigans with respect to Russian banks or financiers in violation of international sanctions.

  4. whheydt says

    Re: The Vicar @ #1…
    The House Democrats will vote to impeach him. That takes a simple majority. The Senate Republicans will not vote to convict him, and conviction (and removal from office) takes a 2/3 majority.

  5. whheydt says

    I agree with both Ray Ceeya (#2) and archangelospumoni (#3). He’s not nearly as rich as he claims–and may even have a negative net worth–and he’s been playing footsie with Russian banks.

  6. opie says

    He has the best returns. He wants to release his returns. He is going to release his returns. But, you see, he is under audit and so he can’t release his returns. But he is going to release his returns as soon as the audit is finished.

  7. says

    There’s actually no real mystery here. For the past 15 years or so his principle business has been laundering money for Russian gangsters. Just enter “Trump money laundering” into your favorite Internet search engine and you will learn all about it. It’s fully public knowledge, but the corporate media isn’t interested. Also, too, he’s not nearly as rich as he claims to be.

  8. Howard Brazee says

    Everything is ruled by his narcissism. If he were smarter, he would do stuff to get loyalty. I think all of those are issues, but the one that matters is his net worth.

  9. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    The orange shit-gibbon has a long history of using elastic valuations of his assets, depending on the purpose of the form he is filling out. So, I suspect, that at the very least, there is evidence of fraud in the returns, and there may be data that in the hands of a decent journalist (and not the hollowed out IRS) could prove tax evasion, as well.

    And then, of course, there is the fact that he’s not nearly as rich as he claims.

  10. says

    It’s not even Trump personally who was subpoenaed, it was his accountants. And the accountants were going to comply because, duh, it’s a subpoena issued by a judge. Question though: I grant that he is not merely as rich as he wants people to believe, and we already know about the tax dodges he uses for his corporate taxes on real estate (it’s worth millions more on loan applications than it’s worth on property tax challenges). But would a tax return show the amount of his outstanding debts, and to whom those debts are owed? That’s where the money laundering would be, if it’s to be found in his personal tax returns at all, and not in the corporate returns.

  11. blf says

    We already know a tiny about about his returns: That in 1995 he declared a loss of almost $1 billion, which experts have said means he may then could have avoided paying any taxes for the next c.18 years (until 2013); Trump a genius over federal income tax after $916m loss, say allies. Considering he’s a very bad “business”-goon — e.g., he has gone bankrupt several times and been bailed out by his father — my own guess is at least part of what is being hidden is he hasn’t paid any taxes at all (possibly “legally”) for much longer than a “mere” 18 years, despite allegedly being a billionaire.

  12. DataWrangler says

    At this point it is just another “I don’t wanna and you can’t make me” every time the Democrats do anything.

  13. robro says

    I don’t get it. It’s difficult to believe that his tax returns will show anything too surprising. It won’t show us his wealth per se. There’s not a line item for how rich you are. We’re not taxed on wealth but income, capital gains, and so forth. All it will show is what he declares as income and what he writes off. Legal tax evasion…phony losses and other dodges (there’s something about a property in Chicago)…is just another trick of the trade for the very rich who can afford the army of lawyers and accountants to make it happen. There won’t be a line item for income from laundering money from Russian oligarchs via Deutsche Bank or South American drug cartels via his property in Panama. If his tax returns show anything about how much he owes, then it will be interest payments to banks and other investment services. Certainly not to criminal elements in foreign countries.

    Of course, the information might be used to embarrass him but hell, we’ve got a ton of that already. I suppose if Congress gets the go ahead and decides to dig in, then that might get interesting in particular if there’s a sudden improvement in his asset returns attributable to US government money going to his properties for him to play golf.

    I just learned something kind of interesting. Trump has been fond of decrying the “Deep State” thwarting his administration. That term of art is said to come from Turkish to describe the collusion of the Turkish military and government with drug traffickers to wage a dirty war against the Kurds.

  14. says

    Michael Cohen already let the cat out of the bag on this one. Trump has two sets of books. One to give to the IRS that shows he lost tons of money so he doesn’t have to pay taxes and another set for inflating his worth to get loans from banks and to get on Forbes’ list. He doesn’t even know how much he is really worth.

  15. says

    @#4, whheydt:

    The point is: nothing in his tax returns is going to alter the vote at all, which is going to go almost entirely along party lines (with a few possible dissenters on the Democratic side, like Manchin, because there’s no right-wing treachery the Republicans can cook up that’s so bad that the DINOs won’t embrace it).

  16. blf says

    To follow-up Ouabache@15, ProPublica;s original report, Michael Cohen’s testimony about Trump’s shady business practices just got strong corroboration:

    A new ProPublica investigation found that Trump inflated and deflated his assets when convenient.


    Property tax documents obtained by [ProPublica’s Heather] Vogell via New York’s Freedom of Information Law “show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.”

    To cite one example from the story, Trump’s representatives told a lender that the occupancy rate in his building at 40 Wall Street in New York City was 59 percent as of the end of 2012. But that figure wasn’t the same as 81 percent occupancy rate for 2012 that was reported to tax authorities. Trump ultimately used the lower occupancy rate figure to create a perception of “leasing momentum” — his company reported that occupancy rates started to rise in 2013 — that was helpful in securing a refinancing.

    While there are reasons for such discrepancies that don’t necessarily involve fraud, the pattern that emerges from ProPublica’s analysis suggests that on numerous occasions Trump used one set of figures for lenders and another for tax officials — just as Cohen claimed during his testimony.


    ProPublica’s investigation is far from the first indication that there’s something fishy going on with Trump’s taxes. About a year ago, the New York Times detailed how Trump received nearly half a billion dollars from his dad, then maintained his fortune with the help of “dubious tax schemes,” including “instances of outright fraud.”

    Months later, a separate New York Times investigation revealed that Trump “appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer” between 1985 and 1994. And earlier this month, the Washington Post broke news about an IRS whistleblower who filed a complaint reporting that there was inappropriate Treasury Department interference in the annual audit of the president’s or vice president’s tax returns.


    And in Mother Jones, Donald Trump Has Never Explained a Mysterious $50 Million Loan. Is It Evidence of Tax Fraud?:

    [… F]or years, one Trump loan has been particularly mystifying: a debt of more than $50 million that Trump claims he owes to one of his own companies. According to tax and financial experts, the loan, which Trump has never fully explained, might be part of a controversial tax avoidance scheme known as debt parking. Yet a Mother Jones investigation has uncovered information that raises questions about the very existence of this loan, presenting the possibility that this debt was concocted as a ploy to evade income taxes […].

    [… complicated story…]

    To recap: Trump claims he bought a debt related to his Chicago venture, but neither of the two loans associated with this property appear to have been purchased. The Deutsche Bank loan was refinanced. The Fortress debt, according to sources with knowledge of the transaction, was canceled. And this raises a question: Did Trump create a bogus loan to evade a whopping tax bill on about $48 million of income?

    Several legal and real estate finance experts say it’s possible to fabricate a loan. Doing so would be as easy as creating some paperwork and declaring the debt on your tax returns, though such a scheme would also violate federal tax law.

    “When you see it, if you lay all this out, it’s pretty brazen,” says Adam Levitin, a law professor specializing in commercial real estate finance at Georgetown University. “If he didn’t actually buy the loan, this is just garden-variety fraud.”

    Most loans are documented in public records, but Mother Jones could locate no documentation […]

  17. bcwebb says

    I’m shocked that the comments haven’t centered on the obvious: it’s both 1) and 2). I believe Trump doesn’t have that much money but that also he has made numerous criminally fraudulent statements towards getting loans and reducing his taxes and stealing from his now-folded charity and that the tax returns provide documentation that directly contradicts other depositions and legal declarations he has made.

  18. says

    Its simple: tax fraud that is not outside of the statute of limitations. The old stuff he doesn’t care about but the more recent tax fraud could result in him getting a whopping bill and he has no liquid assets to cover it. He’s avoiding NYC so they can’t perp-walk him and he’s trying to sell some hotels so he won’t be bankrupted when the tax bill and penalties hit.

  19. says

    He’s successfully stacked the Supreme Court with (what he thinks is) a safe majority of yes-men. Whether that’s actually true remains to be seen.

  20. rydan says

    There’s nothing in the tax returns. He has professional accountants and he’s been audited for years. In general professionals aren’t going to do something to land them in jail or destroy their business for a single paycheck. Anything wrong in there would have been discovered and been taken care of years ago. No. This is just a distraction. You spend all day claiming there’s something terrible in those hidden returns when you should be focusing on actual problems with his administration that he does out in the open. This is exactly what his tweet about the cat with the laser pointer was all about.

  21. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    rydan: “In general professionals aren’t going to do something to land them in jail or destroy their business for a single paycheck.”

    Aww! Aren’t you cute! Are you too young to remember Anderson Accounting’s role in the Enron case? How about the under-rating of risks of derivatives during the Housing bubble? You are right about one thing–the accountants rarely go to jail.

    A good forensic accountant can work miracles with a tax return, especially in concert with other financial documents–depreciation claimed on properties owned, interest payments on loans, payments from shell corporations, etc.

    The thing is that the longer this takes, the more the Trumpistas have invested in their man–once you’ve sacrificed your honor, reputation and moral standing, he’s a sunk cost they’ll ride all the way down.