Why won’t President Trump release his tax returns? It’s a mystery that people have been speculating about since the 2016 campaign. Now, the question is likely to get renewed attention because of the House Ways and Means Committee’s request to the Internal Revenue Service for six years of Trump’s returns — and the huge legal battle that is expected over whether they will be released.
Trump has said he won’t release them because he is being audited, even though IRS officials have said taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns. Trump claimed at a news conference following the November election that the filings are too complex for people to understand.
But it’s apparent there’s something he doesn’t want people to know — and commentators have pointed out that the damage from revealing his tax returns must be worse than the political damage he suffers from not revealing them.
Various writers have suggested various reasons, including:
■ The returns will show that he is not as rich as he says he is
■ The returns will show that he doesn’t contribute much to charity
■ The returns will show that he doesn’t pay much taxes
■ The returns will show he has ties with Russians
But there is one data point that people may have missed. It was a moment in the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, the former Trump personal lawyer and “fixer” who ended up pleading guilty, cooperating with prosecutors, and making a number of explosive claims about Trump.
In late February, hours into Cohen’s headline-making testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Representative Jimmy Gomez, a California Democrat, asked, “Can you give us any insight into what the real reason is that the president has refused to release his tax returns?”
Cohen responded, “Statements that he has said to me is that what he didn’t want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.”
Cohen also cast doubt on Trump’s statement that he’s under audit.
Asked by Gomez if he knew whether Trump’s tax returns were being audited by the IRS in 2016, Cohen said, “I don’t know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one.”
Gomez noted that Cohen had said Trump was concerned that he would “end up in an audit.”
“Could you presume from that statement that he wasn’t under audit?” he asked.
“I presume that he is not under audit,” Cohen said.
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.