- Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
- People want to see President Donald Trump’s tax returns after his widely-panned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- The president’s behavior led some to speculate on whether Putin had leverage over Trump, possibly including his knowledge of any past business dealings between the president and Russians.
- Dating back to his campaign, Trump has refused to release his tax returns and broke with 40 years of tradition.
Prominent lawmakers, pundits, and watchdog groups are renewing calls for President Donald Trump to finally release his tax returns after the president’s widely-panned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland earlier this week.
It was during a Monday press conference alongside Putin that Trump cast doubt on the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. He also attacked his Democratic opponents and the FBI, and said he held both countries accountable for their state of relations. That press conference followed an hours-long private meeting between the two with only their interpreters present.
“My people came to me – Dan Coats came to me, some others – they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said, referring to the director of national intelligence and the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
He cited Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denials of such interference. And he seemed to endorse a plan Putin proposed that would allow special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to work with Russian investigators to question 12 Russians indicted last week by Mueller.
On Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke and actually meant to say the opposite of what he said – that he didn’t see any reason why it “wouldn’t” be Russia who interfered.
“I’ve said this many times,” Trump said, reading from a written statement. “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
But Trump made some adjustments to the written statement, adding that the meddlers “could be other people also.”
The president’s behavior led some to speculate on whether Putin in fact had leverage over Trump, possibly including his knowledge of any past business dealings between the president and Russians.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Republicans to force Trump into releasing the returns.
“President Trump’s inexplicable behavior has many Americans asking, ‘what does Putin have over him’ that he’s behaving in a way that is basically inexplicable in any rational, logical line of thinking?” Schumer said. “Well, that’s why his tax returns would be so important. We should pass legislation that requires the president to release his tax returns. That was important before, but it’s so much more important after Helsinki now.”
Republican Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, whose recent battle with Trump culminated with the president endorsing his primary opponent, renewed his call for the president to release the tax returns. Sanford told The Washington Post that Trump should release the filings to clear up questions regarding any connections to Russia, adding that he didn’t know if Russia had anything on Trump.
Conservative columnist George Will, who has repudiated Trump, suggested in a Washington Post column on Tuesday that the president refused to release the filings because “he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret.”
“The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too,” Will wrote. “A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.”
And Bloomberg opinion editor Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer who was once sued by the president, wrote that the Helsinki summit provided a “new reason” for the president to release the returns: “They’d show whether business dealings in Russia could give Putin leverage over the president.”
A number of others added to the growing list of calls:
At this point, disclosure of Trump's tax returns has become a crucial national security/counter-intelligence concern
— David Frum (@davidfrum) July 17, 2018
George Will, arch-Republican, smashes Trump & echoes my question about #TrumpTaxReturns, which @realDonaldTrump’s creepy-crawly #Helsinki performance has put back front and center. Yesterday’s laughable walk back attempt does not erase the question: WHY?? https://t.co/5fPNLntHe4
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) July 18, 2018
What is @realDonaldTrump hiding in his tax returns?
— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) July 18, 2018
I agree. Trump,should release his tax returns. What is he hiding? What did he say to Putin behind closed doors? https://t.co/CtC4rwQqlA
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) July 18, 2018
Your daily reminder that Trump is the first president elected since Nixon to refuse to release his tax returns, and any payments from Russia or other foreign countries remain secret.
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) July 18, 2018
After today’s revolting display in Finland, Congress must commence oversight hearings and stop attacking law enforcement. We could explore the extent of ties between Trump’s business empire & Russia with @HouseGOP demanding the Trump tax returns. #CongressMustRequest
— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) July 16, 2018
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Trump became the first major party presidential nominee to not release his tax returns since former President Richard Nixon. At the time, Trump said he was doing so because he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. However, an IRS audit does not preclude someone from making their returns public.
Late last year, when questioned about how the GOP tax legislation would affect the president, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the returns would not be released because they were “still under audit.”
Now that he is president, Trump’s taxes are automatically subject to audits from the IRS. IRS rules state that both the president’s and vice president’s tax returns are given a full, mandatory, fast-tracked audit.
Trump himself has given no signal that he will eventually release the filings.
“I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!” he tweeted last April. “Now Tax Returns are brought up again?”