WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump “has no intention” of releasing his tax returns to the public, says Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, asserting Americans have “plenty of information” about the president’s financial matters.
For decades, presidents have released their tax returns. But Trump has so far refused, saying that he would share the tax documents only after the Internal Revenue Service completes an “audit” of them. He’s never disclosed proof of an audit and tax lawyers say there’s nothing preventing him from releasing his returns if he’s under one.
Trump said before he launched his campaign that he’d release them if he ever ran for office.
“If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely,” he told an Irish television station in 2014. “And I would love to do that.”
Mnuchin appeared to close the door completely Wednesday.
“The president has no intention. The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information,” he said, inaccurately characterizing the president’s disclosures.
The comment came as the secretary briefed reporters on the president’s new proposal to overhaul taxes. Democrats have sought to use the tax debate to pressure Trump to release his returns, arguing the information is necessary to evaluate how Trump’s tax proposals would affect his personal wealth and his business’ bottom line.
Mnuchin declined to comment on how Trump would benefit from his proposals. He and other administration officials left the room as reporters shouted questions about how the plan would affect the Trump family.
Trump, a billionaire, owns a global real estate, marketing and property management company, which at the start of his presidency he placed in a trust that he can revoke at any time. His daughter and son-in-law, both White House advisers, are also holding onto significant business assets. And Trump’s adult sons run his Trump Organization.
Trump officials have offered varying explanations for why the president does not disclosure his returns.
White House senior counsellor Kellyanne Conway said in a television interview in January that the fact that he won the election without putting out the information shows that “people didn’t care” about it.
Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. have made similar points in various interviews, though recent polling suggests otherwise.
There’s evidence the president has been thinking about the issue in recent weeks. He asked his friend and Las Vegas business partner Phil Ruffin, a fellow billionaire, whether he should put out the returns, Ruffin said.
“I advised him not to,” Ruffin said. “It’s a waste of time, and he’ll spend years explaining them and never get to accomplishing any of his goals.”
Ruffin said he told the president that Democrats would hire “armies of accountants” to pore over the documents and “make an issue out of any and everything.”
Even with Mnuchin’s seemingly definitive answer, the issue of Trump’s tax returns isn’t likely to go away. Democrats have threatened to hold up his tax proposals until they see the returns.
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called Trump’s tax plan “unprincipled” – and one that “will result in cuts for the one per cent, conflicts for the president, crippling debt for America and crumbs for the working people.”
Democrats also have been pushing for a vote on a bill that would require the president and all major-party nominees to publicly disclose their previous three years of tax returns to the Office of Government Ethics or the Federal Election Commission.
On Wednesday, Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz requesting that he allow a vote on the Presidential Tax Transparency Act.
“As Members of Congress, we have the ability and duty to legislate in order to promote government transparency, combat conflicts of interest, and ensure compliance with the Constitution,” they wrote.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat, also slammed Trump’s tax plan as “a half-baked collection of ideas that add up to a huge giveaway to Donald Trump and his rich friends.”
“If your last name is Trump,” he added, “this plan is great for your bottom line.”