The IRS Must Have Forgotten To Audit Trump's Magnificent Taxes!
Happy Trump Tax Return Day to all who celebrate!
Yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee voted on party lines to release Donald Trump's tax returns. We won't be seeing them today, since they'll need to be redacted to remove addresses and Social Security numbers. But the committee released a report on the mandatory audit program which was apparently not so mandatory during the Trump administration. It is the stated policy of the IRS, as set out in the Internal Revenue Manual, to audit the tax returns of the president and vice president every year under special procedures, i.e. not the normal audit process for regular citizens. None of that happened for the first two years of Trump's presidency.
In fact, the first time anybody even thought about auditing Trump was after the Democrats took back the House in 2019 and Ways and Means Chair Richie Neal sent a letter demanding to see Trump's returns as was his prerogative under 26 U.S. Code § 6103(f)(1):
Notably, the IRS sent a letter to the former President notifying him that his tax year 2015 return was selected for examination on April 3, 2019, which is the date the Chairman sent the initial request to the IRS for the former President’s return information and related tax returns.
Hey, remember that time in 2018 when Sarah Huckabee Sanders huffed that "The president and first lady filed their taxes on time and as always, they are automatically under audit, which the president thinks is extremely unfair"?
Turns out, not so much. Which is perhaps part of the reason Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin told Chairman Neal to pound sand, insisting that the committee's "illegitimate purpose" vitiated its lawful right to access the return of any taxpayer. The other reason is that Trump's returns reek to high heaven, not just because of questionable and unsubstantiated deductions, but because of the paltry amount he paid in federal taxes.
The Washington Post reports on the top line figures:
The Trumps reported losing $31.7 million in 2015, $32.2 million in 2016 and $12.8 million in 2017, according to information provided by the committee. But they reported $24.4 million in 2018 income and $4.4 million in 2019 income, before losing $4.7 million during his last full year in office, 2020, according to the tax committee’s report.
The amount of taxes they paid [mostly in state and city taxes] fluctuated, too, peaking at $2.1 million in 2018 but dropping to $271,973 in 2020, according to the report. The average federal taxes the pair paid over the six years examined by the committee was $739,327, according to a Post analysis of the figures. By claiming millions in deductions, the Trumps reduced the net federal income taxes they paid to $750 in 2016 and 2017 and $0 in 2020, according to the report.
Joe and Jill Biden paid $157,414 in federal income taxes in 2020, which is $157,414 more than Trump and the Melon. The Bidens have also released decades of their taxes for everyone to see.
The New York Times previously reported that Trump used deductions and losses from prior years to offset his taxes to a nominal figure in 2016 and 2017 — he could have gotten it to zero, but then he couldn't call Harry Reid a liar when he said Trump paid nothing. But by April of 2021, when he was out of the White House and filing his 2020 return, Trump apparently went back to not giving a shit how it looked, and went back to paying nothing at all.
And according to the report, it looks pretty hinky. The committee pointed to several issues that should have triggered further inquiry, including $105 million in carried losses from 2015, the $21 million conservation easement for land he was unable to develop in Westchester County flagged by New York Attorney General Letitia James in her civil suit against the Trump Organization, and "whether loans made to the former President’s children are loans or disguised gifts that could trigger gift tax."
And even when the IRS got around to starting the mandatory audit in 2019, they assigned one guy to process thousands of pages of documents (the corporate entities were also subject to audit), and no experts.
Chart showing when the IRS finally got around to performing the mandatory audits of Trump's returns.
So for all the howling that Ways and Means was just using the mandatory audit policy as an excuse to harass Trump, it's pretty clear that the policy required exactly this kind of congressional oversight, having been entirely ignored by Trump's minions at Treasury. Please, tell us that this was just another accident like that time James Comey and Andy McCabe both got "randomly" selected for an extraordinarily invasive audit that affects just 0.033 percent of American taxpayers. And anyway, Republicans have a hell of a nerve to complain about weaponized congressional oversight considering they've announced they plan to spend the next two years investigating Hunter Biden's dick pics and Joe Biden's non-existent financial dealings with Ukraine.
Indeed, as the report lays out, Trump is exactly the kind of president the mandatory audit program was instituted to protect us against:
The Committee sought the return information and tax returns of the former President to investigate how the IRS’s mandatory audit program operated under the stress of a President who maintained financial interests in hundreds of related entities and reportedly was under audit every single year. The Committee expected to find that the mandatory audit program expanded to account for the former President. The Committee also expected to find that the mandatory examinations of the former President’s tax returns would have been started promptly and completed during his Presidency. However, the designating agents made a concerning discovery. The designated agents found that there was only one mandatory audit started and none completed during his four years in office. Clearly, the mandatory audit program was dormant, at best, during the prior Administration.
In the next few days, as the returns are released, reporters are going to take a fine-tooth comb to them and do what the IRS did not. We have no idea what they're going to turn up. But considering how hard Trump fought to make sure this day never came, we're guessing it's not good.
[Committee Report / WaPo]
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.