IRS: Nothing prevents Trump from releasing tax returns

IRS: Nothing prevents Trump from releasing tax returns
© Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump daughter-in-law joins Trump campaign digital vendor: report Federal judge extends order blocking Trump's revised travel ban Texas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 MORE is not prohibited from releasing his tax returns because he is being audited, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“Nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information,” the IRS said in a statement.

ADVERTISEMENT
Trump, a wealthy businessman, said during Thursday’s debate that he can’t release his tax returns because he is the subject of an audit. At a press conference on Friday, he reiterated that he would not make his returns publicly available until the audit is complete.

“I’m just going to put you people to rest: Until my audit is finished, very simple, you are not going to see anything,” he said.

But while tax law does not prevent Trump from releasing his returns, waiting until his audit is completed may be beneficial, experts said.

“It might not be smart” for Trump to release his returns while under audit, said Robert Kovacev, a tax lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson and a former counsel in the Justice Department’s tax division.

If Trump releases his returns and the media focuses on certain transactions, the IRS may then scrutinize those transactions as well, even if the agency otherwise would not have done so or the transactions were innocuous, Kovacev added.

Dean Zerbe, national managing director of alliantgroup and former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, said he could understand why Trump wouldn’t want “1,000 people helping the IRS with their work.”

Kenneth Gross, a political lawyer at Skadden Arps, said that if Trump released his returns and the IRS required him to file amendments or changes to his returns, the amendments would also be put in the public eye.

Trump said during the debate he has been audited every year for “twelve years or something like that.”

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Friday it would be "rare" for an individual taxpayer to be audited as frequently as Trump says he has been.

However, high earners have a greater chance of being audited than most people.

In fiscal year 2015, the audit coverage rate for people making at least $1 million was about 9.55 percent. For all individuals, the audit coverage rate was 0.84 percent, according to the IRS.

Experts said pointed out that just because Trump is being audited doesn’t mean he’s done anything wrong.

“He’s not just a wealthy fellow. He’s a wealthy fellow, I’m sure, with complicated tax returns,” said Zerbe, who has donated to Trump rival Marco RubioMarco RubioRepublicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's Labor pick Senators introduce new Iran sanctions MORE.

Trump said shortly after the debate that the IRS may be targeting him because he is Christian. But the IRS said they do not audit people based on their religion and politics.

“The IRS stresses that audits of tax returns are based on the information contained on the taxpayer’s return and the underlying tax law – nothing else. Politics and religion do not factor into this,” the agency said. “The audit process is handled by career, non-partisan civil servants, and we have processes in place to safeguard the exam process.”

Ben Kamisar contributed.

- Updated at 4:05 p.m.