Sean Spicer claims Trump won't release his 2016 tax returns because they're also under audit — but tax experts say that doesn't matter

Why won't Trump release his tax returns? Salon spoke to a tax expert who disputes Sean Spicer's reasoning

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 17, 2017 8:10PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik))
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik))

During a briefing on Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer claimed that President Donald Trump won't release his 2016 tax returns because he's under audit. But according to tax experts, such a claim hardly justifies the president's breaking a more than four-decades-old bipartisan tradition.

"The president is under audit; it's a routine one. It continues, and I think the American public knows clearly where he stands; this was something he made very clear during the election cycle," Spicer told reporters. He added, "We are under the same audit that existed so nothing has changed."

According to Steven Rosenthal, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, however, Spicer's point about the president being audited does not justify Trump's refusal to release his 2016 tax return.

"Donald Trump's tax returns will be under audit because the IRS audits the returns of every president," Rosenthal told Salon. When asked if this was a sufficient explanation for Trump not releasing his tax returns, Rosenthal said "No, of course not."

Since Richard Nixon's time in office, every president has released his tax returns shortly after filing them.

"In my view Mr. Trump has a responsibility to share his tax returns to give transparency to the American public," Rosenthal said. "It's been a longstanding tradition for presidents to undertake that responsibility and Mr. Trump is not."

He added, "There is no legal impediment to somebody who is under audit releasing taxes and as I mentioned earlier the IRS audits every single president and vice president on their tax returns. If he continues to follow the policy of not releasing his tax returns while under audit, then we'll never see any of these tax returns."

Not surprisingly, President Trump did not care for the protests that occurred nationwide on National Tax Day, urging him to release his tax returns.

Trump repeatedly promised to release his returns during the Republican primaries. But then he started to add a qualifier. "I will really gladly give them. When the audit ends, I'll present them. That should be before the election," he told ABC News in May.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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