Essential Politics: The never-ending saga of Trump’s tax returns

Former President Trump will fight to the death to shield his tax returns from the public.
Former President Trump will fight to the death to shield his tax returns from the public.
(Associated Press)

Certain things in life are guaranteed: Christmas season begins at retail just before Halloween, Taylor Swift releases the worst first single to promote her albums, and former President Trump will fight to the death to shield his tax returns from the public.

It seems like just yesterday that political insiders were outraged when Trump as a candidate declined to disclose his tax returns during the 2016 presidential race. Every modern presidential candidate had provided insight into their tax returns. Trump’s rejection of this norm frustrated many and caused some to speculate that it would keep him from winning the White House. Of course, we know that he did. And his frequent rejection of political norms became his personal brand.

After a few years in court with lawyers representing the Democratic-controlled House, it seemed that the public might finally get to see his returns this week.

An appeals court earlier this month ruled that Congress had the right to see Trump’s tax returns, and the Treasury Department was expected to hand them over to the House Ways and Means Committee as early as Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

But on Tuesday, after an emergency appeal from Trump, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. put a temporary hold on the handover, saying the Supreme Court would weigh the legal arguments Trump presented, the AP reported. Will the public ever get to see Trump’s tax returns?

Hello friends, I’m Erin B. Logan. I cover national politics and the White House for The Times. This week, we are going to discuss the former president and his never-ending fight to stop the public from seeing his tax returns.

The fight over Trump’s tax returns

Trump has articulated many reasons why he shouldn’t have to hand over his returns. On the campaign trail, he claimed they were tied up in an audit by the Internal Revenue Service. (The IRS has said the audit does not preclude him from sharing his returns.)

It wasn’t a popular stance with voters. Polling indicated that the public wanted him to release the returns. An overwhelming majority of Americans surveyed (74%) — and 49% of those who voted for him in 2016 — said Trump should release them, according to a 2017 poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post. Still, Trump refused.

Some critics speculated that the documents might show that Trump, a self-proclaimed philanthropist, does not donate to charity, or that he does not pay income taxes.

In 2020, the New York Times published a bombshell report that revealed that the billionaire paid just $750 in taxes the year he got into the White House. The report also showed that his most well-known businesses are saddled in debt and that he has built up more than half a billion in debt. The tax returns might challenge much of what he espouses about himself; namely, that he is a bona-fide money maker.

With this week’s temporary hold, it appears as though Trump has reached the final stage of his legal battle with Congress over his tax returns. After the Supreme Court rules, the decision will stand. Many have speculated on whether the conservative majority of the court will side with him.

However, the legal case may not matter if Republicans retake control of the House, putting them in the driver’s seat on disclosing Trump’s tax returns. A conservative majority might drop the effort, even if the high court rules in Congress’ favor.


Washington Post columnist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Max Boot noted on Twitter that the timing of the midterms may help him win this battle. Boot argued that the former president is “running out the clock so that GOP will take over the House before his tax returns get turned over.”

“His ability to stay one step ahead of the law is depressing,” he tweeted.

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The latest from the campaign trail

— The Democratic circling of the wagons for Rep. Karen Bass is complete, Times writer Benjamin Oreskes reported. Former President Obama endorsed the congresswoman Saturday in her bid to be the first female and second Black mayor of America’s second-largest city. His support adds weight to Bass’ campaign argument that she’s the only real Democrat in the race and that her opponent, Rick Caruso, became one out of political expediency.

— The Wisconsin U.S. Senate race between Mandela Barnes, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, and two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is one of the closest and most contentious in the country, Times writer Arit John reported. Johnson and his allies have sought to tie Barnes and his policies to high-profile crimes in the state, characterizing his campaign as “radical” or “dangerous.” Though election prognosticators rate the race a toss-up, polling suggests that Barnes’ early lead has evaporated, particularly among independents and suburban voters. The race may come down to whether Barnes, a longtime progressive, can appeal to a broad enough group of voters.

— Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams traded harsh attacks during the pair’s final debate Sunday, elaborating on their positions on abortion and offering sharply differing visions for the state’s economy, the AP reported. Kemp avoided giving a categorical promise not to sign further abortion restrictions, saying only that “it’s not my desire to go move the needle any further.” But he acknowledged that more restrictions might be passed by a Republican Legislature, saying, “We’ll look at those when the time comes.” Abrams pointed out that equivocation: “Let’s be clear: He did not say he wouldn’t.”

— Arizona’s Republican attorney general has issued an opinion saying county officials may hand-count all ballots in at least five races in the Nov. 8 election. This gives a green light to GOP officials in at least two counties who have been clamoring for hand counts, the AP reported. The efforts to hand-count ballots are driven by unfounded concerns among some Republicans that problems with vote-counting machines or voter fraud led to Trump’s 2020 defeat.


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The view from Washington

President Biden on Monday urged major oil companies to stop “war profiteering” and use record profits to boost domestic production as the White House looks to curb rising fuel prices ahead of the midterm election, Times writer Courtney Subramanian reported. Biden accused oil and gas companies of profiting off “a windfall of war” in Ukraine and rewarding their shareholders instead of helping millions of Americans who continue to face higher prices at the gas pump. The president called on energy producers to expand output, invest in new refining capacity and lower prices for U.S. consumers.

— The Supreme Court’s conservative majority sounded skeptical of affirmative action during arguments Monday, questioning why universities should be able to continue using race as a factor in deciding who they admit, Times writer David G. Savage reported. The justices were clearly divided as they heard challenges to the admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The six conservatives said it may be time for such policies to end. But the court’s three liberals argued that affirmative action has been necessary and remains so.

— Politically motivated violence has ebbed and flowed throughout U.S. history, Times writers Melanie Mason and David Lauter reported. Currently, America is going through an upsurge in right-wing violence, according to researchers who track attacks and other incidents. They say today’s climate is comparable to that of the mid-1990s, when a similar wave of right-wing violence culminated in the 1995 bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. There were 9,625 threats against members of Congress and their families last year, according to the Capitol Police — more than twice as many as in 2017.

The view from California

— The man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi was hoping to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at their San Francisco home on Friday and intended to kidnap her and break her kneecaps, prosecutors said Monday in filing federal charges against him, Times writer Richard Winton reported. On Monday, the Department of Justice filed federal assault and kidnapping charges against David DePape, and San Francisco Dist. Atty. Brooke Jenkins charged DePape with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, among other crimes. Court papers offer the most detailed narrative to date of what authorities say happened.

— When a blue-ribbon commission met in 2015 to improve attorney ethics rules in California, a federal prosecutor named George Cardona was tasked with researching a proposed rule requiring lawyers to report misconduct by peers, Times writers Harriet Ryan and Matt Hamilton reported. Forty-seven states already had mandatory reporting laws, and two others had statutes stating that lawyers should make such reports. California was the lone exception in not requiring lawyers to alert authorities to wrongdoing in their ranks. Still, after much debate, Cardona and the majority of commissioners rejected the proposal.

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