Much has been said and written about Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax returns. Tax returns paint a revealing picture of who we are. That's why confidentiality is a central pillar of our tax system. If our government expects taxpayers to share this information with the IRS, we are entitled to ironclad guarantees of confidentiality and privacy — for this reason, our laws provide that wrongful IRS disclosure of our tax-return information is a felony.
But nothing prevents us as taxpayers from choosing to release our tax returns — and those who aspire for the highest public office have done so for decades. And they do so precisely because their returns provide a window (for better and worse) into who they are. Those who say Trump should release his tax returns claim we are entitled to view this portrait of the man who aspires to lead our country.
Trump has promised to release his returns when his audit ends, but claims he is under continuous audit by the IRS and that releasing his returns (including returns for years that are now closed) could have an adverse impact on current and future IRS examinations. As a former IRS commissioner and practicing tax lawyer, I understand it may be inconvenient for Trump to release his tax returns but we all know — and the IRS has confirmed — that nothing prevents any of us from releasing our tax returns any time we want. And by the way, for those who listen carefully, Trump's promise means he will never release his tax returns. Trump's advisors also have substantial control over when his current examination will conclude.
As a citizen and voter, I want to take a look because I will learn something important about this man who would be president. Inevitably, his refusal to release his returns raises a question: What is Trump hiding? The additional audit hassle is nothing compared to the extraordinary burdens he would carry as president. It's a small price of admission to the Oval Office. The sooner he releases his entire returns, the better.