Fact Checking The White House’s Latest Take On Trump’s Tax Returns

Mick Mulvaney at a press conference.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney took to Fox News Sunday this week and discussed the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, or lack thereof as it stands currently, Vox reports. Mulvaney is now being accused of gaslighting the American public and rewriting political history in his characterization of how the debate around Trump’s taxes unfolded during the 2016 campaign.

“That’s an issue that was litigated during the election,” Mulvaney said. “Voters knew Trump could’ve given his tax returns, he didn’t, and they elected him anyway.”

Mulvaney is correct in his assessment that Trump did not release his tax returns and that he was elected anyway, but to suggest that the American people believed he was deliberately withholding them and weren’t bothered does not align with the political climate of 2016, nor reflect the reality of statements made by Trump himself, as well as his campaign team, at the time.

Throughout the campaign and indeed stretching to the present day, more than two years into Trump’s first term, the president has refused to share his taxes on the basis of an ongoing IRS audit. Yet as far back as 2014, before he had even announced his run for president, Trump was telling voters that he would release the returns.

“I would release tax returns,” Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in 2014. “I have no objection to certainly showing tax returns.”

The first time Trump floated the idea that an audit prevented his release of the returns, now a familiar refrain, occurred during the first general election debate with Hillary Clinton.

“I’m under a routine audit and it’ll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished, it will be released,” then-candidate Trump said.

IRS officials and others have repeatedly pointed out that there is nothing about an audit, even an ongoing one, that would prevent the release of tax returns. And in fact, as a matter of protocol, all sitting presidents are routinely audited automatically, with that process never preventing a modern president from sharing his returns once in office.

Trump’s failure to provide the returns voluntarily for what has now dragged on for years has prompted Democratic opponents, namely Congressman Richard Neal, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to look for ways to compel him to do so. Neal has now formally requested that the IRS deliver to his committee the president’s returns, doing so on the basis of a little-discussed law that allows him as chair to request tax returns from any taxpayer, presidents presumably included.