April 17 marks tax day in the United States, the day by which most Americans are required to file their income taxes with the IRS. As you finalized your own tax filing, you might've been wondering whether Donald Trump's taxes are public now that he's president. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump is not required to reveal his current or previous tax returns. However, there are ways Congress and/or individual states could compel him to release his returns.
Trump's taxes have long been a subject of controversy. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, breaking with years of historical precedent for presidential candidates. In 2016, Trump frequently said he would not be releasing his returns because they were under audit by the IRS, but that he would release them once the audit concluded.
However, shortly after he was inaugurated in January 2017, Trump's advisor, Kellyanne Conway, stated that Trump would not be releasing his returns at all. Indeed, in response to a petition demanding that Trump release his returns, Conway stated on ABC's This Week (as reported by the Washington Post),
The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns ... We litigated this all through the election ... People didn’t care. They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are — are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office ...
As the Washington Post reported in February 2017, as president, Trump is not legally obligated to release his tax returns, as he, just like all private citizens, is entitled to keep them private. However, presidents typically do release their returns as a matter of transparency, with President Obama even making his returns downloadable via the White House's website while he was in office.
It is within Congress' authority to obtain Trump's tax returns if it so desires. As CNN explained in February 2017, several committee chairpersons, including those of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Finance Committee, can request anyone's tax returns for review, including the president's. George Yin, a former chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation, told CNN that these committee heads could then share these tax returns with their committee members in a closed session. Then, if a committee believed that it was in the public interest to share the tax returns with Congress, they could choose to do so — something which would essentially make the returns public.
Of course, as CNN acknowledged, since Republicans currently control both houses of Congress — and control committee chair positions — the odds of this happening are quite unlikely. However, perhaps it will be considered a more viable strategy if Democrats take the majority in one or both houses after the 2018 midterm elections.
In addition to the congressional committee option, Vox also reported that states could potentially compel Trump to release his tax returns. As the outlet described back in May of 2017, a bill currently going through the committee process in the New York state Senate would require the state to publish any New York State tax return of the president, vice president, and state elected officials. The bill would require the publication of returns filed in the past five years. Since Trump has resided in New York for many years, if passed, the bill's requirements would apply to him.
As Vox also reported, in addition to New York's pending bill, at least 30 states have also introduced bills mandating that presidential candidates release their tax returns in order to be put on the 2020 presidential election ballots in their respective states. While these proposed requirements would not apply for several years, they could mean that Trump will be compelled to release his returns in the future if he runs for re-election.
Thus, for now, Trump can continue to choose to keep his tax returns private. However, many are actively seeking to change this — and it might not be long before the public gets a glimpse into Trump's IRS filings.