Spicer: Trump can't release his 2016 tax return because it's already under audit

This sounds far-fetched but it’s true — or half-true, rather. With many Americans rushing to file their 2016 returns before tomorrow’s deadline, how can it be that Trump’s return is already under audit? Isn’t Spicer just BSing here to dodge another uncomfortable question about why Trump hasn’t released any tax returns already? Obviously there’s some period of time between the day he files and the day he gets his (supposedly) annual “you’re being audited” letter when he could publish his return.

As it turns out, though, maybe not this year:

Under an obscure Internal Revenue Service rule, the tax returns of the president and vice president are automatically audited, every year, no exceptions.

That rule has been in place in one form or another since the Nixon administration, and it details the process for auditing presidential tax returns in minute detail — even down the color of folder they must be kept in…

A 1997 audit by the General Accounting Office found that every presidential tax return since 1913 was accounted for, kept meticulously in special folders designed to protect the documents from deteriorating over time.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure Spicer is aware of the rule. He doesn’t mention it in the clip below. I think he’s just giving the standard spin from the campaign, that Trump can’t release his returns so long as they’re being audited.

But that’s what makes it half-true. There’s nothing stopping him from releasing his return while it’s being audited. That’s just an excuse he and his team made up to spin his refusal to publish the information as if it were a matter on which his hands are tied. In fact, according to the story quoted above, the IRS’s audits of the president’s and vice president’s returns are “fast-tracked”: “The returns must be assigned within 10 business days of receipt in the group. The returns require expeditious handling at all levels to ensure prompt completion of the examinations.” That’s significant because Kellyanne Conway said as recently as January that Trump would release his return after the audit is complete. Sounds like that’ll be relatively soon this year. So how about it?

The reporter asks if the White House will permit the IRS to simply confirm that Trump is, in fact, being audited, which would have been Spicer’s cue to mention the “mandatory audits of POTUS” rule if he knew it existed, which he apparently doesn’t. What the reporter should have asked is whether Trump will authorize the IRS to notify the public once the audit of his return is done; once it is, then they can point to what Conway said earlier this year and note that Trump’s usual excuse for not releasing his returns no longer applies. Meanwhile, though, Trump’s critics have hit on a crafty Plan B: Although the IRS is barred by law from disclosing a taxpayer’s federal return without his permission, a state government sets its own laws regarding disclosure of state tax returns — and a state tax return is apt to have much of the same financial information that a federal return does. There’s nothing stopping the very blue anti-Trump state of New York from passing a law that, say, authorizes public disclosure of any New York state tax return of any public official, state or federal, in the name of government transparency. I think the politics of doing that would be dicey as an infringement on Trump’s privacy, but I dunno. Polls reliably show that a majority of Americans want to see his returns. If there’s any state where voters might let the local government get away with it, it’s liberal New York.