The battle of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, to keep his tax returns private is in contrast to what he thought in 2013 and 2014 that presenting them as part of his presidential candidacy would make him look like a businessman Smart who had spent years reducing his taxable income, according to two people with first-hand knowledge of conversations at the time.
Trump finally changed his mind after an advisor said he convinced him not to disclose his taxes, and has spent years claiming he can’t because he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Sam Nunberg, Trump’s political advisor from 2011 to August 2015, told CNN that during a meeting he had with Trump in the summer of 2013 at Trump Tower, the future president said he was comfortable with showing his tax returns. and even that he thought that would be a good idea.
Nunberg assumed that this was due to the little Trump must pay in taxes.
“He thought he could defend the return,” says Nunberg, who didn’t see Trump’s returns. “From the conversation I deduced that I thought it was a low number and that it would look smart.”
A second person, a former Trump senior advisor, who also joined them for lunch that day, recalls that Trump was excited to publish his statements for this reason.
Nunberg recalls that at that time Trump had recently returned from giving a political speech in Iowa and that his motivation for looking like a resolute businessman was fueled by Mitt Romney’s failed presidential offer. “He felt that Romney had avoided looking successful,” says Nunberg.
“Romney had posed next to a shopping cart in his jeans. Trump wanted to seem the opposite of that. He was proud of his business history.”
In May 2014, Trump told an Irish television station that he would “absolutely” disclose his tax returns if he participated in the presidential race. “If I decide to run for a position, I will disclose my tax returns, absolutely,” he said. “And I would love to do it.”
It was not until November 2014 that Trump abandoned the idea, according to Nunberg. At that time, there were still eight months left before he announced his aspiration to the presidency.
At another individual meeting at Trump Tower, Nunberg says he convinced the tycoon to change tactics and told him that federal election rules forced him to publish only a comprehensive financial report, instead of his full tax returns. Trump liked the idea because he could show how rich he was, says Nunberg.
“He wanted to look rich instead of smart,” says Nunberg.
Neither the White House, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, nor the Trump Organization responded to a request for comment.
That change of opinion almost five years ago has had enormous repercussions. During the 2016 campaign, Trump became the first candidate of one of the main parties to not release his taxes in more than 30 years.
As president, he has faced numerous legal challenges to obtain the release of his tax returns, including some by Democrats in the House of Representatives and the New York district attorney.
In fighting to keep them private, Trump has deployed a variety of legal and prose arguments, ranging from ensuring he is being audited by the IRS to simply declaring that his taxes “are none of his business.” Trump has also acknowledged that he has fought for the “very difficult [task of] paying the least amount of taxes possible.”
But after a series of judicial defeats, Trump’s unprecedented struggle to block the publication of his tax returns seems legally tenuous and seems more likely to go to the Supreme Court.
On Friday, Trump lost an appeal to prevent House Democrats from citing their taxes from their former accountant Mazars USA.
In a 2-1 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit confirmed a ruling from a lower court that said the company must deliver eight years of accounting records.
Trump may appeal to the Supreme Court to arrest Mazars, but the courts, including the Supreme Court, have previously refused to reduce the citation power of Congress.
Speculation has revolved around why Trump has not released his taxes, including the fact that they could reveal long-denied ties with foreign interests or that he has shamefully donated little to charitable organizations.
Trump’s critics have also suggested that a complete public transmission of his tax records could prove that he has exaggerated his wealth and that he is not as rich as he claims to be.
It is this last reason that is closest to the truth, according to Nunberg, who told CNN that he has the impression that Trump’s true motivation for not releasing his taxes was a simple matter of vanity.
A tax return from a New York real estate developer generally makes it seem much less rich than it really is, due to complex rules that include the ability of for-profit building owners to rule them out as losses.
Nunberg says that the reason he suggested Trump not publish his tax returns was reduced to three factors. First, by then Trump had told him that, in fact, he was being audited by the IRS.
Second, he and Roger Stone, a mentor from Nunberg and former Trump advisor, began to realize that part of Trump’s business history, particularly the bankruptcy of the Trump Organization in the 1990s, would be attacked and Results could highlight that.
Third, Nunberg assumed, given his knowledge of the common tax practice of New York real estate magnates, there would probably be a large discrepancy between Trump’s net worth and what his tax returns showed, and that this could be difficult to explain to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Nunberg knew that tax laws for commercial real estate developers are notoriously plagued by gaps in that industry.
“I wanted it to run. I wanted him to feel as comfortable as possible. I didn’t want complications or problems. I tried to keep this from hurting the Trump brand in any way,” said Nunberg.
In early 2015, Trump was beginning to slightly change the way he answered questions about his taxes. In February of that year, he told radio broadcaster Hugh Hewitt that “he would certainly show tax returns if necessary.”
By October, he evaded it further, by telling George Stephanopoulos of ABC that he was considering releasing his tax returns.
“I am thinking that perhaps when we discover the true story in Hillary’s emails,” he said of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The financial statement Trump presented to the Federal Election Commission in July 2015 had 92 pages and claimed 1,400 million in assets and 265 million in liabilities.
Nunberg was fired from the campaign in August 2015, shortly after the financial statement was published.
During the presidential campaign, Trump used the excuse of being under audit as the main reason he could not release his taxes. He repeated that defense as president.
It is true that every president is audited every year, but there is no law prohibiting them from publishing their statements while they are under audit.
“The president has struggled to release his tax returns since the early days of his campaign,” said Trump’s former chief advisor, who says he still speaks regularly with the president.
“He has no interest in showing them or he would have released them. As usual, I hope the Democrats will be disappointed if they are released, because they could prove that Trump is a rich and intelligent businessman.”
But in May, The New York Times reported that 10 years of Trump’s tax records that the newspaper had seen, as of 1985, seemed to show the exact opposite, and that Trump had lost 1,170 million during that period.
The newspaper reported that, according to tax records, Trump would have “lost” more money than any individual taxpayer across the country.
Trump’s lawyer, Charles Harder, told the Times that the statements about the records were “inaccurate” but without pointing out specific inaccuracies.
He later added that the IRS transcripts “are notoriously inaccurate.”
In response to the newspaper, a senior White House official said: “The president received huge depreciation and a tax shelter due to large-scale construction and subsidized developments. That is why the president has always made fun of the tax system and said that tax laws need to be changed. You can earn great income and not have to pay a large amount of taxes. ”
In other words, Nunberg’s assumptions about why Trump’s tax returns would be detrimental to the Trump brand were right.