After Donald Trump is sworn-in as president at the January inauguration, both he and soon-to-be vice president Mike Pence will be automatically audited each year by the IRS.
Typically, American citizens are only audited if the federal revenue collection agency has a reason to question or probe part of their tax return.
“The requirement for mandatory audits of the tax returns of the president and vice president dates back to the Watergate era in the 1970s,” the IRS said. “Since then, this provision has remained in place during both Republican and Democratic administrations as well as under IRS Commissioners appointed by both parties.”
The reason for auditing the president is an arcane provision put into place after the Watergate scandal. Richard Nixon was ordered to pay more than $460,000 in back taxes after an investigation revealed he had illegally claimed a tax break. One of Nixon’s aides, Edward Morgan, went to jail in 1974 for helping falsify parts of Nixon’s tax returns.
Even though the IRS’s rule has been in place since the ’70s, Trump could avoid being subjected to the mandatory audits by appointing a sympathetic IRS director. If the director was willing to discontinue the provision, Trump might be able to squash the audits without ever uttering a public word on the subject. A former member of Obama’s special counsel explained the possibility:
“I don’t believe there is anything that would prevent the president from . . . instructing that this precautionary measure of the IRS audits be rescinded,” Norman Eisen said. “He could theoretically do it.”
The tax code and internal IRS rules are tedious, but this particular care is potentially consequential. Politico summed it up with the headline:”Trump gets to pick his own auditor.”
It is important to note that the provision in question is not federal law. However, it is illegal for those in the executive branch to obstruct or meddle in an active audit. That law was passed in 1998 to provide a separation, and prevent conflicts of interest.
Trump’s taxes have been a controversial tropic in the 2016 campaign. Every president since Gerald Ford has released their respective returns, something that Trump has refused to do.
But, if Trump manages to get the mandatory IRS audit rule changed, he will potentially lose one of the many excuses he has been giving for not making his tax documents public: “I’m under audit. . . . so I can’t.”
[McClatchy DC] [New York Times] [Roll Call] [Politico] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy AP/Mary Altaffer via ABC 27]