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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Democrats looking to expose Trump's taxes heighten a long-lived mystery

President Donald Trump in the White House Rose

President Donald Trump in the White House Rose Garden on Monday. Photo Credit: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/Shawn Thew

Certainly, lawmakers from Democratic districts would like to "get" or "nail" President Donald Trump.

And it's true that all the current partisan sparring over congressional subpoenas and Justice Department redactions might not have arisen if Republicans hadn't lost the House in November — or if the Mueller report reached a harsher conclusion.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) managed some sly humor Tuesday as he described how Democrats post-Mueller are "publicly working through the five stages of grief.”

But in the legal battle over releasing Trump's income taxes, it's worth remembering whose false promises and less-than-candid conduct first ignited the controversy.

During the campaign, Trump promised to release copies of his filings, as did every other major-party nominee since the 1970s. Then Trump reneged, claiming his filings were "under audit."

Nobody effectively challenged the now imprisoned former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen when he testified to Congress that he believed no audit was really underway.

Once elected, any president's taxes are assumed be audited as a matter of routine. But that didn't stop his two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, from releasing them while in office.

Even if the law as quoted says the IRS "shall furnish" the returns of any taxpayer to a select group of top lawmakers, Trump might have the contest over disclosure rigged.

For one thing his loyal Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his loyal Attorney General William Barr have decreed jointly that such disclosure “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

It looks like the courts will decide this.

Trump's IRS commissioner is Chuck Rettig, 62, who built a practice as a tax attorney representing wealthy clients in fights against state and federal tax authorities. Before he was in the job, Rettig said he'd advise Trump or any citizen against such a release.

But last month, even Rettig admitted there is "no rule that would prohibit the release of a tax return because it's under audit."

The longer Trump resists disclosure, the more he invites speculation to build as to why.

The questions are not illogical.

Will copies of his returns reveal what average taxpayers might consider some very slick schemes to avoid paying millions of dollars? There is published evidence to suggest the Trump real estate family sharply finessed New York and IRS liabilities.

Would Trump's tax forms show contradictions between his actual income and worth and what he reports to lenders, such as Deutsche Bank? If so, the data could yield an interpretation that financiers were defrauded.

Did he declare the collapse of Trump University to be some sort of business loss? Did he pay or owe penalties? Were the filings made in a timely manner?

In the hundreds of corporate entities tied to his business, could unsavory associations be revealed, either from his New York construction projects or his dealings with foreign businessmen?

There is only one way for the public to know all that, and it isn't happening just yet.

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