Trump Time Capsule #63: What's In the Tax Returns?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Mark Salter, former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain, has written an essay for Real Clear Politics on why he cannot vote for Donald Trump. It deserves note for the long-term record because this is not how associates of a party’s former nominee usually talk about the current one, and because of its insistence on the importance of tax returns.

Salter concludes (emphasis added):

Could it be that a major party nominee for president is beholden to Russia’s leader and might compromise the security interests of the U.S. and our allies to maintain that relationship?  We don’t know the answer….

We can’t begin to answer the question until Trump releases his tax returns for the last several years. The media should make this the focus of every interview with Trump and senior Trump staff. The Republican Party chairman should urge him to release his returns. The Republican leadership in Congress should insist on it. Every American voter should demand it.

There are legitimate suspicions about whether Trump’s business relationships could compromise his loyalty to our country. Unless and until he puts them to rest, not by dismissing them but by disproving them, he should be considered unfit to hold the office of president.


To bear in mind, with 101 days to go until the election:

  • The Trump campaign’s standard response is that it won’t release the returns because they’re “under audit.” The IRS says, No problem! It’s just fine with us for you to release them. Trump’s excuse is a total crock, and one that has not been accepted from any previous nominee  — although, as a lawyer has pointed out, Trump’s clinging to it may be a clue as to problems in the returns.
  • There’s already an established record of Trump putting his business interests above other concerns, from his flying to Scotland to tout his golf resort during the Brexit vote to turning a campaign appearance into an infomercial for his steaks.
  • Since the time of Richard Nixon, most serious candidates from both parties, and all nominees, have released tax and medical reports as part of their fundamental bargain with the public.

This is yet another norm that Trump is breaking — as Republican figures like Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, and the rest cement-in their position on the wrong side of the Character Divide.