Presidential candidate Donald Trump has declined to release his tax returns, explaining in a tweet that "my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete." His fellow billionaire Warren Buffett, however, just made his own tax return public, even though he, too, is undergoing an audit. As reported by the Washington Post,
I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited. I have no problem in releasing my tax information while under audit . . . . Neither would Mr. Trump -- at least he would have no legal problem.
Trump's own lawyer, Michael Cohen, sees things differently. "I personally will not allow him to release those tax returns until the audits are over . . . . There is not a lawyer on this planet that should give that advice -- any advice other than what I just gave -- to their client short of suffering malpractice," he told Politico.
I have a modest proposal. In lieu of releasing his tax information, Mr. Trump should simply produce the memorandum he received from his lawyer that details the legal reasons for withholding his return. The question of the tax return has dogged Trump's campaign, so I am assuming that he required written advice, setting forth the various considerations, before making such a consequential decision. The opinion letter or memorandum would thus allow tax experts to evaluate the quality and reasoning of Mr. Cohen's advice.
Perhaps there are valid legal reasons for Trump to withhold his return, and perhaps not, but this is an issue that could be discussed on the merits if only we had the lawyer's actual written explanation. Yes, of course, Cohen's tax advice is confidential, but Trump is free to waive the confidentiality, or even to redact any sensitive passages of Cohen's opinion.