For almost a week, the media has been buzzing over three pages of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns.
Are they right? Is this wrong? What does the law say?
Countless questions have surrounded this release. I know you are looking for the answers to these questions. I have broken down a few of them for you.
1. What do these pages reveal? Despite common misconception, nothing in the released pages revealed that Mr. Trump avoided paying federal income tax following 1995. The pages simply revealed that Mr. Trump lost $915 billion in 1995, which could have been used to not pay taxes for the following 18 years. However, The New York Times released nothing showing that this had actually been done.
2. Did Mr. Trump do something illegal here? No, he did not. Mr. Trump legally leveraged the tax code to avoid paying more than he was obligated to under American law. This is a standard practice used by companies nationwide as well as by private citizens. Real estate can be a very risky business and real estate developers have lawfully used depreciation deductions for years.
Was it illegal for The New York Times to publish the pages? At first glance, this question seems like a simple yes. Under 26 U.S. Code 6103, it is a felony for any person to willfully publish an unauthorized tax return. We know here that Mr. Trump did not authorize the release of his 1995 tax return. But, after taking a look at precedent set by prior cases, the answer becomes a little stickier. In 2001, the United States Supreme Court released their opinion in a case called Bartnicki v. Vopper, basically saying that parties who do not participate in obtaining illegal interceptions are not liable. If The New York Times did not have a hand in illegally obtaining Mr. Trump’s tax records (as they claim), they will likely not be held liable for publishing them. However, it is important to note that what they did is considered by many to be very unethical and the person who released these pages to The New York Times could potentially be held liable.
• Madison Gesiotto is a conservative writer and commentator who appears on Fox News Channel. She is currently in the final year of pursuing her J.D. at The Michael E. Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. You can reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @madisongesiotto.
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