Donald Trump in Asheville, North Carolina on Monday. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)
For more than a year, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has claimed that he would "love" to release his tax returns and prove to the public that he is indeed a very wealthy and charitable businessman.But, he's said, there's a hiccup that prevents him from doing so: The tax returns he filed between 2002 and 2008 continue to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service.Last February, however, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that it is "rare" for an individual taxpayer to be audited every year, as Trump insisted he has been. Koskinen noted there is nothing legally stopping any taxpayer from releasing his or her returns publicly.
This week, VICE News filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in US District Court in Washington, DC against the IRS demanding that the agency turn over all audits of Trump's tax returns from 2002 onward. In the suit, filed jointly with Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at MIT and research affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, we asked the IRS for "any and all requests by law enforcement agencies for copies of… Trump's individual tax returns" and "any and all records mentioning or referring to requests by law enforcement agencies for copies of individual tax returns."Separately, we named the FBI as a defendant in the suit to gain access documents connected to a pair of comments Trump made on the campaign trail. At a North Carolina campaign rally on August 9, Trump made a comment that was widely interpreted as calling for the assassination of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton."If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," Trump said, referring to Supreme Court justices. Trump then added: "Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don't know."We asked the FBI to disclose all documents, if any exist, mentioning or referring to that statement. We also asked for all records referring to another inflammatory comment Trump made on July 27 in which he called upon Russia to track down "30,000 emails [from Clinton's server] that are missing."
Because Election Day is less than two months away, we initially asked the IRS and FBI in a FOIA request to grant us expedited processing because there is an urgent need to inform the public before they go to the polls on November 8. Neither the IRS nor the FBI responded to that request, which is why we sued the agencies.As our co-plaintiff, Shapiro, noted, "If the Republican nominee for President of the United States is currently under federal investigation, this is absolutely something the voters should know."Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold