We know from his public outbursts that Donald Trump doesn’t want Robert Mueller looking at his tax returns, but what information does he not what want Mueller to see?
My guess is it’s not just the information on Trump’s personal returns that worrying him. From my own experience as a tax professional, those returns, on their face, are unlikely to contain damning information. The information on a personal tax return isn’t specific enough. Yes, Trump’s tax returns will have many more pages than those of the average taxpayer, but the pages themselves largely will be a lot of numbers. The returns are unlikely to show, for example, who Trump’s lenders are, who his business partners are, who purchased property from him, and other facts that would indicate shady financial dealings.
They will, however, contain the names of some of the business entities in which Trump owns an interest. By itself, that’s not much. But Trump’s tax returns are not where Mueller’s investigatory powers end. It’s barely where they start.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, specifically, Section 6103(i), Mueller could gain access to Trump’s “tax return information” if it’s relevant to his investigation. “Tax return information” includes more than just the information on Trump’s tax returns. For example, any person who made payments to Trump likely would file a Form 1099 with the IRS. The information on those Forms 1099 would become part of Trump’s tax return information, even though it would not appear on the face of Trump’s tax return. Ditto for payments of interest Trump made to any lenders. They would appear on Forms 1098 filed by Trump’s lenders with the IRS.
There are also the audits Trump claims take place each year. If any of those audits resulted in changes to Trump’s tax liability, the audit findings would become part of Trump’s tax return information.
And it wouldn’t end there. Mueller could then take a peek at the tax return information of all those entities in which Trump owned an interest for the limited purpose of identifying his business partners. He also might be able to identify the owners of business entities that made loans or payments to Trump.
After all that, Mueller likely will have many new leads, including the names of a bunch more people to interview.
And it seems Trump is afraid of where Mueller may find himself when he follows those leads.