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Biden, Harris help restore the modern tradition on tax returns

Every modern president has his tax returns audited automatically, but that didn't stop Joe Biden from disclosing his documents — unlike his predecessor.


There are few rhetorical lines more closely associated with Richard Nixon than these five words: “I am not a crook.” But to assume the phrase had something to do with the Republican’s Watergate scandal isn’t quite right.

Rather, in late 1973, Nixon faced a tax audit that determined that the then-president owed quite a bit in back taxes. All of this coincided with Watergate, but the competing controversies were not directly related.

“The people have to know whether or not their president is a crook,” Nixon told reporters at the time. “Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I’ve got.”

In the wake of Nixon’s resignation, a series of ethics reforms were created, including an automatic audit of every sitting president’s taxes, every year, regardless of circumstances. A president need not be suspected of any wrongdoing; the reform was simply created to help bolster public confidence.

Most modern presidents, eager to appear forthcoming, released their tax returns to the public anyway. Donald Trump — the only modern major-party presidential nominee to refuse to disclose his tax returns — used the post-Watergate reform as an excuse to justify secrecy.

In fact, a couple of weeks before Election Day 2020, Joe Biden boasted that he’d released 22 years’ worth of tax returns, and challenged the Republican incumbent to do the same. Trump, turning to a familiar talking point, said he was facing an IRS audit, and therefore had to keep the materials hidden from the public. “I’m going to release them as soon as we can,” he added. “I want to do it.”

The fact that he was under audit was true, since he was a sitting president, but the claim that he “wanted” to disclose the materials was not. Trump could’ve released the documents to the public, even while under audit, but he instead insisted on secrecy. As NBC News reported, his successor is restoring the modern tradition.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden released their 2021 tax returns on Friday, showing an income of $610,702 during their first year in the White House.... Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, also released their tax returns, showing they made $1.7 million in 2021, similar to the amount earned in 2020.

“With this release, the president has shared a total of 24 years of tax returns with the American public, once again demonstrating his commitment to being transparent with the American people about the finances of the commander in chief,” Biden said in a written statement.

He didn’t mention his immediate predecessor, but he probably didn’t have to. A written statement from the White House last year added, “Today, the president released his 2020 federal income tax return, continuing an almost uninterrupted tradition.”


This morning, the White House issued a new statement, which ignored Trump, but instead turned attention on Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who has called for tax increases on lower-income Americans.

“This Tax Day, the difference in approach between the President and Congressional Republicans couldn’t be clearer,” the statement read. “The President is fighting for tax cuts for the middle class and to ensure that the super wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share, while Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Scott, are proposing big tax increases on middle-class families.”

For Team Biden, the political considerations seem obvious: Who needs to take subtle rhetorical shots at the former president when the current member of the Senate Republican leadership makes a more appealing political target?