(CNN) — After years of legal battles, pontificating and theorizing, former President Donald Trump’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020 are now part of the public record. Many critics and political opponents have theorized that Trump fought the public release of his tax returns because they potentially provided evidence of illegal or politically damaging behavior.
It’s not clear as of now that they do either.
However, Trump’s tax returns raise numerous questions about the former president’s finances, business activities, foreign ties and charitable giving, among other issues.
Why did Trump work so hard to keep all of this under wraps?
Trump broke decades of tradition by becoming the first president-elect since Nixon to refuse to release his tax returns to the public. When Democratic lawmakers demanded them, Trump fought for years to keep them private, taking the battle to the Supreme Court, a legal fight he ultimately lost.
He frequently claimed during his 2016 presidential run that he couldn’t release his taxes because they were being audited, a claim that was debunked last week when the House Ways and Means Committee revealed that Trump’s 2015 and 2016 taxes they were not audited until 2019.
For now, the thousands of pages of documents offer only more questions about Trump’s finances and may offer potential avenues for further investigation.
What was Trump doing with a Chinese bank account?
Trump reported having offshore bank accounts, including a bank account in China between 2015 and 2017, his tax returns show.
Tax returns do not show what the bank account was used for or how much money went through it or to whom. The New York Times first reported on Trump’s Chinese account in 2020 and Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told the Times that the account was used to pay taxes on Trump International Hotels Management’s business push in the country.
Trump did not report the Chinese bank account in personal financial disclosures when he was president, likely because it was listed in his business dealings. However, he may still have been asked to report the accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
What is the scope of Trump’s foreign business operations and who are his partners?
Trump’s companies and business interests span the globe. On his tax return, Trump listed business income, taxes, expenses, or other notable financial items from or in Azerbaijan, Panama, Canada, India, Qatar, South Korea, the United Kingdom, China, the Dominican Republic, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Grenada, US Territory Puerto Rico, Georgia, Israel, Brazil, St. Maarten, Mexico, Indonesia, Ireland, Turkey, and St. Vincent.
But the tax returns do not explain what business ties he had in those countries and who he may have worked with while he was president.
Unlike previous presidents, Trump refused to sell his business interests while in office. Critics said his many foreign holdings compromised his ability to act independently as a politician.
His 2020 tax return showed zero charitable donations. Did he really donate his presidential salary to charity, as he promised he would?
During his presidency, Trump promised that he would donate his entire $400,000 salary to charity each year. He frequently bragged about donating portions of his quarterly paycheck to various government agencies.
If you donated your 2020 salary, you didn’t claim it on your taxes. Among the six years of tax returns released by the House Ways and Means Committee, 2020 was the only year in which Trump did not list donations to charities.
That doesn’t mean his salary hasn’t been donated, but it’s unknown if he kept his promise in 2020.
Why was Trump lending money to his adult children? And he claimed gifts from his children as loans?
In each year of his presidency, Trump claimed that he had lent three of his adult children — Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric — undisclosed sums of money on which he charged interest.
Tax returns don’t say how much you lent them or why you gave them loans in the first place.
Between 2017 and 2020, Trump claimed he received exactly $18,000 in interest on a loan he gave to his daughter Ivanka Trump and $8,715 in interest from his son Donald Trump, Jr. Between 2017 and 2019, Trump said he received exactly $24,000 from his son Eric Trump who paid him $19,605 in interest in 2020.
The bipartisan Joint Commission on Taxation said the loans and interest amounts claimed could indicate Trump disguised gifts for his children. If the interest Trump claims he charged his children was not at the market rate, for example, it could be considered a gift for tax purposes, forcing him to pay a higher tax rate on the money.
How did Trump’s business operations and income change when he was president?
Trump entered the United States presidency with a vast network of business holdings, including hundreds of limited liability companies, corporations, and partnerships with operations both at home and abroad.
The massiveness and complexity of his business operations — including companies nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls — brought a level of complexity never before seen in the US presidency and raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, especially with foreign entities.
The release of Trump’s personal and business tax returns from 2015 to 2020 this Friday may shed some additional light on how those operations evolved during and shortly after his tenure. But they do not explain where the money was going or to whom.
Why didn’t the IRS do its job?
Since 1977, it has been the policy of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to audit each president’s personal tax returns while they are in office. But the IRS did not examine Trump’s tax returns until the Ways and Means Commission requested an audit in April 2019.
When the commission asked Treasury Department representatives about the apparent lapse, they declined to provide information about the actual operations of the mandatory audit program, according to the commission’s report.
Whether Trump received special treatment or, as the commission noted, the IRS was hampered by a severe lack of resources is unknown.
The lack of an audit looks especially suspicious after representatives for Trump’s predecessor and successor said they had been subjected to annual audits by the IRS. A spokesman for Biden’s White House told the AP that the IRS audited Biden in both 2020 and 2021. Representatives for former President Barack Obama told the New York Times that the IRS audited him every year he was in office. .