Former President Trump’s tax returns have been released to the public after years of delays.
The release was the result of a years-long investigation conducted by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. That same investigation found that the IRS did not audit Trump’s taxes every year he was in office, which it ordinarily does for presidents.
A VERIFY viewer messaged us on Instagram to ask whether the IRS is legally required to audit the president’s taxes.
Is it required by law for the IRS to audit the president?
No, the IRS is not legally required to audit the president. However, conducting such audits has been the official policy of the IRS since 1977.
WHAT WE FOUND
The official policies of the IRS are laid out in the Internal Revenue Manual. Part 3, chapter 28, section 3 of that manual says “Individual income tax returns for the President and Vice President are subject to mandatory examinations.”
In other words, audits. This policy has been in place since 1977, after a controversy over whether President Richard Nixon was paying his taxes.
It was during that controversy that Nixon also began the tradition of presidents publicly releasing their tax returns, famously saying: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.” His successor Gerald Ford released a summarized version of his tax returns, and every president afterwards voluntarily released their full returns – until Trump.
The IRS implemented the audit policy to prevent future controversy – though unlike the voluntary releases of returns, the results of the audits aren’t usually public.
But official policy isn’t the same as a legal requirement. There is no law mandating that the IRS audit presidents.
The main law that governs the IRS is the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. And as the House Ways and Means Committee acknowledged in its investigative report, the policy of mandatory audits “is not currently codified in,” or written into, that law.
In December, the then-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), introduced a bill that would have changed the law to require the IRS to audit the president’s tax returns. It quickly passed the House – all Democrats voted in favor, plus five Republicans – but was never introduced in the Senate before the new Congress took office.
The IRS resumed regular audits of the president since Joe Biden took office.