If Donald Trump is lying about being audited by the IRS, his campaign for the presidency is essentially over.
While it may only be a single lie amidst many, many others, it has the potential to do infinitely more damage than anything else he has said over the course of the race thus far.
Central to Trump's mystique as a businessman and viable presidential candidate is his financial success, and if it turns out he isn't a) as wealthy as he says he is b) isn't paying an adequate amount of tax, or c) he has seriously mismanaged his money, the media will make his life an absolute misery. This is likely why Trump is refusing to release his tax returns as he wants to keep his reputation as a wildly successful tycoon intact.
If Trump released his tax returns and this turned out to be the case, there's a good chance he could survive the onslaught. His supporters don't seem to be that interested in facts, and the media would soon lose interest given the sheer volume of new lies that Trump would inject into the campaign to distract them with.
However, if it turns out that Trump is not only lying about his financial health, but the IRS auditing him in the first place, the damage would be too severe to control. Why? Because Trump has inadvertently raised the stakes so high on this issue that it would be impossible to recover from should he be found out to be bluffing.
Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell elegantly explained to his viewers why this issue is so important, and why he believes Trump is lying about being audited.
"There is no proof that Donald Trump is actually being audited," said O'Donnell. "In March, Donald Trump released a letter from his tax lawyer Willie Nelson -- no seriously -- his tax lawyer is Willie Nelson, and Willie Nelson's letter to Donald Trump is supposed to confirm that Donald Trump is being audited."
"But the letter never once uses the word "audit"," he continued.
"And because it's a letter from a lawyer, reporters probably assume they wouldn't understand that and why bother reading it?"
O'Donnell, who has been urging the media to cover this for months, had actually invited the former director of the IRS under George W. Bush, Mark Everson, back in March of this year to ask him whether Trump was being audited.
"The IRS cannot disclose any tax return information and that would include the mere fact of whether an individual is being audited or not," said Everson.
"So, we're left here with Mr. Trump's word for what is happening."
And as we know, Trump's word is not worth very much.
Current IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told C-SPAN that it is unlikely that an individual taxpayer to be audited every year, as Donald Trump claims he has been.
“Usually when there’s an audit, and it’s cleared up, if there are no other issues, it’s a number of years, two or three at least, before you hear from us again, unless something in your next return pops up,” said Koskinen. “But as a matter of just formal auditing, it would be rare.”
This does not of course, prove that Trump is not being audited -- but it casts doubt on his claim, and he could easily clear it up by releasing an official document from the IRS verifying it. Given his campaign team's reaction to anyone suggesting this, the media shouldn't hold its breath.
Thankfully, Vice News is in the process of suing the IRS to release Trump's audits, so there is a chance this could get cleared up without hounding Trump to release them himself.
The fact that so few media outlets have taken this cause up is truly shocking, and a testament to just how badly they are covering this election. Lawrence O'Donnell has raised this issue on several occasions, yet here we are, two months away from election day and we still don't know a damn thing about Trump's personal finances. As tax historian Joseph Thorndike, the director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, told Bloomberg, if Trump doesn’t release any returns before the election, it would represent “an unprecedented level of secrecy surrounding his personal finances.”
Given Trump has no previous experience in government, has no grasp of domestic and international politics, and has shown himself to be woefully unqualified in every aspect of running a presidential campaign, the very least we can do is hold him accountable for the money he claims he earns and the veracity of his statements about being audited by the IRS.
Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway had the audacity to confront CNN's Alisyn Camerota earlier this week when she asked her whether Donald Trump would release documents from the IRS proving that he was under audit, interrupting Camerota to as her whether she was "calling him a liar". When you take in to consideration the fact that Trump is perhaps the biggest liar in US political history, the onus isn't on the media to prove Trump is a liar -- it's for the Trump campaign to prove otherwise.
Because if Vice or anyone else beats them to it, Trump could be facing a disaster that for once, he won't be able to lie his way out of.