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Social Post Wrong About Obama’s Tax Returns

Quick Take

Former President Barack Obama, like many major party presidential nominees before him, released his tax returns — despite a popular social media post that implies otherwise.

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As congressional Democrats fight to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns, a popular post on social media implies — wrongly — that former President Barack Obama also declined to reveal his annual tax documents.

“Did we ever see Obama’s school records, his social security records, his selective service records, or his tax returns?” it asks.

Obama released seven years’ worth of his tax returns during his 2008 presidential campaign — keeping with longstanding tradition of transparency by many major party candidates. Then, while in office, he published on the White House website his tax returns for 20082009201020112012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Barack and Michelle Obama’s tax returns from 2008 to 2015 were published on the White House website.

Obama’s returns from 2000 to 2015 are also available through the Tax Analysts’ Tax History Project, which collects and publishes returns released by presidential candidates.

In 2016, Trump became the first major party presidential nominee in decades not to disclose his tax returns, claiming that they were under audit. And, as we’ve noted before, most sitting presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns — even though presidents are automatically subject to an annual IRS audit.

Trump has continued to resist calls to make his returns public. Last week, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee issued subpoenas to the heads of the Treasury Department and IRS to release Trump’s returns for tax years 2013 through 2018. State lawmakers in New York also have advanced a bill that, if enacted, would allow for the release of Trump’s state tax returns to certain congressional committees.

Democrats vying to become their party’s nominee in the 2020 presidential election have also started to release their tax returns. A number of candidates — including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth WarrenBeto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, Kamala Harris, Cory BookerKirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee — have released tax returns. Former Vice President Joe Biden also previously released several years’ worth of his tax returns; the Tax History Project has logged his tax returns from 1998 to 2015.

The viral meme is reminiscent of another misleading graphic that was spread on websites and in emails during the 2012 election. It claimed that Obama’s school records and Selective Service registration were “sealed.” We debunked many of the claims in that meme at the time, noting that Obama’s Selective Service registration was indeed made public and that the Selective Service confirmed he registered on Sept. 4, 1980.

Obama’s college records also weren’t “sealed.” It’s true that he didn’t release them, but that was consistent with other presidential candidates. Trump also has not released his college records.

Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified to Congress in February that he wrote “letters … at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.”

A copy of Cohen’s May 2015 letter to Fordham University’s president said that releasing Trump’s records without his consent could “lead to jail time,” and requested confirmation that “the records have been permanently sealed.” Trump attended Fordham before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he finished his undergraduate degree at the Wharton School.

A Fordham spokesman also confirmed that the university received a call from the Trump campaign about the issue and then a follow-up letter from an attorney for Trump.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.


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Trump, Donald (@realDonaldTrump). “In interview I told @AP that my taxes are under routine audit and I would release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!” Twitter. 11 May 2016.

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A social post implies former President Barack Obama didn't release his tax returns.
Saturday, May 11, 2019