White House on defensive over transparency
The Trump administration battled mounting criticism over transparency issues this week, as tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities across the U.S. demanding the release of the president’s tax returns and the White House reversed an Obamaera policy of disclosing its visitor logs. The president responded to protests by tweeting, “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies. The election is over!” Trump has said he cannot release his tax returns because they’re under audit— and will be for 2017, because the Internal Revenue Service automatically audits a president’s taxes. The IRS has said audits don’t prevent taxpayers from releasing returns.
Democrats warned that Trump’s opacity could endanger comprehensive tax reform, one of his key policy goals, because voters need to know whether any tax code changes might personally enrich the president. “The average American is going to say, “Oh, he’s not doing that because it’s good for me. He’s doing it because it’s good for him,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Meanwhile, watchdog groups assailed the decision to withhold records of officials, lobbyists, and others who visit the White House. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the move, maintaining, “There’s a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come and express their views” to the president.
What the columnists said
Trump has a point: “The election is over,” said Emily Jashinsky in the Washington Examiner. He won the presidency without releasing his taxes, despite questions about potential business conflicts. On the other hand, “Trump used transparency questions” to defeat the notoriously opaque Hillary Clinton, branding her “Crooked Hillary” to cheers across the country. That smacks of hypocrisy now, and until Trump sheds his own veil of secrecy, opponents can ask, “What is he hiding?” Better than anyone, Trump “knows how powerful that narrative can be.”
“The scale and scope” of Trump’s disdain for transparency are breathtaking, said Sarah Posner in The Washington Post. Discontinuing the release of White House logs keeps Americans “in the dark about corporate executives and lobbyist visits,” as well as potential quid pro quos. Trump’s administration is rife with former executives, and he’s provided them with “secret waivers” from ethics rules. It’s a real risk that such offenses become run-ofthe- mill and “lose their power to shock and outrage,” making it easier for future presidents to skirt basic ethical norms.
“Trump has made a bet that voters ultimately don’t care about transparency,” said Lee Drutman in TheAtlantic.com. The silver lining is that while his White House is far more officially opaque than Obama’s, unofficially it leaks like a sieve. We’re getting “meeting details, staff infighting, and policy discussions,” which arguably offer a much deeper, real-time glimpse into an administration than ever before. Press reports have already led to staff shake-ups. “The antibodies of democracy are looking strong. And it seems they’ll have plenty to target, regardless of how transparent”— or secretive—our president is.