Trump: Should Congress get his tax returns?
We may be about to solve one of the longest-standing mysteries of the Donald Trump presidency, said David Leonhardt in The New York Times: “Why is Trump so afraid of letting people see his tax returns?” Last week, Democratic Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, formally wrote to the Internal Revenue Service requesting Trump’s tax returns for the last six years. Trump reacted with defiance, reiterating his false claim that an ongoing audit prevents him from releasing his returns, while acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney went further, telling Fox News that Democrats would “never” see Trump’s taxes. The 1924 law cited by Neal is very clear, said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. It states that “upon written request” from the House Ways and Means chairman, the IRS “shall furnish” him the returns of any citizen. There are many good reasons for Congress and the public to see Trump’s taxes, so that we can find out how after he went bankrupt he got hundreds of millions in cash to buy golf courses and other properties, and whether he “has been running the executive branch in America’s interest or his own.”
Poor Democrats, said Tiana Lowe in WashingtonExaminer.com. Crushed by Robert Mueller’s failure to end Trump’s presidency, they’ve simply “moved on to the next shiny thing”—Trump’s taxes. But disappointment awaits them here too. Despite the law cited by Neal, the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can’t investigate people “for the sake of exposure,” with no legislative purpose. Unless Democrats can find a stronger argument than “Orange Man Bad,” their request will die in the Supreme Court, which has a majority of conservatives. Neal’s stated rationale, that he needs Trump’s returns to gauge the effectiveness of routine IRS audits of sitting presidents, “is eyewash,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. This is a transparent effort to “embarrass the president” in the run-up to 2020.
So what if Democrats have a political motive? said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. They also have a constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch, and “there has never in American history been a president for whom it was more important that the public learn the full details of their finances.” Trump is clearly desperate to keep his returns secret, perhaps because they will reveal evidence of tax fraud, money laundering, financial ties to foreign countries, and other conflicts of interest. Let’s not forget Trump repeatedly told voters that he had “no business whatsoever with Russia,” while secretly pursuing a lucrative deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. By defying Congress, Trump no doubt hopes to trigger a long legal battle that delays the release of his returns until after the 2020 election. Should he win re-election, he could then say: Hey, suckers, “you knew I was a crook when you elected me.”
Democrats may have the law on their side, said David French in NationalReview.com, but what an awful law it is. Like Trump or loathe him, the realization that “Congress can investigate your finances—no matter who you are—for any reason or no reason at all” should be chilling to all Americans. That law has never been abused, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, and respect for the rule of law used to be a sacred Republican value. But here in the age of Trump we live with two chilling certainties: “that this president holds himself above legal accountability, and that his party will support him to the hilt.” ■