President Trump wasted no time responding to a House request for this tax returns. His abrupt answer: No way.
The House Ways and Means Committee formally requested six years of Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service on April 3. Congress has the right to do that. A 1924 anti-corruption law says the committee can obtain anybody’s tax return from the IRS.
“I won’t do it,” Trump told reporters on April 10, the day Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, set as the deadline for delivery of the returns. Trump used his old excuse about being under audit, which doesn’t, in fact, prevent him from turning over his returns. “I have no problem with it,” Trump fibbed, “but while I’m under audit, I won’t give them.”
This is a tiresome fight that is going to get more tiresome. Every major presidential candidate since 1972 has released at least one year of tax returns. Trump refused as a candidate, and it’s no surprise he continues to refuse. But there are legitimate reasons for seeing Trump’s returns, and he seems to be hiding something. For these reasons, this week’s Trump-o-meter reads WEAK, the third-lowest rating.
Trump supporters argue that the president’s finances are his own business, and there’s no public interest served in releasing them for a public feeding frenzy. But Trump properties in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere may be profiting from his role as president, a possible violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. That’s public interest enough.
Trump also signed a sweeping tax-cut law that went into effect last year, with the top 20% of earners likely to capture about 65% of the benefit. The law also cut business taxes across the board. Voters have a right to know if President Trump is benefiting personally from a law he championed and signed.
One final argument against Trump releasing his tax returns is there’s no law requiring him to do so. That was true before. But Congress has now invoked a law requiring the IRS to turn over the returns. The law doesn’t include exceptions for the president, or anyone. You can argue it’s a bad law, but you can’t argue there’s no legal requirement.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, says he’ll “comply with the law,” and consult with the Justice Department about what to do. But given his boss’s determination to keep the returns private, there’s no tenable way Mnuchin or the IRS will turn them over. This means the House must sue to get the returns, with judges deciding and the whole spectacle possibly ending at the Supreme Court. By the time that happens, the 2020 elections could be over.
There’s no doubt Democrats want Trump’s tax returns for political reasons. They want to hunt for information that could embarrass Trump and diminish his reelection odds. As icky as that might be, it’s also beside the point.
First, Trump is impervious to embarrassment. The 45% or so of Americans who approve of his presidency already know he’s a liar, a cheater and a self-aggrandizer. They don’t particularly care and it’s hard to imagine new information would change many minds. Second, the information in Trump’s returns is in the public interest, even if Democrats think it might also serve their political machinations. It’d be better for the country to know what’s in his returns than not to know.
Trump also stuck by his man Herman Cain this week, even though Cain’s nomination to be a Federal Reserve governor was doomed from the start. Cain dropped out of the 2012 presidential race amid several credible claims of sexual harassment. Cain would have to be approved by the Senate, which means Trump, by nominating him, is forcing Senate Republicans to take a stand on sexual harassment: for or against? Some Republican senators could probably afford to vote for Cain, but not nearly enough to confirm him. Cain’s nomination will be officially dead any second now.
Trump’s other Fed nominee, pundit Stephen Moore, has maybe a 50-50 chance. He’s an academic lightweight real economists consider unqualified, but Senate Republicans might confirm him as a consolation prize to Trump. Meanwhile, Trump has axed many of his domestic-security agency heads and embraced the idea of “acting,” or temporary, department heads because he can get rid of them more easily when they fail to please him. Mnuchin probably has that in mind as he ponders whether to comply with the law, or front for his boss.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman