To cut to bare bones, there are two kinds of Trump supporters: those who fully appreciate what a vulgar, amoral ignoramus he is, but will pretend not to notice as long as he gives them things they want, such as conservative judges, and those who are blinded by the game show host myth that he’s some billionaire genius who knows stuff*. The former are cynics, willing to sell their souls, so there’s nothing to be done to dissuade them from supporting Trump.
But what of the true believers? Is there anything that can shake them out of their mindless backing of a man who says windmills cause cancer? Maybe if he were revealed not merely as a rapist, a liar and moron, which is already clear, and reconfirmed almost hourly, but a fraud.
What if his tax returns showed that the one thing, the key to his myth, that distinguishes Darth Cheeto from the unemployed guy with three hungry kids, was a lie? What if it turned out that Trump was no billionaire, but a guy hanging on financially by a thread, scamming the public by attributing a billion dollars worth of good will to a name, without which would put his empire deep in the fiscal toilet?
When the Democrats took the majority in the House, and thus the chairs of committees, it was anticipated that they would go hard and fast at the IRS to get Trump’s tax returns, the ones he refused to reveal during his candidacy. Law didn’t require disclosure, but norms since Nixon did. Somehow, he managed to pull off the miracle of keeping his “rich guy being audited” returns a secret, which might have made sense to the willfully clueless but no one else.
Yet, there was a surprising hole in the subpoenas being issued by House committees, as the tax returns seemed suddenly forgotten. Until now, as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., has requested six years of personal and corporate returns from the IRS. It’s not that the law doesn’t provide for the subpoena of tax returns. It does. It’s that the justification for the demand can’t be “we hate this guy and want to use his tax returns to prove he’s a fraud.”
But Neal sent the letter with this explanation.
Seriously? That’s the best excuse they could come up with?
“This request is about policy, not politics; my preparations were made on my own track and timeline, entirely independent of other activities in Congress and the Administration,” Neal said in a statement.
Neal said that the decision to request the returns was in the interest of ensuring “the accountability of our government and elected officials. To maintain trust in our democracy, the American people must be assured that their government is operating properly, as laws intend.
Heartwarming as these empty platitudinous crap may be, they had three months to come up with a reason that could pass the smell test, and this is the best they could do? Unfortunately, “we really hate this guy and want to reveal him as a phony” isn’t a justification to demand his tax returns, even if it would be more than sufficient for many Americans.
The question isn’t whether presidential candidates should be required by law to disclose their tax returns, their business interests, the accoutrements of their life that has become the norm and is considered mandatory. It should be law, but it isn’t. It should have precluded his winning, but it didn’t. Notably, it’s still not law. Yet, anyway.
But does the reason proffered by Neal suffice?
“Congress must have a legitimate legislative reason for accessing the returns,” Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University, told ABC News. Whittington predicted that Congress could identify valid reasons to examine a sitting president’s tax returns, but obtaining Trump’s tax returns from his years as a private citizen “might be a little more complicated.”
One sound argument could be that tax returns are needed to ascertain whether there has been a violation of the Emoluments Clause, that Trump has used his office to enrich himself from foreign governments. There is no shortage of evidence to support such a claim, regardless of whether the interpretation of the reach of the Emoluments Clause is correct.
“A fishing expedition into the president’s taxes could open up politically motivated efforts to divulge others’ taxes, at the price of privacy,” Harold Krent, Dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, told ABC News.
Krent suggested a narrower approach: “I would think that the House would be better off seeking particular returns as part of a larger investigation into the flow of Russian money, payments of hush money, etc., in order to cabin the precedent,” he said.
Bear in mind, if disclosure of tax returns became available as a purely political tool, it would cut both ways.
Congressional Democrats have the “potential to shoot themselves badly in the foot,” [Iowa law prof Andy] Grewal said, pointing out that ninety percent of legislators don’t share their tax returns. Trump could use the same tax code provision to peek at their filings, he said.
This effort to get their hands on Trump’s tax returns could end up, like so many other efforts to “get” Trump, backfiring. But then, they don’t want just the returns during his presidency, which might carry a better rationale but would be inadequate to humiliate the fraudster who passed himself off as a billionaire. By extending the demand to his pre-presidency returns, however, they have reached beyond any legitimate justification and into the realm of pure partisan politics.
There is a good chance this valiant effort will open up the next round of court battles over the sufficiency of the justification, which will make Trump look like the victim of hateful Dems trying to abuse their power as we roll into the 2020 presidential campaign. But even if it succeeded, it would create yet more TrumpLaw.
“Weaponizing the tax code for political purposes sets a dangerous precedent,” [Texas Republican Rep. Kevin] Brady told reporters last week. “Because if Democrats or any party can abuse their power to rummage through the tax returns of the president, what will stop them from abusing that power in the future frankly to target any individual American that they see as a political enemy?”
And what will stop the Republicans from doing the same, as every Dem in Congress, or who runs for president, will surely realize?
*Within this group of dolts and crazies are those who see Trump as the Great White Hope to restore America to its former glory as a white, Christian nation.