Friday, April 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about his taxes, again.

Trump had this exchange with reporters outside the White House today:

Q: Are you confident you’ll be able to keep the Democrats from getting your taxes? 
TRUMP: Oh, I don’t know. That’s up to whoever handles it. I don’t know. Hey, I’m under audit. But that’s up to whoever it is. I — from what I understand, the law is 100 percent on my side.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has instructed the IRS to provide that committee with Trump's personal tax returns for the past six years, as well as statements for certain of Trump's business entities. Neal has that authority under the Internal Revenue Code 6103(f), which states that

[u]pon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.

The word "shall" is important here: in this legal context, it means that the IRS does not have a choice.

Trump's reference to it being up to "whoever handles it" is interesting, because he's taken an extraordinary interest in getting people with specific kinds of connections to him appointed to those positions. The New York Times reported yesterday that Trump appointed a lawyer from the firm that handles his own businesses' taxes to the position of IRS general counsel—and that he told Senate Republicans to make it a top priority with Democrats likely to make these requests. Neal's request was sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, who Trump also appointed. Before being tapped for the position, Rettig wrote an article defending Trump's decision not to release his tax returns for public inspection while (allegedly) under audit. Rettig also owns apartments in Trump's buildings, something he attempted to conceal during his confirmation.

Trump is the only presidential candidate since President Nixon not to publicly release his tax returns. It's not clear what specifically Trump fears will be found in his tax returns, but he apparently is desperate to keep the issue tied up in court at least until after the 2020 election. A Trump administration official compared it to warfare: "This is a hill and people would be willing to die on it."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Important government positions should be given to the people best qualified to do them, not people who the president thinks will look after his personal interests.
  • The law is what the law is, not what the president wants it to be.
  • Innocent people don't usually go to this kind of extreme lengths to conceal evidence of their innocence.