Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Congress can answer the question 'what is Trump hiding' with its power to subpoena tax returns

Some of the news cycle for past week or so has focused on the secrecy that prevents us from knowing about Trump’s meetings with Putin. Those meetings have been held behind closed doors, with no advisors present, and translators gagged and relieved of their notes.

But there is another set of documents that so far have been successfully kept secret by Trump and his administration - his tax returns. Those documents may yet be exposed, if not to the general public then at least to a congressional committee or two. In two days we might see the beginning of the battle for those returns.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/Maddow Blog) reports that the Trump admin prepares strategy to keep president’s tax returns hidden

It’s quite likely that, in the near future, the House Democratic majority will take steps to obtain Donald Trump’s long-hidden tax returns. Politico reports today that administration officials are “gearing up” to ensure the materials are kept under wraps.

Trump’s Treasury Department is readying plans to drag the expected Democratic request for Trump’s past tax filings, which he has closely guarded, into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments.

At the same time, officials intend to publicly cast the request as a nakedly partisan exercise. The two-pronged scheme was developed by a handful of top political appointees and lawyers inside the department – with the ultimate goal of keeping the president’s past returns private, according to four people familiar with the administration’s approach.

Evidently, the plan rests on a specific argument: if lawmakers obtain the tax materials, they’re likely to leak the documents so that the American public can see them. With this in mind, administration officials intend to argue that Democrats’ untrustworthiness is a worthy justification for ongoing secrecy.

It raises the prospect of a protracted fight, including litigation, that could last months – possibly stretching into the heart of next year’s presidential campaign – all over materials every other president since Watergate has gladly shared with the public in the interests of transparency.

It’s amazing just how much effort Team Trump has invested into keeping those tax returns secret.

At a certain level, the White House’s anxieties are eased, at least a little, by the fact that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) doesn’t seem especially interested in this issue, and to the irritation of progressive activists, he isn’t rushing to instigate a confrontation.

But the confrontation is nevertheless inevitable. In fact, some lawmakers are taking steps to help keep the fight on the front burner. The Washington Post reported last week:

A House panel is set to examine proposals that would force the public disclosure of presidential and vice-presidential tax returns, a direct challenge from Democrats to President Trump’s norm-breaking decision not to reveal his own.

The hearing of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight is scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 7, two days after Trump visits Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), did not provide details about the hearing Thursday beyond its title, “Legislative Proposals and Tax Law Related to Presidential and Vice-Presidential Tax Returns,” and a list of witnesses.

So I repeat: what is Trump hiding?

AZ Blue Meanie reviews Trump’s promise, made and broken, to release his returns in Follow the Money – Congress needs to see Trump tax returns. Here’s is some of that and Congress’ legal authority to obtain those records.

Donald Trump has consistently misled the public about releasing his tax returns, as every presidential candidate and president has done since Richard Nixon. Trump started out saying “If I decide to run for office, I’ll produce my tax returns, absolutely,” he said. “And I would love to do that.” Then he hemmed and hawed, and finally spewed bullshit about how he couldn’t release his tax returns because he is under an audit. After he was elected Trump asserted no one cared about his tax returns, and has consistently refused to produce his tax returns. All the things Donald Trump has said about releasing his tax returns.

The previous Republican Congress enabled Trump to get away with not producing his tax returns as part of its oversight function, despite three Emoluments Clause cases having been filed, and long-standing allegations about foreign money flowing into the Trump organization, money laundering and influence peddling.

But now the Democrats control the oversight committees in the House. Steve Rosenthal explains, Congress Can And Should Demand President Trump’s Tax Returns:

Incoming House Ways & Means Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) indicated that he will request President Trump’s tax returns soon after Democrats formally take control of the House in January. Trump already has said he will try to block their release. [More on this below.] In this matter, Neal is right. He not only has the authority to see the president’s tax returns, such a step is appropriate and necessary, as part of our checks and balances. The Constitution calls upon the House, along with the Senate, both to enact legislation and to oversee whether those laws are faithfully executed. To fulfill its oversight responsibility, I believe the House should demand the President’s tax returns.

The House effectively delegates its oversight responsibilities to its committees which can issue subpoenas for documents or testimony from the executive branch. In the matter of tax returns, the law could not be more clear (see Code sec. 6103(f)): Upon written request by either the Chairman of either the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee, the Treasury Secretary “shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request.” The Ways and Means Committee may share these tax returns and related information with the full House, assuming there is a legitimate purpose for doing so.

And, BTW, the Blue Meanie adds this: “Congressional committees are not the only ones that can obtain Trump’s personal and organization tax returns. It is a near certainty that Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the Southern District of New York has already received the tax records of the Trump organization, the Trump Foundation, and the Trump campaign.

State and federal prosecutors are “following the money.” Congress also has the obligation to “follow the money” in congressional oversight.

So, the legal machinery that would allow Congress to obtain Trump’s tax returns is in place. Doing so would answer my question: “what is Trump hiding”?

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