The Jury Talks Back

4/4/2019

Democrats Request Trump Tax Returns, As Apparently Allowed by Law

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 9:43 pm

Washington Post (h/t JVW):

The White House said Thursday that Democratic efforts to obtain President Donald Trump’s tax records are “political games.”

A House committee chairman formally asked the IRS Wednesday to provide six years of Trump’s personal tax returns and the returns for some of his businesses as Democrats try to shed light on his complex financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest.

The request by Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, who heads the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, is the first such demand for a sitting president’s tax information in 45 years. The unprecedented move is likely to set off a huge legal battle between Democrats controlling the House and the Trump administration.

Neal made the request Wednesday in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, asking for Trump’s personal and business returns for 2013 through 2018. He asked for the documents in seven days, setting an April 10 deadline.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he “would not be inclined” to provide his tax returns to the committee. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday morning that the White House “is not interested in playing a bunch of political games like the Democrats in Congress clearly want to spend their time doing.”

I’m not sure it matters whether Trump is inclined to provide his tax returns or not. At least facially, what appears to matter is whether the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee wants to see them. Here’s the text of 26 U.S.C. § 6103:

(f) Disclosure to Committees of Congress

(1) Committee on Ways and Means, Committee on Finance, and Joint Committee on Taxation

Upon 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 shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.

So it looks like the committee would have to sit in closed executive session, but I bet Richard Neal can make sure they do that.

Sure, it’s unprecedented, but so is not providing your tax returns as President, lying about the reason you won’t do it, the endless opportunities for foreign bribery of a President who maintains a financial interest in his companies, and a lot of other stuff. The point is, unless there is a mystery decision out there saying the language doesn’t mean what it appears to mean, the Democrats can do this.

And I think it’s great.

Let Trump and his fans howl. I don’t care. I think he’s a criminal and I think his tax returns are one of the keys to the box. As the old-time adventure video games would have said:

Obtain key. Use key. Open box.

33 Comments »

  1. To me, the strongest argument the Democrats can make regarding Trump’s tax returns is that they need them because Trump refused to divest his business interests, so reviewing his returns are needed to evaluate how Trump’s business interests are impacted by foreign interests.

    This sounds like something Mueller might have looked at but I wonder if he did, except possibly with respect to Russia. It seems more likely that any investigation of trump and the Trump Organization regarding pre- and post-campaign business problems (e.g., insurance/bank fraud questions) would have been referred by Mueller to the SDNY or State authorities. IMO that’s where looking at Trump’s personal and business tax returns woukd happen.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 3:35 pm

  2. You think he’s a criminal and therefore it’s fine for Democrats to go poking around in his tax returns? I’m sorry, but that is a dangerous precedent to establish and counter to how we operate. If you or they have actual evidence of wrong doing then start another investigation, but lacking any probable cause beyond someone’s gut feeling the White House should continue to tell them to take a hike.

    Comment by Sean — 4/5/2019 @ 3:40 pm

  3. Sean,

    It sounds like you think Congress can’t investigate unless it knows Trump has done something illegal but that usn’t how investigations work. There must be evidence and there is evidence that Trump and his businesses are engaging in self-dealing while/because of his status as President.

    When Rex Tolleson was CEO of ExxonMobil, he could not use that position to negotiate with Russia for a private dacha for himself and his family. He owed all his time and efforts to the company. The same is true for the Presiddnt, who owes all his time and efforts to the USA. We even give him a place to live because he never has time off from his job. That means everything he does has to benefit the country, not him and his businesses.

    Finally, we know Trump has done questionable things with his charities and Foundation. You can find those links, but his pattern is established, and there are also the claims by Michael Cohen. Even if you disbelieve these as claims as by a liar/convicted felon, they still have to be investigated.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 5:56 pm

  4. Tillerson, not Tolleson.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 5:57 pm

  5. Here is a summary of evidence, not proof but evudence, if you don’t have time for the other links.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 6:07 pm

  6. Off-topic.

    Is this good Trump is trying to understand legal concepts or is it bad that he is doing such a spectacularly awful job at it?

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 6:36 pm

  7. Sean,

    Does this relevant? As a former golfer, I believe whether someone cheats when they play golf actually does tell us a lot about whether they cheat in other areas of their lives … but it probably shows us about character and not actions.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/5/2019 @ 6:57 pm

  8. Business dealings without sufficient evidence of quid pro quo do not constitute probable cause to open an investigation, and neither does someone’s proclivity to flub their strokes on the golf course. I’m sure Obama called fouls on the court that weren’t, but that doesn’t warrant a Congressional investigation. Now, of course that’s an absurd example, but on the more serious questions legitimate business dealings do not prevent someone from serving in government, and just the accusation that Trump is dealing under the table isn’t enough to justify a witch hunt without evidence of actual wrong doing.

    Comment by Sean — 4/6/2019 @ 9:00 am

  9. I think these demands to see Trump’s returns are legal (as near as I can tell), so I think they should be honored, and honored every bit as much and as fast as past congressional demands, like the ones for Fast&Furious info, Clinton investigation info, Obama IRS scandal info, etc, etc, etc.

    On one hand, I think Trump’s returns should be checked for illegal foreign dealings and influence (or domestic, for that matter) while in office or shortly before (though I certainly don’t trust Democrats to do it). On the other hand, it is utterly counterproductive to honor the law more than Democrats do.

    I also think that Trump’s tax returns will be a big nothingburger in the end, because they were, after all, good enough for the Obama IRS for 8 years.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 4/6/2019 @ 12:21 pm

  10. Sean, thanks for your response. It sounds like you think Trump’s returns are being requested because he is in business and you think that is wrong. I take that, unlike CJ, you don’t care that the law seems to allow some House committees to see the returns. Maybe someday we can discuss my substantive comments (not my golf comment, where I said Trump cheating at golf is not evidence that he cheats at everything).

    But I will be watching the Final Four so I hope you both have a nice weekend.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/6/2019 @ 12:57 pm

  11. My issue with this has more to do with knowing when to apply the authority vested in your position than whether or not you have the legal ability to do so. It’s a matter of intent. Right now the Democrat’s aren’t wanting Trump’s taxes for anything other than a fishing expedition hoping it might reveal something that can lead to impeachment. That, in my opinion, is an abuse and perversion of the power granted to Congress.

    Comment by Sean — 4/6/2019 @ 1:10 pm

  12. “I don’t care” The sound of principals flushed down the memory hole. He’s guilty, I know it, now just prove it, Stalinesque.

    Comment by bud — 4/7/2019 @ 8:23 am

  13. The actual quote, bud:

    Let Trump and his fans howl. I don’t care.

    P has given up on Trump fans, not his principles, and we know that because he spent most of the post showing the legal basis for Congressional committees to review tax returns (of anyone, not just Presidents). Finally, people who care about the rules are the opposite of Stalinesque. So everything you said is incorrect.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/7/2019 @ 8:40 am

  14. Sean,

    There is no intent requirement regarding the use of this Congressional power, and power is the operative word, isn’t it? Everything that happens in DC is political. We hope that people we send to DC will have character and want to do the right thing, but if they don’t then we hope our system of checks and balances will help protect us. If not, the remedy is to vote them out. When the Democrats won the House, it was the people voting out the GOP and this is one consequence.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/7/2019 @ 8:58 am

  15. I join P in wanting this to happen. Presidents are not above the law in America.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/7/2019 @ 9:00 am

  16. Yes, elections have consequences, but claiming our host is standing on some moral high ground claiming he believes Trump its guilty of something and the Democrats should use their Congressional powers to dig into his financial history to discover proof of his perceived misdeeds is foolish. To utilize Congressional power in this manner in an attempt to prove this hypothesis is not only abusive but a massive betrayal of trust we place in Congress—not that they haven’t crossed this line before, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to this type of abuse or cheer them on because the guy we don’t like is being goaded.

    If Congress has evidence or testimony of something specific Trump has done illegally then have at it, but claims that business dealings “may have” been illegal simply because of the parties involved isn’t a high enough bar that I would expect a judge to issue a warrant much less allow Congress to go poking around in a citizen’s tax returns. A gut feeling isn’t a legal standard, associations aren’t enough to prosecute, and this non-stop witch hunt is growing tiresome.

    If people like Schiff have the goods like they’ve been bloviating about for years then it’s time to put up or shut up (and if they had any principles they’d resign).

    Comment by Sean — 4/7/2019 @ 9:27 am

  17. I see by your last comment that you didn’t read my earlier comments. Fair enough. Good day.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/7/2019 @ 9:34 am

  18. DRJ, I appreciate the links you posted, and I would have liked for Trump to have followed through with his campaign promise in releasing the returns on his own, but that doesn’t negate the issue at hand. Democrats have been on record saying this is nothing more than a fishing expedition (paraphrasing here) and that several of them shortly after being sworn in made promises to impeach the President on nothing more than their belief that the special investigator’s report would prove their accusations of wrong doing. However, Barr’s summary shows there was no collusion on the part of the President (questions of possible obstruction aside) so what exactly do you think his tax returns will show that the investigation was unable to prove?

    Comment by Sean — 4/7/2019 @ 2:42 pm

  19. We haven’t even seen a report or any tax returns so I won’t speculate about what any of them may show, but we do know that Trump has:

    1. A propensity to engage in self-dealing with his charitable interests and foundations, and

    2. There is evidence he and Kushner may have used their government positions to benefit financially.

    Those subjects are what my links discuss, not campaign promises or issues, and they are or should be investigated by looking at Trump’s business and financial records (including tax returns)

    Comment by DRJ — 4/7/2019 @ 6:13 pm

  20. Since Trump refused to put his assets in a blind trust, report alone is a basis to investigate him and look at his taxes:

    Trump’s Company Reports Profit From Foreign Governments Rose Last year
    Net earnings from such spending rose 26% to $191,538 in 2018
    Eric Trump says company donated equivalent amount to Treasury

    At a minimum, Congress should be able to look at Trump and his businesses to make sure he is reimbursing the government correctly. Being investigated is the consequence of working two jobs at the same time when one of those jobs is being President. He could avoid this with a blind trust but HE CHOOSE not to.

    What if Nancy Pelosi owned a DC hotel while she was in Congress and there was evidence her profits went up when she became Speaker? Wouldn’t you want that investigated?

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 7:55 am

  21. Link.

    I wonder if the hotel charges foreigners the same rate it charged the campaign? Doesn’t that sound like self-dealing?

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 7:59 am

  22. The Constitution doesn’t specify that once elected President you must surrender operation of all businesses. In fact, many of our founders ran businesses while in Government. If Congress has specific evidence showing ill-gotten gains then investigate, but increased profits isn’t a standard I want used in Congressional investigations, that includes the Pelosi hypothetical. Now, if we’re talking Lincoln bedroom shenanigans then I could see probable cause for an investigation of self-dealing, but a company reporting profits without any evidence that it was done as a quid pro quo (e.g. Hunter Biden) shouldn’t be used to open a Federal investigation.

    If Trump has financial issues in his taxes, let the IRS do their job. If Mueller was half the investigator everyone claimed he is, then any self-dealing should have been brought to light during his investigation, but Barr cleared Trump in his summary. Now, if we find out Barr lied, backed by Mueller saying he colluded for profit, then go after him with everything we have, but as it stands right now there simply isn’t anything there to justify such action.

    Comment by Sean — 4/8/2019 @ 9:50 am

  23. Trump actually cannot put his assets in a blind trust. Basically, he’d have to forget what his name is.

    A blind trust is so named because it removes from sight of the person entrusting (trustor) the assets. For example, if a congresscritter puts their stock portfolio in a blind trust, they no longer know what they are invested in. However, it is not plausible to put their house into a blind trust, it’s a total farce, because they still know they own it (and thus, by definition, there is no blind aspect to said trust for that asset).

    If Trump attempted a blind trust, it would be a farce. He’s still be aware that he owns Trump tower and all the other Trump buildings and properties. His name is also a brand with monetary value, so unless he forgets his surname, it’s not an actual blind trust.

    What he could, and arguably should, do is hand over control of his enterprises to his family for the duration of his time in office. I know he said he was doing that, but I have no clue if he actually did it.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 4/8/2019 @ 2:15 pm

  24. A blind trust puts control of the business in another person’s hands, but it also means the President-business owner has no knowledge or input into how the business is run. There s no reason Trump couldn’t use a blind trust.

    Trump owns properties and has also licensed his name to businesses, but these are not the same as promising his personal services. The businesses can still operate with someone else as CEO — you essentially acknowledged this by saying family members could run the businesses for him. An unrelated CEO could run them, too. That is what a blind trust would do.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 2:47 pm

  25. Of course, a true blind trust would require Trump liquidate his assets so what I outlined would be a trust, not a blind trust. But he won’t even do that.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 2:51 pm

  26. Sean, which Presidents have operated businesses while in office? Are you thinking about LBJ? If so, good comparison.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 3:31 pm

  27. We say we are a nation of laws, not men. What that means to me is our goal is for the laws to apply to all, no matter who they are. So this statute would have let a GOP House request a Democratic President’s tax returns, too. It doesn’t require political neutrality.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 6:23 pm

  28. How would you write a law that does what you want, Sean? In other words, how could you let Congress look at tax returns for “good” (non-political) reasons but not for “bad” (political) reasons?

    I don’t see how you could ever do that. In a different context, Obama supporters certainly thought demands to see his birth certificate were politicized and they probably were in some cases, but I think some people were sincerely concerned that Obama might not be an American and eligible to be President. Who decides which issues are political and which aren’t?

    In cases like this, especially political disputes, isn’t it easier and more fair to let the law guide what can be done and not worry about intent? If you don’t agree, then how do you decide whose intent matters? Do you have to ask all the Committee members? If they deny a political motive, does the other side always get the final decision?

    Comment by DRJ — 4/8/2019 @ 7:16 pm

  29. During his Presidency, Carter used a qualified blind trust that allowed him to retain ownership of his family business but someone else ran it while he was President. But after allegations of financial wrongdoing during his campaign, Carter converted it to what the NY Times called an open trust and released his business financial statements. (Carter had already released his tax returns during his campaign.)

    Comment by DRJ — 4/9/2019 @ 4:40 am

  30. For what it’s worth, while it seems to me that DRJ has the better of the argument on the question of self-dealing, this post is disturbing for the reasons Sean states. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

    “I think he’s a criminal.”

    That reads as straight up animus with the desire to use the criminal justice system to achieve it. Mueller didn’t get him, so let’s put our hope here instead. “I think he’s a criminal” – we just need to find out how, and then he’ll get what’s coming to him.

    Look, I didn’t vote for the man. He’s unworthy of his office. But let’s not legitimate criminal fishing expeditions against political opponents. That’s what Patterico wants here, even supposing DRJ to be correct on the self-dealing while in office predicate.

    Comment by Nathan Wagner — 4/9/2019 @ 3:58 pm

  31. Thanks, Nathan! I really appreciate your words.

    In addition, I’ve read Patterico a long time and I believe that when he says he thinks Trump is a criminal, it is because of everything we have seen about Trump during his adult life: the evidence of self-dealing, his excessive lawsuits with vendors and other creditors, the Trump University scam and other suspicious ventures, his misuse of charities and foundations, and the actions of his associates on his behalf. (I doubt Cohen paid off or threatened people without Trump’s knowledge. Trump likely told him to do those things.)

    Comment by DRJ — 4/10/2019 @ 5:59 am

  32. In other words, we already know so many things about Trump that justify an investigation that this isn’t a fishing expedition, it is based on evidence and his behavior for years. It is similar to why many of us want(ed) investigations of the Clintons — because of their years of suspicious, deceptive behavior and questionable coincidences.

    Comment by DRJ — 4/10/2019 @ 6:07 am

  33. Thanks, Nathan! I really appreciate your words.

    In addition, I’ve read Patterico a long time and I believe that when he says he thinks Trump is a criminal, it is because of everything we have seen about Trump during his adult life: the evidence of self-dealing, his excessive lawsuits with vendors and other creditors, the Trump University scam and other suspicious ventures, his misuse of charities and foundations, and the actions of his associates on his behalf. (I doubt Cohen paid off or threatened people without Trump’s knowledge. Trump likely told him to do those things.)

    Nope. It has nothing to do with the facts you and I have cited or his documented history of lying, cheating, and fraud. It’s all about me being Stalinist and deciding guilt for no reason.

    Why you bother to post links and evidence, DRJ, I have no idea. Several people here owe me an apology, but somehow I am not expecting to see one.

    It’s Trump’s world. How dare I invade it and level fact-based documented criticism.

    Comment by Patterico — 4/10/2019 @ 8:24 pm

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