The Morning Jolt

White House

Democrats Demand to See Trump’s Tax Returns

President Trump attends a Department of Veterans Affairs event at the White House, August 3, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Democrats in the House demand that the IRS turn over six years of President Trump’s tax returns; Bernie Sanders isn’t quite clear on when he’ll release his tax returns; Beto O’Rourke identifies the modern version of the Third Reich.

Good morning! Hope you’re enjoying this “[darn] healthy economy . . . Over the past three months, the economy has produced on average +180,000 jobs per month. Which is smoking.”

Should Congress Get to See Trump’s Tax Returns?

The tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns was a good thing. If you want the power of the presidency, you have to be willing to let the American people learn a great deal about you. I’d argue the American people have a right to know where a potential president made his money, how he invested his money, and a sense of his charitable contributions.

Those of us with long memories remember the media treating the tax returns of Mitt Romney like they had the location of the lost city of Atlantis in them. And we remember Cory Booker and Terry McAuliffe releasing limited summaries of their financial information and getting considerably less grief about it.

Back in early 2016, I wrote that Trump was unlikely to ever release any of his tax returns, and that the most likely reason is they might indicate that his wealth, while substantial, is not the “TEN BILLION DOLLARS” that he touted. Trump declared that he couldn’t release his returns because he was being audited — never mind that President Nixon released his tax returns while he was being audited — and it’s pretty clear that Trump will never voluntarily release his tax returns. His election suggests that the American electorate doesn’t find this lack of disclosure to be a deal-breaker.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal is formally requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, as well as a statement as to whether they were audited, why they were audited, when the audit was completed, and all of Trump’s businesses — and he wants all of the documents by Wednesday.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig wrote about the issue of Trump and his tax returns for Forbes magazine back in February 2016, and speculated about what would be found in them:

What is in Trump’s returns? Likely information prepared by many very well-qualified tax professionals who were quite aware the general public might be looking at the returns at some future date. It’s unlikely an accurate overall financial picture will surface by simply reviewing his returns. He likely pays taxes at a lesser rate than many of us given the nature of his real estate and similar investments being subjected to lower tax rates than salaries earned by the rest of us. Certainly, his tax professionals have not advised him to overpay his taxes.

He is likely worth far more than us but may be worth far less than the approximately $10 billion he wants us to believe. However, alone, his tax returns are unlikely to provide an accurate picture beyond the Forbes estimate of $4.5 billion.

Neal argues that the committee needs the records because “the IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately.”

More than a few Republicans will suspect that the real goal of the committee is to get Trump’s tax returns, look through it for anything disparaging or embarrassing, and then leaking that.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, charges that the Democrats are launching a fishing expedition:

I, for one, haven’t seen any evidence that the IRS has suddenly changed its policy under this president – that it’s conducting a less thorough review of President Trump’s taxes than it did of previous presidents, or that it hasn’t conducted a review at all. So why are Democrats considering these changes to the tax code now? Why didn’t they raise the issue under President Obama, or President Bush, or President Clinton? The answer is, nothing has changed. There’s no reason to believe the IRS is doing any less due diligence in its review of President Trump’s taxes than it has for any other president in recent memory.

(This is the same Chuck Grassley who called President Trump’s comment that wind turbines can cause cancer “idiotic,” so let’s dispense with the idea that Grassley is just a partisan hack who defends the president under any circumstances. He’s upset about this because he can see what happens when politicians can access the tax returns of political foes without their permission.)

Grassley continues:

If Democrats are truly interested in finding out the level of scrutiny given to a president’s tax returns, why not just ask the IRS to describe its audit procedure?

That’s a straightforward question, and I’m sure Commissioner Rettig would be happy to oblige with a straightforward answer.

Why is there a need to see President Trump’s tax returns in order to get an answer to those questions?

I’ll give you a hint. There isn’t one . . .

When Congress reformed the modern IRS privacy law, it was 1976 — not long after President Nixon left office.

Nixon had used his power over the IRS to target his political enemies, and Congress wanted to make sure this never happened again. Congress was determined to put protections in place that would prevent that kind of abuse of power in the future.

Congress wanted to ensure private tax information would never be used for political purposes again.

But if you strip away all of the pretense and trace this current effort back to its roots, that sounds an awful lot like what’s happening now.

If the IRS turns over Trump’s tax returns to the Democrats in the House, then future members of Congress will demand the tax returns of other political rivals.

Maybe the Socialist Senator Isn’t Eager to Have a Public Discussion about His Third Home

And speaking of releasing tax returns . . .

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders sidestepped questions Thursday about when he will release his tax returns, with the Vermont independent hinting he could fulfill his six-week old pledge to make public ten years of tax returns on April 15 — Tax Day.

Yet, as quickly as Sanders suggested that, he appeared to backtrack and wouldn’t commit that he would release them then.

“Do you know what April 15th is? It’s Tax Day,” Sanders told CNN on Capitol Hill when asked if there was an issue to releasing his taxes. “So, I think we want to make sure we have all of them together and as I said, they will be released soon.”

When asked if that meant he would not necessarily release his tax returns on April 15, Sanders responded, “That’s it. Thank you very much.”

An aide then stepped in front of CNN and said, “He answered your question” and referred CNN to follow up with a Sanders’ spokesperson.

Back in 2016, I noted that Sanders and his wife utilized several deductions that he pledged to eliminate in his tax plan.

Beto O’Rourke, Nazi Hunter

Our Kyle Smith marvels that Beto O’Rourke is so transparently attempting to imitate Barack Obama’s rhetoric and style and is proving to be a pale imitation (no pun intended):

Obama was, moreover, exceedingly careful. He avoided saying anything crazy like suggesting we tear down existing border fencing in Texas or contemplate reparations for slavery. O’Rourke seems to toss out jawdroppers on the fly.

Then, almost as if on cue, “Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa, that some of President Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks echo the rhetoric of Nazi Germany’s ‘Third Reich.’”

Primary voters will love that, but in the general election, that will be “basket of deplorables” on steroids.

ADDENDUM: Peggy Noonan warns Joe Biden:

In the past you were never really slimed and reviled by your party; you were mostly teased and patronized. But if you get in the race this time, it will be different. They will show none of the old respect for you, your vice presidency or your past fealty to the cause. And you are in the habit of receiving respect.

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