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Trump Lawyers Seek To Block IRS From Releasing His Taxes To Congress

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

It’s April, which means the deadline for all Americans to file their tax returns is fast approaching. President Donald Trump, however, is facing another, much more daunting deadline: The day his taxes must be turned over not to the IRS, but from the IRS to Democrats in Congress.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has instructed the IRS to hand over six years of the president’s taxes, as well as that of eight of his business entities, by April 10.

And as the deadline approaches, the president is clearly getting desperate.

Initially, he told reporters that he is “not inclined” to hand over his taxes, citing his bogus excuse that he doesn’t want to release them while he’s under audit. Then, on Friday, an administration official told CNN that the committee’s demands will be fought all the way to the Supreme Court, saying, “”This is a hill and people would be willing to die on it.” (It’s not clear why the official was granted anonymity to defend the president on this matter.)

And then Trump’s lawyer sent a letter to the Treasury Department, saying:

If the IRS acquiesces to Chairman Neal’s request, it would set a dangerous precedent. As Secretary Mnuchin recently told Congress, he is “not aware that there has ever been a request for an elected official’s tax returns.” For good reason. It would be a gross abuse of power for the majority party to use tax returns as a weapon to attack, harass, and intimidate their political opponents. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, the ensuing tit-for-tat will do lasting damage to our nation.

“Our firm welcomes the opportunity to represent President Trump in his capacity as a taxpayer,” said lawyer William Consovoy, who is handling the matter for the president. “The requests for his private tax information are not consistent with governing law, do not advance any proper legislative purpose, and threaten to interfere with the ordinary conduct of audits. We are confident that this misguided attempt to politicize the administration of the tax laws will not succeed.”

It was a ridiculous argument on many grounds. First, the chair sent the instructions to the IRS, and the law is clear that that the agency must comply. Second, one of the main reasons this is an unusual step is that, since President Richard Nixon, every president has released their taxes during the campaign. And third, Trump already promised to release his taxes but then he reneged and provided a transparently false excuse. And he compounded this betrayal by keeping stakes in his sprawling business interests, raising a disturbing specter of his conflicts of interest in foreign policy and beyond.

Congress undoubtedly has a legitimate interest in conducting oversight of these matters. But Neal’s request was even more specific — he said he wants the returns to as a part of his committee’s evaluation of presidential audits.

“There’s unconditional black letter law that says the committee can request any tax returns it wants in writing and the Treasury Dept ‘shall furnish’ them (in closed executive session unless the taxpayer otherwise consents), but hey go off anyway new counsel,” noted legal analyst Luppe Luppen.

Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance noted: “The request went from Congress to the IRS. Trump is not a party to that proceeding & should have no more opportunity to intervene than any other private citizen. But, this does demonstrate the lengths he’ll go to to keep you from seeing his taxes.”

It’s clear Trump is desperate not to have his taxes released. It’s not clear if that’s because there’s something truly damaging in them, something humiliating, or simply that he relishes a fight that can waste his opponents’ time and energy. But at some point, we are likely to find out.

IMAGE: Richard Nixon resigning the presidency, August 9, 1974, at the White House. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

 

#EndorseThis: Colbert On Trump’s Rampant Violation Of Presidential Norms

How does Donald Trump get away with all the outrageous things he does — and fails to do? Why should he be able to conceal his tax returns, which so many previous presidents and candidates disclosed, including even a crook like Richard Nixon, when every one of Trump’s appointees will have to provide their taxes to the U.S. Senate? As Stephen Colbert explains, Trump is legally exempt from such mundane burdens, which the Late Show host compares to a restaurant that requires all employees to wash their hands after using the toilet — except the chef.

Such is the difference between a norm and a law, a distinction that also permits Trump to refuse to place his assets in a real blind trust, as his predecessors did in order to avoid conflicts of interest. Trump can flout this norm too because until now, Americans have reasonably assumed that presidents would not attempt to use their office to enrich themselves or their families. In this case, to assume really does “make an ass of you and me,” observes Colbert. “And you know who will be grabbing that ass.”

It’s actually an educational video, with jokes, on a disturbing topic that is — unfortunately — certain to become even more relevant over the next few years.

 

 

5 Ways Donald Trump Is Still ‘Birthering’ Barack Obama

You’ve probably never heard it mentioned on TV, but President Obama is outdoing President Reagan in what used to be one of conservatives’ favorite ways to judge the economy — private sector jobs.

At the current pace more than 10 million private sector jobs will be created in Obama’s second term, well over a half million more than were created in Reagan’s second term, which Republicans glorified as “Morning in America.” It’s true that the workforce was much smaller in the 80s, but job creation under Obama doubled that under the last two president Bushes combined years ago — with the best years coming as key Obama policies like the Affordable Care Act and tax increases on the rich took effect.

Reagan’s second term saw more jobs created overall because public sector hiring was five times stronger in the eighties than it is now. Was Reagan a better socialist than Obama? Nope, starving public investment was all about one thing — denying this president any measure of effectiveness.

The defining fact of Obama’s presidency is its success despite incessant Republican attempts to sabotage it.

“The recovery since 2009 has been historically slow, and the disappointing pace can be explained entirely by the fiscal austerity imposed by Republicans in Congress,” The Economic Policy Institute reported early this month.

As elected Republicans undermined the president’s economic plans, shut down the government rather than allow him to implement the health care plan he’d been reelected on, turned epidemics like Ebola and Zika into partisan issues, and refused to even consider his final Supreme Court appointment, the right and its powerful media machine did everything they could to delegitimize Obama.

From the first fake story about Obama being schooled in a madrassa that Fox and Friends debuted in early 2007 to today, the right looked for ways to “otherize” the president and cast suspicion on his origins and motives.

No one has nurtured or exploited these suspicions more than the current Republican nominee for president.

Before birtherism, Donald Trump was a sad guy’s idea of a rich guy who ran for president when he had a book to sell. But by being the most famous person willing to attack Obama’s citizenship by exploiting racist paranoia, he become an extremist macher, an important endorser in 2012, and the party’s standard-bearer in 2016.

Trump’s entire campaign is built on defining Obama as “un-American” and here’s how he’s still doing it as he seeks to win the president’s job.

  1. Completely negating the president’s accomplishments.
    Trump speaks about America as if it were embroiled in a mix of the financial crisis of 2008 and the racial unrest of 1968, combined with the massive influx of undocumented immigrants that mostly happened around the turn of this century. In reality, job creation is at an eight-year high, banks are better regulated and far more stable, crime is at or near historic lows (as is net immigration), while the percentage of insured Americans has never been higher. While not perfect, Obama’s administration is a sterling success — especially compared with the recessions left us by our most recent Republican presidents. Trump denies Obama any credit for his accomplishments and smears him as a disaster — but he isn’t convincing many people who don’t despise Obama already. When Trump’s 33 percent approval rating and disapproval in the 60s is contrasted with Obama’s approval over 50 percent, America seems to get who is the real failure.
  2. Pulling privilege when it comes to releasing his own documents. 
    Trump claimed he was just interest in the getting the truth when he sought Obama’s birth certificate and then college records — documents that other candidates had all produced. It was a whiff of nonsense, meant to cover the stench of racism rising from the birther campaign. But now the hypocrisy is just sickening, as Trump seeks to become the first major party nominee since Watergate to withhold his federal tax returns. We have proof that Trump at the very least overstates his wealth and charitable donations. His returns are the best hope of documenting those claims and more. Trump’s new birtherism — attacking Hillary Clinton’s health with no evidence — is as ridiculous as his own joke of a medical record, produced in five minutes while a limo was waiting.
  3. Basing his entire campaign on hyped dangers he accuses Obama of ignoring.
    Trump acts if his ideas to bomb ISIS, vet refugees, and deport criminals are novel, rather than policies that Obama has so fully engaged as to arouse outrage in many of his liberal allies. Trump’s premise isn’t that he’ll do better than Obama. Like much of the the conservative base he believes that Obama isn’t on “our” side — an argument infused with demented racial undertones that would be difficult to pin on a Republican nominee for president if Trump didn’t explicitly suggest it over and over.
  4. Conflating the president of the United States with terrorists.
    When Trump spent half a week saying that Obama was literally the “founder” of ISIS, he was reheating an argument he’s made for years. The most recent iteration had been to say “there’s something going on,” over and over as Trump did after the horrific shooting in Orlando. It’s a sick accusation of treason against the president of the United States and Trump has trafficked in such associations for years.
  5. He’s literally still a birther.
    Trump doesn’t talk about being a birther anymore, and the supine press seems fine with that, but he never disavowed the theory that made him a conservative superstar. The Republican nominee won’t say whether he thinks the current president is a citizen. And with all these questions about his fake revisions to his immigration policies, no one dares to ask him the inevitable question: “Do you plan to deport Barack Obama?”

Tax Transparency: After Expansive Vow, Sanders Releases Only 2014 Return

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released nearly all of his and wife Jane Sanders’ 2014 tax return Friday night, but that disclosure still remains far from his wife’s promise to release complete returns for the last eight years while raising more questions about the candidate’s judgment.

As expected there was nothing startling in the schedules, raising the question of why Sanders has held back his returns, issued false statements about disclosure, and, in the case of Mrs. Sanders, made a flatly untrue claim on national television, as my reporting quickly showed.

Sanders runs as a reformer, as Mr. Transparency, and with good cause rails about the damage done by Wall Street. Yet he does not walk his own talk. His failure to be forthright and release full returns back to 2007 — when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont — erodes the likelihood that other Presidential candidates this cycle and in the future will release their own full returns.

He is giving aid and comfort to politicians who want to hide their tax returns because what is in them really does matter. He is undermining the future of our country, but seems oblivious. Why does he not recognize that our republic is undermined when politicians — be they reformers, exploiters of weak financial integrity laws or crooks — reveal little or no tax information?

You can be sure that when pressed future politicians with conduct they need to hide will cite Sanders as the standard for making less than complete disclosure. As a would-be reformer, he ought to understand the principle and honor it.

Since Sanders likely has nothing to hide, why not make full disclosure? His mishandling of what should be the non-issue of his tax returns opens a window into the reasons why even politicians broadly aligned with his views, such as the members of the House Progressive Caucus, have been reluctant to endorse him in the primary.

 

Bizarrely, Sanders has placed himself under a tent that includes three of the remaining five Presidential candidates:

  • Donald Trump, who likely pays no income taxes and gives nothing to charity, will not release any tax information.
  • Ted Cruz, whose wife is a Goldman Sachs investment banker, has put out only four years of summary Form 1040s.
  • John Kasich, who between his years in Congress and becoming governor of Ohio, got rich at Lehman Brothers before it collapsed, has issued seven years of Form 1040s.

The fifth candidate still standing, Hillary Clinton, has released complete tax returns to 1992. You can see many tax returns, and for some only the 1040s, at taxhistory.org, a website run by nonprofit Tax Analysts, for which I am also a columnist.

Sanders’ behavior over the past nine months is even more perplexing because he must have known he would be expected to release his tax returns — a political norm dating to the dark days of the Nixon administration. President Richard Nixon, an unindicted tax criminal (his tax guy went to prison) resigned 42 years ago. Vice President Agnew confessed to evasion immediately after resigning.

We need far more disclosure about politicians, their connections, and their money, not less.

Thousands of comments on the internet assert that Sanders should not be held to account because he is alone in going after the establishment and especially Wall Street. But candidates must be held to uniform standards. Running as a reformer does not win anybody a pass. (Anyone who suspects that I dislike Sanders’ policies should read my New York Daily News essay, which explained that popular support for his views is so broad that large majorities of Republicans support his policies, even if they do not realize it.)

Unfortunately, Sanders’ responses to questions asked by other journalists after I explained the issues in my April 1 column have been less than forthright. Most troubling was what Jane Sanders told Mark Halperin on Bloomberg TV, when she claimed “every election we have released them…we did when he ran for election, yeah.” My reporting showed that was not true, but the Sanders campaign has not corrected her false statement.

As for the return that Sanders finally released on Friday evening, there’s nothing there.

The 2014 Sanders return shows that the senator and his wife gave $8,350 to charity, or 4 percent of their $205,271 income. That percentage is double the average in their income class. They did not disclose any further information about the charitable groups to which they donated.

Their Schedule C shows $4,900 in “business income” to Jane Sanders as an appointed commissioner of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact Commission, a bi-state regulatory body created more than a decade ago that oversees shipments of radioactive waste from Vermont to the Lone Star state. It also shows that Sanders deducted $4,473 for employee meal expenses as a senator, half the cost of those meals.

The only curious item a $204 deduction for tax preparation, after Jane Sanders said that she uses the Turbo Tax program to prepare their returns. The most expensive version of TurboTax sold currently — a higher grade product than needed to prepare the couple’s returns — costs $109.99 That price includes both an online download and a compact disc. And that is the price charged by Intuit, the manufacturer, with retailers offering discounts pricing the top product at under $100.

Of course this is insignificant. Clearly, Bernie and Jane Sanders have nothing at all to hide. So why not release their complete 2007 to 2013 tax documents?

Tax returns for 2015 are not due until Monday night, April 18.