Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Democrats May Have Missed Chance To Get Trump Tax Returns

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives in 2018, they pledged to start holding President Donald Trump accountable — including, notably, by obtaining his tax returns. But House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal has been reluctant to aggressively use his authority in demanding the documents, as a new Washington Post report revealed Thursday, allowing the president and the administration to persist in its lawless refusal to comply.

In his trepidation, Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, even missed a key 15-day window in which he could have obtained the returns, according to the report.

Getting the tax returns in the first place should have been straightforward. The law explicitly says:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives … the Treasury Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request … [emphasis mine]

There’s nothing ambiguous or unclear about this. Neal has the authority to ask, and Secretary Steve Mnuchin has no choice but to comply. As former federal prosecutor Harry Litman explained in the Washington Post:

“Shall” means, well, shall. The language is the well-established norm, across a range of legal settings, used to denote an absence of discretion on an official’s part. It leaves no room for quibbles by the secretary.

But the administration thinks the law doesn’t apply whenever a particular provision inconveniences the president, so it delayed its response to the request multiple times. Eventually, it claimed that the administration didn’t have to comply with the law because the president was being unfairly and disingenuously targeted, rendering the request unconstitutional. The absurd and implausible argument ultimately comes down to the idea that the president doesn’t have to follow the law if Congress is being mean to him. Of course, neither the Constitution nor the law in question provides any grounds for thinking this is the case. However, it does comport with current GOP orthodoxy that opposition to Trump is de facto illegitimate.

So the battle has landed in court, with Democrats in Congress forced to fight for what is clearly their due. And while Republicans insist that the president is being unfairly harassed, it’s important to remember that Democrats have only requested what every other modern presidential candidate has freely made public before Trump, and what Trump himself has repeatedly promised to release. Given Trump’s unprecedented openness to corruption and conflicts of interest — and his shady opaqueness and broken promise to release the documents — seeing his tax returns is even more important.

The court battle, the Post reported, will likely take a long time:

Several Democrats involved in oversight, including Rep. Daniel Kildee (Mich.) of the Ways and Means Committee, see a long path to getting a final court decision, even if they expect to win in the end. Trevor N. McFadden, a Trump-appointed judge who was assigned the case in July, will hear the case first, and any decision is likely to be appealed to higher courts, up to the Supreme Court.

For it to be resolved by fall 2020 would amount to Democrats drawing a possible but improbable legal “perfect straight,” according to Harry Sandick, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

It seems a complete waste of time to take an issue up the Supreme Court when the law is so obviously clear, and where the issue at stake is Trump’s own uniquely corrupt presidency. But just because the law is clear, we shouldn’t assume that the right-wing justices won’t side with the president out of pure partisanship, even if they dress up their arguments with legal formalities.

And while Trump deserves most the blame for pushing his administration into defending a lawless and corrupt position, Democrats — Neal most of all — are also worthy of criticism for dragging their feet on the issue. Demanding Trump’s tax returns could have been one of his first acts upon taking control of the committee, but instead he waited, and wasted, months. And according to the Post, he’s shown private reluctance about fighting the president on this issue:

Neal’s discomfort in confronting the Trump administration has been apparent in internal meetings of the Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, according to the House Democrat involved in oversight and an aide to a House lawmaker on the committee speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly without fear of professional repercussions. When discussing the subject of the tax returns, Neal frequently tells stories of bipartisan cooperation under former Ways and Means Committee leaders, particularly Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), pining for an era of political comity that others on the committee believe no longer exists, these people said.

Perhaps the most frustrating part the whole episode is that New York passed a law that would give the chairman that right to request Trump’s state tax returns. The Post reported:

For 15 days after that legislation passed, Neal could have had Trump’s state returns on a direct flight from Albany to Washington, said Daniel Hemel, a law professor at the University of Chicago. But that window closed after Trump’s personal attorneys sued New York to block the law July 23. On Aug. 1, a federal judge ordered New York not to release those returns while the lawsuit is pending.

It’s difficult to judge a lawmaker purely on one anonymously sourced report, but these descriptions of Neal paint the picture of a man not up to the task of holding Trump accountable. Trump is willing to break all the rules to get what he wants; Democrats should at least be aggressive within the rules when trying to counter him.


New York Senate Passes Bill Allowing Release Of Trump’s State Taxes

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin broke the law to keep Congress from seeing Trump’s federal tax returns — but Trump’s state tax returns from New York could soon be available to Congress thanks to a bill making its way through the New York Legislature.

The New York state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday allowing state tax returns to be handed over to Congress upon request.

The New York Times reports that the bill would allow the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release any state tax return if requested for a “specific and legitimate legislative purpose” by one of three congressional committees: House Ways and Means, Senate Finance, or the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The bill already has the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. With a two-to-one Democratic partisan advantage in the state Assembly, where the bill is now headed, the measure has the chance to become law in the coming week or months.

“The news of yesterday makes New York’s role even more crucial,” state Senator Brad Hoylman told the Times on Tuesday. He was referring to a Monday letter Mnuchin sent to Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, refusing to comply with federal law and hand over Trump’s taxes as Neal requested.

The New York bill, Hoylman said, could help Congress perform its oversight role in spite of this obstruction.

The bill mirrors the federal law invoked by Neal, which requires the Treasury Secretary to furnish federal tax returns if requested by the chair of any of the same three committees mentioned in the New York bill.

But if the New York bill becomes law, Congress could soon see Trump’s state tax returns. And according to the New York Times, the state returns could contain much of the same information as federal returns, especially since Trump’s business is headquartered in New York City.

Thus far, Trump has managed to keep his taxes hidden despite credible allegations of illicit activity. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer,” testified before Congress that Trump has liedabout his wealth in order to obtain bank loans in the past, and that Trump misrepresented his wealth to avoid paying taxes.

Even though Mnuchin is willing to break the law for Trump, Congress may soon have a new way to find out whatever Trump so desperately wants to hide.

This post has been updated with news of the bill’s passage through the state senate on Wednesday. 

Published with permission of The American Independent.


Tax Returns Show Trump Lost Over A Billion Dollars In A Decade

In just a decade, Trump managed to lose over $1 billion. That’s quite an achievement.

The New York Times got access to 10 years of IRS transcripts of Trump tax data spanning 1985 to 1994. That data shows that the self-styled business genius lost money on an unprecedented scale during that time.

When Trump was running for office, he touted his financial acumen as the reason he should be president. Like so much else about Trump, it was a complete fabrication. By any metric, the man is terrible with money.

The piece is a brutal year-by-year slog through what the Times calls “a precise accounting of the president’s financial failures.” In 1985, for example, his main businesses wracked up $46 million in losses. In 1989? Much worse. That year, he started the ill-fated Trump Airlines, and his businesses hemorrhaged $181 million.

The next year saw the Trump Taj Mahal go so far into the red that it dragged his other casino businesses down with it, leading to a two-year stretch where he lost over $500 million. By the time 1994 came to a close, Trump had managed to lose $1.17 billion in just 10 years.

In fact, the only way Trump made money during this tumultuous decade was by lying. From 1986 to 1988, he had a rich person’s cottage industry of threatening to take over other companies, which netted him millions in the stock market. However, once people realized he was bluffing, he lost most of that money.

Trump’s losses were so spectacular that he outstripped the losses of nearly anyone else. His net operating losses piled up so high circa 1991 — almost $418 billion — that he personally accounted for 1 percent of all individual taxpayer losses in the year.

And that year wasn’t an outlier. By comparing his losses to publicly available information on high earners, the Times was able to conclude that “year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.”

The Times did give the president a chance to comment before running the piece, and his lawyer basically called the IRS fake news, saying that IRS transcripts before the era of e-filing were “notoriously inaccurate” and couldn’t provide a reasonable picture of Trump’s returns.

That nonsense was easily debunked. A former director of research at the IRS told the Times that the data used to create IRS transcripts was rigorously checked and had “undergone quality control for decades.”

Turns out Trump, who perpetually boasts of being the best at everything, really is the best at something: being a loser.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: The Trump Taj Mahal Casino is illuminated at dusk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in this October 24, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Mark Makela/Files


Ignoring Law, Mnuchin Won’t Release Trump Taxes To Congress

On Monday afternoon, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin officially informed Congress that he would not turn over six years of Trump’s tax returns — opting to protect Trump’s shady finances rather than uphold the rule of law.

“In reliance on the advice of the Department of Justice, I have determined that the Committee’s request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose,” Mnuchin wrote. After making this determination, Mnuchin then said that the Treasury Department is “not authorized to disclose the requested returns and return information.”

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to the IRS last month demanding six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. Neal cited a 1920s-era law allowing Congress obtain any person’s tax returns from the IRS, so long as the request comes from the chair of either the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Finance Committee.

The law is clear, stating, “the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified.”

According to legal experts, Mnuchin is breaking the law.

“A reading of the plain language of the tax code indicates that Congress does in fact have the legal authority to request and obtain tax information from any filer, including the president,” Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School, told Vox in April. “Therefore, if Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, refuses Congress’s request, he would be violating the law.”

In early April, Mnuchin hinted that he was willing to ignore the law to cover up Trump’s possible misdeeds. In an April 10 letter to Neal, Mnuchin said that the request “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

Legal scholars disagree with Mnuchin’s excuse.

“This is not an issue on which there is any possibility of reasonable disagreement,” Daniel Shaviro, a law professor at New York University, told Vox in mid-April. “Any well-informed person who disagrees either that the Ways and Means Committee has an obligation to demand Trump’s tax returns as part of fulfilling its oversight duties or that Trump is legally obliged to turn them over is either a partisan hack or contemptuous of the rule of law.”

Neal said Monday that he would consult with counsel to determine an appropriate response. It’s possible he could issue a subpoena for Trump’s taxes, or take Treasury to court in order to force Mnuchin to hand them over.

Trump is the first presidential candidate in decades to refuse to make his tax returns publicly available. When he entered the campaign, Trump promised on multiple occasions to release his taxes. But he lied.

What is Mnuchin helping Trump hide from the public? Possibly a lot.

In congressional testimony, Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer,” said Trump regularly lied about his wealth in order to obtain loans. Cohen also said Trump lied about his wealth to avoid paying taxes.

In response to questions from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cohen suggested Congress would need Trump’s tax returns to see whether and how often Trump broke the law.

Americans deserve to know this information about Trump — and Congress has the legal authority to find out.

Published with permission of The American Independent.