They really have no choice. The lefty base *might* tolerate Pelosi declining to impeach absent evidence of collusion, knowing how impeachment backfired on the GOP 20 years ago. As a matter of pure political self-interest, it might make sense not to go nuclear. Particularly when it’s clear there won’t be 67 votes for removal in the Senate.
But they’ll demand the tax returns. Democratic enthusiasm this fall will be driven by wanting to stick it to Trump, and nothing would stick it to him more than prying the fabled tax returns from his clutches. “It’s a matter of transparency and accountability,” liberals will say. “We have to know if there are financial links to Russia!” The prudential argument for declining to demand the returns, that it’ll set a terrible precedent of partisan snooping into enemies’ financial records, just won’t be enough to soothe them. They’re going to want something from the new House that’ll infuriate Trump in return for their votes. If they can’t have impeachment, they’ll have this.
“You’re damn right” Democrats will vote to get Trump’s tax returns if they win a majority in November, said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.)…
“As the smoke continues to build with one revelation after another, there is greater need than ever to see what Trump may be hiding in his personal tax returns, the return information to explain them and those of the 500 business entities, which he controls from here to Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is a co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, a messaging body for the party leadership, said, “If Democrats take back the House, I’ll fully support efforts to finally make his tax returns public.”
Lefties are already rallying the troops with hints about rummaging through Trump’s dirty laundry. Whether or not “Get the tax returns!” is an explicit or merely implicit part of their midterm message, it’s part of it:
Another reason the Midterm elections matter — if Democrats take back the House they will have the power to launch investigations, subpoena witnesses, and hold public hearings on all of Trump’s criminal activity.
Volunteer for 2018’s biggest races here: https://t.co/WrTygx0qeM
— Nate Lerner (@NathanLerner) August 27, 2018
It’d be a poetic turn in the Trump era for the GOP if their reelection argument deteriorated into a pure “protect Trump” pitch with no policy whatsoever behind it. (If it hasn’t come to that yet, it will.) The White House’s midterm message — “prevent impeachment!” — is already a pitch along those lines, but impeachment has real policy consequences for voters. If Trump were to be ousted and replaced by Pence, we’re likely to see the administration veer away from protectionism, for one thing. “Keep Trump’s tax returns secret!” is a different sort of animal in that there aren’t necessarily policy consequences involved. Democrats might find something embarrassing in there but might not, and what do they find might not be actionable. The “protect Trump” argument is really an argument to protect the president from transparency because that’s simply the way he wants it. The GOP fear won’t be that Dems are setting a vicious precedent by harassing someone needlessly (although that’s how it’ll be presented), the fear will be that there really is something in those returns that Trump has good reason to hide and that the party must help him cover it up at all costs to retain power.
Every story in the Trump era seems to come with the question attached, “Is that legal?” It is, in fact, legal for certain congressional committees to demand and obtain individual tax returns from the IRS:
(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.
If Ways and Means wants to see a return, they can see a return. They’re not allowed to publish the document without the taxpayer’s consent, but what are the odds that Trump’s returns might mysteriously leak to the media via a Democratic staffer?
What’s the president doing to head all of this off? Not much, per WaPo. The herd in the White House counsel’s office is being thinned, not expanded, as Mueller creeps closer and the midterms approach, although presumably Emmet Flood will turn that around quickly if/when he succeeds Don McGahn as WHC. I don’t know what Flood’s defense would be, though, to a demand by a Democratic House for Trump’s returns. There’s no executive privilege claim to a document all citizens file, especially returns filed before he became president. This isn’t a case either of state legislatures trying to force Trump to disclose his returns to qualify for the ballot, which would run headfirst into a SCOTUS decision. Presumably Flood would argue separation of powers, that the statute quoted above is unconstitutional because the IRS is technically an executive branch agency. (Or is it?)
A long court battle over whether the president should be forced to show the other party his financial information seems like a healthy thing for the country. I’ll leave you with this, also from the WaPo story:
Trump has told confidants that some of his aides have highly competent lawyers such as Lowell, who represents Kushner, and William A. Burck, who represents McGahn as well as former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
“He wonders why he doesn’t have lawyers like that,” said one person who has discussed the matter with Trump.
Any theories on why a guy who says and tweets obstruction-y things all the time and is likely to pardon Paul Manafort against his lawyers’ advice has more trouble finding people to represent him than those who keep their mouths shut do?