But … but there are bombshells hiding in those returns, Mitt.
I think he and Chuck Todd are talking about two different things here. Todd’s referring to the effort by House Democrats to obtain Trump’s returns from the IRS under existing federal law. Romney seems to be thinking of the attempt by some blue states to “compel a person running for office to release their tax returns,” as he puts it, as a condition of appearing on the ballot there. The latter may or may not be “moronic” in trying to make something as fundamental as ballot access contingent upon a form of compulsory speech by the candidate, i.e. disclosure of his finances.
But “moronic” is too strong a term for the former. Trump has a fair argument based on case law that Congress shouldn’t constitutionally be able to access his returns absent a legitimate legislative purpose, but the relevant statute empowering the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain those returns is clear as a bell. Democrats might be able to conjure up some fake “legislative purpose” for why they need Trump’s tax information and a federal court might well decide that deference is due to that determination.
They might be able to conjure up a real legislative purpose too, of course. Impeachment is a bona fide legislative function. Democrats might point to Michael Cohen’s testimony about Trump’s alleged financial shenanigans and to whatever the Mueller report might say about Trump’s financial dealings with Russia as potential grounds for impeachment pending a review of Trump’s tax returns. The dilemma, though: Would they need to formally begin an impeachment proceeding against him to do that — which they’re reluctant to do for political reasons — or would merely raising the possibility be enough? They’re wrestling with the same question in how to obtain grand jury testimony in Mueller’s Russiagate investigation, as a new ruling from the D.C. Circuit says that GJ testimony should be shared with Congress only “in connection with a judicial proceeding.” Formal impeachment proceedings would qualify. Is Pelosi willing to go that far?
One other pitfall for Democrats here is that, although they may win the battle to obtain Trump’s returns, that doesn’t mean it’s legal for them to reveal what the returns say. Ways and Means members are reportedly fretting that they might accidentally disclose something from Trump’s returns and end up committing a felony in so doing. The work-around on revealing the returns to the public, I assume, would be having some Dem summarize the information in a speech on the House floor. The Speech or Debate Clause in Article I of the Constitution immunizes members of Congress from prosecution for things they say during official legislative proceedings, although how that would play politically, lord only knows. “What we’re doing would be highly illegal if not for our special lawmaker privileges” is not a good look for House Democrats, particularly given the underlying sleaziness of trying to damage a political enemy by publicizing his otherwise confidential financial info.
WATCH: Sen. Mitt Romney says, "I'd like the president to follow through and show his tax returns" but thinks Democrats are playing into his hands. #MTP #IfItsSunday@SenatorRomney: "Going after his tax returns through a legislative action is moronic. That's not going to happen" pic.twitter.com/7c99bWUEKo
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) April 7, 2019