When we recently looked at Congressman Richard Neal’s refusal to request President Trump’s New York State tax returns (and the subsequent primary challenge he drew), Neal seemed to be making a good point. The state tax returns would only be a course of last resort if they failed to obtain the federal returns, and it wasn’t a sure thing that he would be able to use the new law in New York to get them anyway.
That turned out to be fairly prescient because the New York law designed to go after Trump is now being challenged by the President. And that could tie up the process for months or even years. (NBC News)
President Donald Trump on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining his state tax returns through a newly passed New York law.
The president’s lawyers said the law was nothing more than an effort to get information about his personal finances to embarrass him politically.
The suit referred to an NBC News story on Monday to show that Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., was under pressure from fellow Democrats to make use of the new law.
The lawsuit is asking the same question I’ve been posing here for quite a while. What legitimate legislative or law enforcement purpose is served by demanding the release of the President’s tax returns, either federal or state? Congress is charged with providing oversight, but that doesn’t include going on politically driven fishing expeditions.
While it’s true that most presidents and presidential candidates release at least some of their returns voluntarily, it’s never been mandatory. And our tax laws are set up in such a way as to take great pains to keep everyone’s returns private except under extraordinary circumstances. If the citizens of the nation truly think it’s a terrible thing for a presidential candidate not to voluntarily disclose their returns, the remedy is to not vote for them or vote them out at the next election.
So what specific crime does the committee believe has taken place and how would Donald Trump’s tax returns help resolve the situation? All we’ve heard thus far is some vague references to the emoluments clause, but for a person who owns a chain of international hotels, that’s a ridiculous charge since it couldn’t possibly be avoided. (Though Trump has temporarily turned direct control of his empire over to other family members while in office, so it’s unclear why we’re discussing this in the first place.)
Before closing this out, I do have to wonder if this isn’t going to backfire. If a judge sets the New York State law aside as a result of this lawsuit, Richard Neal might see that as a clear indicator that there is no option whereby his committee could get the state returns in a timely fashion. That might give him the excuse he needs to go full bore after Trump’s federal returns. (Not that there’s a sure path to getting those either.) Of course, if both of those routes fail, the President could just stonewall them, possibly right through the 2020 elections.