Guest Opinion: Americans must see Trump’s taxes
The news that President Donald Trump won’t actually be releasing his tax returns doesn’t exactly come as a shocker. For all the times that candidate Trump said he would, nobody who knew anything about (a) Trump or (b) tax returns had realistic expectations of seeing them.
After all, you can’t lie on a tax return, not without committing a federal crime. Candidate Trump had every reason not to want his secrets revealed. He’s almost certainly not as wealthy as he claims to be, nor as charitable. He doesn’t want people to know whom he does business with, possibly including foreign governments.
On Sunday morning, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s apologist-in-chief, blurted the truth on ABC’s “This Week”: “He’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him.”
On Monday, Conway retreated to safer ground, repeating the tired claim that Trump will release them after the IRS is finished auditing them. There’s no proof they’re under audit, but even if they are, there’s no legal restriction against releasing them.
People do care: Polls show 74 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, think Trump should release them. It may be late, but voters want to know what kind of man it is whom 46 percent of them put in the White House.
For Trump, the election settled everything. He won. He got away with it. Would he have won if he’d released his tax returns? Perhaps. The New York Times obtained the top sheets of his 1995 return in October, and it showed that he’d used a legally dubious maneuver to offset his own personal taxes with a $916 million loss of other people’s money. He boasted about it.
Still, winning an election is one thing, governing is another. In 1972, Richard Nixon won 60 percent of the popular vote and was gone 21 months later. Secrets have a way of getting out.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of constitutional scholars and ethics experts asked a federal court in New York to stop Trump’s business organization — to which he has refused to sever ties — from taking payments from entities controlled by foreign governments. The plaintiffs argue that such payments are a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
The plaintiff is a good-governance group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which will have to demonstrate that Trump’s profits from foreign payments directly harm it. Generalized harm to the republic is not legally sufficient.
Norman Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics official who now works with CREW, said the lawsuit could force Trump to release his tax returns. Without knowing where the money is coming from, it’s hard to know where the president’s allegiances lie. America shouldn’t have to wonder.